Taking Flight

SHE’S all of 18, on the cusp all of 18, on the cusp of stardom, or wherever she wants to take her budding acting career. Dainty as a bloom, Mary Joy Apostol is more than a fresh-faced ingénue as reviews of her powerful performance in the upcoming indie film “Birdshot” will tell you.

“Maya is my name in the film. Maya is a kind of bird also,” she would open our conversation, her eyes wide open, filled with shy excitement. Blessed with a face that is sweetly familiar and youthfully lovely, complemented by her calm, gentle manner, she is attractive and relatable in the same breath.

One senses right away that what sets Majoy—the delightful pet name she goes by—apart from the rest of the up-and-coming crop of showbiz stars is her meekness and openness.

It’s this beguiling quality to the rising actress makes it easy to understand why award-winning filmmaker Mikhail Red cast her for his sophomore filmto play a provincial lass who comes of age through a sorry, sordid mistake.

Much like her silent, stunning performance as the lead actress of the film, “Birdshot”quietly debuted at the 29th Tokyo International Film Festival where it bested other outstanding entries and took the top plum for Best Film.

From the same studio that brought audiences the critically-acclaimed and well-received “Heneral Luna,” “Birdshot,” which is now part of Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino that will run from Aug. 16 to 22, happens to be Mary Joy’s first full-length film—and her first big break.One doesn’t readily see in Mary Joy that naked desire you see glimmer on the face of starlets who are lured by dreams of their names up in marquee lights. For a newbie in the film scene, she’s innocently reticent, almost crazily uncertain with herself and her dreams.

What you see instead is an openness to her spirit, a pliant, passionate heart that seeks to find its medium of expression.To say she’s not your typical millennial is no exaggeration. She admits she’s the type to keep to herself and confesses to being an old soul. Over lunch and all throughout our interview—her very first press conference —she didn’t even have her phone with her to take selfies. A cursory search on social media subsequently showed an Instagram account set to private.

Play! discovers an acting novice on the brink of shiny possibilities, a young girl of talent and promise who just happens to be doing this movie that, like her, is set to go big-time without the trite, noisy fanfare most are so wont to desire in the entertainment industry. And what a joy it is to see that happen.Tell us about how you got this role.

I was invited by our producer Pamela Reyes to audition. My first acting experience was through the short film “Unawa.” I was 13 then. She invited me to audition for “Birdshot.” At that time, I didn’t really expect I’d be cast in the role. All I was thinking of was just to audition and not have any expectations. The other girls vying for the same role were also GMA artists; I saw someone who was regularly appearing on TV.

As it turns out, I was the oldest in the bunch. They needed somebody who was 14, and I was 17 then. When I got out of the auditions, I really was not expecting much. There was a slight concern with my performance. They said my acting seemed too mature for the role. I didn’t register as a 14-year old on camera. Later that day, we were all called and it was announced that I had been officially cast for the role. When I first heard the news, I couldn’t believe it. And now, we are experiencing all of this success. I just saw “Birdshot” as an indie film initially. I was just going to be a part of this small project. I didn’t expect that it would go on to join film competitions abroad, in Japan.

What was your audition piece? What did they make you do?

They gave me a script before going to the studio. They emailed the piece to me ahead of time. It was a scene that featured me and my father played by Ku Aquino. It was an intense scene where we had our backs to each other.

What is the story of “Birdshot”?

It is about a girl, a young girl, being taught by her father to be independent. One time, she went out into the forest reserve where she accidentally kills a Philippine eagle. Because of this, the police had to be involved. The characters of John Arcilla and Arnold Reyes would get involved at this point. That’s where the story takes off.

Did you expect the film would generate this kind of buzz?

No. Not really. I was just able to come to terms with the whole thing—that I had done this movie when I was in Japan already. I didn’t have anyexpectations. It hadn’t sunk in that I had a movie, that I got this role. Now, I feel really blessed. Until now, I still get pleasantly surprised that the movie has gone this far. I am really happy because I get a lot of good comments for my performance in it.

Tell us about your background. How did you start with acting?

I started acting when I was 13 years old. I was with a talent agent. I was going to auditions. I remember an agent saw my picture and I was told that had to go Manila because I’m from Bulacan. This agent asked me what I wanted to do. I told him I was just really interested in being a model for commercials. I just wanted the simple, playful, girl-next-door roles. He told me to try acting. I had to go through acting workshops. And then, the projects started trickling in. This was when I was in high school. I was not allowed to miss school then. There was a time I had to transfer to another school because the Catholic school I was enrolled at did not allow me to pursue my acting career. Fortunately, I was given support by the new school I transferred to.  And then I did the short film “Unawa,” which was my first exposure to acting in film. One thing led to another. Those I’d meet in different acting jobs would refer me. The talent agents would ask me to audition for different roles. So I had bit jobs for VTRs, digital campaigns, two-day shoots.  “Birdshot” came to me in December 2016—I was on a school break. After that, at least a year was allotted to filming and editing the film.
What does this role mean to you? “Birdshot” really challenged me. The role was quite difficult for me. The kind of acting that I had to deliver for this film is very different from what I did for my TV roles. Filming Birdshot was eye-opening. I made a lot of friends and good contacts. I learned a lot from my co-actors. I feel really fulfilled because every time I’d book a project, I’d really learn something from the director, from my co-actors, from the whole experience. But Birdshot proved to be different.

How was it working with your co-stars John Arcilla, Ku Aquino, and Arnold Reyes?

They are all very good at what they do. We weren’t all together for the scenes shot in Isabela because their scenes were shot in Metro Manila. But we were able to hang out off-cam in our tents and they would give me advice. I had some scenes with Arnold Reyes who really helped me with my performance. Ku Aquino played my dad in Unawa. I felt so at home working with him again for Birdshot. John Arcilla and I got to talking and he asked me what my thoughts were if I had to choose between school and career. I was with my mom then and we both chose school. We said that if there’d be a great career opportunity, I’d grab it because school will always be there. It was John Arcilla who said that if I really wanted it, I can choose to do both. All I needed to decide on was committing myself to both. He said, “If you want to do work while going to school, you can do both.”

What other dreams do you have aside from showbiz?

I am taking up tourism management in college now. It’s a 4-year course and I am proud that I am graduating this year. I took this course because I really want to be part of the hospitality industry. It’s in my nature to serve. Maybe I can work for an airline or for a hotel chain in the future.
What was the reaction of your classmates and teachers when they heard about this movie? In school, I really am a bit different. I want the people around me to see me as Majoy, a regular student. I’ve somehow gotten used to my classmates congratulating me for roles I’d get. But when they’d talk proudly about my appearances to other people, I’d tell them gently to keep it low-key. I still feel really shy about all of this. But now, things are starting to change a bit. In school, I really just want to stay simple and low-key. But of course, I really tell them about Birdshot and invite them to see the movie.

What are your plans after graduation?

When they ask me about what I’m going to do after graduation, I say I really still am not 100% sure. Because I think if there would be good acting opportunities, I’d still be up for them. I’ll just keep on grabbing things that will come my way.

What are your goals now? Do you want to focus on small films like this or do you want to go mainstream?

I really want to work more on indie films. I like doing indie films better. There’s a big difference between indie films and mainstream movies. It’s hard to explain but I feel like I really want to focus more on doing indie films now. They’re more rooted in real life—they’re more true to life, so to speak.

You went to Japan for the 29th Tokyo International Film Festival where the movie won the Best Asian Film Award.

How was the experience?

That served as my first time for everything—the first time for me to get a passport, the first time to ride a plane, the first time for me to travel alone without my mom. It was such a happy experience for me. Everything–during the premier night, being at the red carpet—about it was so memorable for me. I wore a gown by Bulacan designer Boyong Nicolas. It was a grey, long gown–and then during the festival, there was even mention of me wearing the longest train on their red carpet. The attendees would come up to me and compliment me on my look that night. I was also a bit nervous because Japanese media would come up to me and I didn’t really know what to say. As a whole, it was such a thrilling experience for me.
What was the most flattering, the most positive compliment that you got on your performance during the 29th Tokyo International Film Festival? I read most of the reviews. They were saying my acting was very natural, and that they could feel the essence of my role, that they could feel Maya’s innocence. Most of the film fest attendees really had very positive reviews. I am very thankful because our director really mentored me so I could portray the role the best way that I can.

What’s your creative process like when you get into your role?

Before we filmed Birdshot, we had an acting workshop. I had to have acting lessons. I had to study the whole script. I even had to study how to handle a gun which was used in the movie.  It was a real gun that fired empty shells. So, we had all these preparations and then when we got to Isabela where the film is shot, that was when the cameras started rolling.

What was the last movie you saw that you really liked?

The last movie that I really liked was “Heneral Luna.” The last Hollywood movie I saw was “Notting Hill.” I don’t really watch movies when they are released in cinemas. I like movies but I just never got used to going out to really catch a movie.   Most indie actor who make a name for themselves eventually get TV and movie offers.

Do you see that happening to you?

So far, I haven’t gotten any offers to do that, to go mainstream, so to speak. For now, I think it might be best not to star in another film until Birdshot gets released.

What genre would you like to focus on?

I think I’d like to give comedy a shot. As far as I can see for the scenes where I’d have to act, I find that the one I have a hardest time portraying is when my character is angry. It’s quite difficult for me to channel rage.

Which stars have you met that left you starstruck?

Maja Salvador. I met her because I attended an acting class and her niece was one of my classmates. We had dinner one time. I’ve seen Toni—well, it was more of she just happened to be passing by. The star, though, that I really got to talk with lengthily and seriously is Bela Padilla. She’s really very nice, on- and off-cam.

Which Filipino actress do you emulate and whose career path you’d like to follow?

I think it will have to be Toni Gonzaga. She can do everything. She’s good with comedy. She can host also. There’s also Maja Salvador.
Who’s your dream leading man? Paulo Avelino.

What about someone your age?

Or what about getting into a love team? I don’t really know guys in the indie film circuit who are my age. But my friends and I had a crush on Ronnie Alonte, and some of the other boys from The Hashtags group. And then there’s John Llloyd Cruz. Of course, I’m open to being paired, to being with screen partners. For me, it’s not really about the love team, it’s about the kind of work that you need to do.

You’re turning 18. Are you allowed to have a boyfriend already?

It’s not really that I am not allowed to have one. I am open to the idea. My mom does advise me about this whole puppy love and ‘no boyfriend since birth’ concept.

What’s your favorite song? Do you also sing or dance?

I listen mostly to love songs. I can sing. I just really need to study the piece and have lots of practice. I can dance. But I really need to have rehearsals. I can’t free-style.

Tell us three interesting facts about you.

I am addicted to ice cream. I don’t like going out so much. In the movie, I had scenes with a dog and that was such a treat for me because I am a dog lover. I have eight pet dogs at home.

Can you tell us about your other interests outside of acting?

I’m a simple person, really. If I am not at home, I would be in school. Or, I would be in Manila for work. I’m not so much about going out, having night-outs, and all that. At home, I would just be online. I’d clean the house, fix my room. I grew up in Bulacan. And I’m the only one really in our family who’s into acting.

What do your parents have to say about your showbiz career?

From the very beginning, they’ve always been supportive–even my dad who’s based abroad, even my siblings. There are 4 of us in the family. I have one brother and two sisters. I am the third from the eldest in the brood. They’re all very supportive of me.

Has your dad seen your movie?

No, he hasn’t seen the whole movie although he’s seen the trailer. We’re going to find out very soon if he’s going to be able to fly home from Saudi Arabia to catch the movie release here.

Do you have a dream project?

To be honest, I haven’t thought of that. But I will say this is my dream project. I feel very happy I got to do Birdshot. It’s only now that it’s dawned on me that there’s this film, that I have this movie, that I am a part of this award-winning film. It’s only now that the realization has set in–that I’ve a movie that’s coming out this August 16.

What’s the best life lesson you learned from this experience?

I think it really is just staying humble. When I did this movie, I had people coming up to me saying I was set to become a big star, that I was going big time. Deep inside, I would feel shy about the whole thing. Up to now, when people say I’m starting to make a name for myself, I tell them nothing’s changed with me.  For now, it’s just staying humble and low-key. And being thankful for the things that come your way. I am willing to do more movies like this, to audition, to go through the hardships of filming a movie. I’ve learned it’s better to go ahead and do things even if there are obstacles. I learned that you really have to do things even if you face hardship.

TAGS: birdshot, girl, green, invite, life, shoot, Simple, story
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