How director Mae Cruz-Alviar knew KathNiel would go a long way

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
How director Mae Cruz-Alviar knew KathNiel would go a long way
2 Good 2 Be True director Mae (center) is proud to have witnessed Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla’s growth as actors and not just as the love team KathNiel. ‘Hindi nawala, from the first time I saw them, their chemistry, charisma and professionalism,’ she says of the reel-to-real-life tandem.
ABS-CBN and Netflix

Before the premiere of Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla’s comeback series 2 Good 2 Be True, director Mae Cruz-Alviar was feeling equal measures of excitement and pressure.

Speaking recently to direk Mae in a one-on-one interview, it wasn’t hard to see what she meant. She previously helmed two of the Kapamilya stars’ box-office hits, namely, Crazy Beautiful You (2015) and Can’t Help Falling In Love (2017), plus their big-screen debut via the anthology film 24/7 In Love (2012). But 2 Good 2 Be True served as the reel-to-real tandem’s return to their romantic-comedy roots. It was also setting a record as the first Filipino series to be screened on the international streamer Netflix, 72 hours before airing on free TV and other platforms.

But as they say, success is worth any pressure. Following the May 13 debut, the ABS-CBN series has taken over the No. 1 spot in the list of most-watched TV shows on the OTT platform, as of writing. (The rest are K-dramas and a couple of Western content, although KathNiel’s old soap opera Pangako Sa’Yo — titled on Netflix as The Promise — is currently at No. 9.)

In 2 Good 2 Be True, Kathryn and Daniel play the nurse Ali and car mechanic Eloy, respectively. A hotel heist in the pilot episode leads the two strangers to harbor suspicions and prejudices against each other. Ali tries her best to expose Eloy as the culprit and con artist, while the latter puts malice on her work relationship with wealthy, senior businessmen, including Hugo Agcaoili (played by veteran actor Ronaldo Valdez). As the show progresses, they will find out they are inextricably connected, more than they realize.

In the rom-com series, Daniel plays a car mechanic with a ‘support system’ in co-stars Yves Flores, Gillian Vicencio and Matt Evans.

Direk Mae disclosed that Kathryn and Daniel had a hand in or inputs on the casting and character development, as well as conceptualization and creation of the series, which was two years in the making.

“They really want to do a rom-com. They really want to do something like a love story. And they also want to do this for the fans because they know that there is a clamor for this,” she said. “When concepts were presented to them, they particularly liked this one and they had picked Ronaldo Valdez to be part of the show.”

Mae has a long history with KathNiel. Besides movies, she got to direct them in the teleseryes Pangako Sa’Yo (2015) and La Luna Sangre (2017). These TV projects allowed her to witness their growth as actors and not just as a love team. In fact, the first time she worked with them both, she had an inkling that they would go places in showbiz.

She recalled, “The first time I worked with them, which was 24/7 In Love, they were already a rising love team and hot na at that moment. Parang ako, I was wondering, ‘What is it about them that makes them hot or why are they so popular?’ And I can see why because they’re beautiful and they’re kilig together. So, when I saw how the crowd was reacting to them, I knew they would go a long way not only because of their physical appearance, but also their chemistry.

Kathryn portrays a private nurse to veteran actor Ronaldo Valdez.

“When we did Crazy Beautiful next, I saw that DJ (Daniel’s nickname), especially, was asking more questions about his character, how to attack it and already thinking even how he’d look... I knew then that he had become an actor… Hindi na siya yung ‘just a love team.’ He was an actor playing a role. And I knew with that kind of attitude, he’d go a long way together with Kathryn because they were working so well together,” she added.

“Kath was also the same way. She was also asking the right questions about her character, the story… And how they were going to attack it — as a couple they’d discuss it, too. So, with that kind of partnership, I knew that they would go a long way,” she reiterated.

For Mae, reuniting with KathNiel on 2 Good 2 Be True simply validated what she had seen all along.

“When I saw them again after all the projects that they’ve done, ah kaya andyan pa sila up to now. Na it’s because they have maintained that maturity, professionalism and love for the craft,” she shared.

What amused and surprised Mae though during the first few days of shooting 2 Good 2 Be True was how KathNiel was feeling nervous over this TV project.

“Kath was so nervous because it’s been a long time since (they did rom-com). They were doing mostly endorsements and they did a sitcom. They were so nervous because tinatanong nila, ‘Marunong pa ba kami umarte? Parang kinakabahan kami.’

“To think of their stature, that they would still feel that way, it’s good because you know that they are on their toes. It’s not that they’re relaxed na or sobrang kampante na… They were excited and nervous at the same time.

“And then, you can see that (acting) is something natural na sa kanila and that their experience showed even when they were nervous. Lalabas na kaya nila and of course, marunong sila umarte. They got the hang of it pa rin and nasanay ulit. Nanibago lang. But I saw that hindi nawala, from the first time that I saw them, that chemistry, charisma and professionalism,” said Mae.

Nevertheless, the lady director admitted it was a huge challenge making sure that KathNiel, who has starred in some 15 onscreen projects together, could still offer something exciting and fresh in 2 Good 2 Be True.

“Such a big challenge actually, knowing that they have done so many love stories, so many kilig and romantic scenes together. In fact, when we do certain scenes, (we’d go), oh alam niyo na ‘to, ginawa niyo na ‘to,” she said.

“But then when I read the script as a creator, as a director, sa akin palang, sa level ko palang, ‘No, they’ve done this so many times’ or ‘No, we have to give them something different.’ It’s such a challenge not only for them as actors, but for us as creators to tell the story differently so that it would be kilig in a different way.”

Direk Mae boasts of a directing portfolio of successful romance-dramas and romantic comedies, the most recent of which are Unbreakable, Four Sisters Before the Wedding and Love or Money. When asked for her secret to not running out of inspiration for a well-worn genre, she said she’s always on the lookout for ideas from her own experiences and those of others.

“I love listening to the stories of other people. I always ask them what their love stories are, and I use that (as inspiration). So come on, tell me your stories, so I can show them,” she quipped.


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