WEEKEND writer Fiona Patricia S. Escandor gets to meet the second Filipino Saint, or at least, the guy who gets to play him in an upcoming movie.
The end of the countdown draws near and the world will soon witness the much anticipated canonization rites of Blessed Pedro Calungsod. Said to have hailed from the Visayas, Pedro will be the second Filipino saint to be proclaimed by the Vatican—resulting in much fervor and rejoicing from many devout locals.
Taking part in the center stage of this occasion is 25-year-old actor Eli Razo, who will portray the missionary catechist in the upcoming film “P,” directed by award-winning filmmaker Remton Siega Zuasola. This being his first full-length film project straight out of acting school, Eli is simply filled with excitement at the opportunity to portray on the big screen the inspirational tale of the highly-venerated Pedro Calungsod.
Eli recalled that when he first showed up at the casting call, the first question Remton threw at him was: “So, how do you feel about playing a saint?” It was only then that the young actor found out that a tribute film was in the works, and that he was shortlisted for the lead role.
What ultimately landed him the post, he revealed, was that during the auditions he sent the production team an edited photo of himself next to an image of Pedro. Eli said: “It was an actor’s way of doing more to get the role, and the producers said that it did make a difference. I guess I look like him in a way.”
“P” is not purely a biopic of the honored martyr, since the director, known for his artistic vision, plans to make it a three-part plot. Running the storyline will be the three main protagonists Pedro, Peter and Pierre, all of whom are from different generations, yet somehow intertwine in an unexpected encounter. The film is slated for release in April 2013, in time for the would-be saint’s first feast day.
“The script, I guess you can say I’m biased, but it’s beautiful,” Eli beamed. “It offers a view of what it was like before. It also features the relationship between parents, between young couples in love, and the trials you get from natural occurrences like cancer.”
“In Pedro’s part, we’re trying to make it true to history as much as possible. It will be focused more on his excursion in Guam,” he said. “We’ll be portraying Pedro like any human being—the fact that he can be vulnerable. It’s a complete balance of strength and weakness, and I think that’s what we will highlight in the film.”
Eli shared that he has always been quite the performer ever since he was a kid, whether it was acting in a play or belting it out in a musical. Performing has always been something he had a knack for, and as he teasingly said: “I was always acting, always showing off.”
“I was part of speeches and plays in high school. Then I did musicals in college. Benjie Diola was my first director,” he added. Eli has starred in stage productions of
“The King & I” and “West Side Story” among many others. “And I would always skip classes for that,” he inserted cheekily.
Eli had his secondary studies at Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu and then graduated with a degree in architecture from the University of San Carlos. He is a licensed architect and had briefly worked in an architectural design firm before pursuing his love for acting.
Although it may seem like two divergent fields, Eli said that he still brought with him the values instilled in him in his previous practice. He said: “I was trained to be an architect for eight years and being in that field taught me to be disciplined and to be very professional. Similarly, I look at acting as a profession. It’s something that you constantly have to improve on. It’s work.”
Eli was brought back to the world of performing arts last year when he was accepted by the International Academy of Film & Television for a three-week acting workshop. Upon noticing his innate talent and creativity, the school offered him a scholarship in its certificate program in performing arts, which he finished last March.
His impressive flair for acting also received recognition in this year’s Sinulog Film Festival when he bagged the best actor award for his role in the short film “Feeling the Faith.” Directed by fellow IAFT graduate Allan Obenza, the short film is about disabled siblings who perceive life positively despite their situation. There, Eli showcased his versatility as an actor in his portrayal of a visually-impaired character.
“In IAFT, I was exposed to so many roles—from superhero to psychotic person. I have played a person who was locked in a box, talking to an imaginary figure,” he said. “We do a wide variety here and it all contributes to being an actor.”
Eli disclosed that part of their preparations for “P” is the actors’ immersion in the old catechism. They will also be familiarizing themselves with Spanish, Latin and Chamorro (of Guam) as these will be heavily used throughout the film. Alongside Eli in the film will be Angel Aquino, Matteo Guidecelli, Akiko Solon and Donna Gimeno.
“My interpretation of the script is that Pedro was very dedicated,” Eli said contemplatively, “he was very focused on the mission that he had to do.
He was taken from his country with the risk that he might never come back or that he might die, and I thought: you need serious commitment right there.”
As for Eli, his newfound mission is to do justice in his rendering of the iconic role bestowed on him. It is a challenging mission but with his promising talent, and sense of commitment that is comparable to Pedro’s—much can be expected from it. Surely, for “P,” as well as Eli himself, a new countdown begins.