Earlier this week, we had the unique privilege of joining an enlightening in-person roundtable interview with the brilliant minds behind the much-anticipated film, ‘Keys to the Heart’. In a room filled with a palpable sense of excitement and anticipation, we delved deep, seeking to uncover the story’s soul, its characters’ essence, and the journey of translating such a narrative for audiences on Netflix.
For those unfamiliar, ‘Keys to the Heart’ is a narrative born from the foundations of CJ ENM Corporation’s motion picture. Under the watchful eye of Director Kerwin Go and backed by the production prowess of Reality MM Studios, Creative Group 8, and Viva Films, the film journeys into the heart of family dynamics, rediscovery, and personal growth. It showcases a troubled boxer’s poignant tale who, after years of alienation, finds himself reconnecting with his long-lost mother and an autistic pianist brother.
Zanjoe Marudo: Embracing the Challenge
Donning the gloves of the troubled boxer was no walk in the park, and no one knows this better than Zanjoe Marudo. Films often bridge the gap between fantasy and reality, where actors immerse themselves in stories that sometimes resonate deeply with their personal lives. During our discussion, he emphasized the gravity of stepping into the shoes of a character with such intense emotional undertones. When asked about the elements of the film that struck a personal chord, Zanjoe candidly shared, “Siguro ang pinaka malapit, yung meron akong niece na nasa spectrum na may autism.” This profound personal connection was a significant driving force behind his portrayal. This, combined with themes of family dynamics, shaped his genuine and heartfelt performance.
When asked about how he approached the duality of his character, Zanjoe, with a playful banter with the fellow cast, humorously asked if we had seen the film. Following some cheerful remarks about the cast’s envy of the early screening, Zanjoe delved deep into his craft. He confessed, “Hindi ko alam na ganon pala yung effect nung lumabas sa movie ni Joma na may comedic side, and then may drama.” His genuine surprise at the blend of comedy and drama reflects his intrinsic method of embracing his roles. Crediting the compelling story and script from the original Korean production, Zanjoe emphasized the importance of teamwork in filmmaking.
What stood out was Zanjoe’s testament to the power of trust in the directorial vision. He noted, “Pag sila yung ka trabaho mo alam mo na pare parehas yung vision, yung goal.” Highlighting that the harmony within the crew made things feel natural, Zanjoe expressed that there was never a point where they felt they were overexerting for a scene. The sincerity came naturally, all thanks to Director Kerwin’s guidance.
For him, one of the standout challenges was the physical aspect of his role. Before going into production, both he and his co-stars underwent rigorous training sessions, with Zanjoe focusing on boxing. “Gusto talaga ni direk na… yung tao, boxingero to,” Zanjoe shared, emphasizing the necessity for his character’s every movement and mannerism to scream ‘boxer’. This level of dedication to the craft was palpable.
Inspirations were drawn from the world-renowned boxer Manny Pacquiao, creating a genuine portrayal of a Filipino boxer. This authenticity did not come without challenges, however. Recalling a particularly strenuous shooting day involving boxing scenes, Zanjoe humorously recounted attending an Eraserheads concert the next day and fainting, attributing it to the physical exertions from filming. Despite the challenges, he confessed he’d willingly embrace them again, such was his commitment to the role.
In addition to his on-screen challenges, Director Kerwin Go added another layer to the narrative, revealing that Zanjoe’s on-screen nemesis was portrayed by real cage fighter, Mark Striegl. Go reminisced, “Mark does not know his strength…so Zanjoe had to endure hours of training with this guy.” Filming wasn’t devoid of its hurdles either, with Zanjoe sustaining multiple injuries during the process. Go’s admiration was evident as he quipped, “kudos to Zanjoe, you really took one for the team.”
Elijah Canlas: Striking the Right Note
Elijah Canlas had the challenge of portraying the autistic pianist—a role that demanded authenticity, understanding, and a genuine appreciation for the world of music.
When questioned about the extent of his preparation for the role, Elijah’s response was enlightening. Interestingly, he began, “I thought like this role was meant to be,” hinting at a serendipity. A year before the film’s shooting, Elijah had already dabbled in piano lessons. While this was a fortunate head start, the classical pieces required for the movie presented a new challenge altogether. With only a month’s time to master seven intricate compositions, Elijah’s commitment shone bright. “We trained almost every day or every other day,” he recollected. The dedication of his teacher, matched Elijah’s fervor, going as far as visiting Elijah’s home or conducting Zoom sessions just to squeeze in some extra lessons.
Elijah’s insights shed light on the magic behind their rapport. “Wala kaming workshop or anything,” he began, highlighting the spontaneity of their collaboration. Meeting only during the look test, their chemistry wasn’t meticulously crafted in a rehearsal room. Instead, it sprouted organically, rooted in mutual respect and a shared vision.
Elijah’s admiration for Zanjoe was evident, describing him as “one of the kindest, one of the funniest guys, that you can meet.” Zanjoe’s open-mindedness and willingness to collaborate were pivotal in forming their bond. Elijah emphasized, “he was open to me from the very start.” This openness, complemented by Zanjoe’s seriousness and dedication on set, established a balanced work dynamic — one that allowed both actors to be serious about their craft while also enjoying the process.
When a young talent meets an established name in the industry, sparks of inspiration are bound to fly. This was evident when Elijah shared his experiences working alongside the renowned Ms. Dolly De Leon in ‘Keys to the Heart.’ The playful anecdote Elijah shared about a spontaneous decision to cut his bangs – and Ms. De Leon’s creative incorporation of that into their on-screen dynamics – is a testament to their shared chemistry and understanding. With her turning this simple haircut into an affectionate mother-son moment, it became clear that it’s these tiny nuances, these unscripted moments, that bring authenticity and warmth to a film. When posed with the question about any acting guidance he received from Dolly, Elijah recounted, “She just told me to go for it.” Such simple advice, yet loaded with layers of meaning. To “go for it” is more than just a call to action; it’s a testament to trusting one’s instincts, taking risks, and diving into the character’s psyche.
Michelle Dee: A Voice of Autism Awareness On and Off Screen
Michelle Dee’s presence in the film, while shrouded in a veil of mystery during our chat, unquestionably adds layers of depth and nuance to the overarching narrative. Autism awareness and inclusivity have long been topics that resonate deeply within the core of society, touching many lives. In ‘Keys to the Heart,’ the message of understanding, love, and acceptance for individuals on the autism spectrum is magnificently personified through the character played by Michelle Dee.
Michelle opened up about the personal connection she feels towards her role and the broader theme of the movie. Last year, when she learned about the role she was about to take on – that of a mentor to an individual on the autism spectrum – she felt an undeniable kinship. Having two siblings on the autism spectrum herself and being a fervent advocate for autism awareness, the role felt like destiny intertwining with her personal journey.
The movie, which was unfamiliar to her until she delved into it, serves as an instrumental medium to spread positive awareness about autism. “All of these individuals, even if they are on the autism spectrum, have so much talent and so much purpose,” she passionately stated, emphasizing the invaluable potential they bring to the world.
Michelle’s hope, echoing the sentiment of many advocates around the world, is that the film sparks a conversation. A conversation that nudges people to ask the right questions, broadens horizons, and fosters acceptance. It’s not just about awareness; it’s about redefining the narrative surrounding autism, focusing on the strengths, capabilities, and immeasurable value that individuals on the spectrum bring to the table.
Michelle shared her enriching experience of working with the diverse characters in the film. Each actor brought a unique depth and perspective to their role, making the entire experience akin to an intensive masterclass for her. “I love working with talented individuals,” she commented, emphasizing how she thrives in the presence of those she perceives as more seasoned in the craft. The essence of filmmaking goes beyond just delivering lines; it’s about absorbing nuances, studying character dynamics, and evolving as an artist. She expressed immense gratitude for the camaraderie on set, describing the atmosphere as family-like, devoid of any tension. “Walang mabigat na pakiramdam,” she remarked, encapsulating the light-hearted and positive ambiance that permeated the production.
However, what stands out is Michelle’s humility and insatiable appetite for growth. By surrounding herself with experienced actors, she showcased a willingness to learn and adapt, to imbibe their skills, and to challenge her boundaries. By the end of the project, Michelle felt a profound transformation in herself as an artist.
Kerwin Go: The Mastermind’s Vision
At the helm of the project, Director Kerwin Go was the guiding light ensuring that each scene, each character nuance, and each musical note struck the right chord. His vision was clear: to adapt a renowned story for a Filipino audience while keeping its core essence intact.
It was a treat hearing from Director Kerwin Go, the visionary ensuring that each element of the film resonated with its core ethos. Initiated by Mr. BJ Song, a Korean producer with Group 8, the production emerged as a melting pot of cinematic expertise. With Reality Entertainment led by Mr. Don Don Monteverde and Direk Erik Matti, coupled with Viva Entertainment, the project was indeed international in its scope. In Go’s words, “you have a Korean producer, Filipino studio making it, two Filipino studios and in the end, it got picked up and distributed by an American company which is Netflix.” The tapestry of global collaboration paints an image of unity in diversity, suggesting that narratives, irrespective of origin, have the potential to speak universally.
Our interaction with the incredible talent behind ‘Keys to the Heart’ was nothing short of enlightening. Through the lens of talented actors, the film invites viewers into a world where family bonds, challenges, and aspirations blend in a symphony of heartwarming moments. It stands as a testament to the essence of genuine connection and the transformative power of storytelling. If you’re looking for a captivating experience that delves into the complexities of human relationships, your search ends here. Don’t miss the chance to witness this captivating story as it unfolds, revealing the keys to the most profound melodies of the heart.
Keys to the Heart is now streaming on Netflix, watch it here.