News Column

Manila's Hollywood Week

May 18, 2013


May 18--Thank goodness for glitz and glamour.

Just as the Filipino public was beginning to show signs of frustration over the much delayed transmission of election returns from the provinces to the Commission on Elections, a dizzying parade of Hollywood celebrities swooped in for a thrilling save in Metro Manila this week.

The excitement began on Tuesday morning with the arrival of Vin Diesel, the lead cast member of the sixth installment of the 12-year-old action franchise The Fast and the Furious, followed by the film's producer, Neil Moritz, and co-actors Michelle Rodriguez, Gina Carano and Luke Evans, later on in the day.

The devil-may-care car racers and fighters--at least in the $200-million dollar movie--came to Manila as part of Universal Pictures' promotional tour in key cities around the world.

By evening time, an even bigger Hollywood celebrity--award-winning actress and global fashion icon--Sarah Jessica Parker, planed in at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, sending shockwaves throughout the nation as every girl, woman and gay who ever fell in love with the legendary Sex and the City heroine Carrie Bradshaw rejoiced that her Manolo Blahniks have finally touched Philippine soil.

SJP, as Parker has been nicknamed by the international press, was in Manila through the superb handiwork of Philippine retail giant SM Malls. She stood as guest of honor at the opening of the uber high-end SM Aura Premier at The Fort Bonifacio Global City, while concurrently launched as the new face of The SM Store.

Now whether or not you're a fan of any of these Hollywood celebrities, there is so much reason to rejoice in the glittering week that was because collectively, their visit can only mean one thing: That the Philippines is truly on the map as a significant player in the age of globalization.

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Simply sweet SJP

"It was Sarah Jessica Parker or no one else at all."

This was fabulous and definitive statement of Millie Dizon, the vice president of SM Inc.'s Marketing Communications Group, when The Sunday Times Magazine sat down with her on Thursday evening, shortly after Sarah Jessica Parker's extremely anticipated media conference at the grand opening of SM Aura Premier at Fort Bonifacio Global City.

It was Dizon's reply to a follow up question on what the SM Group would have done had negotiations with the Hollywood A-List celebrity fallen through before the luxury mall's inauguration.

The much respected public relations executive disclosed that the I's and T's were only dotted and crossed a couple of weeks before the May 16 D-Day.

"We thought of other Hollywood celebrities but Sarah Jessica Parker was really the perfect fit to the 'Love to Shop' campaign of the SM Store," she continued. The SM Store is the new name of what the public had long referred to as SM's Department Store.

"Since the SM Store is truly world-class, we wanted someone who is globally recognized for her sense of style, and who else would that be but the real life Carrie Bradshaw," Dizon enthused.

Eager to hear the general response to SM's major marketing coup, Dizon was delighted to learn from the lifestyle press corps that SJP's endorsement has practically blown the local fashion, retail, social and showbiz scene away, simply because she is a Hollywood A-Lister in the strictest sense.

While a good number of homegrown fashion brands have world-famous faces on their billboards today, not one of them fall in the category and stature of the style icon that is Sarah Jessica Parker. Sex and the City may have long said goodbye on TV, but SJP's shopaholic fashionista alter ego Carrie Bradshaw will live forever.

Of course, while Dizon gave a definitive statement, The Sunday Times Magazine also asked the definitive question: Just how much does it take to fly in Sarah Jessica Parker, her personal makeup artist, her exclusive photographer, and the rest of her entourage from New York to Manila, for an endorsement deal and public appearance.

Dizon, as professional as ever, smiled and simply said, "Just enough to befit her stature."

Grounded A-Lister

As the rest of the country knows by now from TV clips and instant uploads, SJP is the sweetest thing despite her A-List stature. She practically walked into a circus for her media conference with journalists, photographers, and VIPs alike falling over each other for a closer look or a better shot of the glamour goddess.

SJP was patient amid the noise, and even politely asked one of the security guards assigned to her to move just a bit so the photographers could get their shot.

"She's a lady by the way," she thoughtfully informed the photographers who were left without a choice but to shout out frustrated pleas for heads to move and unblock their views so they could do their jobs.

As everyone began to settle--or at least try to settle amid all the excitement--SJP graciously answered what almost seemed like similar questions from lifestyle and entertainment writers and bloggers alike about her sense of style.

In inevitably being compared to her insanely popular character Carrie Bradshaw when it comes to style, she said, "I'd have to say that Carrie was much more bold and courageous than I was when it comes to fashion. I continue to be less bold, but in saying that, what I've learned from her is that there's something exciting about breaking rules and barriers. I've been very lucky to live that alternate life for 12 years."

She revealed that like most women, she likes to wear pieces that are more comfortable and fit her well.

"Clothes that convey how I feel and what I want to say," she added. In choosing her knock out number for the evening, a very understated yet tremendously elegant black long-sleeved gown, "I knew tonight was a very auspicious occasion, and I wanted to dress appropriately--in a way that shows my gratitude and respect for my hosts."

When The Sunday Times Magazine asked her how she looked on a regular Saturday morning, SJP adorably raised her slender hand, which sparkled at the wrist with a slender tennis bracelet, swept it down her length, and said, "Just like this!"

As her adoring audience settled down from their laughter, SJP shared, "I'll probably be in my nightgown and in bed my with kids. If I need to look more presentable, I'd be in jeans and anything that's bound to look dirty by the end of the day."

SJP is married to actor Matthew Broderick and has three children, three-year-old twins Marion and Tabitha Hodge, and 10-year-old James.

As a fitting conclusion to her style revelations, she advised women in general to trust themselves and be their own counsel when trying to find their personal style.

"You shouldn't leave the house trying to please everybody because that's really not healthy."

Loving Manila

"Eye-shopping," according to SJP, is what she loves to do in her hometown of New York and in every other city she visits around the world, which now includes Manila.

"There's so much excitement about this destination--I mean look at the SM Store and let's just start with that," she enthused. "But on my way here, I couldn't help but be attracted by your city--by the jeepneys and interesting people walking by the side of the roads. There's just this vibrancy; the city's so alive. I shop with my eye in some way too. I really hope this will be the first of many visits to the Philippines."

And just as she embraced the sights and sounds of Manila, she also did her part in embracing the country's less fortunate by ending the evening with a donation of $100,000 to SM Foundation's charitable endeavors.

Now how's that for a global fashion icon's simply sweet style?

Tessa Mauricio-Arriola

* *

Vin Diesel 'special place'

The man does love the Philippines.

If there is anyone who might think that Fast and the Furious 6 star Vin Diesel simply put on a show for the cameras since arriving in Manila on Tuesday--that stroll on Bonifacio High Street; the much talked about jeepney ride; and his constant chants of "mahal ko kayo" at the red carpet premiere at the SM Mall of Asia on Wednesday--The Sunday Times Magazine begs to disagree.

The Hollywood action star erased all doubts regarding his sincerity after a Malaysian reporter asked him why he brought the film to Manila in the first place, and not his own city of Jakarta.

"I wouldn't exchange the trip to the Philippines over anything," was his straight to the point reply.

"Why the Philippines? Maybe because the Philippines is incredible! Or maybe because I had wanted to go here my whole life!"

Obviously, the famous action star was also smitten with Filipinos' hospitality as he added, "The people here are so wonderful . . . They always start with this kind of warmth and positive energy that you don't see anywhere. It's a special place."

He went on to share that his sister-in-law is Filipina and that he looks forward to bringing his nephews and nieces over here along with his own daughter and son sometime.

After praising the country to the high heavens, Diesel quickly and politely told the Malaysian reporter he would definitely include Malaysia in planning the next Fast and Furious world tour since he has still to go there for the first time as well.

Another request was then asked of Diesel, and that is to shoot a film in Taiwan, since Fast 6's director Justin Lin was born there. Again, the actor said he would surely consider the possibility.

"What I would say is that all the saga's locations had come from someone saying, 'Why don't you shoot here'?" he revealed. "Ironically, it always starts with someone wanting the saga to shoot in their home country."

Such was the case with the franchise's most recent locations like Russia, London and Spain.

"But when I go back to Universal Pictures studios, I will definitely suggest to shoot in the Philippines," Diesel enthused.

A world of its own

Talking about the Fast and Furious franchise, the 45-year-old actor--who is also memorable for his roles Triple X and Riddick--described the film as a "world of its own."

"I think what differentiates the saga is the fact that we don't have books or comics [where we base the story]. Universal Pictures allowed us to make our own story," he explained.

The actor therefore assured that audiences can always expect the unexpected in terms of storyline.

"This is a whole different world . . . It's truly the most multicultural franchise of its kind. And it's not the way things are done in Hollywood. Usually you would just see a brotherhood [between two races]. So I am very thankful for Universal for letting us do that."

Diesel, who had been very open in discussing their future plans for franchise, also enthused that the process had allowed the creators to think three pictures ahead.

"In Hollywood, they call us as the most progressive action film and we take pride in that," he proudly stated.

But how many sequels does he really want to make? "As long as I see us characters growing in one way or another . . . There's a billion way to improve a movie," he concluded.

Euden Valdez

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The other side of Gina Carano

She may have been known as the third best female fighter in the world before crossing over to film and television, but mixed martial artist Gina Carano openly shared with the Asian press that she is essentially a very emotional person.

At a roundtable interview at Fairmont Hotel in Makati City, Carano, who was in Manila for The Fast and the Furious 6 red carpet premiere and promotion, said she hopes that someday soon, Hollywood will also whip up scripts for female fighters that will allow them to cry.

"I'm going through scripts right now and everyone wants to give me roles of the stone-faced female lead. But that's really not me--I want to smile, I want to cry, I want to fight and be physical," she revealed. "I have these two different sides to me--very emotional yet very physical. But these [current] roles, I find them to be cold; although in saying that, even I have to figure out how to mesh them together in a single role. I think it'll take time and lots of ideas to get to that point."

For the moment, she revels in having been able to come face to face and fight with Hollywood's favorite tough chick, Michelle Rodriguez, in Fast 6.

"Michelle is a character you just fall in love with--she's such a fireball," the 31-year-old Carano enthused. "But in terms of fighting she's been very verbal and I've just had to fight physically. And so putting our images together in the movie mixed well because it put together two very believable females."

With the Vin Diesel-starrer only her third film to date, the former "Face of Women's Mixed Martial Arts" admits she was quite overwhelmed by being part of the big-budgeted Hollywood film franchise.

"Coming from Haywire [her last film], everything was small and comfortable," she began. "But then, going into Fast 6 it was all about nice cars, massive personalities, huge set ups. You had to have the mentality to accept the massiveness of the whole production. I mean, from $2-million to $200-million, you have to accept the responsibility of being part of something this big. But once I got over that, I started getting into character, and that's what I'm doing now, learning character development."

In the same way that she mastered her sport, which began with Thai Boxing, Carano believes that experience will make her a better actor.

"In my last film I actually had a genuine crying scene, and I'd have to say that's my proudest moment in film so far--not the fighting," she laughed. "It felt so good walking away [from the set] and getting that right--knowing that people knew where you were coming from."

In the meantime, she hopes that with Fast 6 opening in theaters all around the world very soon (May 24 in the Philippines) people will come to see her both for her physical strength and her passion for her newfound love for acting.

"I'm the bad guy in the film, but really, guys, I'm nice!" she promised.


* *

Michelle Rodriguez wants it 'intense'

Michelle Rodriguez has always been known for her beauty and brawn roles in films or TV series.

Certainly her most popular portrayal thus far is that of Letty Ortiz, the feisty street racer of the Fast and Furious saga.

It therefore came as no surprise that when the Fast and Furious 6 main cast came to Manila this week for the film's red carpet premiere, media interviews, and a meet and greet with fans, Rodriguez received the most love and recognition from Filipinos next to leading man Vin Diesel.

And why not? In 2001 when the first The Fast and the Furious film was released, Rodriguez (Ortiz) starred as Diesel's (Dom Torreto) first love. She returned on Fast and Furious 4 still as Torreto's girlfriend only to "supposedly" die.

On the big screen, the surprise is that Rodriguez is back in this latest installment of the franchise with memories of Torreto and the rest of family lost, but still brimming with that strong and tough chick attitude.

What her Filipino fans don't know yet is that in real life, Rodriguez wants to be as "intense" as the characters she plays. The Hollywood actress said so at a press conference with local and international media on Thursday--a day after the red carpet premiere--at the Fairmont Hotel in Makati City.

Asked by a local reporter if she was really as intense as her character in real life, Rodriguez beamed, "I would hope so! I am not as crazy as Letty but for sure I have passion behind everything I do."

The same can also be said in her other famous screen roles in Girlfight, Avatar, Resident Evil and Lost.

"It just started with me not wanting to play unintelligent roles. [For example] if the character is weak, I'd change her dialogues," she explained. "I just don't want to play something I do not want to be."

When The Sunday Times Magazine asked her if she was happy with the way the Letty Ortiz had been written for the Fast and Furious, Rodriguez admitted, "What you see on that screen, for me, it was never what was on paper. Just remember that."

She then added, "I always, always have to change. There are only two projects that I never had to change the writing: Girlfight and Avatar."

With her strength of character, does she see herself as a role model to women? She replied in all honesty, "It's just me . . . not wanting to be an idiot. It's a selfish, egotistic thing."

Grateful to 'Fast'

At the red carpet premiere of Fast and Furious 6 at the Music Hall of the SM Mall of Asia, Pasay City, Rodriguez was overheard crediting the film for launching her Hollywood career.

She also has a special spot for the franchise because of its multi-ethnicity. "I admire this franchise because of the action movies of today this has different characters from the streets and cultures from different parts of the world." Rodriguez enthused.

She added, "Nowadays Hollywood has so many illusions--beautiful, sexy people--I am not saying we're not, but for me this is closer to reality."

And what would be her favorite scene in the sixth Fast and Furious film? It came as no surprise when she chose the fight sequence between Letty and Riley (played by mixed martial artist Gina Carano) at a London train station. She also praised how Carano was very careful not to break her neck during the stunts.

Back to writing

A piece of trivia picked up by the Asian press from Michelle was that she originally joined show business to be a screen writer.

"But if anything, I've been lazy," confessed the 34-year old writer. She added that for the last 13 years, she had been "very busy growing up," but that now she felt it was time to go back to her roots.

She is currently busy writing three scripts. One is called Sedated and tackles drugs; another is Matriarch Society, which takes place in the 14th century; and lastly, a children-themed material called, Kingdom Come.

Rodriguez said she encourages more women to write in Hollywood. "Eighty percent of the writers are guys; most of them are married in Beverly Hills and they're married to some woman who obviously annoys them or they wouldn't write the way they write.

"It's just a matter of getting more female writers in the business, which is my next move," she winked.

* *

Luke Evans--from stage to screen

Hollywood hottie Luke Evans' first encounter with Filipinos was on the stage of London's West End for Miss Saigon. The Welshman played the lead role of Chris, the American G.I., who falls in love with Kim.

"I spent a whole year with the Filipino cast and they became some of my closest friends," he enthused at his turn at roundtable interview with the Asian press for The Fast and the Furious 6 on Thursday. "Filipinos are all so talented! It's amazing!"

Thus explains his much talked about impromptu rendition of "Kailangan Kita" at Wednesday night's red carpet premiere at the SM Mall of Asia.

Crossing over from stage to screen, according to Evans, however, was not as easy as pleasing the

throngs of fans who welcomed the cast of Fast 6 in Manila.

"It was such a fast process for me," he began, "and I didn't have any formal training when I did Clash of the Titans, which was my first film. I just had to forget that it was a movie and approach it as a scene between myself and somebody else and play the role as honestly and truthfully as I can."

He had to learn on his own that he didn't have to "play larger to the back of the house" and that the tiniest nod would look very big on the screen and already convey a whole load of feelings.

"So I had to learn fast, because it was only five years ago when I did my first movie and I'm now on my 19th film," he added.

Among his most memorable titles to date are Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers, and Immortals. Straight from Manila, he said he will go straight to the set of The Hobbit in New Zealand, and very soon, he will be reprising the 1931 role of Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi as Dracula.

"No one else has done Dracula for film for 81 years and it's such an honor for me to be doing that," Evans humbly acknowledged.

Clearly sought after in Hollywood, The Sunday Times Magazine asked the 34-year-old actor how he felt that his inclusion in The Fast and The Furious franchise is expected to draw non-fans of the movie into cinemas around the world.

"It would be nice to think that I might bring new people to the franchise that might have not seen it before," he replied. "I'm playing the first antagonist that they've had in the movie, so that's also a responsibility. I feel like the franchise and the story is also evolving and organically turning into something else. Now that's important because the franchise is on its sixth installment and it's going somewhere, and to be part of the reason why it's changing is just great."

Evans endearingly added that he is thankful that he even has "fans" that would go and watch his movies.

"I'm just lucky to be working," he shrugged his shoulders. "And I'm really appreciate that, so thank you--that's what I want to say to everyone who comes to see me."



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