Nico Antonio shares what he learned from being part of K-drama Big Bet

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
Nico Antonio shares what he learned from being part of K-drama Big Bet
Nico listens to instructions from his director Kang Yoonsung on the Big Bet set. About 70 percent of the series was filmed in the country.
STAR / File

Nico Antonio plays a significant role in the South Korean crime-action series Big Bet, which premieres exclusively on Disney+ today.

The Tandem and Big Night actor is also joined by Filipino acting veterans Bembol Roco and Ronnie Lazaro, based on the trailer of the K-drama topbilled by Old Boy star Choi Minsik, Reply 1988’s Lee Donghwi, My Liberation Notes’ Son Sukku and Squid Game’s Heo Sungtae. The series has been drawing special attention from K-fans because it is Choi’s first TV comeback in over 25 years. Kang Yoonsung, who is behind the mega-hit actioner The Outlaws (2017) and its high-grossing sequel The Roundup (2022), is the director.

Big Bet tells the story of a man (Choi) who struggles and then succeeds to become a “casino king” in the Philippines. He eventually encounters a series of unfortunate events that leads him to hitting rock bottom. But determined not to lose, he’s willing to risk everything just to return to the game.

Nico plays a police officer who works with Son’s police character to investigate a series of killings in the Philippines involving Koreans.

In a recent one-on-one, Nico revealed screening for the part sans expectations of being hired for the job. It was his mom, lawyer-producer Joji Alonso, who informed him about the auditions.

“I auditioned because my mom told me about this, ‘Nico, there’s this K-drama audition, would you like to join?’ Sabi ko, OK, because work is work eh. That’s my mentality,” the Aguila Artist Management talent recalled.  “So, I went to the audition venue and was asked to memorize lines. During the audition itself, I said my lines but Mr. Kang asked for an audition piece.”

Nico ended up reenacting his scene with John Arcilla from the comedy-drama film Big Night. But he remembered his director saying, “OK, that’s good, but can you give me a more serious acting piece?”

Nico eventually did an emotional scene from Tandem, where his grieving character was blaming JM de Guzman’s for the death of his wife.  His one-word dialogue was a resounding Pinoy expletive. One week later, he was called back again to do a face-to-face audition this time around. The rest, as they say, is history.

Nico was particularly excited to join Big Bet because of its top-tier Korean cast. He said, “I already knew Choi Minsik was the main lead for the series (before the auditions). That was why I was so ecstatic to audition for it. I really wanted the part.”

“And when I got it, I couldn’t believe it! I was happy, excited but at the same time, I was tempering my expectations because hanggang hindi ako yung mismong sumasalang sa location at umaarte dun, ‘di pa talaga siya lubusan na akin.”

His first day on the Big Bet set was a scene with no less than Choi Minsik. Nico said he tried his best not to feel overwhelmed and fanboy. “I was telling myself, ‘Don’t be nervous, chill ka lang.’ Tapos nailusot ko naman. Gusto ko magpa-photo op with (Choi during the first scene together) because he’s one of my acting idols. But I realized, ‘wag muna, pakita ka muna kung ano ang meron ka kasi iispin niya fan ka and not a co-actor. So, we acted out that scene. A few days later, we shared another scene together, after which I finally had my picture taken with him.”

Meanwhile, due to a non-disclosure agreement, Nico has been tightlipped about his role in Big Bet, only saying he’s a police officer “investigating Korean killings here in the Philippines.”

“I can say that he’s just like any ordinary person, like you and me, we deal with any situation and we try to make the best out of it,” he further described his character.

In terms of preparations, he visited the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) office at Camp Crame. “I asked if I could visit the CIDG office just to observe how they work, how they deal with and plan their operations. And mismo yung mga individuals dun, paano sila magsalita, paano sila makipag-relate and makitungo sa kapwa nila.”

Big Bet was filmed in the Philippines, mainly in Olongapo, for almost three months. Nico didn’t get the chance to tour his castmates around the country because they were rushing the shoot for the exterior shots. He also flew to Korea to film interior shots, including the police station and the casino itself. “It was shot in Korea because they built a soundstage there. That’s how big the budget of this series is,” he revealed.

Nevertheless, when asked about his biggest challenge in doing this K-drama, Nico said it was the pressure that he put himself under during filming.

In the series, Nico is a policeman who will work with My Liberation Notes star Son Sukku’s character, a Korean police officer dispatched to the Philippines.

“(It was the) internal pressure (I had) on myself because I was no longer working with Filipinos, but with international people and production. I needed to show them that Filipino actors can go hand-in-hand with international productions and actors. It was my biggest task — to show na kaya rin namin makipagsabayan,” he shared.

On what he appreciated the most in working on a Korean show, he bared: “Let’s start with practicality. Yung bayad (the pay is) three times higher. Second (reason) is that they treat the Filipino actors the same way they treat the Korean actors. Yung pakikitungo ng director sa amin, pareho lang. You don’t feel any difference, we’re all treated the same…

“Tapos, very mabilis sila kumilos, ‘pag nag-set up, kuha kaagad. ‘Pag nag-cut, lilipat na ng ibang location, baklas na kaagad. ‘Di ka pwede babagal-bagal sa kanila,” Nico said.

As for his “biggest takeaway” from doing Big Bet, he said, “Just be yourself. Kasi what I learned is medyo mas leaning towards sila sa underacting, especially Choi. Kung umarte (siya) hindi malaki so sinabayan ko lang.

“And you always have the option to compromise — that’s the takeaway… When it comes to the production, the series itself, basta mag-e-enjoy kayo. Panoorin niyo nalang sa Dec. 21.”

Big Bet is the “third” international project of Nico these past two years.

Meanwhile, during a press presentation at the Disney Content Showcase APAC 2022, which The STAR attended early this month in Singapore, director Kang said that the drama was inspired by a real-life person who operated a casino in the Philippines. The cast members also described their Filipino counterparts as “helpful” and “cooperative.”

Nico Antonio hopes that his role in the South Korean crime-action series Big Bet will lead to more opportunities in international productio

“We were grateful to film the series in a cheerful atmosphere, surrounded by wonderful crews,” director Kang also noted.

About 70 percent of the series was shot in the country. The director said, in another presscon, that the show will appeal to Korean audiences due to the “exotic” setting. The first season will run for eight episodes.



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