Joel Torre’s voice was a bit hoarse when PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) sat down with him for this interview. He recently celebrated his 50th birthday on Father’s Day, June 19 and perhaps due to the festivities, had lost his voice.
Part of the night was also spent with Jose "Pete" Lacaba, who had translated John Sayles’ Amigo script into Filipino. The following day, Joel attended a presscon to promote the film which will open in cinemas by July 6.
Amigo is set during the 1900s during the Philippine-American war. Joel plays Rafael, mayor of a small town, a role that writer-director John Sayles had created with the actor in mind.
"I was so scared that I wouldn’t be able deliver," Joel said.
"At first I didn’t believe it because we were together in November 2008, and I got a draft of the script by February 2009.
"The scariest part is, I had memorized the script. I knew it like the back of my hand. The challenge was, am I getting the character? Talagang pasok na pasok na ba ako? Luckily, two or three days before
the shoot, it just hit me... I got Rafael."
Joel said he met Oscar-nominated director Sayles through his good friend from Bacolod, Mario Ontal. Mario, who also shares Joel’s theater background, has been doing editing work with Sayles since 1995.
Joel, along with Bembol Roco and Ronnie Lazaro, are part of the Philippine cast of Amigo, which was shot entirely in Bohol.
He said the film was especially challenging for him as it is his first time to co-produce.
"I have to be there since day one so that’s tough."
He also shared some tidbits about spending time with American actors.
"It was a blast... I’ve worked with other foreign actors before... so we speak the same language — film, acting. We know the terms, so we treat each other as colleagues, as equals."
Joel said he bonded with Chris Cooper who plays Col. Hardacre in the film.
"I already met him in New York in 2001. He stayed two weeks to shoot Amigo. We talked about our craft, his work and my work... and fun and silly stuff, as well as nationalism, Americans and Filipinos."
Aside from Cooper, the other actors are Garret Dillahunt (of No Country for Old Men, Damages, Life, among others), DJ Qualls (of Road Trip, Hustle and Flow), Yul Vasquez (of A-Team, Little
Fockers, American Gangster, War of the Worlds) and Dane Dehaan (of HBO’s In Treatment).
At the beginning, the American cast members "were complaining that it’s ’too hot,’ about the food and everything. A week into the project, we just bonded and we were having parties almost every night," Joel said.
"Before they left, they were teary-eyed... aside from realizing that Filipinos are such good actors, I think what struck them was our goodness as a people."
None of the American actors dared try the local Filipino delicacy balut. Director Sayles, however, was hooked on the Bacolod specialty piyaya.
The cast enjoyed eating sinigang and sutukil, the experience of selecting food fresh from the market and having it cooked in six different ways.
The cast also took scuba lessons in their free time and explored Bohol’s dive spots.
ON XYRIEL MANABAT. Joel is also a regular on ABS-CBN’s primetime show, 100 Days to Heaven. He plays a crippled man who takes care of the lead star portrayed by seven-year-old Xyriel Manabat.
Joel describes the child actress as "very gifted."
When asked what makes her such a convincing actress, he said, "She’s being coached, but how can she memorize all those lines...
"When I see her on the set [memorizing] these long lines I say to myself, ’kahit ako mahihirapan ako diyan.’"