Gabbi Garcia steps up her game

VAB (The Freeman) - July 13, 2016 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines - A slender tall drink of water, Gabbi Garcia had never bothered with counting calories and minding her fitness.

The 17-year-old actress had to start caring though, whether she liked it or not, the moment she landed the major TV role of Sang’gre Alena in the new “Encantadia,” set to premiere this Monday (July 18). 

Played by Karylle in the 2005 original, Alena is among four warrior-deity sisters (the other three are Pirena played by Glaiza de Castro, Amihan by Kylie Padilla and Danaya by Sanya Lopez) tasked with protecting the elemental gems; in her case, she’s Keeper of the Water Gem. Gifted with a powerful voice that can soothe, destroy or hypnotize, she’s the family’s pacifist, the romantic Sang’gre who couldn’t care less whether she’d be queen someday or not.

But even if Gabbi’s character would be the least of the four sisters to brew conflict or incite war, she’s still a warrior after all. And to look the part, the Kapuso talent had to shape up and overhaul her lifestyle.

“I wasn’t really sporty. I don’t run, I don’t go on diets,” says Gabbi.

“When I entered Encantadia, I really had to make the big switch. I have to run every morning or whenever I have time, have my calorie-count meals…I wouldn’t really say it’s a sacrifice, but more of a step up, not only as an actress, but also a step up from my previous lifestyle.”

Gabbi also took a crash course for fight scenes. She says she’s determined to improve so she can “catch up with Ate Kylie and Ate Glaiza.”

“Encantadia” director Mark Reyes had from the get-go ordered Gabbi and her co-stars to be in tip-top form – not only for the sake of looking smashing in their battle gear, but also so that they’ll have the stamina to shoot one fight scene after the other.

“You want this role, you have to be in shape,” was Reyes’ reminder to Gabbi, Glaiza, Kylie and Sanya. “I told the girls, if you cannot commit, if you think you cannot follow the lifestyle of being in an armor with no belly, then this show is not for you.”

The same memo was sent to the telefantasya’s male leads, specifically to Gabbi’s screen partner Ruru Madrid who takes on the role portrayed first by Dingdong Dantes.

“They have to bulk up,” Reyes adds. “I cannot see a skinny guy portraying someone who lives in the mountains and fights for his life every day.”

Ruru, a scrawny discovery of the defunct GMA-7 reality star search “Protégé,” calls his casting as Ybarro/Prince Ybrahim a “dream come true.”

“I was into action movies and fight scenes as a kid. Nakikipag-away ako sa hangin noong bata pa ako,” shares Ruru, 18.

Aware of his physical limitations (“I used to be skinnier than Gabbi,” points out Ruru, who, from 118 lbs. is now at 160), he had waved off suggestions that he try out for Ybarro.

“Sinasabi pa lang sa akin that there were auditions for Ybarro, I thought, ‘Why bother auditioning for a role that I was sure I wasn’t going to get?’ I thought Ybarro was meant for someone more mature. So I didn’t show up for the first audition. And then there was a second audition, and I thought there was nothing to lose.”

“I couldn’t believe it when they told me I was Ybarro,” he adds, “especially that it was originally played by Dingdong Dantes, who is today’s Primetime King.”

Rocco Nacino, 29, who plays the Lireo general and the love interest of Danaya named Aquil (originally portrayed by Alfred Vargas), puts his mixed martial arts background to good use in “Encantadia.”

“I coordinate with the stunt team and also give my input,” the registered nurse-turned-actor shares. “Aside from our training sessions with the production, we acquired the services of a coach from our own pockets to get us started. So from the very beginning, I can really see each one’s dedication to this project.”

During their Cebu press conference, Gabbi singled out Rocco for keeping an eye on them from the side lines when he could have spent his vacant time resting. 

“What’s nice about the cast…every time we have a fight scene, Rocco is always there to watch us,” Gabbi reveals. “After I do my fight scene, he would sometimes tell me, ‘O Gab, I think in this part, you can practice your form here, or you can try to kick nalang or something. He really helps out.”

And while the demands of this grand production can at times take its toll, Gabbi feels grateful that the “Encantadia” set is a happy, inspiring workplace to report to.

“Iba na yung closeness and the relationship that we’ve built. We enjoy every taping day,” says this beauty queen aspirant whose showbiz debut was via the 2014 primetime series “My Destiny” starring Carla Abellana and Tom Rodriguez.

“It’s my first time to work with a group where we all have the same passion and eagerness for one thing.”  (FREEMAN)


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