Filipina-Japanese actress Karen Toyoshima is more than thrilled to be playing her first major supporting role in her newest film, Utopia.
In the action-comedy movie, which is one of the eight entries to compete in this year’s Cinema One Originals Film Festival, she plays the role of Shy, the feisty daughter of a wealthy Chinese family.
“This is my first major support, so it's a huge thing for me talaga,” shared Karen in an exclusive interview with PUSH. “There's very few female characters sa film, so ‘yung character ko, umiikot siya doon sa mga bida namin in a sense na... meron kasi silang underground stories na somehow related ako.”
Karen, a theater graduate and formerly an artist under Viva Artists Agency, said she technically auditioned for the project when the role opened after Kim Chiu, who was originally to play Shy, had to turn down the project due to conflicts with her endorsements.
“I read the script tapos pina-approve pa ‘yun sa Cinema One Originals, so somehow parang audition na rin,” said Karen, who revealed that she was recommended for the role by her boyfriend, fellow actor Cedrick Juan. For his part, the Die Beautiful star and Metro Manila Film Festival Best Supporting actor nominee plays the character of Zed, one of the Chinese gangsters and a former boyfriend of Shy.
Joining Karen and Cedrick are Joem Bascon, Arron Villaflor, and Enzo Pineda, who play the lead roles as an undercover agent, a rookie police officer, and a videographer, respectively, whose stories intertwine in a labyrinth of a violent city’s underbelly.
“It's very intriguing kasi yung trailer namin talagang puro flashes lang, parang [dinaanan lang ‘yung characters]... but Utopia, kasi when you say utopia, parang everything is perfect ‘di ba? Pero... may mga 'what ifs' na gustong iparating ni Direk sa istorya,” said Karen, referring to the film’s director Dustin Celestino.
Both Karen and Cedrick described the process of working with Direk Dustin as “collaborative”.
“Hinahayaan kami ni Dustin na ipakita ang sarili naming interpretasyon with his guidance kung paano niya nakikita ‘yung bawat characters namin. At never niyang pinaramdam sa amin na may gaps between the director, actors, and crew,” said Cedrick.
“Personally, ang ganda nung atake niya kasi… sa kanya parang isang buong eksena, tuloy-tuloy,” added Karen. “So talagang kayong mga co-actors magtu-tulungan kayo para i-lift niyo yung energy ng bawat isa.”
On the other hand, Karen described their co-stars Joem, Arron, and Enzo as “amazing” both on and off-camera.
“Sobrang bait nila. Sobrang down to earth. They are very amazing as normal people, off-cam, especially Kuya Arron. Siya kasi ‘yung madalas kong nakaka-eksena. He's really into his character. Talagang nandoon siya. Tapos wala kang mararamdaman na barrier na, ‘Hindi, artista ako,’” she said.
“Even Enzo. Ang nakasama kong madalas sa presscon namin nung nakaraan, silang tatlo. Ako at si Direk Dustin. Kaming lima ‘yung parang magkakasama nung time na iyon. Okay sila. Talagang nagusap-usap, wala kang mararamdamang awkwardness,” she added.
Asked how Utopia differs from any other action films, Karen said: “This one kasi, may comic relief. And it's written very well, talagang hinimay-himay nang maayos at pinagtagpi-tagpi ng maayos. May touch siya ng something relevant sa society natin ngayon, but at the same time mahu-hook ‘yung tao dahil lalabas sila ng sinehan na mapapaisip sila at tatanungin ang sarili kung anong totoong nangyayari sa atin ngayon."
Stopping short of revealing further details about the film, both Karen and Cedrick said they hope for the movie to serve as an eye-opener to its viewers.
“Sana magustuhan ng lahat,” said Cedrick. “At the same time, makita nila ‘yung mensahe ng pelikula na mas maging kritikal tayo sa pagi-isip sa nangyayari sa ating lipunan. At ‘wag basta-basta humusga ng tao base sa itsura at estado ng buhay.”
Utopia will hold its premiere night on Saturday, November 9, while the Cinema One Originals Film Festival 2019 opens on Thursday, November 7.
Watch the official trailer for Utopia below: