Words by Marielle Balmores
Photos by Justin Francia
Just from the teaser trailer of the film My Letters to Happy, there is already so much you would want to unravel. It’s about time that we had a film that opens up further the discussion of mental illness in the country and how we really need to emphasize the importance of awareness.
When I sat down and talked to Glaiza and TJ on a cloudy Saturday, numerous questions came to mind since this kind of film was very unique. Firstly, I asked how they were able to get their lead roles of Happy and Albert. For Glaiza, it was a role offered to her during her prior filming of the indie film, Liway. At first, she was hesitant because she thought that this film would only be limited to romance.
Nung binasa ko yung script, sabi ko ‘uy, okay to’. I thought it was gonna be another romantic film, tapos when I realized na, ‘Oh okay wait, may ibang factor’, which is the main issue na tinatackle. I thought, ‘Yeah, let’s do it’.
Meanwhile, for TJ, it was quite different since he relied on the talented intuition of the producer present in the interview, Melai Entuna since he was already semi-retired from television and accepting film projects.
When this came up and it was also Melai who asked me about it, then it was almost 50% of it was a yes already. When I read it [the script], I was like ‘I want to do it’.
Before this film, Glaiza and TJ had already worked together on other projects such as Wagas, Diva, and The Rich Man’s Daughter. I asked what it was like to work together again and whether there were any differences or similarities. Glaiza quotes that TJ as “an intense actor.” But because he gave her a sense of comfort and reassurance, she just dove for it. TJ gave a similar response, in which he added that because there is a sense of familiarity already, it is more comfortable since “you do not have to start from zero.”
As a film focused on mental health, it already stands out in the Philippine cinema scene of the 21st century. Making our next question: how else is this film unique for Glaiza and TJ’s? Glaiza inputs how her character Happy is a challenge to portray because there is no template to rely on.
I’m dealing with crucial emotions and kailangan siya ma-translate on screen. You really have to research, talk to your director, kasi ayaw mo na ma-misinterpret yung character.
As for TJ, he mentions how the director, Pertee Briñas, constructed this story and the relevance of the core issue that may create more dialogue. What stuck out to me in his answer was this very meaningful statement.
If we get to help one person, it would make the film worth it.
Moreover to their characters, I asked if there were traits or occurrences wherein they can relate to them. Glaiza answers how in specific emotional times, she sees herself in Happy wherein:
Ang dami mong tinitry i-deal with, tapos parang di mo siya ma-organize. That’s why you’re starting to lose control of yourself or to lose everything.
She points out the importance of having a support system too to reassure you in those times of vulnerability and find ways to make things okay again. For Happy, she has Albert. Then for Glaiza, she mentions her family and friends. TJ testifies how a character like Albert is either a person the writer encountered in life or the writer himself and his experiences. He relates to Albert with:
… how he was driven in his work, not entirely mga 10-20%. And his patience.
To top off all these interesting responses related to the film, I also asked about the learnings and take-aways that the future viewers can receive from this film.
Glaiza: Towards the middle or end of the film, I hope they will understand and gain that awareness and knowledge on how to handle problems and difficult situations.
TJ: It has happy moments. It might sound very heavy, but it’s not. I think it’s a well-balanced film that addresses these issues but it touches on the lighter side, lighter moments. I really believe na magugustuhan ‘to ng mga tao.
Outside of the film-related questions, a personal fact about TJ was that he graduated from De La Salle University under Marketing after coming from a liberal arts course initially. From being really dedicated to the business scene during and post-college to now fully committed to acting, I asked how these shifts came in to place.
He spoke up how he always had a creative outlet during school, being in a band and partaking in amateur plays. Then after graduation, his interest in the world of finance grew, so he became a money trader. However, there was an ongoing trend wherein all the companies he was hired for ended up closing down, which left him to consider his other options. One of them just so happened to be acting. Chuckling as he recalled those memories, he told us
What are my options? You know, my family were telling me, ‘Why don’t you try audition and see what happens?’ But I was already applying for a new job, and I got accepted in the job but then I got accepted in a soap as well. But the soap came first, and I agreed to it and I was really reluctant with it. It was Basta’t Kasama Ka with Judy Ann Santos, and actually I didn’t realize what I was getting into because you only live once. You’ll regret it if you don’t try, so I tried it and didn’t stop.
If you follow Glaiza on Instagram (@glaizaredux), you may find that she posted a cover of Blackpink’s Whistle, which is remarkable because learning a new language is a challenge. When I brought it up, she was over the moon and we began to talk about it excitedly without feeling shy.
It turns out that she practiced it for months, alongside the guitar accompaniment! She also shared that she also loves the boy group Big Bang, and diligently learned one of their famous songs, Fantastic Baby for a lipsync battle.
Hindi siya ganoon kadali, pero sinabi ko talaga sa sarili ko hindi pwedeng parang mag-watermelon watermelon lang ako dito, kailangan kabisado ko siya. Ayaw ko naman na hindi mabigyan ng justice. Yung secret is you have to keep repeating and familiarize yung diction nila, yung pronunciation and really listen kung paano sinasabi yung words.
My Letters to Happy is showing nationwide on July 17. Thank you to Nicole Lagumbayan from Upper Story (@upperstory.ph) for providing lovely accommodations for the interviews, and Melai Entuna for arranging everything to make the interviews possible.
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A promising film such as this would bring a strong impact on current Philippine society. What are your thoughts about it? Share them with us!