The freshman series Almost Paradise centers on Alex Walker (Christian Kane), a former DEA agent who moves to the Philippines to run his own gift shop. His quest for tranquility is placed on the backburner as he begrudgingly helps police detectives Kai Mendoza (Samatha Richelle) and Ernesto Alamares (Arthur Acuña) rid the city of criminals. As a Filipino-American, it’s refreshing to see Filipino actors (and the work of cast members) represented on television, but more importantly it’s a really entertaining show. My interview with Richelle is below!
What does it mean for you to be part of a show that represents the Philippines?
It definitely did mean a lot. As you’ve said, you being Filipino-American, you haven’t really seen too many films or any shows out there that highlights the Philippines as we do. You’ve seen the two episodes. It’s like a postcard.
You see all the beaches. You see all the beautiful parts of the islands in Cebu and it’s been amazing to film where we film. To be able to showcase the beautiful talent we have out there. It’s unreal.
Can you talk about the Mabuhay spirit and how it relates to your show?
The Mabuhay spirit is really all about family. It’s really all about taking somebody in. As you saw in the first episode, Alex Walker (Christian Kane) comes into the island for the second time in his life and meeting my character and meeting the character of Ernesto.
We sort of meet him in crazy circumstance, but then in the end we bring him in because we know he’s going to be here for a while. It’s a big family unit we have, and you will see that throughout the season.
Can you elaborate on what Kai Mendoza a good detective?
My character was very fun to play. She’s very fearless in whatever she does and whatever she sets her mind to. She’s very ballsy (laughs) and I enjoy playing her so much. She has a lot of heart as well. You really get to see that throughout the show.
She’s very tied to her culture and she’s in it for the right reasons. You get to see her backstory in the season and you get to know more about her and why she became who she is. It has a lot to do with her growing up and her sort of rebelling as a teenager and against her mother.
When she lost her mother it shaped her future as a detective. Her mother was a community leader and she wanted to give back to the community as well. There are so many layers to her character. She’s almost super human if that makes sense (laughs). She always wants to do the right thing. She’s an idealist.
She cares so much about her job and the people she cares for. She’s also a very young woman working in the police force. And dealing with so many men in her industry, she has a wall in front of her. She is someone who is shaping the gender norms. She really wants to show that she can do it the way the boys can do it (laughs). It’s really fun to play. It’s just awesome being able to play her.
What kind of reactions have you received from this show?
Yeah. Great to hear that from you being Filipino. I’ve talked to another fellow Filipino who was really excited for the show and you really get to talk to all of the Filipinos involved in the show who are completely in awe that they are a part of it.
To be part of history – American TV has never seen anything like this. It’s a love letter to the Philippines in a way – we show all the beautiful things we have here. Nobody gets to see that and I really hope that the viewers get to be a part of that too and come on a journey with us to the Philippines.
And for people who are Filipino who haven’t really seen this part of the Philippines – they’re really going to enjoy this as well. To be able to see things that they have never expected to see on American TV. It’s definitely awesome to be able to showcase all the great resorts and great beaches.
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Was acting always your dream as well or did your love for fashion come first?
I love them both the same. I grew the love for them at the same time at a very young age. It’s weird to say this but I’ve never really thought of acting to be a job in a way. I sort of went to design school and I just did acting on the side.
Living in Los Angeles, I was friends with actors. I was fortunate to go to a few auditions but I was really focused on my design. I was young then.
I definitely see it differently now and I really want to pursue acting – I really want to go far with it. But I do love design as well. I have a brand that I launched a year ago. I still enjoy creating and the arts. I would have to say I love doing both as well.
Can you name a favorite movie of yours and what makes it a unique film?
I really love Wes Anderson films (laughs). I really can’t name a favorite one but just his films in general; I love the storytelling of it and I love the cinematography. It’s very picaresque. It’s very beautifully done.
There’s one (movie) that comes to mind right now and it’s The Bone Collector. It’s a rather old film. It’s with Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie. I went back to that movie when I got this role actually because it was fun to be able to see detectives and all that stuff.
And I really enjoyed the storytelling of that film and it has a lot of action and thriller and suspense. I love movies like that (laughs).
What are the biggest lessons you learned from doing this series?
I learned so much, as you said from being on the island for five months and with all these people. I was able to learn a lot from the directors and the actors. It’s just good to be able to sort of act against these people.
Christian Kane is such a great and natural actor. Just being in a scene with him and with Arthur Acuña (as well as) Noni Buencamino just helped me so much. Just doing a scene and being able to work on the character together. It’s great being able to talk about our characters in that way and just have fun with it really. I think if you have fun on set, it really shows through.
What is the most interesting part about this series for you?
Just having the Philippines as the main character of the show, really. It’s never been done. It’s just great to be a part of something like this. When I got the role of Kai Mendoza, Dean Devlin called me up and “You’ve got the part, how do you feel about being a part of history?” That just stuck with me and made me feel really good inside. I’m really excited to be showcasing the Philippines.
****Almost Paradise airs Monday evenings on WGN America (10/9c) and is available for download on Amazon Prime Video.