MANILA - After three decades on the stage and screen, Pinky Amador continues her streak of career-defining roles, this time in a film she refers to as a "project of a lifetime."
Amador, 51, even asked to be excused from a then-ongoing project to prioritize the "anti-musical, rock musical" helmed by acclaimed director Lav Diaz, which would later be known as "Ang Panahon ng Halimaw."
The film was recently announced as a main competitor in the prestigious Berlin Interational Film Festival, where Diaz previously won the Silver Bear for "Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis" in 2016.
Speaking with ABS-CBN News on the set of the teleserye "Sana Dalawa ang Puso," which Amador is also juggling, she candidly recalled her decision to put on pause for weeks her rehearsals for "Agnes of God."
The play, about a novice whose child she claims to be from virgin conception, was among Amador's first stage roles as a young performer. She played the titular role 30 years ago; in a March 2017 run, she portrayed Agnes' mother superior.
Amador was rehearsing for "Agnes" when she got the call to finally film for "Halimaw." That meant being in Malaysia, where parts of the movie were shot, for 18 days.
She did not think twice to ask Bart Guingona, her director in "Agnes," to allow her to be away for nearly three weeks. "He understood," Amador recalled, "because when you do a Lav Diaz film, it's really a career move."
The project, indeed, did not fall short of her expectation, as months after production started, they got news of the Berlinale slot.
"This is a project of a lifetime... It's my first international film festival in my career, so talagang lahat kami tuwang-tuwa. To be in the main competition, parang dream-come-true, so sana ipag-pray natin na wagi," she added.
Prior to being announced a Berlinale selection, not much was known about "Ang Panahon ng Halimaw" as it had been kept under wraps by producers Globe Studios, Epicmedia, and Sine Olivia Pilipinas. Its first trailer also gave little away when it came to the plot -- not unlike teasers for Diaz's previous works.
Amador, careful to keep details of the story, offered she plays a mysterious forest-dweller nicknamed "Kuwago," who is being demonized and being blamed for misfortunes by residents of a nearby barrio.
The character doesn't stray far from the perceived image of a "witch," Amador explained, and it's largely due to her behavior and mental state after losing her child and husband. "Naluwagan ng turnilyo, naloka," she said.
Kuwago's story intertwines with that of the characters of Shaina Magdayao and Piolo Pascual. The Kapamilya leading man, in the film, is in a desparate search for his wife, portrayed by Magdayao, after years of disappearance.
"This is the time when a lot of abuses were being done by both the military and the militia. So sino'ng kawawa? Siyempre, taumbayan," Amador said. "Iyon ang kanyang puno't dulo. Alam naman natin na there's really a period in our history na maraming ganoong nangyari."
The story unfolds not through words spoken, but sung, and the music from start to finish was composed by Diaz. "It's different from your typical musical because there's no arrangement, boses lang. It's all libretto. All the dialogue is sung," Amador said.
This proved to be another layer of challenge for the cast, but in its results, Amador added, Diaz's vision became clear.
"As artists, we all have to do our best to practice our craft, and for whatever issues or message that we want to do, we have to do it with dignity through our art. And this film, it really has that message," she said.
"Ang Panahon ng Halimaw" also stars Bituin Escalante, Hazel Orencio, Bart Guingona, Joel Saracho, Angel Aquino, Lilit Reyes, Don Melvin Boongaling, Noel Sto. Domingo, and Ian Lomongo.