Everybody will know Angeli Bayani

Don Jaucian - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Angeli Bayani is having quite a year. She just came from Cannes Film Festival where she had two films in two different sections: Lav Diaz’s Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan in Un Certain Regard, and Anthony Chen’s Ilo Ilo, in Director’s Fortnight. Ilo Ilo won the Camera d’Or (Golden Camera), an award for first-time filmmakers, which counts Miranda July, Jafar Panahi, and Steve McQueen as previous winners. After coming home from France, she went straight to work, wrapping up a part in Sari and Kiri Dalena’s The Guerilla is a Poet, then off to Quezon for Mel Chionglo’s Lauriana. She also has a part in Adolf Alix Jr.’s Cinemalaya entry, Porno.

While she may not yet be a household name, Angeli is the very definition of what an actress really is. Her body of work attests to this fact. She has worked with great directors, won acting awards, travelled to international film festivals, and acted in international productions. Her roles may require her to play support or secondary fiddle to other actresses, but she strips her characters down to the core; fully-fleshed out and imbued with the most integral sense of what it is like to be human — struggling and surviving. 

One rainy afternoon, we sat down with Angeli to talk about her work in Norte, being a part of a film that won the prestigious Camera d’Or, and what being an actress means in this country.

SUPREME: How is it like working with Lav Diaz?

ANGELI BAYANI: Lav is the kind of director who trusts you to do your job. “I’m the director, this is what I’ll do; you’re an actor, that’s your job.  But of course, as your director, I will explain to you this much. Bahala ka na to get from there what you need to do, what you have to do. When we shot Death in the Land of Encantos, he would tell me, “Angeli, come,” and he’d show me his framing. “That’s your acting space. Bahala ka na,” he’d say. I was really surprised. What did he mean by “bahala ka na?” Improv.

You’ve always played dark characters in films. Has it ever happened that a part of a character was still with you even after filming?

I was once asked, “Don’t you guys have an off switch?” At the time, I was so into the role and so immersed in the film, so when I was asked that, I wanted to hit the person! (Laughs.) We were in Laoag [on the set of Norte] when I was asked that. I just said, “When I’m on a Lav Diaz set, it’s kind of hard to find that off switch.” I asked Sid [Lucero, co-star in Norte], “Why did your friend ask me about the off switch?” Sid answered, very seriously, “I don’t think you have an off switch.” I said, “What!? You think I’m crazy?” He answered, “No, I think you’re always ‘on’.”

I got really scared because I thought to myself, am I the kind of actress that always brings baggage around? Until now, I think about that. I hope not, but the thing is, for me, you put yourself into the character and not the other way around. So if there are parts of the character that stay with me, it’s because I invested in that. I put myself in that position so that role, that film, will always be a part of me.

Are you still hesitant to identify yourself as an actress when you’re in public?

When you admit that you’re an actress, the next questions you always get are, “Who have you worked with?” “Where does your work cone out?” “How much is your talent fee?” I hate answering questions like that. It’s always about that. Nobody asks about what films you’ve done and what roles you’ve played. Nobody asks. Our culture is about fame and fortune; we think that people become actors in order to get famous, to get rich. It’s not about being a good storyteller, not someone who considers acting as a craft, as a profession. I think there’s a difference. What people see on TV is, anyone can be an actor. Anyone can be rich and famous.

What of your perspective as an actress has changed since you went to Cannes?

It’s only now that I realize the huge responsibility [as an actor]. Before, I used to say, “I’m just a storyteller, a film is still a director’s vision and I had nothing to do with it.” But then I met the head of the jury of the Camera d’Or, Agnès Varda.

We had our own after party and everyone was congratulating us. When I came in, Agnès Varda was on her way out. I panicked. The press agent of Ilo Ilo, said “Run!” and I ran in my gown, ha! Turns out, (Agnes) was just going to the rest room. It was so embarrassing! “Excuse me! Excuse me!” I really said that. What I really just wanted to say is, “I wanted to tell you how happy I am that I have met you and this is such an honor.” Fangirl moment!

But Agnès Varda is so intimidating; she has wrinkles but her eyes are so sharp. She told me, “Congratulations.” And then I said, “I don’t know why you’re congratulating me.” She said, “No. The Camera d’Or is awarded to a first-time filmmaker. This is a first feature. We look at everything: the production, the story. And this first time filmmaker would not have succeeded in telling his story if you weren’t there. So this award belongs to you as much as it is to him.” So ako talaga, oh my god. Dun ko lang naintindihan.

So now, I know the responsibility of an actor. Because for the head ng jury ng Camera d’Or and the grandmother of French New Wave to tell me what she did… I think I knew it naman, but I wouldn’t claim it. And I realized that yeah, at the end of the day, it’s the director’s vision, but he is behind the camera. I don’t understand him if we don’t communicate. If I don’t hold his vision, we won’t go anywhere.

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