Tony Award winner Lea Salonga
MANILA -- Tony Award winner Lea Salonga was once rejected for the role of Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady" just because she was Asian.
On ANC's "Storyline," Salonga recalled receiving a phone call from her agent offering her a role after her award-winning stint with "Miss Saigon."
But minutes later, her agent called back. "They're not gonna see you because you are Asian," Salonga mimicked the words of her agent.
"What's that got to do with anything?" she then asked in disbelief.
According to Salonga, the role of Eliza Doolittle is traditionally played by a Caucasian actress. She eventually got to play the role popularized by Audrey Hepburn in the movie version in Manila with Repertory Philippines.
But instead of dwelling on the rejection, Salonga wanted to prove that race has nothing to do with talent.
Long after that phone call from her agent, Salonga was invited by producer Cameron Mackintosh to play the role of Eponine in "Les Misérables."
Salonga, who won the Tony for best actress in "Miss Saigon," explained that she wanted to use that opportunity to prove that traditionally Caucasian roles can also be played by Asians.
"I wanted to prove we can extend the suspension of disbelief that this little Asian actor can play this traditionally Caucasian role and you would believe everything that's happening on stage," Salonga said.
The actress said she wanted to play Eponine even more than Kim in "Miss Saigon" because it wasn't just about the role itself.
"I was driven to make that work and I worked really hard on that role, harder than I ever did in Kim. Because this wasn't about money, this wasn't about commercial success. For me, I wanted to prove that it can be done," speaking about her fight against discrimination.
Salonga became the first-ever Asian to play the role of Eponine in the hit musical.
After a performance, Salonga recalled how Mackintosh approached her and said: "You do not look Asian when I see you up there."
"That was what I needed to hear," said Salonga, who again broke racial barriers when she played Fantine in the same musical.
"The Voice of the Philippines" judge also shared that she intends to keep singing as long as fans would still listen to her.
"I am going to continue to do this as if there is anything else for me. And truthfully, I don't think there is nothing else out there for me. I feel like I am custom-built to spec to do what I do," Salonga admitted.
"As long as there are people who enjoy what I do then I will be around to do it," she added.