Writer-director Antoinette Jadaone, actress Charlie Dizon and actor Paulo Avelino virtually fielded questions on November 5 following the world premiere of their sensual suspense drama, Fan Girl, in the Tokyo Premiere 2020 section of the 33rd Tokyo International Film Festival.
In the film, Jane (Dizon) is the No. 1 fan of romance star Paulo (Avelino, playing himself — but surely not his real self). Not content to simply see him on stage promoting a film at the mall, she hides in the bed of his truck and sneaks into his house. There, she’s shocked to find a glorified bachelor pad sparsely lit by candles and patrolled by a weed-smoking, heavily-tattooed Paulo.
Initially irate when he spots his admiring intruder, Paulo gradually warms to Jane’s adulation, and the two share beer, cigarettes, selfies and stories of family troubles throughout the night and the following day. But Jane’s impossible dream of intimacy jolts her into the realization that Paulo isn’t the sensitive leading man he plays in public.
Fan Girl is a meta-fictive, Sunset Boulevard-like deconstruction of celebrity worship and the pitfalls of movie stardom in an age of constant social media surveillance. Jadaone drew upon her long experience working in the Filipino film industry, where she’s especially celebrated for her rom-coms, to write a script about the dual lives of celebrities.
Paulo’s evil alter-ego was created as a composite, pulling details from the personal lives of known celebrities in the Philippines as well as Paulo’s own life. “The director definitely researched my life and used it in the film,” Avelino said during the Q&A. “She did it on purpose so she could touch something within my heart.”
Avelino gives a gutsy performance, fully embracing a volatile, foul-mouthed, drug-addled, self-destructive persona that takes a hatchet to his heartthrob image. He said he got the part only after several other “bigger stars in the Philippines” turned the role down. “My wholesome, kawaii career after this is over,” he joked.
Film sets in the Philippines can be demanding, with shoots for TV shows running from four months to over a year. Avelino explained it’s easy to get lost in your role as an actor: “You have to constantly find that balance and part of you that grounds yourself to bring you back to reality.”
Jane is the perfect foil, a young girl attempting to escape bleak domestic problems by realizing a movie fantasy. Dizon is a revelation in the role, displaying the range of adolescence emotion through bouts of girlish joy, drunken flirtation, sexual frustration, teary confusion and unleashed rage in her desperate desire to become an adult.
Jadaone said that 680 girls auditioned for the role and that Dizon wasn’t initially the first choice, but that she’d lit up the crew when she arrived for her audition. “She had a different aura and walk,” said the director. “We knew we found our fan girl the moment she walked into the room.”
The part is a demanding one, with several graphic sex scenes for the first-time lead actress. Dizon said she had some hesitation upon reading the script, but “just felt the moment” so that the scenes could finish as quickly as possible. Upon Avelino telling her he loved doing the scenes, she laughed, “Luckily, my partner was Paulo Avelino.”
The film’s frank depiction of underage drinking, drug use and sex is alarming, but Jadaone argued that viewers shouldn’t turn away from these issues in Filipino culture: “They are happening all around us, and storytellers must be brave enough to discuss them. That’s what filmmakers and storytellers do: talk about issues that nobody [else] can.”
The Filipino film and TV industries have, like the rest of the world, been hit hard by the global coronavirus pandemic, and Avelino concluded the online talk with a sincere wish: “I’m hoping for the best for everyone all over the world. I want to see theaters open again and people in them watching movies without the fear of Covid.”