How far would you go to get a U.S. visa? A raucous look at our coming-to-America stories

At Bryant Park, actor Sid Lucero (left) and director John Paul Su sit down with members of the Fil-Am Press Club of New York. Photo by Lenn Almadin Thornhill.

At Bryant Park, actor Sid Lucero (left) and director John Paul Su sit down with members of the Fil-Am Press Club of New York to talk about their film ‘Toto.’ Photo by Lenn Almadin Thornhill.

By Lenn Almadin Thornhill

The shock seemed to unfold in slow motion. We watched as actor Sid Lucero unclipped the lapel microphone, tossed it on the green table in Bryant Park, and walked out, leaving reporters of the Filipino American Press Club in New York City looking at each other.

Until someone said, “Call JP!”

JP is John Paul Su, the award-winning director, writer and producer of “Toto” which debuted at the Metro Manila Film Festival in 2015. Su and Lucero are in New York City doing promotions for the film which is scheduled to be shown on July 29th at the Asian American Independent Film Festival (AAIFF).

See, it was all a prank, but it revealed so much more about the actor that was the subject of our interview.

Lucero is also starring in another independent film, “Apocalypse Child” shown at the New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) on June 23rd. We reporters ‘conspired’ in good, clean fun, to talk only about “Toto” and not the other film.

“It was just a misunderstanding,” Su explained. “He didn’t know you guys were joking.”

After a few minutes, Lucero returned.

“Every time I do a film I want everybody to watch it as much as possible,” Lucero explained. “That’s why I was surprised when you guys are here and you didn’t hear about the NYAFF, even it doesn’t have anything to do with this one. We’re Filipinos and I believe that I have the responsibility to share our stories as a Filipino to the world.”

It was that kind of intensity that came as a surprise to many, even for Lucero the star of the dark comedy drama “Toto.”

“He read the first seven pages,” said Su, of the first time they met. “Those seven pages we spent over an hour with all of his questions about the character. He’s a thinking actor. He’s not just doing some template performance.”

Lucero, whose real name is Timothy Eigenmann, is the son of the late actor Mark Gil and actress Bing Pimentel. He is known as a dramatic actor, and has won the 2008 Gawad Urian Best Actor for “Selda” where he plays an inmate tormented by conflicting erotic thoughts of his wife and his fellow prisoner.

Su, who co-wrote “Toto” with Donald Martin, won Best Foreign Language Film in the Los Angeles Comedy Festival.

“It’s a film for everyone who dreams big, and the things you do to fulfill that dream,” is how Su described this movie. In the film — shot in 17 days – Lucero took on the role of a Filipino hotel worker named Toto who goes to extreme measures to obtain a U.S. visa.

“How far would you go to achieve that dream? What are you willing to compromise for that dream?” Those are the universal questions that Toto asks himself as he aspires to be an American immigrant.

Besides Lucero, the cast includes Thou Reyes, Liza Dino, Bembol Roco and Bibeth Orteza. Reyes and Orteza won the Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress at the Metro Manila Film Festival New Wave in 2015. Su won Best New Wave Film Director, and the film was awarded the New Wave Full Length Jury Prize.

“I think I found a group of actors that I can really call my actor’s company,” said Su. “My go-to people, because they are really good.”

It’s been a challenging road for Su who moved to New York City in 2003. A graduate of De La Salle University, his dream of being an established filmmaker was put on hold right after his first video project about Habitat for Humanity. Networks and agencies, he said, had a hiring freeze.

In New York, Su worked to build his career working as a videographer for TFC’s Balitang America.

“I think what really drew me to filmmaking is its power to stimulate conversations,” said Su. “And a means to create an imaginary world that can both effect a viewer’s perception of his inner world and bring a new perspective to issues of the times.”

Su’s first short film, “Happy Anniversary,” explores the theme of domestic violence. His first documentary, “Caregiver” chronicles the anguished life of a single mother in Jersey City who cares for her special needs daughter. His short film, “Pagpag” (The Refuse) in 2012 is the narrative of a garbage food vendor finding leftovers at a dump site and re-selling it.

“I have to find and carve my own path,” said Su. “I have no connections to the industry be it in the Philippines or in the U.S.”

Even now, as one of the ABC/Disney-DGA program directors in Los Angeles, and has shadowed shows like “Scandal”, Su confessed how challenging it is to get a job in the industry.

“I don’t really have a Plan B,” said Su, who almost gave up on being a filmmaker before deciding to go to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts to get his master’s degree in Film and Television.

“Or at least, I refuse to have a Plan B, because in my years in the business, I’ve noticed that those who had a Plan B while pursuing their career dreams, end up settling with the Plan B and giving up when they really wanted in the beginning,” he said.

The character, Toto, is of the same tenacious quest.

“I think somehow it crossed over in terms of appeal,” said Su. “So far my experience, kung ano yung reaction sa Pilipinas, ganun din yung reaction in another county. They laughed and cried at the same point.”

Both Lucero and Su are eager to see how New Yorkers will react to their film. Hopefully, they said, with as much passion as they put into its creation.

“What’s important to me,” Lucero said, “was how this move is socially relevant and talks about how we are as a people and maybe how we should be.”

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