It’s impossible not to notice Mark Paguio in “Spiderhead,” Netflix Philippines’ current No. 3 movie. First, he’s the character working closely with the film’s lead, Hollywood superstar Chris Hemsworth, and he delivers a remarkable performance in the psychological sci-fi thriller, bringing to the table everything the role required.
In the movie, Hemsworth is Steve Abnesti, lead researcher of Spiderhead Penitentiary and Research Center, and Paguio is Mark Verlaine, his dutiful righthand man. The story is set inside a state-of-the-art jailhouse where prisoners are given specific freedoms. In exchange for these freedoms, however, the inmates agree to become research subjects to test mind-altering drugs. Paguio, as it turns out, is Igor to Hemsworth’s Frankenstein.
Verlaine is actually the 28-year-old Sydney-based actor’s first breakout role after guestings in the television comedy-drama series “Bump” and “The Unusual Suspects.”
Paguio tells ANCX he didn’t expect to get picked for “Spiderhead” when he auditioned for it back in 2020. He remembers receiving an invitation, indicating in big letters that the film will star the Australian actor Hemsworth. “I laughed when I read it because I never thought that I’d be able to get the role,” the Pinoy actor recalls. But he tried out for it anyway. “I just wanted to have a little fun with this audition, so I sent off [an audition piece].”
He was surprised to receive a callback request, and he soon found himself in a meeting where he would first encounter the film’s director Joseph Kosinski. A week later, Paguio was asked to do a chemistry read with Miles Teller, star of the memorable “Whiplash” and a scene-stealer in the current mammoth hit “Top Gun: Maverick.” Teller plays one of the inmates in “Spiderhead.” After a few days, Paguio got a call informing him he got the role, which meant he needed to fly to Queensland in two weeks.
Since he had to quarantine for 14 days after his arrival, he used the time to prepare for his character. He did a lot of reading and research. He got inspiration from the HBO documentary “The Inventor,” which tells the story of Elizabeth Holmes, a former biotechnology entrepreneur convicted of criminal fraud. He also read about the pharmaceutical industry in America.
Going through the script and his scenes, he imagined the soundtrack Verlaine might listen to, the anime shows he’d watch, the kind of coffee he’d drink. “For a whole month, I was drinking black coffee. I hate black coffee. But I was doing all those little fun things to help perform my character,” Paguio recalls, smiling.
Working with Hemsworth
The Legazpi-born actor admits he found it daunting at first working with the cast of “Spiderhead.” But everything turned out to be a substantial and fun learning experience. “I kind of eased into it as we went,” he told ANC Rundown. “The more I started doing it, the more I was learning so much every single day, just talking to everyone and just watching everyone work. It’s been a great experience.”
Speaking with Hemsworth before the actual shoot, the two agreed on the kind of relationship their characters would have. “We’re a little bit like an old married couple in that we work together closely, and we sometimes get on each other’s nerves,” Paguio tells ANCX.
The Filipino actor tried to tap on a lot of contradictions portraying Verlaine. “I was playing on the idea that I knew just as much, if not more than Steve. And if I were to leave [the company], the whole system would break,” he says. “I respect him, but he also frustrates me. I am highly empathetic and I really care about the work that we do and how it could help the world. But I am also kind of desensitized to the ethics and the murky areas, such that I’d sit there and watch people’s emotions get manipulated.”
Working on the set of “Spiderhead” taught Paguio things he didn’t learn in drama school. He studied performing arts at Monash University and got further training in acting at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts. “No one can teach you how to be autonomous, to be unapologetic, to believe in yourself, and to fight for what you want. That’s something that you have to practice. That was something I witnessed in [the actors],” he says.
Hemsworth and Miller have been helpful throughout the process. “Chris was always giving me acting tips. Miles and I would have pretty big chats on acting and the craft, what his philosophies are—wisdom that one can only gain through years of experience.”
Making his mark
It’s only been two years since Paguio started acting professionally but his first jab at performing goes as far back as 20 years ago. It was at age eight when he joined a community production called “Ambassador Popoy.” The play, organized by fellow Filipinos, was to help raise money for villages back home in the Philippines.
Performing became a huge part of his life during high school when he starred in plays and musicals. This led to taking up performing arts courses in college and he has since been doing theater gigs since.
Paguio also experienced working in the food industry pretty early. He was 18, a high school student, when he took on a managerial stint at KFC. Today, he works as a waiter—which helps pay the bills, he says. In terms of career, however, what he really wants to pursue is acting. And he’s thankful he’s got the full support of his parents.
The Paguios of Legazpi City moved to Australia in 1999. Mark was then four years old. His mother was a teacher but also took on different careers. “She did factory work. She studied accounting and became an accountant. She got bored and studied Law. Now, she’s a migration agent,” the actor shares. “[My parents] understand that there is not one way to do things. So I think that is why they are supportive of what I want to pursue.”
He would like to take on more challenging roles in the future, tackle characters that reflect his own history. He would love to do films with HBO and A24, which produced the much talked about “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” He loves the idea of playing different personas and bringing himself into them. They may not be necessarily Filipino but Paguio believes he brings his own Pinoy-ness to the job. “How I work is very Filipino,” he says. “I like to bring as much joy into everything, and I work really hard. [Being a Filipino] plays a lot into how I live my life and how I work.”