By SIGFREID BARROS SANCHEZ, Skyland News
WE may agree or disagree with Toronto International Film Festival’s Steve Gravestock, but Alessandra de Rossi is definitely phenomenal. Throw in also the words exceptional, extra special, and unusual.
At first meeting, the Alessandra that greets you seems like a 16-year old fresh out of the kikay machine. She talks like a sward, blurting out the expression “nakakaloka” as often as possible and gyrates in a manner that’s more Quiapo than Session Road.
But ask her a sensitive question, especially something that pertains to her family (okay, just mention the word “Jules”), and the kikay becomes kicking like a fighter and the sward-speak turns into a sharp-edged sword. And then you watch her act. You follow her career from the nene abused by her father in “Azucena” to the retardate abused by her sister’s lover in “Hubog,” and finally to the young teacher whose new-school ways were refused by a small town in the much-publicized “Mga Munting Tinig”. Suddenly, your first impression of her gets lost in the mature talent that blooms before you. Her petite sixteen-year old frame is erased to reveal her true age of eighteen. Now, she’s not just Session Road but a woman of layers like the terraces. Can you blame Jenny Punter when she described Alex “the next Penelope Cruz” in an article written for Canada’s biggest paper, Toronto Globe and Mail? Jamon, jamon. Or rather, c’mon, c’mon.
“Nakaka-flatter!” she blurts out when asked to describe the feeling. “Lumulutang ka sa hangin. Pero feeling ko marami pa akong kakaining bigas. Hindi pa ito ‘yon.”
But whether she likes it or not, Alessandra de Rossi is now an international star and the responsibility that comes with it is no simple task. “Mga Munting Tinig,” or “Small Voices” as it is called in international festivals, is the country’s entry to the Oscar’s selection committee for Best Foreign Film after earning raves in Toronto and, hopefully, when it is screened on November 8 and 11 at the American Film Institute International Filmfest in Los Angeles. Forget for a while that the flick is criticized for ripping off some foreign art films such as Zhang Yimou’s “Not One Less” (China) and Majid Majidi’s “Children of Heaven” (Iran) laced with Hollywood’s “Sister Act,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” “Stand and Deliver,” and “Dead Poets Society”. For one, Alex’s acting is no xerox copy of any foreign actresses. What she delivers is what she understands of the role that is written on the script. She swears she never watches films that reflect the roles she currently portrays to distance herself from being accused of imitating a particular actress.
“Ang kalalabasan kasi may ginagaya ako. Gusto ko lagi natural,” she divulges. She even shares that she never immersed nor got to meet real teachers for her role in “Mga Munting Tinig”. “Wala. Naghinhin-hinhinan lang ako,” she reveals laughing.
Alex’s acting formula has tallied three best supporting actress trophies for her, one for “Azucena” and two for “Hubog”. And with “Mga Munting Tinig” Oscar-bound, we can safely say that a best actress nod isn’t far behind come next year. She may add another feather to her cap if her audition for the role of Tom Cruise’s Filipina girlfriend in the World War II flick “Fertig” garners positive signals from Hollywood bigwigs.
“Nakakaloka!” goes her words again.
“Lahat tayo may karapatang mangarap, mayaman man o mahirap,” so goes one of Alessandra’s lines in “Mga Munting Tinig”. She plays Melinda in the film, a young educator from Manila who gets assigned to a remote mountain barrio after one of the teacher leaves. She eventually teaches the students her progressive way of thinking and encourages them to triumph over life’s struggle by joining a choir singing competition. Despite the different odds and hurdles posted by some fellow-teachers and some parents, Alessandra inspires her class and eventually awakens a sleeping barrio.
Alessandra’s journey into the industry started in 1992 when her Italian father and Filipina mother decided to visit the country after spending years in Leche, Italy. Together with sister Assunta and two other sisters, the vacation opened doors for the Da Rossi’s when some of their mother’s friends recommended that the kids be trained to speak Tagalog and hone some acting in them through workshops. Back then, the sisters were already lookers with their European features and heights that pass a model’s criteria.
Shortly after, Alex and Assunta were suddenly part of “D.A.T.S.,” German Moreno’s replacement for talent springboard “That’s Entertainment”. The show was short-lived and the Da Rossi’s trained their sights at the Star Circle of the other station. Alessandra made it to Star Circle 7 with Jodi Sta.Maria, Tracy Vergel, and Desiree del Valle. Her career, however, didn’t bloom with the group. She was petite, dusky brown, and also admits to be very lazy at that time to think of showbiz.
In 1996, she got a small part in Peque Gallaga’s “Magic Kingdom”. It’s a one-sequence experience that woke up the gifted in her. Her genius is further pushed when Carlitos Siguion-Reyna and wife Bibeth Orteza held auditions for the role of an abused daughter in “Azucena”. The role was supposed to be for Mumay Santiago but her late audition (she came at the last minute, at the last day) was just what the couple were looking for. The rest, they say, belongs to history.
The role of Melinda was not offered to Alessandra in the beginning. Nor was she second or third or fourth choice. Vina Morales, Kaye Abad, and even Judy Ann Santos were the firsts to be invited to try out for the part but previous commitments and a very low talent fee, that is common on independently-produced films, made the more popular stars back-out. Their loss is currently Alex’s gain.
“Halos naglalaro lang kami,” Alessandra narrates of the whole “Munting Tinig”-experience in Lukban, Quezon. “Bihira ang Take Three o Take Four sa amin. Para lang kaming gumagawa ng telesine. Ito ang pinakamadaling pelikulang ginawa ko!”
Ironic it may sound but she never thought that the film will ever go as far as being sent to the Oscars. “Naloka ako,” she says. “Nu’ng nabasa ko ‘yung script nito, sabi ko, ang hirap pagandahin ng istorya nito. Sobrang simple talaga. Kailangan sobrang ganda ng pagkaka-execute ng mga eksena kasi nakakaloka.”
“Tinanggap ko ‘yung role dahil sa direktor,” she adds. “Dahil rin sa script kasi alam kong makakabuti sa akin. Basta kasi nakakabuti sa ‘yo, okey lang kahit na gaano kahirap ang role mo.”
One of the sacrifices she endured while shooting “Mga Munting Tinig” was the skin asthma that struck her due to the weather conditions in Lukban. During the interview, traces of whitish marks can still be seen on her hands and arms. She just shrugs them off as long as, she says, the film gets to the Magic 5 at the Oscars.
As her character portrays a BS Education graduate in Manila, Alessandra has yet to experience college life. One of the things she had to give up to showbiz’s glitters is the privilege of pursuing a college course like her former classmates at the Our Lord’s Grace Montessori. She would have been a junior student now, perhaps taking Culinary Arts or Aeronautics if given the chance. She also dabbled on the idea of taking up Pre-Law upon her mother’s suggestion. “Lagi raw kasi akong may ready argument. Parang walang nananalo sa akin,” she shares in jest.
“Siyempre nanghihinayang ako. Maganda rin ‘yung sasabihin mong may natapos ka. Sabi nga ng Mommy ko, baka ma-karma daw ako at kapag may anak na ako e ayaw ring mag-aral,” Alessandra discloses. “Basta siguraduhin lang niya na meron siyang pagbabagsakan at pagbibigyan ko siguro.”
No matter how much she wants to break the karma, she currently cannot sacrifice yet a booming career for education. That’s “yet”. She tapes thrice a week for soap opera “Kung Mawawala Ka” as Paloma, the rebellious daughter turned cult leader. Then there’s teeny-bopper “Click” in between where she plays the tomboyish Ian. She also has TV guestings on other shows like the one she attended for Korina Sanchez’s “Isyu” before this interview.
“Ang Mommy ko magna cum laude dati kaya siyempre itinutulak niya talagang kahit paano e may natapos kami,” she lets us in. “Ayaw niya na isang araw e magigising ako at wala na akong trabaho at wala na ring kakainin. Pero naiintindihan niya na paano nga ako makakapag-aral e araw-araw busy ako.”
After “Mga Munting Tinig,” Alex also entertained ideas of becoming an educator someday. Although not the kind that she portrayed in the movie, the young actress is more akin to be a pre-school educator once she retires back to Italy.
“Mahilig talaga ako sa bata,” she tells. “Kasi parang andaling magturo sa mga bata. Nasa puso ko talaga sila. Natutuwa ako kapag nakikita ko sila. Pasensyosa rin kasi ako at tina-try kong mag-eduacte sa mga bata kahit papaano.”
During spare times, Alessandra turns to reading to educate herself. A science buff since high school days, she currently carries with her Jaime Licauco’s “Encounters With The Unknown” to know more about paranormal experiences and strange beings. She seriously divulges that she had experiences of having able to brush with these beings from time and again. She can’t recall but she thinks this one experience she had in Baguio last year has something to do with these activities.
“Three days kami do’n nung dalawang kaibigan ko tapos biglang sumakit ‘yung dibdib ko,” she stories. “Hindi ako makahinga pero conscious ako. Akala ko mamamatay na ako. Kung kailan pa naman ako nasa Baguio. Sabi ko, huwag naman sana dito sa Baguio.”
Lucky for her, her friend was able to medicate her in time or she wouldn’t be Oscar-bound now. After the incident, as if nothing happened, she proceeded to eat balut during the night and dove-in the next day at the ukay-ukay, where she got some of her bohemian attires and, on that lucky day, a P600 Pravda bag. Had she succumbed to the incident, the Pinoy fishmonger would have grieved one of the most colorful figures in the industry especially after series of lashing out at her sister and her boyfriend-husband.
“Huwag na tayong magpaka-plastic!” she answers when asked whether what small voice in her does she want to speak out loudly in public. “Sa showbiz hindi ka tatagal kapag totoo kang tao katulad ko. Konti lang ang nakakaintindi sa akin pero wala akong pakialam. Hindi ko kailangang magpaka-plastic kasi mahihirapan akong magsalita kung magsisinungaling ako.”
As Alessandra gears up for Hollywood, the biggest coddler of “tupperware” individuals and characters, we hope that she already knows what to do once she gets there. We advise her that it will take more than Alessandra, the phenomenal, to take on the giants. Like her character in “Mga Munting Tinig,” she’ll be counting on Alessandra, the cerebral.