STOP10: Afi Africa on 'The Lookout' and the art of being a psycho

Part telenovela, part action flick, part LGBT-flick, The Lookout is quite a bumpy thrill ride with lots of surprises in store. It tells the story of Lester, who was given away as a child, growing up to seek revenge on all his part tormentors, and there a lot. The movie makes you feel like the world is a nasty place because there are parents who sell you away so that they have more food on their plate. There are ‘guardians’ who take you into their custody but violate you sexually like some kind of acceptance ritual. Lastly, there are cops who are entangled with the dark side and keeping status quo in a perilous society as opposed to keeping law and order.

The Act of Killing. That could be an alternative name for director Afi Africa’s psycho-thriller, if it was not already taken by the more famous film by Joshua Oppenheimer. Amidst all the chaos on the film The Lookout, analysing how one can desensitise themselves to killing others is a running question in the story. Revenge aside, a thorny romance runs parallel, that of Lester’s relationship with Travis. It started as a reluctant sexual date but soon evolved into something more emotional, except that the web of relationships both characters are entangled with makes this relationship fraught with dilemma. In this context, Lester relates to Travis how he learnt to kill.

In Lester, Afi has created a character that walks the tight rope between a hero and an anti-hero. One moment he is here to make things right. The next moment he is a psychopath. While, the same depth cannot be said for some of the other characters, Afi’s experience as an actor is evident in the shaping of Lester’s complex dual personality. A colourful person by nature, Afi brings to this year’s Cinemalaya table a different touch, as an actor-director and as an activist. Here is our interview with Afi.

Jeremy (J): The story has an interesting mix of characters. Any reason why the lead character Lester is gay?
Afi (A): Oh, well it’s actually a mirror of what gays are usually experiencing and how they are perceived in our society up until today. As we all know, gays are more prone to being discriminated compared to other genders. I feel like, you need to go an extra mile to prove a point, that you have to constantly prove your worth for people to believe your sincerity. Above all, gays are the usual victims of prejudice. And I promised to myself that I will use any platform to advocate and constantly be a voice of the LGBTQIAA community whenever I get the chance. And I guess, Cinemalaya just did that.
J: You have shared in several interviews that were will be some nude scenes that are integral to the story in the film, possible to share more about these scenes or give us a teaser?
A: Well for some who have watched the movie, I’m sure that they realized the logic and reasons why those scenes are very important. I must say that, not only the LGBTQIAA community will take a gaze on those scenes but also men and women. The movie is for everybody, most especially for those judgmental ones.
J: This is a film with several complex characters, what was the most difficult part of the film to write?
A: It requires tedious research, most especially on being a psycho. I need to read a lot of studies on that matter. Every scene is a mind boggling experience for me. As you can see, almost all the scenes are highlights. So I needed to blend them carefully to match all the scenes. I was also very cautious about my inner voice, like what I want to tell to my audience and how I can put my message across harmoniously, so as not to confuse my audience but not in a spoon feeding manner or typical way of presenting it.
J: Why did you cast Yayo Aguila in the role of the mother? How different is the role from the one in Kiko Boksingero, with which Yayo won Best Supporting Actress last year?
A: I couldn’t think of any better actress for the character of Merlyn Limotog. I guess it’s totally different, and I want to quote her, “This is the first time I did this kind of role in my entire showbiz career.” And I’m sure everyone will agree with that.
J: Was this an expensive film to make? How did the film, as an indie production, find its funds and resources?
A: This is the most painful question to answer so far (lol). I can’t divulge the amount, but this movie did not just make me homeless but my whole family. Plus, I have debts left and right just to make ends meet.
J: The acting looks like it demands a lot from the actors, could you share how you worked with the respective actors?
A: It took me a while before shooting it. The casting alone took me around a month or so just to explain to possible Lester and Travis the demands of the character to fulfill and to deliver the story truthfully. All the more with the veteran actors. With Andres Vasquez and Jay Garcia, on the other hand, I needed to meet them individually to explain their possible characters and how I am going to do it. While I was explaining the whole story and the logic behind each scene, I didn’t inform Andres and Jay of who’s who in the story. And I set another meeting to finally reveal who is Lester/George or Travis between the two of them.
J: What type of stories interest you as a director?
A: Basically everything. I want to try different genres. I don’t want to be boxed in one particular genre. As a writer/director, I want to explore my craft and artistry and I can’t maximize my potentials with just a specific genre alone.
J: What are some of the greatest challenges in independent filmmaking in the Philippines?
A: Government support I guess, plus the people who can easily write negative stuff about your film without comprehending the process of film making, the film language, the film elements, mise-en-scene, and everything in between, as if they know everything. I’m actually very open to either positive or negative comments, but I just hope that they do not speak in behalf of the rest of the audience because we don’t have the same way of thinking, understanding, and intellectual level. And that speaks too much of their personalities and not the filmmaker nor the film. Can we just lift up each other and the Filipino films and make healthy comments instead? They don’t know what’s going on in the process. Let’s support Philippine cinema not by bullying the filmmaker nor his work, but by telling them what aspects should be improved or worked on next time. Let’s respect one another. And I challenge them to make a movie of their own if they think they can do better than anyone else. Love you all and peace be with you.

J: Could you share a bit about your career as an actor so far?
A: I’ve been acting for the past 15 years now and I must say that, if we have a national hero, then maybe I am the national best friend of the female lead lol. Cos I always portray as a best friend in almost all of my movie or TV stints.
J: Are a tv or stage actor?
A: I am a theater, TV and movie actor in the Philippines
J: How has the journey been so far? What interesting roles have you played?
A: I am fulfilled. I’m actually very happy with my career. Over the last 15 years, I guess I was able to portray almost all the roles available lol. But the most challenging one is to be a minion of the one and only Cherie Gil.
J: What made you want to try directing?
A: Since kid I am already ambitious. I always wanna challenge myself. I wanna try new things all the time. And since I’m so used to acting, maybe that’s why I tried writing and directing.
Interview by Jeremy Sing

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