How Filipino Actor Nacho Tambunting Landed a Role on U.S. Television

Based on a true story, NBC's 'Rise' follows the journey of a high school drama teacher and his students as they rehearse to put up a musical.

An upcoming musical drama from NBC, titled Rise, is set to air on Tuesday, March 13, in the United States. The inspiring drama comes from the producers of Parenthood and Hamilton, Jason Katims and Jeffrey Seller.

Based on a true story, Rise is an adaptation of novel Drama High which centers on Pennsylvania high school Harry S. Truman’s famed theater program. The series follows dedicated teacher Lou Mazzuchelli as he “sheds his own self-doubt and takes over the school’s lackluster theater department.” The pilot was ordered to series in May 2017, with 10 episodes announced for the first season.

The cast includes How I Met Your Mother’s Josh Radnor as Lou Mazzuchelli, Rosie Perez, Auli’i Cravalho, Damon J. Gillespie, Marley Shelton, Rarmian Newton, Ted Sutherland, Amy Forsyth, Casey W. Johnson, Taylor Richardson, Joe Tippett, and Shirley Rumierk.

Filipino theater actor Ignacio "Nacho" Tambunting, who plays Francis Russo, one of the theater students, shares how he nabbed the role, his experience with filming, and why he thinks the show is relevant in today's society.

"My first year at Tisch, I took advantage of the fact that I was in NYC and began auditioning for Broadway shows. I started going to open calls and fortunately, I did fairly well, so casting agencies would invite me back to audition for other projects. In my junior year, I went in for Hamilton, and it was through that audition that I was called in for Rise," says Tambunting.

Tambunting was home in Manila on vacation just before his final semester at Tisch when he received an email from casting company Telsey + Co. He shares, "It was for the Rise audition appointment the next day. Because I was in Manila, I couldn't go, so I asked to send a self-tape instead. Luckily, they agreed. I sent a self-tape that my younger sister Rocio and I shot in my bathroom on my iPhone. It was composed of two sides, one was a monologue and the other was a dialogue, and the third clip was a 32 bar cut of a song."

"It was another week and a half of emailing back and forth before I received the offer. It was an incredible moment, I felt like all the work I had put into my craft had paid off, and my dreams were coming true. Although afterward, I kept thinking it was going to be taken away from me. That maybe the producers would see me and decide that they didn't want me anymore. Thankfully that wasn't the case. However, I don't think its fully sunk in yet," he says.

Tambunting, who has appeared in over a dozen stage productions in both the Philippines and the United States, says that while theater and television are quite different, they do have their similarities. "In terms of process and how you approach your work, television acting sort of requires you to play aspects of yourself as the camera picks up everything, and it's important for the audiences to believe that you're a real person and not acting. Whereas theater allows one more physicality and projection, so you can be more performative. Though at the end of the day it's still acting, and you still use the same techniques just in different ways," he says.

He adds, "The production process is also different. Theater usually consists of weeks or months of rehearsal leading up to a full performance of the show, while TV shoots one scene at a time, sometimes out of order. It's then pieced together later on in editing. The interesting thing is when you're done shooting a particular scene you never have to go back to it again."

"When I was younger, I was very much focused on theater. It was always my dream to be on Broadway, then possibly go into television and film should the opportunity present itself. Through the years, television has become more and more interesting to me, as I watch so many television shows. They say we are in a golden age for television with so many great shows out there. Now that I've been cast in Rise, I plan on seeing where it takes me. Hopefully, I can do more television work or even film, though one day I would still love to make it on Broadway," he says.

Francis Russo, the character he plays, is one of the high school students cast in the musical. Tambunting says he's a "sweet and sincere teenager, who can be a little goofy and spacey at times."

When asked what makes Rise different, he says, "I think the way the show is shot sets it apart from other TV shows out there. It feels very real and intimate. It also has a wonderful and inspiring message, to dream and rise through any hardship and obstacle in your way. The show also has killer music and very likeable characters. I think it addresses many relevant issues in today's society."

Embed from Getty Images
Nacho Tambunting at the New York premiere of Rise.

Shooting for the series started in September, and was ultimately finished by December. "The shooting process was sporadic, depending on the amount of screen time I had per episode, though while on set it was often very hectic and long, as per the nature of the show. We would rotate through rehearsals for production numbers, recordings in the studio, and shooting on set depending on the demands of the episode. We shot mostly at a soundstage in Brooklyn, where they built an entire auditorium set complete with a stage and a 400-seat audience. We also shot at a high school in Queens and sometimes in White Plains or Yonkers."

Even though shooting would go on for hours, sometimes up to 16 hours in one day, Tambunting says while "the whole process can be tiring it is very rewarding and enjoyable." He says, "The cast and crew of Rise were a dream. Everyone was so professional, and the energy on set was very positive. It made it so easy to wake up early for days when we had to be in by 5 a.m. It was also nice to work with people who really believed in the project, and to see everyone get so excited about the work we were all doing."

Watch the official promo for Rise below:

Drama is about to take center stage. Don't miss the special premiere of Rise, March 13 at 10/9c on NBC.

Posted by Rise on Monday, January 29, 2018

Rise premieres on Tuesday, March 13 at 10/9c on NBC.

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Paolo Chua
Paolo Chua is a style writer based in Manila. He writes about fashion, trends, shopping, current news, and more for
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