Sheila Francisco, star of the 2022 Sundance Jury Prize winner Leonor Will Never Die, obliged Daily Tribune with an email interview.
Daily Tribune (DT): What was life like growing up, tell us about your roots.
Sheila Francisco (SF): I belong to a family of 10. Life was pretty normal when I was a child. I remember my Mama taking me to ballet school two times a week and I enjoyed it so much. I suppose that was my very first exposure to performing. But Mama got ill and died when I was 11, so I had to stop taking dance lessons.
DT: As a teenager, did you have an inkling of what you wanted to be?
SF: I started learning to play the guitar and sing when I was a teen, but it never entered my mind to pursue the arts. Singing was just something I enjoyed doing. Believe it or not, I wanted to be a nurse. When my Mama was in the hospital, I stayed by her side all the time and the nurses were always kind to me. I said to myself I want to do that, too.
DT: Did your education help you decide your future?
SF: Education introduced me to the arts. I was always in the glee club and participated in school variety shows. But in my teens, I was keen on becoming a broadcast producer. I wanted to be involved in the production of shows, not as a performer.
DT: You said in an interview that you worked in advertising shooting TV commercials and stuff. How did it lead you into becoming a performing artist?
SF: After college, I did become a broadcast producer in advertising. I loved my training at J. Walter Thompson. I loved being surrounded and learning from some of the most creative people in the industry. It was also this time that I got cast quite a bit and did a number of TV commercials and lots of voice acting.
Acting was only a sideline for me. I enjoyed being involved behind the scenes more than being in front of the camera. It was right about this time, too, that I started singing professionally. I was part of a band called Off Duty, composed of CEOs who loved music. We did a lot of corporate gigs.
DT: Tell us about the first play you were cast in. Was it eventful?
SF: My very first stage experience was Joseph the Dreamer. The legendary Freddie Santos introduced me to the world of theater. He saw me sing at one of my band’s gigs and offered me a part in a musical he was writing and directing. He actually created the role of “Momma” just so he can cast me. And he gave me the song that will forever change my life, “He Opens a Window.”
The moment I stepped on stage, I knew it was what I was meant to do. I was hooked and eventually gave up my day job in advertising to concentrate on my newfound passion.
DT: What was it about the theater that you loved?
SF: Nothing compares to live performance. You live in the moment. No second takes. There is no other art form that involves and allows the actor, singer or dancer to receive the energy from a live audience.
DT: Theater actors don’t earn much. How do you survive?
SF: Sadly, that is the reality we theater actors have to deal with. I am blessed to have had an opportunity to invest in a company 25 years ago, and by God’s grace it has done very well. Most importantly, it has allowed me to pursue my passion to do theater without worrying too much about how I can make ends meet.
DT: You’ve been around, having performed here and abroad. But what’s different about being cast as the lead character in a movie like ‘Leonor Will Never Die’?
SF: It is my first Filipino feature film and the big difference is the story itself. It’s very unique — a Lola at the forefront of an action film? Really? The layering of the storytelling is so quirky, I got very curious. I was surprised when I was introduced to Marty (writer-director Martika Ramirez Escobar). I did not expect a young, sweet, wide-eyed girl was the writer as well. After spending some time with her, I decided I wanted to be a part of this journey.
DT: Your character meets an accident and ends up in a coma. What was your worst health challenge and how did you overcome it?
SF: I had a knee injury while doing the musical Rama at Sita. I had an operation and it took a few months to rehabilitate it.
DT: The movie won the Jury Prize at Sundance and you’re the star. How cool is that?
SF: Incredibly cool, indeed. We must take into consideration that Sundance happened at the height of the pandemic. We were all locked inside our own cocoons. Nothing was happening in the entertainment world at that time, and the Delta variant was raging everywhere. So, when I received the call from Marty that our film was selected to compete at the Sundance Film Festival, it was like heaven opened its door and showered us with a wonderful blessing. And then it was given a special award. Super COOL!
DT: What keeps you busy these days?
SF: Not much, really. I’m preparing for my trip to Canada to represent Leonor Will Never Die at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
DT: What is your wish for the performing arts industry to achieve in the new administration?
SF: My wish is for the new administration to hold true to its promise to support the performing arts industry.
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