Shay shares Pinoy culture with the world through Trese

Jerry Donato - The Philippine Star
Shay shares Pinoy culture with the world through Trese
Shay Mitchell voice acts Alexandra Trese
Photo from Shay Mitchell’s Instagram

MANILA, Philippines — Learning that Shay Mitchell would lend her voice to the Netflix Original Anime series Trese, based on the graphic novel of Filipino creators Budjette Tan and KaJO Baldisimo, did not come as a surprise. The Canadian actress is proud of her Pinoy roots and embraces every bit of it.

That’s why Shay can easily adapt to Alexandra’s unique world, where the living and the supernatural beings co-exist, in Trese. It comes through in her voice performance as a female detective-cum-protector of peace and harmony among humans and fantastical entities. Trese is executive-produced by Jay Oliva, Tanya Yuson and Shanty Harmayn, and under the direction of Jay.

“You know it was super fun, but actually pretty intense (in a good way),” replied Shay when inquired about her creative process as a voice actor via an e-mail interview. “My mom is Filipino so while I am definitely familiar with Tagalog, I am by no means fluent. I wanted to do the language and culture justice though by really nailing my pronunciations, the cadence and inflection.” Shay’s mom is Precious Garcia of Pampanga.

To achieve that, Shay had to spend countless of hours via Zoom with a dialect coach before each voice over session, “to really hone in on my character’s lines,” she said. “Let’s just say my coach is proud (and my family!).”

Shay Mitchell voice acts Alexandra Trese, the female detective-protector who maintains peace and harmony among human and supernatural beings.

In the Trese After Dark featurette, Shay recalled that she had to work one-on-one with some people behind the show, like seeking the help of Tanya for diction. Playing Alexandra, the lakan-babaylan, required Shay to deliver such lines as “Sa mata ng iba, mga lihim magpapakita” and “Tabi-tabi po” to either invoke a spirit from the underworld or access the magical world. The actress found the whole work process as supportive, inclusive and educational.

Asked if the showrunners of Trese did require the lead star to read the Philippine graphic novel to get a grasp of Alexandra’s narrative, which encompasses her childhood and adult experiences, Shay said, “God, I don’t remember if they asked me, but I did…and it excited me that much more about the project.”

In the English-language version of Trese, Shay is in good company of Hollywood actors with Filipino heritage such as Dante Basco, Jon Jon Briones, Darren Criss, Manny Jacinto, Lou Diamond Phillips and Nicole Scherzinger.

Jon Jon lends voice to Trese family friend Hank and aswang gang leader Xa-Mul, while Darren is Marco Guerrero. Dante and Nicole take on Bagyon Kulimlim and Miranda Trese (Alexandra’s mother). Lou Diamond and Manny play Mayor Sancho Santamaria and the tikbalang Maliksi, respectively.

The animated series is again Shay’s way to pay homage to her cultural roots.

Scene shows a young Alexandra Trese with her mother Miranda (voiced by Nicole Scherzinger).
Photos courtesy of Netflix

“I definitely feel like being a part of this project has been an amazing opportunity to share Filipino culture with the world,” said she, whose character is known as lakan-babaylan (warrior and healer in English) and voice acted in Filipino by Liza Soberano. In Philippine history, babaylan is a shaman, who can communicate to the spirit world and perform sacred rituals. However, the babaylan’s function may also vary from one indigenous community to another.

“I am lucky to have a lot of my mom’s family nearby in Southern California so I feel very connected in that way,” added Shay. “My Tita B and Marcy are great cooks and always make us Filipino food (like) adobo, fresh corn soup, kaldereta. Suddenly, I am starving.”

Shay’s most recent visit in the Philippines saw her treat You fellow star Penn Badgley to halo-halo, a Filipino dessert with such ingredients as fruits, beans, condensed milk and crushed ice.

Meanwhile, in an interview released by Netflix Philippines, Shay shared her excitement to witness how the story from the graphic novel and her character will come to life in a new medium. She described Alexandra as a strong female character and said the animation had an incredible cast. Shay could relate to her because they are both determined women.

“I love how headstrong she is,” said Shay about the qualities of Alexandra she finds admirable, “but also how she really thinks outside the box to make sure she achieves what she sets out to do.”

In Trese After Dark, Shay shared that she loved playing Alexandra, a whip-smart and a mysterious private detective. In charge of keeping the streets of Manila safe and working with the police in solving supernatural cases, Alexandra, added the actress, “is also completely independent, innovative and fiery.” Shay’s Alexandra is definitely an empowered and committed woman.

What also one can gather is that the female detective was inspired by Budjette’s favorite comic and TV detective characters like Batman, John Constantine, Fox Mulder and Gil Grissom. This has become the ground for Alexandra’s persona, who never backs down from dealing with Philippine mythical creatures, from aswang (described in English as human flesh-eating monster), the White Lady (a ghost), nuno sa punso (mound dweller); tikbalang (half-horse, half-human trickster spirit); and tiyanak (baby vampire).

Does Shay remember any stories about them that her mom shared when she was a kid?

“It would be impossible to choose just one,” answered Shay, “they’re all so good. I think maybe Malakas and Maganda was one she told often.” Malakas at Maganda is a Philippine tale about the first man and woman.

Shay also acknowledged the potential of anime, like any other forms of art, as a site to make a social commentary. “I think one of the most fascinating things about graphic novels, anime and comic books is their social commentary… how they address complex issues and subsets of the population in just a single character… it’s amazing.”

Alexandra Trese fulfills that as her adventures reflect issues on social class and power struggles and repercussions of the imbalance made between the powerful and the powerless.

(Trese streams on Netflix.)

Alexandra with Marco Guerrero (voiced by Darren Criss).

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