How did Liza Soberano fare in her Hollywood debut?

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
How did Liza Soberano fare in her Hollywood debut?
Liza Soberano makes her Hollywood debut in the now-showing horror/rom-com ‘Lisa Frankenstein’ from Focus Features and Universal Pictures International. She plays Taffy, stepsister to titular character Lisa, played by Kathryn Newton. They’re polar opposites. The former is the ‘good girl’ at home and resident popular girl at school, while Lisa is seen as the problem child in the family, and outsider even among the outcasts at school.
STAR / File

Liza Soberano has aced her first acting job in Hollywood. The 26-year-old Filipino-American actress stars in the darkly quirky romantic-comedy “Lisa Frankenstein” by Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody and first-time feature director Zelda Williams.

Screening now in Philippine theaters ahead of the US premiere, this marks a major Hollywood debut for Liza following her much-discussed, if not controversial, transition from the local entertainment industry. Her onscreen presence spans from the second scene to the penultimate one in the film set in the ‘80s.

Liza plays Taffy, the stepsister to the titular character Lisa, played by Kathryn Newton. They’re polar opposites. The former is the “good girl” at home and resident popular girl at school, while Lisa is seen as the problem child in the family, and an outsider even among the outcasts at school.

From the start, it is established that Taffy is the one reaching out to Lisa to help her adjust to her new school, new family and new life.

Lisa, on the other hand, has withdrawn from the outside world due to the very tragic death of her mom and hasty remarriage of her father (Joe Chrest) to Taffy’s mom (Carla Gugino).

She eventually finds someone — a Victorian Era-corpse (Cole Sprouse) whom she accidentally brings back to life from the Bachelor’s Grave cemetery. He gets her, falls in love with her and defends her in a morbidly funny kind of way.

In the film, Liza is the all-American girl, campus crush, cheerleader and leader of the female pack.

As for Taffy, as the story progresses, you can’t shake off a nagging suspicion that it’s just a front — that there’s more to her than the niceness she’s extending to Lisa. Audiences will somehow be prepared to hate on Liza’s character because she ticks off stereotypes of the Hollywood high school mean girl — the all-American girl, campus crush, cheerleader, leader of the female pack. And something does unravel in the end. She does something that qualifies as mean and hate-worthy to her stepsister, but still, you cannot hate her character. Even Lisa couldn’t hold it against her.

That’s because of Liza’s portrayal. She brings such a likable presence to this film. It’s as if the role was also tailor-made for her.

The Filipina actress joins ‘Lisa Frankenstein’ lead stars Cole Sprouse and Kathryn Newton at the film’s Los Angeles premiere. The movie is written by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody and megged by first- time feature director Zelda Williams.

According to an ABS-CBN report, lead stars Kathryn and Cole praised Liza as a co-actor, even likening her to an “Olympian” for her skills and professionalism in adapting to a production that wasn’t her typical turf or comfort zone, while also fleshing out one of the most complex characters in the film.

For Liza, it was tricky to pull the character off. “Yes, it was actually tricky navigating that, because Zelda was very specific that she didn’t want Taffy to be a mean girl, that she didn’t want to be someone like the evil stepsister in ‘Cinderella’ or anything,” she said in response to a STAR question when she came home late January to the Philippines for media interviews about “Lisa Frankenstein.”

“She said that what she wants the audience to feel with my character is like they want to hate her, but they can’t because she’s just so nice and so sweet and so supportive of Lisa. And so at times, when I had to be like the all-American Girl, the perfect daughter, the most popular girl in school, I guess my body or just the history of portraying mean girls, it kind of came back. And at times I would learn more towards, like, conniving.”

Whenever that happened, she shared, Zelda (who, by the way, is the daughter of the late Hollywood comedian Robin Williams and herself is part-Filipino through her mom’s side) would stop her and pull her back. “She’d be like, no, no, no, no, be more genuine. You mean no harm. You don’t actually know that this is going to cause problems for Lisa later on. You’re just speaking your mind, but you have no malicious intent,” she recalled her director’s instructions to her.

“So yeah, it was, it was hard balancing it, but I think towards maybe the second or third week, I kind of got the hang of it. I realized it’s just like me. I’m very frank, very straightforward, but I honestly mean no harm.”

For her portrayal, Liza also drew from her personal experience of having nine younger siblings — plus a new one coming up. Being the older one growing up, she could say she was similar to Taffy.

“Lisa’s character is just like, so caught up in being a teenager, in her teenage angst and her anger about certain things that happened in her life. She forgot that there are actually people around her who still love and care for her and want her to experience the best things in life, one of them being Taffy, her stepsister who is the complete opposite of her,” she said.

“In many ways, I feel like me and my siblings are kind of like that. There’s a disconnect sometimes between me and my siblings because, like, of the world that I kind of move in and they feel like I’m unapproachable or they can’t relate to any of the advice that I give them.

“I feel like Taffy and Lisa are kind of in the same boat where Lisa also thinks that Taffy is so out of her league, so different from her. They didn’t grow up together or whatever. So, she starts assuming things about Taffy, because Taffy is the stereotypical perfect daughter, right? She’s the cheer captain, popular girl, I guess, she’s smart, like she’s sweet. Everybody loves her. And that’s something that Lisa wants for herself, too.

“Because Taffy has that, Lisa just kind of wants to hate her. But Taffy is so nice to her that she can’t. I have a little bit of that with my siblings. I would say, from time to time, it’s like, ‘You’re a know-it-all and everything,’ just typical sibling quarrels. But at the end of the day, they know my intentions. They know that I truly, deeply care for and love them. And I try my best to express that in the best way that I can.”

Liza further reflected on her role as an older sibling, expressing, “I feel like I was put on this Earth to be a sister.” She readily acknowledged the impulse to be pakialamera or to intervene in her siblings’ lives but that it’s done with their best interests at heart.

“But then, I realized as I got older, sometimes you just have to let them live their life,” she said.

“That you have to let them experience, you know, messing up or even their gaining success on their own terms. I think that’s what Taffy learned along the way and that’s how I related to her.”

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