Filipina actress Alessandra de Rossi grew up on movie sets, a self-professed “director’s pet” who preferred chatting up technicians to stars. Blessed to have worked with modern masters – Carlos Siguion-Reyna, Gil Portes, Joel Lamangan – early on, she delivered nuanced portrayals that later endeared her to independent filmmakers who would rescue her from the protracted pigeonhole of TV villainy.
- READ MORE: Alessandra de Rossi on her musical debut, ‘Adrift’: “I wasn’t giving myself enough credit”
De Rossi’s second wind as a film lead blew with 2017’s Kita Kita, a surprise hit rom-com for Spring Films, whose head honcho was her acting contemporary Piolo Pascual.
The actor, long considered the go-to heartthrob of Filipino film – a “perfect, immaculate, polo-wearing dream guy”, as de Rossi put it – didn’t know the actress was cooking something up for the both of them, a thank-you gift of sorts.
That project was My Amanda, a feature-length rhapsody on a doggedly platonic friendship that weathers storms and stays its course, for better or worse. When first read by select peers, de Rossi’s script was met with resistance. “They simply didn’t believe that two people from opposite sexes will never have a thing for each other at some point,” she says. This prompted her to direct the film herself.
The endeavour mirrored her personality: “Unpolished, chill, nothing spectacular,” she says self-effacingly. Helming My Amanda gave de Rossi a crash course in film and life, with a little help from a stellar backing crew: creative producer Joyce Bernal, cinematographer Boy Yniguez, colourist Marilen Magsaysay, composer Kettle Mata, and assistant director Hector Calma.
My Amanda is out on Netflix today – NME talks to its leads about their shared history, wifebeaters and man buns, and being masochistic multihyphenates.
You guys are practically contemporaries who forged very distinct paths.
Alessandra de Rossi: “We started in the business around the same time – a month apart, to be exact. [Mel Chionglo’s] Lagarista came out, then [Carlos Siguion-Reyna’s] Acuzena, which was my first film. And Piolo recently asked me, ‘What happened?’ He was lamenting how I got ‘boxed’, in short. But I told him, ‘Well, you sort of got boxed, too, if I may say so’, except his roles were mainstream and mine were indie.”
Piolo Pascual: “She’s been very brave from the time she started. She’s always known what she could give and what she could learn, always very open. But her brilliance, I think, comes out when she chooses herself and takes risks.”
By all accounts, Alessandra developed My Amanda as a present for Piolo and Spring Films after the runaway success of Kita Kita.
Piolo: “It was a sweet gesture for Alessandra to give me something so personal. It wasn’t just any chunk or chapter in her life, but a part she really [cares deeply about]. She’s been wanting to write this script for the longest time, and when I read it, I didn’t have to think twice.”
Alessandra: “I remember seeing Piolo with [filmmaker] Joyce Bernal – they’re best friends – and thinking they were hilarious together. And I thought, ‘Wow, that’s how my best friend and I are’. That’s how we bantered, that’s how we dished it out. It’s a very secure friendship – cast in stone and all that – hinged on a kind of love that doesn’t ask for anything in return. Anyway, I thought, if someone were to play my best friend, it would have to be Piolo. So after Kita Kita, I wrote [what would become My Amanda] right away.”
I know that, despite the largely autobiographical nature of the material, it was also tailored to Piolo.
Alessandra: “I wanted to give Piolo an out-of-the-box project. Here, he’s not his usual heartbreaker-Adonis-movie-star self – he’s wearing wifebeaters and a man bun, and he’s cussing a lot. Also, when I’m with him, he’s just the funniest person ever. He’d make me laugh so hard I could slap him, you know what I mean? He’s even funnier than Empoy [Marquez, comedian and Kita Kita co-lead].”
Piolo: “All she wanted was for me to be on the set and be myself. It wasn’t a lot, so I said, ‘Why not? Let’s go’. Beyond that, I was really excited – as cliché as it may sound – to do something I haven’t done before.”
In a way, the film was your answer to the “What happened?” conversation, Alex.
Alessandra: “Yeah! Piolo told me, ‘Don’t get me wrong, but I think you deserve more than what you have’. To which I said, ‘Don’t get me wrong, I think I have more than I deserve’. I’m in this position, I think, more by design than a result of some sort of failure.”
“I think it’s romantic; it’s just not about romance”
Speaking of typecasting, tell us about this other new role of yours – being director.
Alessandra: “I initially offered [My Amanda] for Joyce Bernal to direct, but she told me, ‘Alex, I don’t know how to direct this’. And I was, like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ In any case, I thought, I’ve written two films [12 and Through Night And Day] and I realised that, sometimes, the director’s take is really different from the screenwriter’s intent. So, for this film, I figured I’ll just take it on…”
Rather than risk the vision being compromised?
Alessandra: “Yes, because who knows, maybe another director would insist on a straight romantic portrayal, and I didn’t want that. I was trying to offer something new.”
Piolo: “That’s actually why we made it, to show people [that friendship of this kind] is a possibility, not just a probability. It really happens; we just have to be more appreciative and accepting of each other.”
Alessandra: “And not just sexually.”
Piolo: “Speak for yourself. I’m a really sexual person.” [both laugh]
Alessandra: “I mean, why do these things always have to have tender moments of vulnerability, where one character can’t help but fall for the other? This isn’t that story.”
There’s something to that: despite its “unmarketability” as a story, it didn’t turn towards eventual romance.
Alessandra: “I think it’s romantic; it’s just not about romance. There’s a quote that goes, ‘Rare as is true love, true friendship is rarer’. And I think that’s true.”
How was your experience helming it, Alex? And Piolo, how did you think she fared in the director’s chair?
Alessandra: “I admit, while I was writing it, I thought it was so much better in my head. But given the circumstances – I was only given 10 or 11 days to shoot, with 12 sequences a day, and a 1am wrap daily – I thought, ‘Wow, this should never happen again’, meaning me directing, producing, and acting at the same time. I don’t know how people do it, and I’m not sure how they’re still alive.”
Piolo: “She went through a lot. She was hospitalised a day or two after the first day; there was just too much stress and pressure. Alex can be a perfectionist, so she gets disappointed and frustrated when her needs aren’t met. It wasn’t a walk in the park, but I really enjoyed every moment of it. I enjoyed being on the set and in her head. I’d do it over again.”
My Amanda is out on Netflix today