Hollywood movies

[Only IN Hollywood] Spider-Man’s Pinoy bestie beats Fall Guy; Fil-Am voices Pixar film character

Ruben V. Nepales

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[Only IN Hollywood] Spider-Man’s Pinoy bestie beats Fall Guy; Fil-Am voices Pixar film character

Jacob Batalon and Liza Lapira


Jacob Batalon talks about the difference between his characters in 'Tarot' and 'Spider-Man' while 'Inside Out 2' director shares how they cast Liza Lapira as Disgust

LOS ANGELES, USA – Tarot, a horror movie starring Filipino-American Jacob Batalon, noted as Ned Leeds, Peter Parker’s best friend in the Spider-Man films, opened at no. 1 in the Philippines and beat Ryan Gosling’s The Fall Guy.

The surprise box-office dominance of Tarot in Manila over the heavily promoted The Fall Guy, which boasts of the star power of Gosling and Emily Blunt, surprised even the Philippine franchise behind the US fright film.

Tarot, directed by Spenser Cohen and Anna Halberg, is about a group of friends whose violation of the “sacred rule” of tarot readings leads to the unleashing of evil lurking behind the cursed cards.

The friends are played by Jacob, Avantika, Harriet Slater, Adain Bradley, Wolfgang Novogratz, Humberly Gonzalez, and Larsen Thompson.

Jabob described his character in the movie’s production notes: “Paxton is everyone’s best friend. He calls things as he sees them, which often leads to some unintentional humor.”

Jacob Batalon in ‘Tarot.’ Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures.

Since portraying Spidey’s (Tom Holland) best buddy in the MCU blockbuster series, Jacob has been carving out a steady career in Hollywood. He shares top billing with Jack Quaid in the action thriller due next year, Novocaine.

The Honolulu native, born to Filipino parents, stars in the title role and executive produces the Syfy dramedy, Reginald the Vampire. The series is now in its second season.

The following are excerpts from my email interview with Jacob:

What is your personal relationship to astrology, horoscopes, tarot cards, and readings? Do you believe them or not and why?

Yeah, I am really into spiritual things. My mother really believes in those things and I feel like I got that from her. But I also try to take everything with a grain of salt, and hopefully, no bad spirits come to haunt me.

What drew you to Tarot?

I just wanted to be a part of a horror movie that didn’t stick to the normal tropes of the horror genre. I think having Paxton’s comedy in it really balances out the tone of the film.

I think it’s great to have these little injections of comedy where everything doesn’t have to be so dark and brooding.

Do you like horror movies? What are the scariest movies that you can’t forget, and what’s the first horror movie that truly spooked you?

I love horror movies for sure. They’re super fun. There’s such a great adventure to go in a movie theater especially.

I would say the first Insidious movie really terrified me and The Conjuring. These definitely are two movies that I will never forget and have scarred me for life. Those two are the scariest but in the best way.

According to the Tarot production notes, you are an accomplished improvisational actor. How much do you relish improvising with lines when you act?

I enjoy the space to create and to play. I think it helps a lot with the sort of organic storytelling of relationships in movies.

And it helps me personally get into a scene or a few scenes more focused. I definitely think that’s the best part [about improvising].

How similar or different is Paxton, everyone’s best friend in Tarot to Ned Leeds, Spider-Man’s best friend?

Oh man, Ned is super cool, brave, and heroic, and Paxton is a scaredy cat (laughs). But also, I think Paxton is like a potty mouth, smokes weed, like he’s very much a normal college kid. And Ned is just like, he’s trying to be an upright citizen.

Clothing, Coat, Jacket
Jacob Batalon with ‘Spider-Man; co- stars Tom Holland, Zendaya, and Jake Gyllenhaal. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures.
You are starring in Tarot and Reginald the Vampire. Did you ever imagine that you’d be starring in horror projects? Can you talk about what fans can expect in season 2 of Reginald the Vampire?

Well, I definitely did not see my career going this way but it’s been an amazing journey. And for season two of Reginald the Vampire, it’s going to be crazy.

I think people will not expect how emotional it will be, how deep it will be. There’s a lot more drama happening.

There’s a lot more action happening. But it still keeps the same comedic charm that the first season has and I think that everything evolves from a storytelling point.

Jacob Batalon in ‘Reginald the Vampire.’ Photo courtesy SYFY

Fil-Am Liza Lapira in Disney Pixar film

Inside Out, the acclaimed animated hit that earned Fil-Am Ronnie Del Carmen his first Oscar best original screenplay nomination (he shared with Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley), is back with a sequel.

Directed this time by Kelsey Mann, Inside Out 2 follows Riley who is now a teenager and encountering new emotions. The first film, an Oscar and Golden Globe best animated film winner in 2016, was directed by Pete and Ronnie.

Fil-Am Liza Lapira joins the voice cast as the glittery green-eyelashed Disgust in the Disney Pixar film which sees the return of Amy Poehler as Joy, Phyllis Smith (Sadness), Lewis Black (Anger), and Diane Lane (Mrs. Andersen).

The new voice cast includes Tony Hale (Fear), Maya Hawke (Anxiety), Ayo Edebiri (Envy), Adele Exarchopoulos (Ennui), and Paul Walter Hauser (Embarrassment).

Inside Out 2. Photo courtesy of Disney.

A series regular on The Equalizer, Liza starred in Must Love Christmas and the Basco family’s The Fabulous Filipino Brothers.

Inside Out 2’s production notes described the emotion voiced by Liza: “Now that Riley’s a teenager, Disgust’s radar for the painfully uncool is sharper than ever.”

“Opinionated, brutally honest, and committed to keeping Riley away from all things icky, Disgust is quick to turn up her nose at the first whiff of funky food or cringy comments and she refuses to partake in any activity that could lead to certain social death.”

“According to writer Dave Holstein (Meg LeFauve is the other writer), Riley isn’t the only one changing: ‘Disgust discovers that she’s incredibly perceptive.’”

In a video press conference moderated by Disney’s Aubrey Day, director Kelsey Mann and producer Mark Nielsen talked about casting Liza, who was born and raised in Queens, New York.

Kelsey began, “Liza is amazing. It was really important to us that we find somebody who embodied the character of Disgust. And Mark and I weren’t interested in somebody to do an impression.”

“We wanted somebody to just be who they are and fit the character. That’s how we cast it for Disgust and how we found Liza. Liza is fantastic because she just inherently can embody the attitude of the character.”

Fil-Am actress Liza Lapira voices Disgust in ‘Inside Out 2.’ Credit Disney

“She did this great thing when we were recording with her. She has kinda longer hair and we would every once in a while catch her looking at her hair. And she was like, ‘Yeah, I’m not gonna do that.’”

“I’m like, ‘What are you doing there with your hair?’ She goes, ‘Oh, I’m looking for split ends in my hair.’  I go, ‘That’s fantastic.’ I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna give you that direction.’’

“So every once in a while, I would just say, ‘Okay, split ends.’ And she knew exactly to go to the split ends take, which is more of like an attitude kinda thing. Where, like, ‘Yeah, no, that’s not gonna happen.’ It just totally dialed in the character. Man, is she funny.”

“She is hilarious. I think she needs to get more comedy roles. You know, she was in Crazy, Stupid, Love.  So she’s able to flex some of her comedy chops. She does a lot of action and drama. Sometimes she would come in, she would be like, ‘Oh, I really hurt myself doing a fight stunt last night.’ Because she’s on The Equalizer. She does a lot of stunts on that.”

“But her comedy is hilarious. I’ll tell you the secret of directing voice acting on Inside Out 2. The best direction I could give is just to tell the talent, ‘Okay, now say it however you want.’ And after we worked it for a while, I throw them that and I just back up and I let them go.”

“And then I riff and I just play with them. There are so many great lines that are from just that simple direction. It’s because the talent that we’ve got on the film are all of the wonderful talent that Pete Docter, who directed the original, and Jonas Rivera’s, who’s the producer on the original, got.”

“They get such a great cast. And a lot of times, I just have to tell them what we’re going for and then get out of their way.”

On the talented diverse cast, Mark said, “The film is set in San Francisco, which just automatically adds diversity. Because it’s such a diverse city, right? And that’s where Riley lives.”

“So when you’re talking about the human world story of who Riley’s friend group is, and who the girls are playing on the team, we very much wanted to reflect the Bay Area and the diversity that’s within our schools and that we see in the friends our kids have at school. And the diversity even within ice hockey.”

Kelsey added, “Casting is one of my favorite things. We meet with our casting department at Pixar. And a talented group of folks.”

“We talk about the characters. And we talk about who they are and what we’re looking for. We want to make sure that we have a cast that is diverse.”

“But most of the time, we’re talking about the characters and who the characters are, and who they really are. And then we go off, come back, and gather together again. And I’ve got a picture of a character.”

“They give Mark and me a list that literally says, ‘Actor One,’ ‘Actor Two,’ ‘Actor Three,’ ‘Actor Four.”  There are no names on it at all.”

‘Inside Out 2′ director Kelsey Mann on Liza Lapira,’She is hilarious. She needs to get more comedy roles.’ Photo courtesy of Sthanlee B. Mirador

“And they’re like, ‘Okay, here we go.’ We just listen to the voice of the actor blindly. We have no idea who they are, and we just look at the character. And we ask, does it fit?”

“It’s a really fun game because, one, you’re just thinking about the character and who they are. But two, sometimes you don’t know who it is. And then when they tell you who it is, sometimes you’re like, ‘Oh, now that you told me, now I can hear it.’”

“There are some actors and actresses that you could tell immediately. Like, I know exactly who that is because they just have a distinct voice.”

“But we really try to think about it blindly so that we can cast just from what voice fits the right character.”

Mark said, “You also need to find a lane for each voice, right? Because there are nine emotions. They’re all speaking at once that’s bouncing back and forth.”

“So we really looked to differentiate them from each other to find a vocal range that they’re within where it’s not like, ‘Oh, that kinda sounds like Joy if you close your eyes.’ But they’re very distinct if you watch the film.”

Kelsey pointed out, “It’s very much like the way we design them, too. Because they’re all colors, you know? Red, green and blue. And we do that with not only the colors but they are shapes.”

“Our production designer, Jason Deamer – and they did this on the first film too – boiled down all the five emotions to like a basic shape. And I think Deamer even pulled that back up.”

“He added shapes around it to make sure that everybody had their own lane like Mark was talking about. So we did the same thing with the voice. We would go, ‘Oh, can you play that against Amy? Does she sound too similar to Amy?’”

“And so you wanted everybody to have their own kinda musical vocal note that they’re playing and make sure that they were distinct from one another.”

Asked about the film’s emphasis on the anxiety emotion, Kelsey replied, “I started on this movie in January of 2020. And I knew one of the ideas I was going to explore was Riley being a teenager.”

“The first film ends with this perfect tee-up. The last line is Joy saying, ‘After all, Riley’s 12 now. What could happen?’ And it was so teed-up to go into the teenage years.”

“So I knew I would explore that, right? I started to look at what happens at that time when we become teenagers. And I looked obviously in myself at that time.”

“And, actually, Mark and I both have teenagers. And we’ve got boys and girls.”

“And so we’re looking at what happens in our own houses at the time. And I was doing a lot of research at what goes on in our brains and what’s going on in the world, and at that time, anxiety was on the rise in teenagers.”

“This was before the pandemic. And I knew new emotions would show up and that Riley, and Joy, really, would be dealing with these new emotions that show up in headquarters.”

“I was really drawn to anxiety because it was something I definitely dealt with at that age. And it was something that was on the rise in teens, especially teen girls, too.”

“We narrowed in on that. And then we went into the pandemic. If anything, it got dialed up even more. I knew it was something that was very prevalent at this age and something that I think a lot of people would really relate to.”

Baby, Person, Toy
Inside Out 2. Photo courtesy of Disney.

On the challenge coming up with a follow-up to Inside Out, regarded as one of Pixar’s best films, and to step into the world marvelously created by Pete and Ronnie, Mark answered, “Inside Out is one of the gems of Pixar.”

“We all internally look at that as one of the high watermarks for the studio. It was beloved in the world.”

“It was entertaining. It was fun. It was funny. It was touching and it made a meaningful impact out there, which is even a bit more than some of our other Pixar films can claim.”

“And having educators and psychologists come to us and say they use that film as a tool to talk about emotions with children and that it’s been helpful to them to personify and put a face to emotions so that you can talk about them.”

“So, if there’s any pressure that we felt, it wasn’t internally. It was that we’re following a film like this and we needed to have something to say.”

“And we needed to create something that hopefully is meaningful as the first film was but that brings something different to say and that’s going to surprise audiences at the same time.”

“So probably the pressure in following Inside Out was to try to make something that we believe is worthy.”

In closing, Kelsey summed up the themes of Inside Out 2: “This movie’s all about the feelings and thoughts that rise up when you become a teenager. And there are thoughts and feelings that aren’t ever easily solved. They’re always something you have to manage and deal with.”

“I think that’s in part why you’re like oh, parents can deal with this too because it’s something you always have to continuously manage.”

“Initially, the emotions think they can just get rid of Anxiety but she’s really there for a reason to help. And so learning to not banish Anxiety but learning how to manage her.” – Rappler.com

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Ruben V. Nepales

Based in Los Angeles, Ruben V. Nepales is an award-winning journalist whose honors include prizes from the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards, a US-wide competition, and the Southern California Journalism Awards, presented by the Los Angeles Press Club.