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COVER:Alessandra de Rossi’s second wind

GLOSS THE RECORD - Marbbie Tagabucba - The Philippine Star
COVER:Alessandra de Rossiâs second wind

It is a tiny detail, but a faint breeze brushes past Alessandra de Rossi’s hair towards the end of the two-minute teaser of Sigrid Andrea P. Bernardo’s Kita Kita just before the twist is revealed. The playful repartee progresses from just plain hilarious to flirtatious with a glint of hope; set in a Hokkaido ramen-ya all to themselves, their chemistry as hot as their steamy bowls. Is it Empoy Mercado’s suave bravado sweeping her off her seat, or is it the winds signaling a shakeup in the Filipino mainstream film industry, starting with this unlikely pairing?

“Lagi nila sinasabi, ‘Wag ka aalis sa formula. Hindi yan kakagatin ng tao. Sanay sila sa kung ano yung ino-offer na,” Alessandra points out.

She may have once been a Bench Body, but the name recall is associated with award-winning portrayals of the most complex — and unglamorous — kind. She is also known to be anti-showbiz: candid, wisecracking, and guffawing in her appearances. There is nothing diva-like or conventional about her. Empoy, an all-around funnyman, isn’t exactly a Piolo Pascual — the founder and manager of Spring Films, the indie film firm producing this offbeat romcom.

Still, Alessandra had an inkling they were on to something. “Lagi ko sinasabi na madaming tao ang gutom. Hindi na nila kakagatin ano lang ang nandiyan. Kailangan ng bago.”

When her character Lea reveals the trailer twist that spices things up — that she is, temporarily and only over the course of their two-week affair, blind — the audience happily ate it up like ramen. The trailer, foregoing cutesy love teams or machinations, clocked in views by the tens of thousands on its first day. People are anticipating its premiere on July 19, coincidentally Alessandra’s birthday. One comment reads: “Finally, ibang artista. Finally, ibang kwento.” Finally.

Alessandra exclaims, “Baka totoo pala yung sinasabi ko! Ako nga si Madam Auring!”

It had to be AlEmpoy

Certainly, she is an actress. Prolific and venerated at 32, this fanfare comes as a shock for someone who took on roles out of sheer artistry, looking for scripts with social relevance, “Yung pwede baguhin ang opinion mo sa bagay-bagay.”

The UK-born, Italian-Filipina brought to the big screen the struggles of a public school teacher, a domestic helper coming home as the carrier of SARS, and a housemaid in a foreign land haunted by ghosts. “Pag pinanood mo ako,” she says of her roles, “Hindi mo gugustuhin maging ako.”

She had her reservations about taking on a romcom and all the tropes attached to it. Kita Kita could have easily been just another boy-meets-girl tale in the saturated genre, but she and Empoy — collectively AlEmpoy, “Sister ng alembong” — add completely new elements to overthrow the formula. “Pwede din ma-in love ang mga hindi nagsusuklay,” she says. “Walang nag-eexpect na magka-tuluyan kami. Walang hoping.”

Producer Erwin “Lucky” Blanco, who has worked on a string of box office hit romcoms as well as with Alessandra in Paul Soriano’s Kid Kulafu and Lav Diaz’s internationally-acclaimed, eight-hour Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis, offered the leading lady role to her to challenge her versatility as an actress.

“Sabi niya, kilos ko pang leading man,” she shares. “Sabi ko, ‘Alam mo ba mas ligawin pa ko? Mahilig lang ako mang-basted agad.’ Sabi ko, ‘Hindi niyo pa ako nakikita ma-in love.’”

 

‘Love is bulag-bulagan’

Around this time a year ago, Alessandra swore that she would stay single forever — never to fall in love again after she got her heart broken the year before.

Now she clarifies, “Masyado siya pinalaki.” She speaks her mind — truthfully, but also impulsively. “Bago noon, single ako for eight years bago ako nagka boyfriend ulit.”

There’s drama in there, but with Lea as the metaphor in Kita Kita’s thesis, we get a glimpse of headstrong Alessandra in love: “Palabiro, sasawayin kita pag kailangan. Ganun si Lea.” And like Lea, one drunken night changed the course of things. In Alessandra’s case, it was for the worst, something like that Salbakuta one-hit-wonder.

“Alam mo na naman ano gusto mo eh. At least naging klaro sa akin kung ano ang ayaw ko,” she says. “Malalaman mo lang naman kung ano ang ayaw mo pag na-experience mo na.”

Alessandra’s Lea is anything but coy and sweet; she would have turned down the role if she was asked to do the role in the same way everybody else portrays a woman falling in love.

Unlike Lea, Alessandra notes she is no perfectionist, but growing up with a happy family did set her standards high in the age of murky relationship statuses and boundaries. Her parents bond by bickering and bantering over game show answers, best friends just as much as they are a married couple. “Pag umiinit ulo ng daddy ko, sinasabi ko sa mommy ko, ‘My God, pag ganyan dapat hinihiwalayan na yan!’ Sinasabi ng mommy ko, ‘Hindi ko iiwanan yan, itatali ko lang yan.’”

As for Kjwan’s Marc Abaya and the speculations that they are in a relationship, she answers, “Super-close kami. Alam niya ang fears ko, ano ang ayaw at gusto ko. Pero alam din niya na busy ako at alam ko din na busy siya.”

Honest moments

The most preparation she did for the 15-day location shoot of Kita Kita was to walk around her house with her eyes closed to experience what it’s like to abruptly plunge into a world of darkness. She tried to learn how to use a walking cane until she realized that since Lea is only temporarily blind in the film, she didn’t necessarily have to know how to use one.

Acting is like a switch that she flicks on and off. There’s raw talent at play but Alessandra explains, “In real life, kunyari ka eksena kita ngayon at sasabihan mo ako na mahal mo ako, hindi ako prepared marinig yun. Paano ako aarte? Parang totoong buhay lang. Hindi ka naman prepared na kunyari may ma-aksidente. Alam mo na ba agad? From 0 to 100 ba ang reaction mo?”

Workshops are not for her, but she respects that other actors need them. Others need more time, silence, some music. Alessandra just takes off on the actor’s cue and nails the first take with that precious, sought-after honesty of the given moment. “As a human being, in denial ka muna. In real life, may time na kailangan mag sink in siya. Kailangan mo ng dalawang minuto. Doon ako nahihirapan sa scenes na ‘yun.”

On to the next?

Kita Kita thrusts Alessandra’s soft spot into the spotlight and there’s no telling where the shift in public perception will take her. “Sabi sa akin (ni Lucky), ‘Pagkatapos nito, hindi ka na tatanggap ng role na katulong ah!”

As far as legacies go, Alessandra admits, “Feeling ko matagal na siya natapos.” She debuted at 13, and at age 16, won her first FAMAS Award, starred in Gawad Urian Best Film Munting Tinig in 2002, the only Filipino film released by Warner Bros. Pictures when she was 17 — and that was just the beginning. Then she drops this bomb: “Every year gusto ko mag quit.”

“Pag may nakausap ako na artista, sasabihin nila ‘Pangarap ko makarating sa international film festival. Pangarap ko magka award,’” she shares, which would have her looking inward, wondering if the best had already passed her by. “Wala na ba akong pangarap?”

“Commercial ‘yung may pera, mas mayaman,” she then sits up and reenacts a perky shampoo commercial twist and does another one for a skincare brand for laughs, but convincingly so. “Bagay ba sa akin?” She makes herself cringe.

“Masyado na ako matanda para sa dream roles ko,” she says, later on adding that she wants to play a schizophrenic in a story where the condition is the focus, but that has yet to be written.

She has written her own scripts. There’s a yet to be published web series and a movie script entitled The Diary of a Thirtysomething, which she pegs as “Sex & The City with Pinay family values and traits of being submissive, matiisin,” as opposed to the franchise centered on four independent New York City girls. Shelved for two years, she reports she has found a producer, is searching for the right leading man, and is now mulling whether to play the lead role or direct — “para lang hindi na ako mag makeup!” she says, only half-joking.

Growing up in a business surrounded by creatives, writing is just one the things she’s explored over the past 10 years. She also sings; she has released two electronica albums — “Adrift” in 2012 and “derealization” last year — and does production design.

That she may yet walk away from the camera isn’t far-fetched, but the ethos to keep creating remains. She won’t be too far away from the viewfinder either. Maybe next time, she will be behind it.

Photos by RALPH MENDOZA

Produced by DAVID MILAN

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