Coco Martin, Jodi Sta. Maria Team Up For "Labyu With An Accent"
“Labyu With An Accent” stars Coco Martin and Jodi Sta. Maria talk about their characters in the lighthearted rom-com film and the experience of shooting it abroad
As Coco Martin and Jodi Sta. Maria embark on a Metro Manila Film Festival entry, Labyu With An Accent, the pair partners for the first time as fellow leads. The film—which tells the tale of the lighthearted boy’s club boss Gabo (Coco) and the spanking rich Trisha (Jodi) who is suffering from a romantic breakup—is based on Coco’s and Jodi’s overseas experience as OFWs (overseas Filipino workers).
Unbeknownst to many, Labyu With An Accent protagonists Coco and Jodi have actually worked abroad to pursue a “greener pasture” that a lot of Filipinos are eyeing. “Una, talagang ang inspiration ko dito sa movie namin, ’yung experience namin ni Jodi nu’ng nagtrabaho kami abroad,” Coco introduces the offering, inspired by his own take on dream-tailing.
Once a cleaner, Coco chased the opportunity of living a life of standard as a salaried man. “Siguro hindi lahat alam ng tao na ako, bago ako totally talaga naging artista na dire-diretso, nagtrabaho ako sa Canada for nine months,” the actor reveals. “Nag-janitor ako du’n. Iba-ibang raket ang pinasukan ko.”
Jodi—who also used to chance upon the American dream that many aspire for—had lived in Los Angeles many moons ago. “Sa mga taong hindi nakakaalam, nagtrabaho rin siya sa abroad,” Coco adds. “And then, du’n ko pinick-up ’yung character at dahan-dahan naming nabuo ’yung kuwento. Du’n nagsimula ang lahat.”
“Dati, pangarap ko lang makapagtrabaho talaga abroad, e, hindi nga mag-artista. Pero nu’ng nasa abroad ako, du’n ko nakita na, ‘Ba’t sa Pilipinas, ang galing-galing ko? Ba’t sa Pilipinas parang ang diskarte ko? Ba’t nu’ng nandito ko, parang nawawalan ako ng hope?’” Coco realized, rendering his overseas career as a challenge.
“Parang feeling ko, hindi ako fit doon sa mundong ’yun—na parang hindi ko gaanong maintindihan ’yung English kaya hindi ko [alam],” he opens up. “Samantalang sa Pilipinas, ’di ba? Parang pa-bibo ako masyado dahil ’pag sinabi mong batang kalye—street-smart—talagang, ‘Alam ko lahat ’yan! Alam ko gagawin ko diyan! Kahit piso lang ang pera ko, mabubuhay ako!’”
“Doon, parang laging hindi tumutugma,” the legendary Coco Martin puts it bluntly, adding that there were times then when he felt stupid. On linking Gabo to himself, Coco made his explanation simple. He muses, “Na-experience ko talaga sa totoong buhay ’yun, kaya hindi ko na alam kung pa’no ko siya [iibahin] dahil parang hinawig ko na talaga sa totoong buhay ko ’yung nangyari sa’kin du’n.” Although loosely based on his personal stories, Labyu With an Accent becomes more interesting then, as it provides a glimpse of a side of Coco that can be totally relatable to many of his loyal fans.
On shooting in Los Angeles
Creating world-class Filipino content has long been the goal of Pinoy producers, and the same can be said for Labyu With an Accent, a Star Cinema offering. To stay true to the plot and allow the viewers to better appreciate its story, Coco, Jodi, and their film crew flew to the US to shoot some scenes in Los Angeles, California.
“Actually, ako, hindi ko ine-expect na makakapag-shoot kami sa Beverly Hills kasi sobrang mahal du’n at sobrang mahigpit—talagang kailangan mo ng permit, ganiyan,” Coco begins with a blast. “Pero, sa awa ng Diyos, lahat ng magagandang spots sa LA, talagang napuntahan namin at nakuhanan namin.”
“Alam kasi namin na matagal nang hindi nakalabas ang mga tao, hindi nakapag-abroad. Ito, ’pag nanood ka, ang bonus dito, parang feeling mo, naikot mo sila. ’Yung bagay na na-miss nila sa kanilang buhay, makikita mo dito,” teases Coco, who is also one of the directors of Labyu With An Accent alongside Malu Sevilla (Coco as the director is credited using his real name, Rodel P. Nacianceno).
Jodi adds in jest, “We all know naman talaga na bawat kibot mo talaga sa LA, talagang de metro... Parang every time na mag-e-exceed ka, talagang magbabayad ka.”
Coco continues, “Talagang pati ’yung bahay nila Jodi du’n [sa pelikula], du’n pala tumira ’yung prinsesa ng Brunei before. And then, mayroong isang artista du’n na dati, du’n nakatira... Kumbaga, pinakita namin talaga ’yung mundo ng mayaman at mahirap—’yung buhay sa Amerika at buhay sa Pilipinas.”
Coco on playing Gabo
On the subject of portraying Gabo, Coco speaks of his role like a reflection of himself and the human encounters of a common expat. “’Yung character ko tsaka ’yung sa totoong buhay—kasi nga dahil ako [’yung] gumawa nu’ng kuwento, ako [’yung] nag-create nu’ng character—binase ko talaga siya doon sa experience ko at sa pagkatao ko,” he reasons out.
“Kumbaga, pinakita ko dito [kung] ano ’yung normal ko, ano ’yung hindi nakikita ng mga tao sa’kin, ano ’yung background ko,” lays down the FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano lead, who, like his character Gabo, leads a life of multiple layers. A male bar manager and owner, Gabo proposes an opportune deal to Jodi’s Trisha, a silver-spoon daughter, who is nursing a heartache.
Jodi on playing Trisha
When Jodi was tapped and handpicked by Coco to take on Trisha, she was extremely in shock. Since 2022 is also coming to a close, she was not anymore anticipating a new movie, let alone a project. “Actually, na-surprise ako na may gagawin palang film for this [year].” Coco butts in, laughing in between Jodi’s lines. “Hindi niya kasi alam na may pelikula siya!”
“Binubuo niya [Coco] na ’yung konsepto—’yung storya! Hindi ko alam na may ganu’n nang pangyayari so when our manager [Biboy Arboleda] called me, sinabi na may mag-pi-pitch, sabi ko, ‘Ha, for this year? Akala ko, Mother, next year na tayo?’” Puzzled, Jodi managed to let the announcement sink in. “Unexpected ’tong movie na ’to,” Jodi describes her Labyu With An Accent stint.
Fresh from the ill-fated romance of her character Dr. Jill Ilustre in The Broken Marriage Vow (for which she became the first Filipina to ever win Best Actress at the Asian Academy Creative Awards), Jodi’s role as Trisha in the MMFF entry is a sweet escape. “I’m so thankful na na-consider ako ni Direk Coco for this one kasi parang it’s such a breather from the heavy dramas that I’ve been doing for the past how many years.”
“Mayroong ibang programming kapag gumagawa ka ng heavy drama. So [for] this one, talagang kailangan kong maging conscious na what we’re doing is something light, it’s rom-com, but it’s not slapstick. ’Yung pagiging comedy niya is parang situational, so that’s what’s nice about this,” she carries on. “I always have to remind myself that I have to keep this light.”
When asked about her similarities with Trisha, Jodi answers in a swift, “I think I’d say na ’yung love para sa family, kasi if there’s one thing na pareho si Trisha and si Jodi, siguro ’yun ’yun. Para sa’kin, priority ko ’yung family ko. Malaki ’yung pagmamahal at respeto na mayroon ako para sa pamilya ko and si Trisha, ganu’n din.”
“She’s very loving and she’s very obedient to her parents na to a fault na nga—na sometimes, kahit na hindi na siya happy du’n sa nangyayari, dahil ’yun ’yung wishes ng parents niya, gagawin pa rin niya.” For those who are surviving the same story, though, Jodi strikes back with the best sound advice. “This, too, shall pass, and there’s always life after a heartbreak.”
On the topic of moving on, Jodi shares, “Hindi end-of-the-world kung masugatan man ’yung puso mo. Bagkus, gamitin mo ’yun para mas maging matatag ka, mas maging matibay ka, mas maging matalino ka sa mga susunod na relasyon o mga desisyon na gagawin mo sa buhay mo.”
“The best way to deal with pain is not to avoid it, not to go around it, but to get through it and face it head-on. That’s the only way, because the thing about pain is it demands to be felt. The more you keep on avoiding pain, at some point, mag-uumagpas ’yan, e. Lalabas at lalabas ’yan. So, even if it’s painful, even if it’s uncomfortable, we have to be brave to be able to face pain.”
Coco on choosing to work with the award-winning Jodi Sta. Maria
When asked what made him choose Jodi to be his leading lady for this project, Coco replies: “Lahat naman siguro ngayon ng leading man, ang pinapangarap, makatrabaho ang isang Miss Jodi Sta. Maria,” to which Jodi reacts to with a “Wow!” pulling her hair behind her ears. “Alam naming lahat kung ga’no siya kagaling at ga’no siya ka-propesyonal,” Coco persists.
Jodi is highly believed to be an exemplar not only in her niche, which is drama, but also in diverse genres. “’Yun pa lang ang alam ko, pero [nu’ng] nakatrabaho ko [na] talaga siya, grabe [pala] ’yung dedication niya sa work,” Coco attests to Jodi’s acting abilities.
“Ako talaga, saludo—taas dalawang kamay ko. Sabi ko nga, ‘Jodi, ang hirap ng ginagawa mo ’pag naka-focus ka pala sa isang project.’ Talagang hindi siya namamasyal! Hangga’t hindi niya tapos ’yung isang proyekto, naka-focus lang siya du’n,” the Labyu With An Accent main man shares. “Napakalaking factor na alam mo ’yung co-actor mo nag-ko-contribute,” he continues.
“Nu’ng umpisa, nahihiya ako kasi siyempre, iba ’yung sistema ko dahil nga halos on the spot ko lahat ginagawa kasi ’yung script, e,” Coco confesses. “Tapos ang kuwento, nag-a-adjust ’yan depende sa nakikita ko o sa kung paano pa namin pagagandahin ’yung pelikula. Ang hirap din, e, ’pag hindi ka sanay na bago ’yung sistema.”
While Coco’s approach to directing and acting is more spontaneous than most, he notes that Jodi is not one to back out from something that she does and shuns the conventional. “Du’n ko nakita talaga na si Jodi, isa siyang matalinong aktor. Tapos siya, ’pag nagdagdag siya ng lines, minsan mas maganda pa ’yung dinadagdag niya kaysa sa binibigay ko sa kaniyang mga lines.”
Jodi on working with the one and only Coco Martin
Making it easier for his actors to acclimatize to the scenes—although shot in a foreign frame—is one of the things that qualify Coco for a trustworthy and quality producer, director, and performer. According to the The Broken Marriage Vow actress, it is easy to work with Coco and work on her character Trisha because of Coco being detail-oriented and clever-as-they-come.
“It was such a wonderful experience to be working with him. I would always tell him, ‘Alam mo, you inspire not only me but our other colleagues. Sabi ko, ‘You give us hope in such a way na we can be so much more, na puwede tayong mag-branch out into producing’—like what he’s doing—‘into directing, into creative writing, scriptwriting, et cetera.’”
“With his process naman, siyempre kinakabahan ako [nu’ng una] and I would ask sila Mother [Biboy Arboleda] na, ‘Pa’no ba siya sa [set]? Pa’no ba siya mag-work? Pa’no ba ’yung sistema?’” Jodi tells us, walking us through her first time fitting in a Coco-produced project. “Siyempre, iba rin ’yung nakasanayan ko sa mga ibang projects ko.”
“It’s always good to be flexible and keep an open mind doon sa mga bagong proseso, sa mga bagong directing styles,” Jodi suggests, seeing that Coco’s unique ways are not worrisome, after all. Under the tutelage of one of the top A-list actors of Philippine entertainment, Jodi proves that it is well worth her time to have teamed up with Coco.
“I think it’s really important na you really trust your director—na ita-trust mo ’yung vision niya, [na] alam niya ’yung ginagawa niya, [na] alam niya kung sa’n niya ’to dadalhin,” Jodi explicates. “Ganu’n ’yung nangyari [sa akin] and nagpapasalamat din ako kasi na-feel ko din naman na pinagkakatiwalaan din ako ni Direk Coco bilang artista niya.”
On putting together a topnotch performance
In need of a desperate way to dull her pain, Trisha seals a pact with Gabo and agrees to spend an adventure with him on a contractual basis. Bound by a connection that is rather temporary and revocable, the two set off on a timely advantage that is a romantic relationship. Although fake, Gabo and Trisha are hopeful to flee from circumstances that seem to cripple them.
“’Yung character ko dito, talagang nilapit ko sa’kin kasi ganu’n ang Pinoy e, ’di ba? Nakaka-identify sila kapag alam mong totoo ’yung pinapakita mo,” Coco reassures, pointing out that he only pitches stories that he can connect or sympathize with. “Hindi ako magkakamali, dahil ako, bago ako magkuwento, sinisigurado ko muna na na-experience ko ’yan. Alam na alam ko ’yan kahit natutulog ako. Kaya nu’ng ginagawa ko siya, hindi siya ganu’n naging mahirap sa’kin.”
“‘Pag gumanu’n na ko,” Coco snaps his fingers, “kahit na [nagsasalita], action! ’Yun na ’yun!” In the same vein, Jodi vouches for Coco’s dependability when it comes to capturing different scene angles, saying that the former indie frontman has a knack for keeping things natural and truthful.
“Sa indie siya nag-start and bihasa siya sa independent films,” Jodi emphasizes. “I guess, parang nakatulong ’yung experience niya na ’yun sa pag-sh-shoot namin. Alam niya na kung sa’n niya i-se-set up ’yung camera,” Jodi takes pride in Coco’s talent. “Gusto niya kasi, ’yung natural na nangyayari.”
To eliminate the possibility of a stiff performance, Jodi explains that Coco makes it more real-life to resemble true street traffic. “Sometimes, hindi talaga nagiging organic or natural kung pa’no kumilos at gumalaw, pero isang story na ma-she-share ko is kung pa’no kina-capture ni Direk Coco ’yung movement ng mga tao na talagang totoo.”
She adds, “Kasi ”di ba, normally, kapag kukuha ka ng crowd—talents ”yang mga ”yan, e—i-ba-block mo sila,” Jodi continues, stating that the camera causes actors to be conscious. In Coco’s case, however, Jodi certifies that their talents blend with the background without the conscious effort. “”Pag nakita mo siya, ”yung totoong kilos at galaw ”yung makikita mo sa kanila.”
A complete recipe for Christmas
Living a successful life in America, Trisha was led to Gabo to see the beautiful stretch of her existence outside the expensive upbringing that she is sheltered in. Upon meeting Gabo and being on the move with him, her fate changed forever and so is his. Sharing a contract that glues their connection, the two take off together.
Directed by Malu Sevilla and Coco Martin himself, the film delivers a story that serves as a complete package for a Christmastime bonding. “Kikiligin kayo, matutuwa kayo, matatawa kayo, masasaktan kayo. Kumbaga, lahat na—kumpleto rekados po ang pelikulang ito,” Jodi guarantees.
Working in films is what Coco is best fond of, and while he has claw-climbed his way to the mainstream scene, he has managed to wear many hats, making him wise in his craft. Here in Labyu With An Accent, he collects his firsthand brush with fate, marrying them into the mesh of struggle-laden story that ultimately inspires many.
Labyu With an Accent is out in cinemas nationwide on December 25.
Photography by Gee Plamenco Jr.
Sittings editors: Geolette Esguerra, Red Dimaandal, and Grace Libero-Cruz
Art direction by Raff Colmenar
Styling by Patricia Coronado, assisted by Gino Valloyas and Kathrina Vapor
Jodi: Makeup by RB Chanco , assisted by Kaith Torres and hairstyling by Leonides Talaue
Coco: Grooming by Eleno Dejaño Jr.
Videographer: CJ Reyes
Special thanks to Star Cinema, Biboy Arboleda, and B617 Management