When “Birdshot” producer Pamela Reyes was looking for a young actress to cast in her thesis short film “Unawa” in 2011, she only wanted someone who resembled Kathryn Bernardo.
Pamela got more than what she bargained for when she chose then 14-year-old Mary Joy Apostol.
“I realized I discovered a great, natural talent. She was marvelous in my short film,” the young producer recalled to InterAksyon in a recent interview.
Four years later, Pamela and frequent collaborator Mikhail Red were working on a film called “Birdshot” and were looking to cast a young girl in the lead role.
“I was pushing for her [but] Mikhail wanted auditions so we put her in auditions. In the end, and with my push, she was cast,” Pamela further shared.
Mary Joy herself could not believe she got the coveted part of Maya, who in the film is being taught by her father to survive on her own by hunting for food. In her desire to impress her old man, Maya wandered into a protected area for endangered eagles and unwittingly shot a “haribon,” as the Philippine eagle was referred to in the film.
“There were many who auditioned for ‘Birdshot,’ some of them were young actresses I’ve seen on TV so I didn’t expect that I’d be chosen but I was very happy they did,” Mary Joy told InterAksyon in mostly Filipino.
Although considered a natural talent, Mary Joy still underwent workshops and script readings to familiarize herself with Maya’s character. She also learned how to shoot a shotgun from co-star Ku Aquino who plays her father and who had some hunting experience as a young boy.
Now 19 and only 17 when she was cast in the film, Mary Joy never thought of “Birdshot” as a major film, let alone something not a few critics consider a “game changer.”
“I never expected to be part of a film this good. I saw it as an acting project and not something that would be screened nationwide and in international film festivals,” she mused.
As it turns out, “Birdshot” gave Mary Joy many “firsts” — her first full-length feature, her first plane ride, and her first trip outside the Philippines to the first country she ever visited, Japan.
Mary Joy was part of the film’s entourage that went to the Tokyo International Film Festival where “Birdshot” eventually won Best Film in the festival’s Asian Future Section.
“I was so happy to be there. The people were so nice and warm and they so loved our film. I felt proud to be a Filipina when we won. We were all crying because we didn’t expect to win,” she further shared.
After travelling to several other festivals, the film finally came home early this month to open the 13th Cinemalaya film festival. Like the rest of the film’s cast and crew, Mary Joy was anxious to see how the film would be received by Pinoy audiences.
“We were all excited. And we were very happy to see the reactions of the audiences at Cinemalaya. I was thrilled to see people react favorably to our film.”
Mary Joy’s performance in particular, is not just a hit with audiences but also with critics. Variety magazine’s Richard Kuipers called her an “impressive newcomer [with] a magnetic screen presence and holds her own in the company of reliable pros [Arnold] Reyes and [John] Arcilla.”
“[I]n only her first feature credit and often only acting against an endearing canine companion, Apostol monopolises attention…turning away from her textured portrayal of a girl trapped by the all-consuming natural order is nigh on impossible,” wrote Sarah Ward of ScreenDaily.
Pamela said that what makes Mary Joy’s portrayal of Maya very effective is the ability of the young actress to simply follow her director’s instructions.
“She listens really well with the directions given to her. You don’t hear any complaints from her. She will go far,” the producer concluded.
Directed by Mikhail Red and also starring Dido de la Paz, Elora Españo and Suzette Ranillo, “Birdshot” is a PelikulaRed Productions presented by TBA Studios and Globe Studios. An entry in the ongoing Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino, the film is now showing in cinemas nationwide.