For Filipino actors Mark Labella, Jeff Francisco, Ariel Felix, and Clarrel Pope, apart from the honor of being part of a big Hollywood movie like 'Plane,' it also gave them the opportunity to show their talents and capabilities to everyone who worked on the film.
'Plane' stars Gerard Butler, and features a diverse international cast.
After finishing his studies in the medical field in Cebu, Labella had a pandemic-induced realization: to go after his previously unspoken dream of becoming an actor, writer, and producer in Hollywood.
The actors were all excited to have the film seen in Philippine theaters as well, but that enthusiasm turned into sadness when they found out about the negative reaction of Philippine senators Robin Padilla and Juan Miguel Zubiri to 'Plane,' which ultimately resulted in the film's local distributor pulling out the movie from the theaters. The senators objected to the depiction of Filipinos in Jolo, despite it being a work of fiction.
Although in the script, the setting was the Philippines, it was actually filmed in the US territory Puerto Rico and was filmed in 2021 when the Philippines still had lockdowns and strict pandemic restrictions.
"For me, it’s just a fun film," Labella said. "I'm so proud of every single person that I see on screen. I see Jeff, I see Clarrel’s work. When I see all these Pinoys doing Pinoy martial arts. I'm like, dude, we have been fighting for representation for so long. I don't care if it's good or bad or neutral. I see myself on-screen. That's cool."
The movie enjoyed support from many Filipinos in social media. The Filipino talents said they were disheartened by the controversy especially since the advent of big action movies, they have been set in places all over the world and moviegoers are typically able to separate fact from fiction.
Francisco, who can also be seen in the Netflix series 'The Lincoln Lawyer,' said he was particularly saddened because he expected that a fellow Filipino actor like Padilla would understand the dedication that they put in in any project.
"I grew up in the Philippines and you know, I've had some kind of exposure to Filipino cinema. For me it's kind of disappointing, especially coming from Robin Padilla because he is a pillar in the action film genre in the Philippines and I grew up watching him," Francisco noted. "There are stunt men and performers and acting in this movie was just top-tier you know, Evan Dane Taylor, Claro de los Reyes brought on such a great performance all the stuntmen just made it so believable. The action sequences and not a lot of people are aware that a lot of Filipinos are stunt performers in Hollywood."
In Hollywood especially, substantial Filipino roles in big action movies are hard to come by. That’s why actors de los Reyes and evan Taylor, who both had bigger roles in 'Plane' worked hard to take advantage of the rare opportunity.
Francisco shared, "I remember there were times when I would audition in Hollywood years ago, when I first started auditioning, there would only be one one Asian character and all Asians in Hollywood were going for that one role. And to be in a movie like this where there's multiple Asian roles, both on the good side and on the bad side, and to see friends of mine that I've really been friends with for such a long time, like Bryan Cartago, I’ve known him for years, and we got to be in this movie together. And we're no longer fighting for that one role. We're here collaborating with one another. And to me that's the work that these critics are not seeing."
The film also featured Filipino martial arts, which made Pope especially proud.
"In the fight scenes, there were some Filipino martial arts in it, and it was just great to see that side of it when it comes to my background in martial arts and as well as being Filipino. And then to be in this with Jeff and Mark and all these other Filipinos, and it was phenomenal. So I was very proud as a stunt performer to see that representation, as well as on the acting side."
The actors hope to be in other films and projects that their fellow Filipinos can see. 'Plane' is still showing in the US and other countries.