How Darryl Yap convinced Isko Moreno to play Ninoy Aquino

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
How Darryl Yap convinced Isko Moreno to play Ninoy Aquino
Isko Moreno as the late Sen. Ninoy Aquino in his acting comeback via Martyr or Murderer, which opens in cinemas on March 1.
Photos from the director’s Facebook page

Former Manila Mayor Isko Moreno is making his acting comeback as the late Sen. Ninoy Aquino in Darryl Yap’s dramedy Martyr or Murderer (MoM), the second installment of his trilogy of films about the Marcos family. Sen. Imee Marcos is credited as creative consultant and executive producer of the movies under Viva Films.

MoM is set to hold a special screening tonight ahead of the March 1 theatrical release, but as per synopsis, it “recounts what happened to the family before and after EDSA Revolution,” offers a peek into their life in exile and discusses “the intrigues surrounding Imee Marcos’ exploits in Morocco.”

“Did she really go into hiding and forge passports? How did her siblings cope with the sudden turn of events? How did the ailing patriarch and his Imeldific wife carry on with their lives after being stripped of power and dignity?” the media release teased.

It also said that “it aims to provide answers” to the “unending hows and whys” involving then-Pres. Ferdinand Marcos Sr. (played by Cesar Montano) and main political rival Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. — from how their conflict started to why Ninoy’s death was “blamed on the Marcoses.” Ninoy’s assasination in 1983 was credited to have sparked a chain of events that led to the 1986 People Power Revolution, the end of Marcos Sr.’s two-decade rule and the Marcos family’s exile to the United States.

Besides courting controversy and strong reactions from in and out of the film community, just like with his first film Maid in Malacañang (MiM) that eventually became a box-office hit, Darryl also surprised if not shocked many by casting Isko as Ninoy in MoM.

During a mediacon, the actor-turned-politico said he was “happy and honored” to join the cast and wasn’t worried about being bashed over taking on the role, adding: “It’s also a great challenge to portray such a character like Ninoy who was declared by the state as a hero. It’s a humbling experience.”

But how did direk Darryl convince Isko, who ran and lost to Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. in the 2022 presidential race, to become part of the film?

In an interview with The STAR, Darryl said, “During the elections, I had meetings with the Isko camp naman if I’d be willing to do campaigning for them. So, I already have connections. And I think to further push for the term ‘unity,’ I have to include the former adversary from a different camp to finally show the essence of unity. Then, I told the senator.

Martyr or Murderer stars (from left) Ruffa Gutierrez (as Imelda Marcos), Cesar Montano (as Ferdinand Marcos Sr.), director Darryl Yap, creative consultant Sen. Imee Marcos, Cristine Reyes (as Imee Marcos) and former Manila Mayor Isko Moreno (as Ninoy Aquino) during a mediacon for the film.

“But Sen. Imee said, ‘I don’t think Isko will say yes.’ Sabi ko, let’s try. I had a meeting with Yorme in BGC, nag-usap kami tapos pinabasa ko yung script. Sabi niya, basahin ko muna (script) bago ako umo-o. It’s just a seven-page script and ang shooting niya sa amin one day lang. So, if people are thinking tungkol kay Ninoy ang pelikula, sorry po, hindi eh.”

While Isko as Ninoy is prominently shown in promotional posters “because it’s a big role,” Darryl reiterated, “hindi naman tungkol sa kanya.”

“It was his (Isko’s) concern, ‘Baka mamaya, all of a sudden ako yung nasa spotlight. I don’t like it. I don’t want any friction with the Marcoses anymore.’

“You know, Yorme is a very gracious man. Nung nabasa niya ang script, ngumiti siya, then he hugged me, sabi niya, it’s a yes. So, sobrang swerte ko na I have Cesar Montano, I have Isko Moreno. They are very, very, very intelligent actors. Sen. Imee is also bilib sa kanila.

“Plus, what really made me consider Isko, it’s you know the eloquence kapag nagsasalita. Bihira lang kasi yung ganun talaga, yung magaling sa Tagalog, magaling sa Ingles. Nung nag-oo siya sa akin, tapos na. Sabi ko, pwede na tayo mag-shoot, we have a Ninoy.”

Prior to Isko, Darryl had initially considered Phillip Salvador for the part. “But, you know, the physical appearance of Sir Ipe now is not really Ninoy-ish. Nag-gain siya ng weight eh. Sabi ko, Sir, gusto ko ikaw mag-Ninoy. Si Sir Ipe naman is, naku wala yan problema if mukha akong Ninoy. Acting ‘di mo na kailangan turuan. But sabi ko, okay, I’m not going to have Ipe, sino pa kaya?”

When looking for the Ninoy actor, he also wanted someone with “a little spice and spunk.” “And Yorme talaga is really the choice. When I told Viva about it, they were surprised nga eh. Sabi ko, if we don’t get Isko, I’ll be very brokenhearted. Sinabi ko yun kay Yorme, ‘Yorme, ‘pag di ka umu-o dito, baka hindi ko na to gawin.’

“So na-pressure siguro,” he quipped.

According to Darryl, the character of Ninoy, whose younger version is played by Jerome Ponce, will appear in scenes set in 1954, 1972 and 1983. These include a meeting with former First Lady Imelda Marcos, played by Ruffa Gutierrez. He described it as “the heart of the film.”

“It’s a seven-minute dialogue without cuts. Nahirapan actually sila ni Ruffa because No. 1 Ruffa has evolved sobra. Sobrang parang hindi na siya. With Mayor Isko naman, parang after 12 years na yata siya aarte,” he told The STAR.

“But they were so prepared. Yorme was there, looking at the location, saan siya uupo, fini-feel niya talaga and kabado… maybe that’s also a gift kapag siniseryoso ng artista mo. Magaling eh. You have to watch that seven-minute dialogue. Sobrang intense. And no one knows that it happened that before Ninoy was assassinated, before he died, pinuntahan siya ni Imelda sa New York. We have footage of that.”

He further told this paper that he wasn’t out to demonize any other person in his film. “Well, the Pinks or the Liberals (think) na parang I will demonize, na ganun ano? No, I’m not here to demonize. I’m here nga para burahin yung pagkaka-demonize sa mga Marcos, bakit naman ako mag-de-demonize ng another person,” he said.

“I’m just here to humanize these political families. I don’t see anything wrong with that. You humanize them because, after all, they’re all humans. So they don’t have to worry, I will not demonize anyone. But they have to make sure so they have to watch on March 1.”

In a previous presscon, the director insisted his controversial trilogy is not “political” but a “family in crisis movie” despite real-life political figures featured in it. He was also previously asked if, in the interest of fair play, he had consulted the “other side of the political fence” on certain scenes.

“I’m not bound to ask them anything,” he said. “I think a lot of great directors have told their story in the best way they can. I’m just here to tell the story of the Marcoses. Whether I’m doing it right or wrong, we’ll find out on March 1.”

MoM faces off at the box-office Joel Lamangan’s Oras De Peligro, a family drama said to be backdropped by the political climate during the days leading to the People Power uprising. A week before both films, Ako si Ninoy, a musical-turned-movie inspired by the life of Ninoy Aquino, started screening in cinemas.

Meanwhile, the planned third installment is titled Mabuhay Aloha Mabuhay (MaM), which will be about the return of the Marcos family from exile, and partly titled as such because MiM’s “biggest international gross” is in Hawaii. Since it will also cover the years 2016 to 2022, the director is now searching for actors to play former Pres. Rodrigo Duterte, Vice President Sara Duterte and the late Sen. Miriam Santiago.

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