WGN America’s ALMOST PARADISE, in its first season on Monday nights, is the first American-made series to be both set and shot in the Philippines. Christian Kane plays ex-DEA agent Alex Walker, who thinks he’s going to live as a retiree running a gift shop on the Filipino island of Cebu. However, when local law enforcement finds out about Alex’s past, he winds up getting involved with helping solve cases.
Arthur Acuňa plays Cebu police detective Ernesto Alamares. Alamares is deceptively quiet, but capable of taking down a whole gang with his feet, fists, and a couple of sticks.
Acuňa, a native Filipino, has worked in projects in the U.S., the Philippines, and elsewhere in the world. He won numerous acting awards for his performance in the film NIŇO, and was nominated for an International Emmy for his work in the series THE KITCHEN MUSICAL.
ASSIGNMENT X: What was NIŇO?
ARTHUR ACUŇA: Back in 2011, I was still living in the States, doing a lot of stage work, when the indie film NIŇO, to be shot in the Philippines, was offered to me. It was an interesting and layered story about a family mired in old traditions, juxtaposed with modern sensibilities. The director, Loy Arcenas, had been Stateside for many years as well, but wanted to try his hand at direction a feature film. We both arranged our schedules to accommodate this gig, and with a top-caliber local cast – Fidez Cuyugan-Asensio as my mother and Shamaine Buencamino as my sister – NIŇO won a lot of awards at cinema festivals.
AX: How did NIŇO affect your career?
ACUŇA: NIŇO was definitely a good note as far as my Philippine “film cred” was concerned. The local industry became curious. But back then, I had no solid plans to relocate back to Manila from New York. I flew back to the States immediately after the shoot, then shortly after did THE KITCHEN MUSICAL in Singapore.
AX: It’s clear in ALMOST PARADISE that you are a skilled martial artist. Were you an actor or a martial artist first?
ACUŇA: I was always an actor first – who could sing, dance, fight, and do some stunts. Western boxing was the martial art I tripped on, while experimenting with other styles, as the need for it arose for projects.
AX: What form of martial arts do you practice?
ACUŇA: Western boxing. I’ve dabbled in kickboxing, Arnis, et cetera. The experimenting and learning and repetitions make for a good working by themselves.
AX: Has the discipline from martial arts helped you with acting?
ACUŇA: Definitely. In rhythm, dynamics, stillness.
AX: How did you become involved with ALMOST PARADISE?
ACUŇA: I was called in to audition. An American outfit wanted to see local actors for an international series to be shot in Cebu. The second round of auditions was more fun than the first, because I got to read and play with Christian Kane. The third round, I got to read and play with Samantha Richelle [who plays Kai Mendoza, Ernesto’s fellow detective]. I had a connection with both of them very early on from those readings.
AX: How would you describe your ALMOST PARADISE character, Ernesto Alamares?
ACUŇA: Ernesto has a protective instinct. He’s quiet, keeps to himself, but he never strays from being watchful and observant. He’s a great support system for the other two [Alex and Kai]. He’ll watch your back and whatever other part of you that’s vulnerable. He believes in a great energy that exists around us. He’d quietly talk to the ocean, a tree, or a doggie. And he’ll take a bullet for you, because – well, just because. He can’t often rationalize what drives him. He just feels it’s right, and the consequent good feeling jazzes his core.
AX: Will we find out more about Ernesto as the series continues?
ACUŇA: Definitely. Layers of Ernesto and Kai Mendoza and Alex Walker peel off as we go along.
AX: What’s been the most challenging thing you’ve had to do so far on ALMOST PARADISE?
ACUŇA: Every new role in a new story always has its unique set of challenges. What stands out is discovering how Ernesto’s thoughts and demeanor shift with different situations. I think he wills himself to be stiller than he is normally, when faced with an adversary, when embroiled in a fight. The challenge for me as an actor, always, is just freeing yourself up to how instincts take over as you’re doing the scenes. Certain mannerisms, cadences in speech and movement, will just appear out of nowhere. I’ve learned not to block anything and just accept everything. Fine-tuning is part of that process. That’s easier said than done, and that is always a challenge for me, to just let it be.
AX: What’s been the most enjoyable aspect so far?
ACUŇA: Being in synch with my co-actors. And digging their company, even off-camera. I never intentionally set out to establish a rapport with co-actors. I feel it should naturally happen, or it doesn’t. Chemistry is a nebulous thing. I had known Nonie [Buencamino, who plays police captain Ike Ocampo] for awhile, so that was easy, he’s a cool dude and a good friend. But what surprised me was how I felt as if I had known Christian and Samantha for much longer, like I had known them for years and years, and enjoy their company and friendship.
AX: How is working with Christian Kane?
ACUŇA: Christian Kane is one of the best actors anywhere out there today. One of my top five favorite actors of all time. He’s generous to his scene partners. The honesty of his portrayal inspires me to be better in this craft constantly. Working with him is like being in an acting university where you get tested every time you do a scene.
AX: How is working with Samantha Richelle, who is a relative newcomer to screen acting?
ACUŇA: Samantha Richelle was born to do film acting. Instincts galore, so clear in her objectives, so still, and listens, and reacts like a pro who’s been doing this all her life. A natural.
AX: Is there anyone in the ALMOST PARADISE cast, creatives and/or crew who you’ve worked with before?
ACUŇA: The crew, yes. I’ve been back here [in the Philippines] for a few years, and fortunately work a lot. Nonie Buencamino – brilliant actor – I’ve worked with on a couple of projects. Everyone else is new family to me. There’s a childlike glee with this creative team, and they built a great playground for us kids.
AX: Had you previously worked in Cebu and/or the other islands where ALMOST PARADISE is shot?
ACUŇA: I was in the cast of AMIGO by director John Sayles. That was shot in Bohol, a beautiful province. This is my first time in Cebu. Can’t wait to go back.
AX: According to Christian Kane, American and Filipino crews have different ways of working as far as scheduling. Has the change been challenging, or fun, or both?
ACUŇA: The differences in logistics have a lot to do with the differences in methods, too. But definitely, it’s been a fun learning experience, especially for the local crew not used to the American system. The challenge itself is fun. So, both.
AX: You’ve previously worked for American companies with THE BOURNE LEGACY, and in New York City with LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT. Was there anything about those experiences that has been instructive for ALMOST PARADISE?
ACUŇA: I just did a stunt drive for that BOURNE film. I don’t understand why that keeps coming up, ha ha. Yes, I did L&O a few times apart from CRIMINAL INTENT. And other American TV gigs and indies. I’m quite familiar with the American system, and being immersed in that system for ALMOST PARADISE was nostalgic and great fun for me.
AX: What do you get out of ALMOST PARADISE as a viewer?
ACUŇA: I always look for the heart and soul of a show. ALMOST PARADISE has that in spades. Kudos to the writers for packing all that, along with action and humor, and believable and dramatic stories.
AX: What do you most want audiences to know about ALMOST PARADISE?
ACUŇA: For me, ALMOST PARADISE is a gift. I want audiences to laugh, cry, and yell out “Whoa!” all at once. It’s quite a ride. As an actor in it, I felt all that rush while being in the story. I want the audience to know that there are many seats on this rollercoaster, and they’re welcome to jump in and rock with us.
Article Source: Assignment X
Article: ALMOST PARADISE: Actor Arthur Acuna discusses the new WGN America series starring Christian Kane