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Unwitting snapshots, cinematic quotes in Rappler Hollywood columnist’s coffee table book

All five Michaels out of 241 Hollywood royalty in Ruben V. Nepales’ new book, Through a Writer’s Lens, are among the most quotable 50. The words that come with their photographs are at once cinematic (to be precise—comedy, drama, coming-of-age, satire, biopic) and candid.

An amused Sir M Caine, knighted in 2000, recalls: “When the Queen shakes your hand, she does a funny little thing, because she shakes your hand—then pushes it away to let you know you’re gone.”

M B. Jordan says he’s heard “every joke possible” about sharing a name with that other famed MJ. “I have tried ordering pizza and have been hung up on a million times. It’s annoying at this point.”

M Fassbender confesses that his altar-boy days were “maybe…my first idea of being onstage.”

A white-haired and much mellowed M Douglas declares with optimum effect, “I take each day with more respect. You just don’t miss days.”

And it’s tempting to imagine M Keaton sounding like both Batman and Birdman (and a little Beetlejuice) when he chides colleagues, “I’m not one of those people who [rant] about the burden [of being a celebrity].”

Because, as M—this one a Morgan, not a Michael—Freeman succinctly puts it, “I’ve been poor. I mean, poor. Having money is better."

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard are among the tantalizing pairings in the coffee table book of snapshots and quotes, "Through a Writer's Lens." Photo by Ruben V. Nepales

Guaranteed re-reads

But this is not a collection of Hollywood-denizen quotes. Subsequent re-reads are guaranteed, and each one is likely to yield a different set of favorites. What will remain unchanged are the photographs, which is what this is about, and thank goodness for that if the reader should form his own lasting impressions.

A great number of these 1,000-plus shots were snapped during press conferences across a span of 20 years, with much forethought and respectful timing, sometimes with haste and urgency, and always with unmistakable awe, by the Filipino photojournalist from Calasiao, Pangasinan.

All together in a sleek 12” x 14,” full color, hard-bound compilation, they have the capacity to inflict nosebleeds of jealousy even among colleagues.

Nepales is a member in exceptional standing of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA)— the first Filipino in there ever; elected chair of the board in 2012 and, in 2019, executive secretary.

Reports from those press cons were published in Nepales’ entertainment column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, “Only IN Hollywood,” a groundbreaker at the time of its launch in April 2005. “IN” emphasized the fact that the writer lived and circulated in, and produced his stories from the original, the only, La La Land, where all the action was taking place. The column now appears in Rappler.

Sour grapes might point to absentees from this book’s index who are worth mentioning, among them Ralph Fiennes, Sean Penn, Nicholas Cage, Joe Pesci, Viggo Mortensen, Jennifer Aniston, Barbara Streisand… but no way does that mean Nepales has not interviewed them. There are no South Korean superstars here, either, but it is no indication that he’ll never get to do that.

Meanwhile, he has gathered enough world cinema nobility who don’t need two names. Streep, Pacino, Cruise, Clooney, Spielberg, DiCaprio, De Niro, Jolie, Denzel, JLo, Oprah—these are just the ones on the covers. Inside are 249 pages more of awesomeness, every entertainment journalist’s dream.

Party atmosphere

The pictures, fascinating and stellar of course, reflect the celebrated party atmosphere of HFPA’s annual Golden Globe Awards ceremonies. The interviewees seem utterly relaxed — Jack Black more than anyone else, stripping down to tiny stretch boxers as he proclaims, “I need to decompress and unplug from the biz occasionally just to find my center again.”

Nepales has no explanation for that stunt. Nor for the sequence of subjects/photos. He recalls discussing “fun aspects” of the project “in long Facebook PMs” between publisher Bessie Badilla in Manila and wife Janet and himself in Los Angeles. Was the sequencing among those fun parts?

That Isla Fisher and Sacha Baron Cohen should be on opposite pages— as are Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, Emily Blunt and John Krasinski, Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively—is of course foreseeable, but not as tantalizing as Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, Helen Mirren, and Judi Dench, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt. And Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet.

We leave this at that.

Pinoy lineup

Nepales is an inveterate finder of the Filipino in… everything. This is his second book; the first, a collection of full-length reports, My Filipino Connection: The Philippines in Hollywood (Anvil), was published in 2012.

In this picture-partial format for what he calls his “pandemic baby,” he has included several Pinoys, picked as much for lineage as for remarkable feats indeed. Twenty-one in all, including Hailee Steinfeld, whose Filipino uncle co-starred with Elvis Presley in the 1963 movie Fun in Acapulco.

Then there’s Dave Bautista, American actor and retired pro-wrestler who says, every chance he gets, “The Filipino people just embraced me like I was a full Filipino born and raised there.” (His father is the son of Filipino immigrants.)

The Pinoy lineup includes filmmakers Lav Diaz, Brillante Mendoza, Ramona Diaz; actors Lea Salonga, Jon Jon Briones and daughter Isa, Vanessa Hudgens, Darren Criss, Ella Jay Basco, Nico Santos, Reggie Lee, and Vincent Rodriguez III; cinematographer Matthew Libatique; songwriter Robert Lopez; animators Gini Cruz Santos and Ronnie del Carmen; digital artist Paul Abadilla.

Four of them are on that unofficial 50 most quotable list, with Libatique in the top notch for wit: “Being a cinematographer is very honorable. You can’t get too big.”

Speaking of which, here are a few more of the shortest and sweetest quips. The accompanying snapshots likewise suggest that these stars had a little — or a lot — more fun during the conversations.

Meryl Streep

“We all have the whole thing in us all the time. We are the old people that we were going to be when we were young.”

Judi Dench

“When I was 80, my daughter took me shopping… She said, ‘Are you ready now to have a tattoo?’ I said, ‘Yes I am.’ I had the tattoo on my wrist. It says, ‘Carpe diem.’ Seize the day.”


“Very powerful women made me a man. My grandmother was a rebel… My aunt was a political prisoner…What they taught me to do was to have a woman’s intuition.”

Colin Firth

“Actors are generally a seething mess of insecurity and any illusion to the contrary is just that… an illusion.”

Sophia Loren

“I am still thinking what I am going to do when I grow up.”

Olivia Colman

“I’d like to know what’s in (the Queen’s) purse…What does she like to do when no one’s around? I like the idea that maybe she sits on the sofa with her legs up.”

Keira Knightley

“I don’t do any nudity. But I get to pick the body double… wonderful nipples — my God, I’ll have those. Yes, please.”

Alfonso Cuaron

“I do what all directors do, which is lie and manipulate. And seduce. As moms, the church, and politicians do.”

Octavia Spencer

“There is a part of my personality that my friends call ‘Octane.’ Octane just burns everything down in one minute, then I’m fine again, but you’re not.”

Jessica Lange

“What’s interesting to me is how many left Hollywood at a certain point… It was probably very difficult to be here and be considered obsolete.”

Taika Waititi

“There’s a real simple way of changing the world. If you are nice and kind, children will see that, and they will copy you.”

Scarlett Johansson

(On being a mother) “Everything changes once your heart grows this other chamber that you didn’t know was possible.”

Chris Hemsworth

(Joking about his parents) “[They] said, “Whatever it takes—you sell that body, you sell that soul. We don’t care. We are hungry. We have to eat. Get out there [to Hollywood], kid!”

Paul Rudd

(On his weirdest fan encounters) “You’re standing at a urinal next to somebody, then he wants to shake your hand. Or a selfie, yeah. It has happened. I was like, ‘Come on!’”

Christopher Walken

“It’s for other people to decide if you’re a psychopath… My life is very normal… I just play psychopaths.”

Ryan Reynolds

(Asked if he had slept in the red-and-black Deadpool suit with Blake Lively) “That is absolutely inappropriate! And the answer is yes.”

Not so short but certainly worth checking out are the words of Jane Fonda, Jessica Lange, Ronnie del Carmen, Eddie Redmayne, and Robert Pattinson.

A Rubenized life

Any journalist would appreciate the work that went into collecting such enormous content from two decades worth of material. Only a friendship longer than that could have kept the production team of three — Badilla, Nepales and his wife, partner and collaborator Janet — going. They all say as much in separate introductions.

Efficiency does not always guarantee the best output but, in their case, it worked exceptionally well. Janet reveals a word that some colleagues have coined about her “taskmaster” of a husband: “Rubenize.” It means, “to make perfect,” she says, and proceeds to invite the world, “Please welcome this Rubenized collection.”

The book's production team of three—publisher/art director/layout artist Bessie Badilla, the photojournalist and his wife, partner and collaborator, Janet Nepales

Nepales immigrated to the United States in the 1980s. Long story short, life was the opposite of easy for many, many years. In 2018, those hard times were the farthest thing from his mind when he accepted his trophy as top winner in Entertainment News or Feature during the Southern California Journalism Awards, an annual nationwide competition held by the Los Angeles Press Club.

Where Ruben is now, he might have spoken Arnold Schwarzenegger’s words in this book: “I’m never going to complain about the one thing I can’t do [which is], run for president [of the United States] because I wasn’t born here. I would never complain about that.” –