Flickering Myth sat down with Grammy-winning and Tony-nominated actress Eva Noblezada about her feature film debut Yellow Rose, which is now available to own on Digital, Blu-ray and DVD…
Diane Paragas’s Yellow Rose is something of a rarity in Hollywood — a movie about, starring, and directed by Filipino-Americans; and that significance is in no way lost on its star, Eva Noblezada.
“You never get to see a Filipino playing a Filipino,” said actress Eva Noblezada while speaking with Flickering Myth. “You’ll see a Filipino playing every other Asian ethnicity you’ve ever seen. Even Latina and Hispanic and Mexican. You’ve never seen a Filipino playing a Filipino.”
Noblezada plays the film’s titular character, Rose, an undocumented Filipina immigrant with dreams of making it big in country music, who’s forced to go on the run when her mother is detained by ICE agents. As Rose’s desire to make her career ambitions a reality intensifies, so does the divide between the life she is just beginning in America and the one she is leaving behind. It’s a timely story, wrapped in political relevance, that puts the humanity of its characters above all else.
“She loves her mother and her family means a lot to her,” Noblezada said on Rose. “These are values that people have been holding since the beginning of time, so if anything, [we were] trying to make this as human a story as possible.”
Noblezada, at 23-years-old, made her feature film debut with Yellow Rose, but she is no newcomer to the entertainment industry. With two Tony nominations, for her work in 2017’s revival of Miss Saigon and 2019’s Hadestown, and a Grammy under her belt, she is already one of the most accomplished young performers working today. Now, her critically acclaimed performance in Yellow Rose marks the beginning of an exciting film career.
In conjunction with the home video release of Yellow Rose, Flickering Myth had the opportunity to speak with Noblezada about shooting in Texas, country music, collaborating with Lea Salonga, and plenty more.
Coming into this film with your Broadway background, what was it like from a performance standpoint, where instead of performing two full shows in a single day, sometimes you’re only performing a couple of scenes?
Honestly, doing TV and film and doing Yellow Rose is so much easier than doing eight shows a week. Just because there is a freshness and a newness. You’re on your toes a little bit more mentally when you’re shooting TV because you’re not always shooting chronologically, and it requires a little bit more focus on where exactly your character is on her journey in the story. Doing musicals, you do the same thing, literally, the same thing, eight shows a week. But I will say, the easiest part about theatre is that the second the show starts, if you’re fully invested, it kind of takes you with it. It’s harder to get out of a story, especially when you’re in a show like Hadestown, which is so beautifully written. It definitely has its differences, but in my opinion, Yellow Rose was easier to film than doing eight shows a week. For sure.
You and Lea Salonga’s careers have been consistently intertwined for years now, especially considering that you played the same roles in Miss Saigon and Les Misérables, decades apart. What has it been like having her be a part of your career throughout the years, and then, getting to share the screen together in this movie?
Thankfully, for someone like Lea, she understands how important it is to create a path of your own and take credit where credit is due. Obviously, I grew up listening to her voice, not just on Miss Saigon, but she was the colored Disney princess that I needed when I was a little girl. That was what got me standing in line to perform in the first place as a small child. During Miss Saigon, even Les Misérables, there was just so much encouragement and support from her for me to do it on my own. It was just awesome to have her being not only a mentor but a friend. And she is genuinely one of the funniest, most down to Earth people I’ve ever met. Her laugh is something else — if you make Lea laugh then you can check that one off for the books.
Her advice to me when I met her was, “Enjoy the journey.” You can tell a 17-year-old anything you want if you’ve been through it, and she just told me to enjoy it. She’s the best. And working with her was the best. My first scenes were with her so that was a nice comfort. I said to myself, “This isn’t as scary as I thought because my first two scenes are with a friend.”
Throughout Yellow Rose, we see Rose among a lot of beautiful, quintessentially Texas locations and landscapes, including the Broken Spoke. What was it like shooting in Texas and experiencing that state for the first time?
I loved Texas! I loved Austin. I had a few days before we started filming, and I would walk around. I was actually living right down the street from the Mean Eyed Cat, which is one of the Johnny Cash bars in Austin. I would just go in there, order a gin, and just listen to people. That was my best research for the accent, the twang. There’s just a different energy there, and I wanted to see that from Rose’s perspective. Everyone was just so kind. You can definitely tell that the air is thick with a love of music, which is awesome. I’d never really been in a city that is that devoted to music and musical history as well.
Being a relative newcomer to country music, what were you able to pick up from someone like Dale Watson, who, from his attitude to his lifestyle, almost embodies the idea of country music in a lot of ways?
When Diane [Paragas] first asked me to be in this film, I was a little hesitant because I didn’t like country music because I didn’t actually know what country music was. I was so used to people from North Carolina where I grew up, turning up the volume on these modern-sounding country stars — which are awesome, it just wasn’t at all my cup of tea. Being introduced to the other side, the poetic, organic, blues-y side of country music is where I wanted to dig my feet in. And that’s where Diane wanted my character Rose to really live. That kind of genre and style of country music: Loretta [Lynn] and Townes Van Zandt. I’ve always had a liking for blues, but I couldn’t tell you at the time who some incredible artists were.
But Dale’s band is so sick and they’re so humble. There’s something awesome about that style of country. They just love making music with people. Dale and his band are genuinely naturally cool. I’ll never achieve that natural coolness. [laughs]
It’s not often that you see a movie with a Filipina lead, and while I’m sure it’s an incredible honor to be selected for this role, is there also a certain pressure that comes along with it, too? In terms of portraying a character that’s honest and relatable for a community that doesn’t often get to see themselves on screen.
You never get to see a Filipino playing a Filipino. You’ll see a Filipino playing every other Asian ethnicity you’ve ever seen. Even Latina and Hispanic and Mexican. You’ve never seen a Filipino playing a Filipino. So that shocked me.
I think I would have felt pressured if my intentions were on highlighting the wrong thing, if that makes sense. It’s not like everyone was telling me, “It’s on you Eva, nobody knows what a Filipino is! You have to tell them.” No, it’s just a fact. Rose is Filipino. It’s not like she talks with a Filipino accent, but she has a huge part of herself in her culture, and she loves her mother and her family means a lot to her. These are values that everybody … well, everybody good and kind … holds. These are values that people have been holding since the beginning of time, so if anything, [we were] trying to make this as human a story as possible. We’re just trying to tell a human story and I’m grateful that Diane pushed that narrative of, “She’s just a girl who’s mixed.” That’s what most of America, or the world, is going to look like very soon, despite what people try to say! If I was trying to focus on being extremely selfish and focus on me, Eva, I would have given myself a lot more pressure. It’s actually fairly easy because that’s my life, too.
Lots of great music in Yellow Rose. What was your favorite song to perform in the movie?
Ooh, I think the last song, “I Ain’t Going Down” because I got to play live. I’ve never played live. I mean, I’ve played guitar — shitty guitar — when I was younger, trying to get people to put the dollar in my guitar case. But never with … Dale Watson and his band! It was so cool. On the day, I remember I had just not thought about the fact that I would have to play live. At first, it didn’t cross my mind, and then all of a sudden I’m practicing and I go, “What chord is this? Wait a second, I’ve never learned this!” So, I banged on Dale Watson’s tour bus door. He opened it and I told him my problem, and he was like [Dale Watson impression], “You’re gonna be fine. Come here, I’ll show you how to do that. Don’t worry about it, you’re great. You’ll pick it up.” [laughs] He was so cool.
You’ve described Yellow Rose as the “perfect project” for you to make your film debut, and now that the experience of working on this movie is behind you, what do you think you learned from it in terms of the type of roles you want to take in your career moving forward?
I want to do roles that make me extremely happy and challenge me, and I would like to find a sense of purpose. Of leaving that mark on the world. And I know that’s so big and grand, but when people do things authentically, and with all of themselves, it’s very difficult to ignore the message of that. I try to add that value into how I approach my characters without making them seem performative, and it’s definitely a challenge for me still. [Coming into Yellow Rose], I had just done theater, and it was a very cookie-cutter role and there were very few organic choices I could make in that grand of a show, so I still now have tendencies to act bigger when I should be acting authentically behind the camera. So, that is my own personal challenge. But, I don’t know. I’m auditioning for a psychological thriller where I kill someone in the ending scene like crazy, so for me, it doesn’t really matter what role I play as long as I’m excited about it and it ignites my passion to perform and to act and to tell stories. And it’s good S-H-I-T, which is what Yellow Rose was.
Yellow Rose also stars Princess Punzalan, Liam Booth, Libby Villari, and Gustavo Gomez.