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Entertainment

Fil-Am star Jacob Batalon displays acting range in horror film ‘Tarot’

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
Fil-Am star Jacob Batalon displays acting range in horror film �Tarot�
‘Tarot’ star Jacob Batalon: ‘I definitely feel like I have a duty just as other Filipino-American actors do to really be like representatives of our culture and our people.’
STAR / File

Filipino-American actor Jacob Batalon stars in the horror film “Tarot” as the character who keeps his friends together as they begin experiencing deadly misfortunes after their fortunes are read through tarot cards.

Based on a 1992 novel, “Horrorscope,” the movie is written and directed by Spenser Cohen and Anna Halberg, in their feature film directorial debut, and co-written, by Nicholas Adams. It co-stars Harriet Slater, Adain Bradley, Avantika Vandanapu, Wolfgang Novogratz, Humberly González, and Larsen Thompson.

“There’s something inherently scary about tarot cards and tarot readings,” said co-writer/director Halberg of the film’s central theme in the production notes.

“We love astrology and horoscopes because it’s a way to learn about yourself, but it’s also a way to bring clarity and to learn about the future. On the other hand, if you know what the future is going to hold, good or bad, it will influence the decisions that you make. And just because you could know what the future brings, I don’t know that it’s a good idea that you should.”

The showrunners said they created “Tarot” for the cinemas. “Horror is best experienced in a group,” said Halberg. “There’s something so scary and fun about sitting in a dark theater with a group of strangers and going on this emotional rollercoaster.”

Cohen added, “It’s like being out on Halloween night and going to a haunted house with your friends. We specifically designed this experience for the big screen.”

In the film, Jacob takes on the role of Paxton, described by the showrunners as “everyone’s bestfriend,” who serves as the glue that holds the group together.

The filmmakers shared that they turned to Peter Parker’s best friend for the character of Paxton, having seen Jacob’s comedic range in the “Spider-Man” movies.

Based on a 1992 novel, ‘Horrorscope,’ the movie is written and directed by Spenser Cohen and Anna Halberg, in their feature film directorial debut. Starring alongside Jacob are Harriet Slater, Adain Bradley, Avantika Vandanapu, Wolfgang Novogratz, Humberly González, and Larsen Thompson. "Tarot" is now showing in cinemas under Columbia Pictures.
COLUMBIA PICTURES

“And he’s amazing in those,” said Cohen, also pointing out that not many people realize that Jacob is also “one of the best dramatic actors out there.”

“He has so much range and brings so much heart — he steals every scene he’s in,” Cohen praised the Fil-Am actor.

Jacob himself enjoyed playing the part and taking on the challenge to give depth to a character that otherwise could only be in the film for “comic relief.”

He said, “He starts out not believing in star signs — he thinks it’s just a bunch of junk. When he gets The Fool  card, he starts to realize that things are really happening, and starts to take it more seriously, in a funny albeit very tactless way. I tried to bring more of myself to the role, and Anna and Spenser definitely gave me a lot of room to improv.”

Meanwhile, here’s a little more update on Jacob’s film and TV projects besides his breakout success as Peter Parker’s scene-stealing and charming best friend Ned Leeds in the MCU Spider-Man films. In 2022, Jacob debuted as executive producer and lead star in Syfy’s “Reginald the Vampire,” a dramedy that tells the story of Batalon’s Reginald as an unlikely hero battling through obstacles in a world inhabited with beautiful, fit, and vain vampires. The show was renewed for a second season in June 2023  and is set to premiere this May. After “Tarot,” Jacob’s next film is with Jack Quaid and Amber Midthunder, which is Paramount’s “Novocaine,” about a sheltered bank executive with a rare genetic condition that prevents him from feeling pain. His previous projects were Netflix’s “Lift” and “Let It Snow, Every Day” for MGM, Randall Park’s debut film “Shortcomings,” and a slew of independent films.

 ‘Tarot,’ a group of friends violates the sacred rule of Tarot readings – never use someone else’s deck – and unleashes an unspeakable evil trapped within the cursed cards. One by one, they come face to face with fate and end up in a race against death to escape the future foretold in their readings.

Jacob, who was born and raised in Honolulu to Filipino parents, never planned on becoming an actor as a kid. He was initially more interested in singing and music that he enrolled at Honolulu’s Kapi‘olani Community College to take up music theory. He soon dropped out without completing his degree.

Nevertheless, his continued interest in the performing arts led him to a two-year acting program at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. It was in his last year in the program that he did his first-ever audition, submitting a self-tape for a vague supporting role in a Marvel movie. He later on had a chemistry read with Tom Holland and as they say, the rest is history, making him one of the few young Filipino actors who made it to Hollywood.

The Philippine STAR had an e-mail interview with Jacob to talk about his latest big-screen project “Tarot,” which is now showing in Philippine cinemas nationwide, as well as about Filipino-American representation and visibility in Hollywood.

How did you approach portraying Paxton and could you relate to his journey from skepticism to belief in the supernatural?

“I just came in with an open mind and I let Anna (Halberg) and Spenser (Cohen), our directors, sort of help me shape the character that they felt would have been appropriate for the movie. And I sort of injected just like this slight ignorance that helps build his belief in the end.

“Yes, I definitely relate to his journey in believing what I felt like wasn’t real for sure. But I also relate to him just running away from the scary things (laughs).”

Can you share any memorable behind-the-scenes moments or scariest scenes to shoot during filming of “Tarot”?

“Oh, man, gosh. There were a lot of nights where we did the Tarot reading scenes, and that was super fun. But I think, ironically, the funnest night that I had, was when we did this campfire scene. It didn’t even feel like a horror movie. It felt like a coming of age story. And then it all turns bad (laughs).”

If you had to create a survival guide for dealing with supernatural threats, what would be your Top 3 pieces of advice based on your experience filming “Tarot”?

“I would say burn the tarot cards. Don’t take anything lightly, like don’t suspect anything else besides spiritual things. And, and most importantly, just don’t touch another person’s tarot deck.”

Filipino culture is rich in superstitions and folklore. Did any aspects of your Filipino heritage influence your approach to portraying the supernatural elements in “Tarot”?

“I think as soon as Paxton started to believe in it, I truly started to believe in it seriously. And that really reinforced his fear of the spirits. So definitely, growing up with those scary stories definitely influenced me.”

In “Tarot,” you bring diversity to the horror genre as a Filipino-American actor. What impact do you hope it has on audiences? And do you feel a sense of responsibility to use your platform to represent your culture and amplify Filipino voices and stories?

“I definitely hope that people come away with it with the same message that I’ve been saying for years in that I hope they see themselves in me. And I definitely feel like I have a duty just as other Filipino-American actors do to really be like representatives of our culture and our people. There’s been a lot of progress, I think I’ve definitely seen a lot more Asian American actors a lot. And I think those are the right steps in the right direction.”

"Tarot" is now showing in cinemas under Columbia Pictures.

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JACOB BATALON

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