Jaclyn Jose is a revered acting figure in Philippines. With over three decades of experience, the 52-year-old actress has won numerous accolades including the Gawad Urian (a prestigous film award in Philippines) three times for Best Actress.
She is also a popular soap opera star. In 2016, she made history as the first South-East Asian actress to win the Cannes Film Festival award for Best Actress for her role in Ma’ Rosa.
“(The feeling) was, I don’t know, crazy? I can feel all the blessing coming through me,” Jose shared with a laugh during an interview in Kuala Lumpur to promote Ma’Rosa. “I feel so stupid because I didn’t have a speech ready.”
In the film, Jose plays Rosa, a no-nonsense mother to four children living in a poverty-stricken neighbourhood. There, she runs a small goods shop with her husband. Needing more cash, the couple starts selling small amounts of drugs.
“There are a lot of women like Rosa in the Philippines. I see them especially when I drive to work, and on my way to the market. I know about these women,” Jose said.
Conflict arises when Rosa and her husband are arrested by the police. They can get out of jail if their children can come up with “bail” money to pay off the corrupt policemen.
Director Brillante Mendoza (known for Kinatay which earned him the Cannes Film Festival award for Best Director in 2009) made the film with the intention to show how corruption and povertyare affecting millions in his country.
Mendoza is notable for exploring taboo topics through his works, with a penchant for keeping things real through his gritty filmmaking style.
“Maybe it’s not for everyone,” admitted Mendoza, 56. “Some would rather be sheltered and stay away. Maybe for them, these (situations in my films) are not normal. But I like to take the audience (on a journey) to explore a different world, one usually not seen on film, and bring it closer to the viewers,” he said.
Ma’ Rosa was shot in 12 days and features locals from a small town as extras. Mendoza prepared his cast and crew for the shoot through what he calls “an immersion process”.
“When you work with me, everyone is the same. Even if you’re a superstar in Philippines, you will be eating and using the same utilities as everyone else on set. This is how I want people to work together.”
He also wanted real reactions from his cast. To get that, he didn’t give his cast a prepared dialogue. “I just give them situations (of a scene). I don’t want them to memorise lines. I don’t want them to know what is going to happen to their characters during the shoot. I don’t want anyone to have their acting preempted. It will be not natural anymore.”
Jose said not having any lines is “challenging” but she is used to it. After all, she has worked with Mendoza in other films like Service and The Masseur.
“When we’re making a movie, Brillante wants us to be fast. He doesn’t want people to feel self-conscious because people around us are really from the area. He also hates doing more than one take for a scene,” Jose explained.
What was new for Jose in Ma’ Rosa was having her daughter Andi Eigenmann on set as well. Eigenmann, 26, plays one of Rosa’s children. According to Jose, her daughter is a major mainstream star who is used to having her own trailer.
“We had to be in character all the time. (So) I told my daughter she can’t bring her own cutlery or plates to the set.”
While having her daughter might have been a comfort on set, Jose did have a panic attack during filming. “Remember the police raid scene?” she asked referring to a scene in the film when police arrives uninvited to the house just as Rosa and her family are about to have dinner.
“All the reaction you see on screen is real. I didn’t know where the police was going to take us. I was so afraid. (Internally) I was also freaking out, thinking of what Brillante would have the police do to Andi’s character.”
Although the actress was afraid for her daughter, Jose also trusted her director. “I know he won’t do anything unnecessarily. (If he did) I would kill him,” said Jose, half-jokingly … we think.
More than anything, Jose wanted Eigenmann to gain the experience of working in an independent film.
“She did not complain at all during filming,” said Jose proudly. “This is what makes Ma’ Rosa special to me: Knowing my daughter was (making the film) with me and experiencing a guerilla kind of filmmaking with Brillante.”