GMA casts woman in transgender role in its new afternoon drama

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JASON ABALOS in a scene from Asawa Ko, Karibal Ko.

GMA NETWORK embarks on a journey of love and identity with its newest afternoon drama, Asawa Ko, Karibal Ko, which tells the story of a scorned wife whose rival in love is her transgender ex-husband.

The show, which starts airing on Oct. 22, stars Kris Bernal as Rachel, a simple woman who dreams of having a happy family but whose dreams are shattered when her husband, played by Jason Abalos, decides to abandon her — and their newborn daughter — and live the life of a transgender woman, Venus, played by Thea Tolentino.

But the real struggle begins for the characters when Venus returns and both she and Rachel fall in love with the balikbayan Gavin, played by Rayver Cruz.

“[We decided to cast a real female for the transgender role] to make it more believable that [the husband] has undergone sexual reassignment surgery. It’s not that we are dismissing the LGBT community, we just made the decision to make it believable,” Mark Sicat dela Cruz, the series’ director, told BusinessWorld shortly before the press conference on Oct. 8 at the GMA Network offices in Quezon City.

Mr. Dela Cruz, who helmed the network’s romantic comedy The One that Got Away, which ran from January to May, said that unlike that series — which he likened to HBO’s Sex and the City (1998-2004) — Asawa Ko, Karibal Ko is “more relatable.”

This isn’t the first time GMA created a story about a transgender character — in 2015, the network aired the show Destiny Rose, which starred Ken Chan in the title role and was all about how a transgender transitioned and the challenges she faced as she began to live her life as a woman.

Unlike Destiny Rose where Mr. Chan played both his male and transgender persona, Asawa Ko, Karibal Ko took a different route and decided to cast a biological female for the role.

“That was also the reason, to separate it from the series the network has previously done. The saga of Destiny Rose is all about the process of him accepting his gender identity, but this one involves family, this is more of a family oriented drama,” Mr. Dela Cruz said before adding that he believes the transgender community will not be upset with the series’ casting decision because “they understand the intent behind it.”

But, Mr. Dela Cruz explained, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t taken care in the portrayal of the character as he said he has asked his transgender friends about their opinions and experiences.

“I also talked to my friends who are trans because even though I’m gay, the trans experience is still different. They have a different perspective about this,” he said.

“I’m being very careful about this so we can portray it right,” he added.

Among the films he had taken cues from for this series are Beautiful Boxer (2003) by Ekachai Uekrongtham, about a kickboxer who wants to become a champion and undergo sexual reassignment, and The Danish Girl (2015) by Tom Hooper, about a man who undergoes sexual reassignment with the support of his wife.

“I studied how Eddie Redmayne moved as Lily [in The Danish Girl],” in order to guide Abalos’ portrayal. “But I don’t want to copy it because I have my own style.”

Also joining the cast of Asawa Ko, Karibal Ko are Lotlot de Leon, Jean Saburit, Ricardo Cepeda, Matthias Rhoads, Annalyn Barro, Caprice Cayetano, Maricris Garcia, and Phil Noble.

Asawa Ko, Karibal Ko starts airing on Oct. 22, from Mondays to Saturdays, after Eat Bulaga on GMA Afternoon Prime. — Zsarlene B. Chua