Movies & TV

Method Acting for Extras: Saving Sally's Toto Calasanz

Peejo Pilar on how Toto Calasanz punched through the placental membrane of cinema to spill over into Saving Sally.
IMAGE Saving Sally
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Let’s just get one thing straight.

I am not an actor.

At least, not in the traditional sense of the word.  I was Satan in a high school play (slipped on the wood floor, everyone laughed.), was Garth Algar in a college video to welcome AB Communication freshmen (they laughed, I guess.), enjoyed being a props man and strangely enough portrayed a nun for Ateneo theater group Entablado (some dude thought I was a girl and asked for my number. Kinky.), was a dormer whose tongue got stuck in a fridge’s freezer for RA Rivera’s short film It’s Raining, Aren’t They?

Oh yeah and I played a mad scientist or some deranged lunatic in numerous wedding videos or AVPS, was a background extra in vampire romcom Forever Sucks on D5 Studio, and was a father to a sweet, adorable, holiday family on the Christmas Station ID of TV5. All of these experiences were awesome. But I never ever thought, “Hey. I’m an actor! I’m a bloody thespian, man! Right on!” For me, it was just goofing around with friends or co-workers.

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Way back in 2005, when music video, commercial, and film director Avid Liongoren and scriptwriter (and old friend) Charlene Sawit-Esguerra contacted me to ask if I could take part in their film, Saving Sally, I did not hesitate. Sorry, that’s a lie. I was nervous as hell. And then I told them I’m in. They said, “We can’t pay you a lot.” I told them to shut up, kiss me on my ring finger, and I’ll do it for free.

They sent me a compact version of the script with my lines and my scenes. Memorizing them was slightly challenging, but eventually I got the hang of it. They told me, “You are Toto Calasanz. You used to be a smut publisher. But now you’re trying to break into comics with Renegade Publishing. A smart-looking kid called Marty will pitch a comic to you.” All right, pretty straightforward. Sure, sure. What the fuck am I going to do?! I started to get all nervous and shit. I’m not an actor, I don’t have any workshop techniques, no methodology, nothing. All I could think of was to focus on the description of the character and try to fill in what his personality might be.

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So I came up with this recipe for disaster: a pound of Larry Flynt, a slice of Bill Murray, a pinch or two of Christopher Walken, and a very watered-down jigger of Hunter S. Thompson with a dash of Whoopi Goldberg from Ghost. It was flamboyant, it was over-the-top, it was exaggerated. But it felt right. I felt that Toto Calasanz as a person, was larger than life. He embraced the recklessness of his existence and just didn’t care about what people thought he was. Or at the very least in his sanctuary of Renegade Publishing he could afford to wear the '80s T-shirts and the long ponytail. He felt safe inside in his office and could be the ultimate version of himself.

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So shoot day came and I was still nervous because in my head I kept thinking: ‘Oh my god all the other actors will be there and then they’ll smell the fear and the lack of acting skill and tear me apart with a rusty garden rake’. But when I got there, it was just Enzo Marcos (Marty) and the crew. No Anna Larucea (the first Sally), no TJ Trinidad. Apparently, it would just be me and Enzo on the set. That was cool because I knew Enzo from way back. I was a producer for 5&UP and Enzo was one of the hosts. So we’ve worked together, plus he’s an awesome guy. So the shoot went brilliantly. It was quick, it was easy, I kept cracking jokes after every take to lighten the mood a bit and to keep me alert. It really helped that Direk Avid, Charlene, and Bombi Plata (assistant director) were there to guide me and help me out. I was worried for nothing.

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Years passed by and I always wondered what had happened to Saving Sally. Then in 2010, Direk Avid and Charlene touched base with me again to talk about the re-shoot. Naturally I was in. This time around it was Rhian Ramos playing the role of Sally. But similar to the 2005 shoots, I did not encounter her or TJ or the other actors at all. It was just me and Enzo again, as well as the same crew but in a bigger, better sound studio.

This time around, the shoot went even faster because I actually still remembered most of my lines. What did change though was I did not have my long hair anymore. So Charlene thought they needed to spice up Toto with an eyepatch. I liked it. It added a nice touch of mystery to the character. And then they updated my garb from '80s T-shirts to the more sophisticated boxer shorts and bow-tie. From there, the shoot went smoothly and those three beautiful words came from Direk Avid’s lips, “It’s a wrap!”.

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Fast forward to the present, and I’m sitting in the theater with a select group of people, watching the premiere of Saving Sally. Does it feel weird? Yes it does. But I guess it’s just natural seeing a 20-foot version of your face. How do I feel about being called an actor now that the movie is out? Well, a funny thing happened after some friends watched the film, we were having dinner and an old officemate brought her two kids who had watched the film. She told me that they loved the movie and thought Toto Calasanz was funny. As I stood there and shook the hands of the two grinning kids and thanked them for enjoying Saving Sally, it made me think, ‘I guess I can be an actor.’

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