Assunta and Jay: From Hubog to Higanti
Jerry Donato (The Philippine Star) - October 8, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The team-up of Assunta de Rossi and Jay Manalo was first seen in the Joel Lamangan film Hubog (2001), where she played a sales lady taking care of a mentally-challenged sister, while he portrayed the neighbor taking advantage of her dire situation. After that, the movie opportunities for the two to work again were not just few and far between.

This year, cineastes will see Assunta and Jay as Leni and Alex in the movie Higanti (Revenge) after, you guess it right, 15 years. Yes, they are also in a domestic story, set in a different milieu and personal struggles.

The movie was produced by Gitana Film Productions whose maiden venture was Sa Pag-ikot ng Mundo in 1976. Maria Teresa Cancio, the owner of Goodwill Bookstore, is the woman behind Gitana.

“Jay and I are husband and wife but we’re not on good terms — magkaaway kami dito all throughout,” Assunta hinted the conflict where the story premise is built during a recent presscon. “The sweet moments (between my character and Jay’s) are just for flashback. (Leni) comes from a well-off family. (Alex) is into politics. He is a congressman. He has an extra-marital affair, a No. 2.”

Also part of the narrative are Leni and Alex’s children Jean and Francis (played by Meg Imperial and Hashtag Jon Lucas) who harbor ill feelings towards the matriarch. “Everyone turns against me,” said Assunta. “They try to steal and take over the family business. Lahat ng pang-aapi na pwedeng gawin sa akin ay naranasan ko. She has a heart attack that makes her comatose. Now, how can she avenge or get back at those who make her life miserable? She is every politician’s wife and also a businesswoman.”

All this nitty-gritty is placed in the drama-action genre as Jay put it, “(It is evident) especially in the part where we’re fighting over our children — children’s custody, and not much over our wealth.”

Asked about their rapport on the set, Jay replied, “We’re like siblings. Kapag tahimik siya o emotional, di ako lumalapit.” Jay and Assunta know how to respect each other’s space — be it work or personal. Getting the job done is definitely a walk in the park for these actors who have successfully crossed over from the movies to TV — and back.

“It is our second movie together. Ganun pa rin, makulit pa rin. Masarap katrabaho si Jay, mahusay (siya),” she said. “As an actor, he has evolved into a great character actor.”

Like Jay, Assunta, who won Best Actress awards for Hubog, has also found her acting niche. “I think what works for me is getting really inside my character,” she said. “You have to feel the character. Sometimes, it is also in the writing. Minsan nagbabasa ka pa lang ng script, nagiging emotional ka na, what more when you’re acting it (the scene) out na handang-handa ka na. That works for me.”

How close are they to their roles?

Assunta is the wife of former Rep. Jules Ledesma. She helps him manage their hacienda and their company. One can say that Assunta has a good life as well as Jay, who is seen in Till I Met You. Having played bad-boy roles, Jay is the opposite in real life. “I grew up with my lola,” he said. “Women should be respected — hindi sinasaktan. Ako yung tipo ng tao kapag nakipag-away sa babae o sa ex ko, sa wife ko, ako yung lumalayo, ako yung umiiwas. Hindi ako makikipag-usap na iba ang pag-iisip. Wala kasing pupuntahan. Lalayo ako... Lahat ng exes ko ay kaibigan ko ultimo yung mga present boyfriend nila at asawa ay kaibigan ko. Wala akong masamamg tinapay sa mga babae.”

Then orchestrating the mise-en-scéne is Rommel Ricafort, who has relied on his short and independent film experiences in helming Higanti — his mainstream movie-making debut.

“It was inspired by true events,” he said on the germ of the story. “I did interview (people) while doing the script. I interviewed nannies and friends from politics to make the story real.” According to him, Jay’s congressman character doesn’t like the idea of being rumored about or talked behind his back — and is capable of taking the law into his hands. What’s interesting in the characters is that they were not shaped in a predictable way.

“You will think Leni is the mistress at first. But you will know she is the legal wife in the middle part,” he shared. “Gusto niyang maibalik sa kanya ang anak niya. Wala siyang pakialam dun sa mga yaman, yung anak lang niya.” The director implied that even if the viewers have known details about the movie through the trailer and the interviews of artists, they have to see the film in the theaters to fully grasp the story. For sure, there are twists and turns that will surprise the moviegoers. By the way, the movie was shot in 18 days and used the drone technology to keep track all the action scenes. 

Higanti will be screened in abroad before it hits the local theaters for its commercial screenings. It is scheduled to be shown in Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore for the Overseas Filipino Workers (including the fans of Jay and Assunta). Then it will proceed to the Middle East, the US and Europe.

(Higanti also stars Katrina Halili, Alwyn Uytingco, DJ Durano, Kiko Matos, Ruby Ruiz and Daniel Pasia.)

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