MANILA — Beyond a performance that exceeded expectations, the casting of the Philippines' Joseph Marco in "The Bridge," an international series with actors from at least four countries, sees the strengthening ties among Asian content creators — undeterred by the pandemic that has forced countries to self-isolate.
Marco, 31, is a new cast member in the second season of "The Bridge," a Viu production, in association HBO Asia, that premiered its 10-part second season on Monday.
Marco portrays Filipino-Singaporean Christian Salvador, head of an environmental non-profit who gets drawn to Serena Teo, the lead character played by Singapore's Rebecca Lim.
The Malaysia-produced crime thriller is in collaboration with neighbors in Southeast Asia, sewn cleverly into the premise of the new season.
In the words of executive producer Min Lim: "We have a yacht that's registered in Singapore, but is found floating aimlessly in the coast of Malaysia, and on board they find a dead Indonesian family."
The territorial complication brings together agents from each country, portrayed by Lim, Malaysia's Bront Palarae, and Indonesia's Ario Bayu.
Expanding to a fourth country, the Philippines, was suggested by one of the directors, TJ Lee, as a way of introducing another Southeast Asian neighbor.
"We were actually just going to cast someone, a Filipino living in Malaysia at the time, because production was happening mostly in Malaysia," producer Lim said.
A dinner function in Singapore, where ABS-CBN Ruel Bayani was also a guest, changed that plan, however.
Lim is head of production of Malaysia's Double Vision, which in 2008 co-produced with ABS-CBN the acclaimed drama series "Kahit Isang Saglit," starring Malaysia's Carmen Soo and the Philippines' Jericho Rosales.
Bayani is ABS-CBN head of international productions and co-productions, as well as the head of RSB Scripted, the umbrella unit behind the hit "The Killer Bride" and the ongoing "A Soldier's Heart," among others.
In a virtual conference on Wednesday, Lim and Bayani recalled that they were discussing future collaborations, when the prospect of casting a Filipino actor in "The Bridge" came up.
"She told me about a Filipino character that was written in for season 2, and then as Min said, they were supposed to cast someone from Malaysia. I said, 'Why? Why not cast one of our actors? I can send you anyone you want!'" Bayani said.
"I'll send you a list, the reels, and I hope you can choose who you think will suit the character," he recalled telling Lim.
The list was narrowed down to five potential Christians, and then three, and then two, until the final choice became Marco.
Marco's reel included his lead roles in the ABS-CBN dramas "Wildflower" and "Los Bastardos" — performances that proved a great fit for the character of Christian.
Marco's casting encountered a few challenges, as the actor had commitments that conflicted with the schedule of "The Bridge," Bayani recounted. But "working back and forth" ultimately secured Marco the stint — only he had to fly straight from Japan, where he was shooting a Regal Films project, to Malaysia, with less than a day to spare to get in-character as Christian.
That he also had to welcome the New Year in Malaysia was a worthwhile sacrifice for Marco.
"Who wouldn't want to be part of this award-winning crime-thriller?" he said, referring to the first season of "The Bridge" being named Malaysia's Best Drama in the Asian Academy Awards.
"It's such a big thing for us actors to get an international gig. That, in itself, I was blown away, I was so excited. I'm super thankful that I'm able to be part of this."
"Grateful" was also how Lim described having Marco on board for "The Bridge," as she narrated the actor's first few days on set.
"We really didn't know what a Filipino actor would bring. We really had no expectations. But Joseph has blown all our expectations out of the water. He came in and he really brought something to the role, an edge that we never expected when when we were writing the character," she said.
The producer praised Marco's "chemistry" with Lim, saying it shone despite them having no prior working relationship.
"I think they shot their first scene the day after they met for the first time, and he really, really delivered. I'm really grateful that we managed to get him on the show," she said.
'A WHOLE WORD OF POSSIBILITIES'
But more than Marco's distinctive performance, his part in an international, specifically Pan-Asian series, signifies a shared cause among creatives in the region — that of showcasing its talents on the global stage.
"We're extremely proud of being part of this landmark project. I'm sure not all of you know what a big deal it is for the Asian content industry for something like this [to happen]," Bayani said, nothing that "The Bridge" is consumed in nearly 30 markets globally.
"And right now, onscreen, you have great actors from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines. To me, it's almost like a dream project."
For now, as the coronavirus pandemic forced borders shut, further "dream projects" of the same regional scale have had to be put on hold. But both Lim and Bayani are confident the pause is just that.
Bayani even offered, in jest, to help mount a possible third season of "The Bridge" in Palawan or Boracay, and, on a serious note, looked forward to introducing actors Lim, Palarae, and Bayu to Filipino viewers, similar to Soo's successful foray here. (Palarae was previously seen in "Motel Acacia," which was co-produced by ABS-CBN Films' Black Sheep and was locally released.)
"It's a whole world of possibilities!" Bayani said. "We're all content creators, we're all artists, we're all leaders of sorts in the region. We're all working hard together. We need teamwork to succeed."