Making an even bigger splash in the international film scene, Filipino actor, Chai Fonacier, has been cast in a cinematic collaboration between Ireland and the Philippines.
“Generally, I find that the Irish people are the complete opposite of their cold weather,” writes Filipino actor, Chai Fonacier on social media. Filed under the hashtag, #IstoryangIrelandniChai, it might come across as a casual observation of someone thoroughly acclimating abroad, but without tipping any alarms, it seemingly clued us in on her even bigger adventures. Musings on Filipino food and the Irish aside, it has been revealed that the Cebuana actress has been fostering creative ties between Ireland and the Philippines. In an article by Variety, the shroud of secrecy has been lifted and it can be revealed: Chai Fonacier is working opposite Eva Green and Mark Strong in the psychological thriller, Nocebo.
Known for award-winning turns in Operation Prutas, Miss Bulalacao, and Patay Na Si Hesus, Chai Fonacier is making an even bigger splash in the international film scene with this production set between London and Manila. A co-production between two countries, the story “follows a fashion designer (Green) suffering from a mysterious illness that puzzles her doctors and frustrates her husband (Strong) until help arrives in the form of a Filipino carer (Fonacier), who uses traditional folk healing.”
Chai Fonacier In Ireland
Working on the Lorcan Finnegan-directed movie that is currently in production, the Cebuana theater, television, and film actress is flexing her acting chops in this collaborative undertaking written by Garret Shanley and produced by Emily Leo and Brunella Cocchiglia, along with Filipino co-producers, Bianca Balbuena and Bradley Liew of Epic Media. Also involved in the production developed by Screen Ireland is the Film Development Council of the Philippines.
“The film’s themes explore consumerism, human exploitation, and the fast fashion industry, as well as the brain’s power in deciding whether to harm or cure the physical body,” describes Variety. While it sounds like a lofty ideal, traversing so many concerning cornerstones of modern society, the assemblage of talent from Mark Strong, Eva Green, and Chai Fonacier will definitely be up to the task in bringing this story to life.
While there is no news on the film’s release as of this writing, this development looks to be an exciting step in the creative connection between Ireland and the Philippines. Oh, and really, the world needs to see more of Chai Fonacier.
How are things in Ireland and how are your adventures under #IstoryangIrelandniChai?
I came up with that hashtag so that it's easy for me to look for past posts if I want to look back on my experiences here. It was also a way for me to tell my friends what I've been up to down to the tiniest things that I find interesting.
Because of the pandemic, we've all been mostly stuck indoors, being outside only when necessary, so coming out all the way here on the other side of the globe has made me more sensitive towards even the littlest things. I was never much of a traveler—not that I'm not interested in it, but being able to do so is a luxury I don't always have. So, when I have these little discoveries here, I share them with my friends no matter how funny, trivial or even possibly stupid (e.g. OMG, it takes longer for pans to heat up here).
What makes this material and character special that made you want to pursue it?
I was excited to see the culture I come from featured here. It's not all the time one gets to speak in Cebuano in an international film. I appreciate the amount of research they've done for this script, and they have on board some great local writers to flesh out the local scenes. One of them, writer/director Ara Chawdhury, is a friend with whom I go a long way back, and have worked closely with in her previous films (Operation Prutas and Miss Bulalacao). Two, I'm fascinated by our local folklore.
I've also previously worked with Bianca Balbuena of EpicMedia, which produced films I've worked in (Miss Bulalacao, Patay na si Hesus), and I know that Bianca takes on unique stories, so as soon as I knew that they were co-producing it, I had no doubts.
I guess in terms of the types of roles, this is unusual being that I've been considered as a comedian at home, and most of the projects I've done have been comedies. Suffice it to say this is relatively the darkest character I've done by far.
While we know you can't say much about the film itself, what is it like working on this kind of project, as well as working on an international production?
I've been having a blast working with the people here. This is my first international project, and the first on-location shoot I've had since the pandemic happened. That being the case, I have no idea how on-location shoots in the Philippines have been adjusted for the pandemic. But here, it feels like proper work—we shoot Mondays to Fridays, rehearse on Saturday if need be, and we do 9-hour workdays. This gives me a lot of time to let go of my character at the end of the day, to decompress properly, have a good night's rest in preparation for the next day. I even have extra time and enough energy to study my script further. We have COVID-19 protocols in place, and I even get tested thrice a week, as do the rest of the cast.
I was a bit scared coming on board given the role's significance and I really don't want to mess it up, but then I have a lot of support from the production (both the Philippines and Irish teams). The director and the cast are lovely to work with. It's all made me feel more and more equipped to tackle the role as the shoot progresses because I know I'm not coming to set blind.
How does it feel to be bridging two cinematic cultures in this film?
It's exciting. Right now I feel like I don't have the proper words to give the feeling or the experience any justice. The whole team has been supportive towards each other in making sure we're all giving what the scenes and the film need, but being the only Cebuano in the team at this phase of the shoot, it's quite a big load on my back, and it's scary. But it's one that I'm excited and honored to take on. We Bisaya don't get a lot of proper representation in local media, so this to me is huge. There's also a delicate balance we have to maintain: staying true to the character's background while at the same time accommodating non-Filipino audiences.
So far, with how the production has been running along, what has been your creative breakthrough or greatest lesson learned so far from this project?
It's still pretty early. We're only a week into the shoot, and I bet I will have more to take away from this experience. For one, giving actors the time to discuss and rehearse makes a world of difference. I'm the kind of person with a lot of self-doubt when it comes to my creative work. I'm always feeling like I might have not done something right, or that I could have made better creative choices. So, being able to rehearse lessens my self-doubt a bit.