MANILA -- To motivate himself for his latest role, actor JC Santos wrote a letter to his daughter, River Aletheia, who turned one year old last April, which he would then read every time he would do a heavy dramatic scene in his latest film, “More Than Blue.”
“That was my last letter saying goodbye to my daughter,” Santos told ABS-CBN News. “Every time I needed to start a scene, I had to read that letter. The feel of every scene I was doing was like every day was the last.
“So every time na binabasa ko ‘yung letter, bibitaw na ako. Last message ko ‘yun for her. I always kept that thought.”
The three-hanky weepie, which pairs Santos with Yassi Pressman, is director Nuel Naval’s adaptation of the hit 2009 Korean film and the Taiwanese version in 2018. Screenplay is by Mel Mendoza del Rosario.
“More Than Blue” was offered to Santos in 2019. “I started to read the script in 2020, pero relax lang siya sa akin at that time,” he disclosed. “I know love story na nakaka-iyak.
“When we were about to start shooting this year, I started to read the script again two weeks before. I think na-underestimate ko ang material. When I started to analyze scene by scene, I realized ang bibigat bawat eksena.”
Santos came to the point where he honestly started to panic, two days before they started shooting. “I had to ask myself, ‘Kaya ko ba ‘to?’ I even texted my director. I started to get intimidated by my character and the material.
“I didn’t know what to exactly do. We were already shooting and natatakot pa rin ko. I think this is one film na pinaka-natakot ako sa gagawin ko at kinakabahan ako sa bawat eksena.
“I’m super grateful that Yassi helped me relax on the spot. Siya nakatanggal ng takot ko. At that time we were shooting, she gave me everything that I needed in every scene. She was performing with her soul in front of me.”
It helped that Santos and Pressman previously worked together in ABS-CBN’s hit primetime series, “Ang Probinsyano.”
“I felt comfortable the whole time with Yassi around. She made me feel comfortable performing. Every time I did something new, she reacted genuinely. So I thought, hindi pala talaga mahirap itong material na ‘to. You only need a good scene partner.”
In "More Than Blue," Santos plays the character of K, the dying best friend of Cream (Pressman). Both are orphans who share one house, but without love in between – or so they thought.
Their scenes together were aided by the “genius” of screenwriter Mel Mendoza del Rosario and director Naval, that admittedly helped Santos’ performance greatly.
“I thought I needed to manufacture alone,” Santos surmised. “Akala ko sa akin lang lahat ng hugot. But in our scenes together, I realized ‘yun na ang puso ng pelikula. Kailangan mo ng maayos na ka-eksena na naniniwala talaga sa ‘yo.
“That kind of believability, sobrang hirap ng material. Our preparations, you will discover everything on the spot. Nadu’n din ang galing ni direk Nuel. Kung paano ang impression mo sa eksena, iba rin ang interpretation niya.
“Then lumalawak na ang eksena, lumalalim na din ang story. Every scene naka-iyak. Minsan kasi, kung isa lang ang hugot na gamit mo as an actor, mauubos ‘yun at mag-iisip ka pa ng bago para lang maging totoo ang luha mo.”
His actress-friend, Bela Padilla, sent him a playlist, that proved to be helpful for Santos to act out his scenes.
Santos previously worked with Naval in 2019’s Metro Manila Film Festival blockbuster, the adaptation of “Miracle in Cell No. 7.” Naval also directed him in two “Maalaala Mo Kaya” episodes.
Although “More Than Blue” is an adaptation, some scenes in Naval’s version were tailor-fitted for the Filipino sensibilities.
“Kailangan talagang ipasok ang ibang scenes sa kultura natin,” Santos said. “Marami kasing culture sa Korea at Taiwan na hindi pasok sa atin at iba ang magiging reaction ng Pinoy.
“So kailangan i-tweak ng konti. But the biggest and important scenes are there. Anything na dinadala mo sa culture ng Pinoy, nagiging Pinoy na rin, kahit na adaptation. Ikaw na ang magbibigay ng adaptation at magpapalalim.”
Meanwhile, working with Pressman again this time, Santos was impressed that his “Probinsyano” co-star became a lot more mature after only three years. The last time they starred in the series was in 2018.
“Yassi is so mature emotionally,” Santos commented. “She’s different now. She’s more relaxed when performing. I think that’s a re-validation for Yassi.”
“Naiba lang ang dynamics namin,” he continued. “But ‘yung comfortability, walang naging problema. Hindi naiba. Even when we see each other, we are really good friends. Papatungan mo lang ‘yun ng pagmamahal sa eksena na gagaawin namin.
“Naging effortless siya for this movie nu’ng time na naintindihan na namin lahat ng circumstances na pinagdadaanan at nakadikit na sa amin ang mga characters namin.”
The wedding scene, where K had to give away his best friend and soul mate at the altar, took him several takes for Santos to complete, much to his disappointment. That simple scene was perhaps the most challenging he had to do.
“That time, I was already thinking, ‘Naku, ito ang sisira sa career ko,’” he told himself. “Hindi ko siya magawa. It took me a lot of takes para makuha ko that very simple scene.
“Pwede ka naman umiyak ng bigay na bigay. Pwede ka naman tumawa ng bigay na bigay. Pero ‘yung dapat mong pigilan at mag stay ka doon for a good amount of time, nahirapan ako talaga in my five years in the industry.”
Talking about the heavy drama that he did with his leading lady and co-stars, helped Santos in “unloading” after doing the intense scenes.
“We need to return to reality and assure ourselves na acting lang lahat ‘yun,” Santos said. “Oo nakaka-iyak or nakaka-galit ang scenes. But it’s important that you return to the present moment and assure yourself that it’s only acting.
“We need to talk about it. Accept that part so that it will not stay with you. And it’s the time that you acknowledge it and talk about it na mabigat talaga siya.”
Working with director Naval is also doubly challenging for Santos. “He always pushed me to the limit of what I could give for the scene or something that the audience hasn’t seen yet,” the actor said.
“Sometimes, nakaka-stress for me, but I really don’t mind. Natutuwa si direk Nuel na nahihirapan ako, although nag-enjoy naman ako ng sobra. He enjoys giving me challenges. He’s an actor’s director. Masaya naman ‘yun for me.”