Kris Aquino, a TV and movie personality who belongs to a rich political family, has been cast in a Hollywood film that might as well mirror the decadence and excesses of wealthy Philippine families.
“Allow me this time to obey them [Warner Brothers],” said Aquino coyly when asked about her role in the film Crazy Rich Asians. It is based on the 2013 novel of the same by bestselling Singaporean author Kevin Kwan. His ‘rich’ trilogy includes China Rich Girlfriend, written in 2015; and Rich People Problems, to be released in 2017. Crazy Rich Asians has been translated into 12 languages.
Interestingly, Aquino has been cast as an artist and not as a socialite. Aquino said: “I passed five levels of intense scrutiny and was offered a role. It is surreal to be reading the script from a major Hollywood studio watermarked on every page with my name.”
“I signed a non-disclosure agreement so until they reveal my participation I can’t share any details about the movie and my role,” she explained.
Crazy Rich Asians centres on Nick Young, a rich US-based Singaporean who goes back to his home country with an ABC (American-born Chinese) girlfriend, Rachel Chu, to attend a wedding. Young’s friend is marrying a woman from a moneyed family in mainland China. There were reports that Aquino will play Astrid, a Brunei, or a Malaysian-born princess.
Off screen, Aquino might as well be one of Kwan’s characters, except that the author’s favourite playground is Singapore and the intermingling and snobberies of rich international Chinese society in other parts of the world. He also belongs to a rich Singaporean family except that he went to the US at the age of 12 in 1984.
Any role from Kwan’s book will not be hard for Aquino to play. Her Chinese great-grandfather and his family thrived economically in the Philippines. Now, the Philippine economy has been fuelled by ethnic Filipino-Chinese more than the Spanish-Filipinos and Filipino-Americans whose ancestry represent two colonial waves that started in the 15th century to the 19th century.
Aquino belongs to the fourth generation of the Cojuangco family, which owns a 6.453-hectare sugar plantation in Tarlac, central Luzon. Her father, former Senator Benigno Ninoy Aquino, was assassinated at the service stairway of a China Airlines plane in 1983. It sparked a people-backed military mutiny that ousted former dictator Ferdinand Marcos and propped her mother Corazon Aquino to the presidency in 1986, The death of her mother in August 2009 raised the popularity of her brother Benigno “Pnoy” Aquino, who was elected president in May 2010.
But Hollywood’s life of imagination is Aquino’s preferred playground. And she likes to compete with the film’s A-list stars — Awkwafina, Chris Pang, Constance Wu, Gemma Chan, Michelle Yeoh, Sonoya Mizuno, and Henry Golding. The film will be shot in Malaysia and Singapore with an all-Asian cast, Warner Brothers said.
The film’s director is Jon M. Chu who was behind Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, Hasbro franchises G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Jem and the Holograms, Step Up 2: The Streets, and Step Up 3D.
Aquino’s Hollywood journey began on March 23, 2017, when Tony- and Grammy-award winning Broadway producer Jhett Tolentino told her about his friend Chris Lee, a Filipino-Chinese-American agent. He wanted Aquino to audition for a Hollywood movie. She was given 72 hours to produce an audition and biopic shoots. Her team worked at Makati City’s Manila Peninsula Hotel on March 25 and production materials were ready in 48 hours. Then she flew to LA to meet Lee and for contract signing on April 16.
Getting her role was not an issue of class or pedigree. “It was God’s gift,” the star said in her Facebook account, adding, “I wanted you (everyone) to know my story. I pray it gives you encouragement and hope. I am proof that in life doors will shut, there will be heartbreaking setbacks, but faith in God’s plan will open new, unexpected doors.”
Narrating what happened before landing Crazy Rich Asians, Aquino said: “For a year, I experienced rejections. A part of my spirit broke. There were two shows I lost because hiring an Aquino for TV was a political risk not worth taking.”