With his zest for love and life, the biography of National Hero Jose Rizal has all the makings of a prime time hit on television.
This is the belief of the multi-awarded GMA News and Public Affairs group, which has ventured to tell the lesser-known tale of the “little bad boy-who-would-be-hero.”
Titled Ilustrado, the historical drama presents the life of Rizal from his days as young student in the Philippines to his mischievous sojourn as a bachelor in Europe, as well as the major events and influences that shaped his mind and actions as a reformist.
Inspired by broadcast journalist Howie Severino’s 2004 I-Witness documentary, “Little Bad Boy,” which revisited the places where Rizal lived, worked, and studied in Paris and Brussels, Ilustrado primarily aims to “humanize” the national hero for today’s Filipino.
According to the production notes, “Ilustrado offers an educational and entertaining viewing experience on the life of Rizal [during this time]… through his letters to his family and friends, [which]depict his struggles while living… and through his love letters illustrate his relationship with women and why he is considered a notorious lover boy.”
“Most of our text books dwell on the triumphs of Rizal and hardly ever focus on his weaknesses,” program manager Nowell Cuanang explained to The Sunday Times Magazine during a one-on-one interview on Thursday. “Ilustrado will therefore humanize Rizal, who as a young student here and especially in Europe liked to party, court women and even gamble.”
Asked what these revelations on the life of the National Hero ultimately seek to impress upon the Filipino viewer of today, Cuanang replied, “We hope to inspire the audience that a person can have flaws as Rizal did and still be great.”
Elaborating, he continued, “Gusto naming ipakita na kahit ang mga intelektuwal na bayani tulad ni Rizal ay nambababae, nagsusugal, nalalasing, at nag-kaka-problema sa pera—tulad nating lahat. But none of these should hinder us from a calling to greatness.”
Clear on the message he is tasked to deliver to the Filipino audience, actor Alden Richards who portrays the role of Rizal in Ilustrado, meanwhile, told The Sunday Times Magazine he is honored to “humanize” the national hero on TV.
“Maraming nangangarap mabigyan ng pagkakataon na isabuhay si Rizal sa telebisyon man o sa pelikula at isang importanteng responsibilidad para sa akin lalo na na maipakita siya hindi lang bilang bayani kundi bilang isang ordinaryong tao din,” the young actor articulately delivered.
Joining Alden the painstakingly researched and executed production are Kylie Padilla as Leonor Rivera, who many historians believe was Rizal’s true love; Solenn Heussaff as Nellie Boustead, the French woman Rizal almost married; Eula Valdez as Teodora Alonzo and Ricardo Cepeda Francisco Mercado as Rizal’s parents; Freddie Webb as Rizal’s uncle, Don Jose Alberto; and Marco Alcaraz as Rizal’s brother Paciano Mercado.
Also incorporated in series are fictional characters representing some of Rizal’s antagonists, namely mother and son Conchita and Venchito Monteverde (portrayed by five-time Urian best actress Jaclyn Jose and Polo Ravales, respectively); Padre Amado (Lito Legaspi); and young Venchito (Sean Ross).
Completing the cast are Max Collins as Consuela Ortiga; JC Tiuseco as Antonio Luna; Lucho Ayala as Jose Alejandrino; Bryan Benedict as Juan Luna; Jak Roberto as Maximo Viola, Rhen Escano as Isidra Monteverde; and child star Jhiz Deocareza as the young Rizal.
Under the direction of King Marc Baco, Ilustrado is filmed using the sophisticated Arri Alexa camera, along with equally high-end lenses provided by CMB Film Services Inc. Postproduction meanwhile, utilizes state-of-the-art 3D visual effects technology to recreate the grandeur of the European cities where Rizal lived and completed his novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo.
Ilustrado, dubbed as “the first Bayaniserye on Philippine primetime,” premieres Monday, October 20 at 9:30 p.m. on GMA Network.