Bianca Umali relishes serious acting challenges

Bianca Umali relishes serious acting challenges
© Photos from Bianca Umali’s Instagram account Bianca Umali relishes serious acting challenges

MANILA, Philippines — At 21, Bianca Umali seems to have a firm grasp of the ins and outs of show business and the intricate process of nuanced and inspired acting. The used-to-be greenhorn GMA Artist Center (GMAAC) talent could attribute all this to the set of characters, all equally exciting and empowering, her network has gifted her to test Bianca’s mettle.

As expected, she would make the grade and never do her work in haste.

“It started with Sahaya (a fantasy-drama series); that was when I saw the (serious acting) path that I’ve been continuously taking,” Bianca reflected on her maturity and work process as a young actress in a recent virtual press conference. “(The approach) is definitely very different from what I used to do like (when I was tapped to portray) similar roles, laging light lang, laging in love.”

Such change was brought about by her work in Sahaya, the family drama-romance Legal Wives and the soon-to-be-aired HBO Asia Original series, dark fantasy thriller Halfworlds.

“Sobrang nag-iba yung atake, nag-iba yung process (My approach to and process in playing a role have immensely changed),” added she, who recently renewed her contract with the Kapuso network. “They (my recent projects) were bigger, (the roles were) more challenging. It took more effort and more preparation (on my part).” Bianca relished the gamut of putting herself in someone else’s shoes and exploring another person’s life. Given the challenges at hand, she never backed down.

Bianca also granted everyone in describing her typical lifework, by recalling that everything starts with the announcement of a new project. “Then, even before the story con, I will ask them (the creatives) to tell me about my character, like a gist,” said she.

After feeding her curiosity, Bianca continues the prep work and never considers the assignment a done deal yet “until the story con, the media con, the launch and reading the entire script” have been carried out. This preliminary phase gives Bianca a clear vision of her character and subjects her to a long arduous process of character study with research.

“Personally, malaking bagay po yun sa akin (it is a big thing with me),” said she, “especially dito sa mga past projects that were given to me. They were ‘cultural serye.’ I also make it a point, if possible, that I get to immerse myself in whatever culture or world that is being depicted in the project.”

With this almost cyclical routine, Bianca realized that acting is more than just a profession, “it’s my passion,” affirmed she. “I just really love what (I’m doing).” Loving it means that Bianca commits herself to a lifework of continuous learning through workshops, planned and provided by her management.

“I’m very active in (attending) workshops because I don’t want to stop learning,” said Bianca. “I have to keep on learning and keep on exercising my craft… I like practicing and practicing it, kahit paulit-ulit.” With that, the thespian knows the importance of honing her style and nurturing her voice as an actor.

Bianca, hands down, picked Sahaya and Legal Wives as her GMA 7’s toughest and biggest projects, which represented a culture (like Badjao or Maranao) or a slice of it.

“Everything had to be (done) accurately,” said she. “Ang saya-saya ko. When I got to immerse sa kultura ng mga Maranao people sa Legal Wives, I didn’t know anything about them before. Ngayon lang po talaga for the show. Studying and researching about it, and being in it for the show, I did learn a lot about life, not just culturally.”

To deliver the goods, Bianca would take it upon herself to study even the minute details of her character such as manner of speaking. Since some dialogues in Legal Wives carried Arabic words, she had to be conscious about the rhythm of the language, like understanding concepts of pauses and what “letter-sound” should be amplified. Bianca also found pleasure in getting into her character’s “linguistic life.”

If there’s one thing she anticipates to happen soon, it will be the premiere of Halfworlds, in which, again, Bianca is among the stars. The series is five years in the making, from conception to production, according to her. “The concept is, every season is shot in a different country,” added she. “It is called Halfworlds because it focuses on the folklore of a country.” Given the rich folklore of the Philippines, Bianca’s character might be facing head-on fantastical creatures like aswang and tikbalang (bloodthirsty and half-horse, half-man entities, respectively). Halfworlds is in contrast, focus-wise, to Folklore, which is about rediscovering fear. The first two seasons of Halfworlds had Jakarta and Bangkok as places of origin for the narrative.

Looking back on her shooting days on the Halfworlds set, Bianca found the experience wonderful and unique, and hoped that fellow actors would also get the chance to work with HBO Asia. She felt that she was like doing a TV series, a commercial and a film, all rolled into one. Being in that new working environment, Bianca had to adjust to the production’s sense of time and preparation.

“You (had) so much time to study,” said she, “you (had) so much time to prepare and plan what you really (wanted) to do. When you (were) on set, kumbaga, plakado na po (everything was perfectly in place).”

What only actors like Bianca can do is, to lose themselves in their roles, and Bianca surely delivers.

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