Focus: A Rising Fil-Aussie Star – Jemwel Danao

Jemwel Danao

It is heartening to see that the number of young Filipino-Australians making a mark in the performing arts is increasing.  One of these rising stars is Jemwel Danao.   I first saw Jemwel’s acting skills during his performance as Dr Jose Rizal in the stage play Her Son, Jose Rizal which was shown at Parramatta last year.  In that role, Jemwel portrayed well the anguish of Rizal seeing the Filipino people’s oppression while maintaining the optimism that problem areas could be improved upon, if not resolved, through peaceful means.

I tried to watch as many performances of local artists but have missed out on a few as they clashed with prior commitments.    It was fantastic that the diary was clear on September 13, 2012 for me to attend the Colourfest Multicultural Film Festival.   The press release for the event stated that the film “It’s About Survival” which was one of the entries for the Short Film Category, starred Fil-Aussie actor Felino Dolloso. Prior to this event, another collaboration of Felino and Writer-Director Mike Kang “Immigrants and Cigarettes” won the award for the Best Short Film in the Koreans in Film Festival in Australia [KOFFIA].

A fellow FilPressSydney colleague, Marilie Eftekharhashtroudi, did not need much convincing to go with me to the Colourfest to watch primarily “It’s About Survival”.  It was a pleasant surprise to find out that another young Fil-Aussie actor, Jemwel Danao was in the film.   In the film, Felino played the role of the father who was estranged from his gay son [Jemwel].  Both actors played their roles poignantly as the father while despising the son’s sexuality longed to be close to the latter; with the father pathetically tried to box with son as a way of beating out his son’s homosexuality.

While waiting for the films to be shown, Marilie and I had the opportunity to meet Felino and Mike, as well as for me to re-acquaint with Jemwel.  We agreed for me to send him some questions to give those who have watched him in HSJR and Ang Kalatas readers an insight about him.  I have the pleasure to share his responses below.

What is the story of Jemwel Danao the person?

I was born in Quezon City in the Philippines. My family moved to Australia when I was four years old.  I grew up in the Western Suburbs of Sydney and attended Terra Sancta College located in Quakers Hill and Schofields. After high school, I made the decision that every Filipino parent would dread. This was choosing to go to an actor-training institute instead of pursuing a degree at university.

I studied at NIDA ‘Young Actors Studio’, Australian Theatre for Young People, but I’d say my formal training as an actor would be at Sydney Theatre School.

From when did you get interested in acting/performing arts?  What were your early projects?

The moment when the creative spark ignited was back when I was a young kid. I was obsessed with movies. They’ve always had a profound effect on me. I love the fact that you can watch a movie and be totally enraptured by people who don’t even exist in real life, affect and move you. What’s so interesting about movies is that they hit people in different ways. Movies have different resonance for everybody.

Later on when I was fifteen, I mustered the courage to take my first acting class. It was a positive experience and it left me curious to learn more about the craft. I went on to do other acting classes after that, each time they got more and more serious.

What are the shows/stage plays/films you have been involved in?

To name a few:

In theatre/stage, ‘Her Son, Jose Rizal’, ‘Citizenship’, ‘King Lear’, ‘Roberto Zucco’.

In film/TV, ‘Tallulah Falls Apart’, ‘It’s About Survival’, ‘Seeing the Elephant’, ‘The Cut’, ‘Housos’.

Of the above, would you have a favourite and why?

‘Seeing the Elephant’ was a fun project to shoot. I got to work opposite a friend (Felino Dolloso) whom I’ve worked with before. He’s an enormous talent. His kindness and generosity are qualities that he lives through, both on and off the set. He’s just incredible, and it was a privilege to be around him and see him work.

How did you get involved in “Her Son, Jose Rizal”?  What was the impact on you when you played the role of Jose Rizal?

I had a friend who contacted me about the play and like everything else, I went in and read for the role. As soon as I read the script, I knew there would be a tremendous amount of research involved. The important thing to explore with this character was his relationship with his mother. It made me focus on my relationship with my mum.

When you play someone iconic like Jose Rizal, it’s a collaborative effort and you need as much help as you can get.  Rizal had a strong core and he doesn’t buckle for anybody.  That’s an admirable quality when so many people try to make everyone happy and then they just end up compromising who they are.

I did walk away from the role having a deeper appreciation of the immense achievements that he was able to accomplish in his lifetime.

After HSJR, what projects were you involved in?

I was recently accepted into the Professional Actors Masterclass (PAM) held by the Australian Institute of Performing Arts (AIPA) in Los Angeles for five weeks.  The master class introduces actors worldwide to the American film and TV industry. Only 21 actors were accepted into the program.

I was very fortunate to have trained with US casting directors, including heads of networks and studios, and independent casting directors – Lisa Beach (Wedding Crashers, Walk the Line, Girl Interrupted), Matthew Barry (The Notebook, Rush Hour, My Sisters Keeper), Jane Jenkins (A Beautiful Mind, Harry Potter, Transformers), Pam Dixon (President of the Casting Society of America) – to name a few.

Who do you consider to have the strongest influence on you? In what way?

My family. They’ve instilled so many good values in my life. They’ve taught me how to care and be kind to other people; to be true to myself, no matter what the cost; to always stand up for what is right, even if I am the only one standing.

What had been the highs and the lows of your acting career?

Highs: I had a lot of fun performing in a production called “Aussies of the Magic Mic and Adobo Kind’ during last year’s Sydney Fringe Festival. It was a series of candid vignettes exploring many layers of being Filipino-Australian.  I was very fascinated when I read the script. It was cheeky and touching. I thought it was very fresh to find work that celebrates racial diversity in this country.

To be given the opportunity to showcase Filipino-Australian stories to wider Australian audience is exhilarating.

Lows: When I was in my late teens, I was auditioning for jobs and I couldn’t seem to land  [delete on] any of them. I was very hard on myself after. It was difficult for me, the element of rejection in the job. I was convinced that I would never ever get work.  It took me some time to understand that it’s a process and not to take it personally. I also stopped depending on my work to make me happy or sad. I do believe you do get used to it with time. You sort of get a thicker skin. Now I just pick myself up and get on with things. Life goes on, you know…

Where do you want to be or want to achieve in the next 5 or 10 years?

I would love to pursue work in Los Angeles. There’s something about the energy of the city that inspires creativity.

What would be your advice to those who are contemplating on getting into the performing arts?

I think it’s difficult to give advice and not sound pretentious.

Go to classes. Go to workshops. Just get out there and practice your craft until it becomes second nature. Work hard, take chances, be open to learning (never become jaded that you think you know it all), and have fun and enjoy it!

Definitely, Jemwel is one rising star to watch out for.  I look forward to seeing this enthusiastic, yet humble artist carve a name for himself in Australia. Judging from what even a little bit I have seen of him, he has good chances that eventually he’d also make it in Los Angeles where he has set his sight to.

All the best Jemwel.  Break a leg!

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