AWARD-WINNING FILIPINO ACTRESS STARS IN LATEST DOMESTIC DRAMA FROM CANADA
Featured image courtesy of Denise Grant Photography
CANADIAN BORN ACTRESS TAKES OVER TELEVISION AND THE BIG SCREEN WITH POWERFUL PERFORMANCES
Celestine Caravaggio is a commercial model and award winning actress best known for her performance as Ruby in Pur Laine. The character of Ruby is that of a filipino, immigrant mother who marries a french Canadian man in hopes of making a better life for her and her teenage son. Pur Laine is an independent film directed by Ottawa-based director, Alexander Cruz. In the fall of 2018, Pur Laine premiered at the Ottawa Canadian Film Festival where it closed the festival with a standing ovation. In February of 2019, Pur Laine continued to screen at Singqwento International Film Festival in Manila, Philippines where Caravaggio won an award for Best Actress. The film won 21 out of 23 awards at Singqwento including Best Picture and Best Director making it an overnight success. Pur Laine is also an official selection for The Madrid International Film Festival screening this August 2019 and a finalist and official selection at FACINE Filipino International Cine Festival in San Francisco October 18-20, 2019
Celestine has performed in over 25 commercials including Walmart, Uber, The Keg, Go Daddy (with CJ Miles of Toronto Raptor’s fame) and has recently been selected as the spokesperson for Bounce and Downey in North and Latin America. She was scouted by american, twin directors Josh and Jonathan Baker (KIN), for the massive Spectrum Mobile campaign that aired during Superbowl LIII in 2019 which featured a voiceover by Ellen DeGeneres. She has appeared in TV series such as: Fear Thy Neighbour (September 2019), Paranormal 911 (2019) and Haunted Hospitals (November 2018). This December 2019, she is starring in two ‘Movie Of The Week’ films as Cheryl in A Christmas Recipe for Romance and Yolanda in Baby In A Manger.
Celestine was born in Toronto and raised in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. She was born to a single, filipino mother. it is this upbringing that contributed to her performance in Pur Laine. She has been estranged from her Dad since the first few years of life. She is the eldest of three daughters. Although her mother was working full time as a nurse, she was raised by her maternal grandmother, aunt and uncle who lived with her family to help out with the duties of raising Celestine and her two sisters. In her early life, Celestine knew she was an artist. Celestine spent much of her youth singing, playing piano and guitar with her aunt. She dreamt of being a singer but she was a very shy performer. Her mother was always asking her to perform at family gatherings which she was very reluctant to do. It was as a teenager that she finally mustered up the nerve to perform at her high school’s Night of The Arts, an evening where students could showcase their talents. Celestine’s performance was a hit amongst her fellow students.
Upon applying for post secondary school, she auditioned to sing jazz at Humber College where she was offered entry. Wanting to pursue a more practical education in film and TV, instead, Celestine chose to attend Sheridan College’s Media Arts program in Oakville. She graduated from post secondary school with a major in audio engineering and a minor in TV broadcast. She then moved to Toronto hoping to land a job in the entertainment industry. Always feeling drawn to being an artist, Celestine continued to play open mic night’s at various venues throughout Toronto including hosting an Open Mic night at Joya Restaurant on College street.
Caravaggio began her career behind the scenes promoting artists for Universal Music Canada where she helped develop the careers of notorious bands like Eminem, Dr. Dre, The Black Eyed Peas, Gwen Stefani and Blink 182. At one point, she was approached by MuchMusic to audition for an on-camera host position. After several auditions and conversations, Caravaggio decided to stay with the label as her career with Universal was soaring and she didn't quite have the belief that she could ‘make it’ in front of the camera. After 10 years of working at Universal, Celestine met and married her husband and they decided she would stay home after the birth of her first son. Unfortunately, their second son was born with a genetic defect and diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome, a severe form of infantile epilepsy. The pressures of the illness were difficult and lead to a divorce. She knew that she had a clean slate and was determined to re-invent herself to support her and her boys on her own.
Wondering what “could have” happened if she decided to take the host job with Muchmusic, Celestine confided in her friend Alex who had a previous career as a director. Alex was also in a similar situation. Alex was a stay at home mom who was ready to re-enter the workforce. They both needed to figure out what to do next with their careers after spending several years at home to raise kids. Alex came up with an idea to develop a TV show pilot and asked Celestine to be the host. They developed and funded two pilots giving them both something to put on their reel. Celestine took this experience and started looking for on-camera jobs via mandy.com a website catering to non-union actors looking for work.
Instantly, Celestine received calls about host and acting opportunities. It was through mandy.com that she was approached by director, Alexander Cruz. He had a film that he wrote called Pur Laine and he wanted her to audition for the lead role. Initially, Cruz had selected an american actress to play the role of Ruby but later decided to find someone local. After an audition and several Skype calls, Cruz offered Celestine the role of Ruby. It was Celestine’s first feature film appearance with barely any acting experience. Cruz was patient and did Skype calls with Celestine to rehearse in advance of filming. Overall, the shoot took ten days to in total and then the editing process began. While Pur Laine was in development, Celestine was actively auditioning and booked for other projects.
Currently, Celestine lives and works full-time as an actress in Toronto. She is trained in professional acting with Bruce Clayton at Pro Actors Lab and studied Improv for Actors at Second City with Lisa Merchant and Michael Gellman. In her spare time, she advocates for families of children with special needs. She was the pioneer of Music For Possibility, a benefit concert for Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital hosted by Rick Campanelli of ET Canada and performances by Jesse Cook, Cowboy Junkies and Andrew Cole. She has also been part of the parent community for Beverley School, a congregated special needs school where she is constantly advocating against the Ministry of Education who threaten to close and eliminate the choice of special needs schools in the TDSB. It is through this parent community that she has also worked in support of Dream Serenade, an annual concert at Massey and Roy Thompson Hall. Performers at Dream Serenade include: Hayden, Barenaked Ladies, Feist, Broken Social Scene and The National amongst others. Gord Downie, the lead singer of Tragically Hip performed at Dream Serenade just months before his death of brain cancer. Celestine is also connected with Dravet Canada and Epilepsy Ontario where she peer mentors other families of children with Dravet Syndrome and intractable epilpesy. As Celestine develops her acting career, she hopes to use her profile to raise money and awareness for Dravet Syndrome and support families with special needs children.
We had the pleasure of sitting down and discussing more in-depth and personal with Celestine in our interview below.
NIE: Thank you for taking your time and having this interview with us. Congratulations on your recent film being selected at The Madrid International Film Festival. What can you tell us about the project?
Celestine Caravaggio: Pur Laine was written and directed by Alexander Cruz. He’s an Ottawa based filmmaker of filipino decent. He’s lived in the Ottawa area most of his life and had a strong connection to the French-Canadian heritage. Also, he works as an editor for the Ministry of National Defence so there is a lot of culture that was poured into the script for Pur Laine. Alexander approached me and asked me if I would be interested in reading for this film that he had written and was about to direct. The role was for Ruby, one of the lead characters. It was the first film that I’ve ever been a part of. I sent a couple of auditions via self tape - the first was my take on the script and the second with his direction. After reading the script, I knew instantly that it was a project that I wanted to be a part of.
I am also of Filipino decent and born and raised in Canada. I wanted to be part of a film that showcases the plight of women/mothers that come to the western world to try and achieve a better standard of living. It sounded very much like my own mother’s journey to North America. It is viewed back in the Philippines that by coming to America, you will instantly have a job, money and a life you only see in movies. Pur Laine showcases that the dream for some people is a myth. I was impressed by the honesty of the script. It was down to earth but it also had elements of the Canadian culture which I have grown up to understand.
Working with Alexander was effortless. We did rehearsals via Skype calls because I live in Toronto and he lives in Ottawa. He did everything to make me feel comfortable and helped marry our visions for the role of Ruby to a place where we both felt comfortable. The rest of the cast were incredible performers. We were able to bond really well onset and behind the scenes. It was a small cast and crew but we became a family over the course of the shoot. Many of the cast had way more experience than me. I was intimidated at first but the camaraderie and support was amazing.
NIE: What originally got you attracted to the project, and why?
Celestine Caravaggio: The director approached me and as soon as he said the story was about a Filipino mother and it was going to have french subtitles and filmed in black and white, I was in.
NIE: What has been the most rewarding for you about this project?
Celestine Caravaggio: There are so many rewards from being a part of this project. Firstly, the opportunity to be a part of a film that identifies so many cultures is a gift. We had Filipino, French-Canadian, Black Haitian, White…they all played in a lead or supporting role. We need more visible minorities in film and TV. I am delighted that this film represents so many cultures and for the world to be exposed to the French-Canadian part of our culture is fantastic.
Secondly, this was my first film! I have come so far since we filmed it two years ago. To see the journey and how far I’ve come as an actress and to see what the film is doing now in the festival circuits - winning awards, gaining notoriety - it’s really rewarding to see and experience. I received an award for Best Actress along with my co-star Isabelle LaFond at the Singqwento International Film Festival in Manila, the Oscars of The Philippines. It was huge for our film to win! The film won 21 out of the 23 awards it was nominated for. That was such a victory and so good for all of us in the cast and crew who are growing our careers. Many of us worked on this film, not for the money or the fame, but because we believed in the story, we believe in filmmaking. This film has been a massive stepping stone for all of us.
“In order to be successful, you should make one right move after another.”
- Celestine Caravaggio:
NIE: Where did the desire to be in the entertainment industry stem from?
Celestine Caravaggio: I grew up as a child always wanting to be a performer. I would sing, dance and write theatre plays with my sisters and we would perform for each other. When I graduated from high school, I knew that I wanted to chase that dream. I just didn't believe in myself so, I ended up taking media arts in college instead hoping to get a job in “the business”. AT the time, I convinced myself that being behind the scenes was a more stable career path. I was fortunate to land a job at a major record label right away. I worked for Universal Music Canada for 10 years working with A-list recording artists. I was head of the music video and TV department. I had a great career working for the label. It wasn't until the birth of my first son that I decided to leave the business and become a stay at home mom. Later, I had a second son who was born with a severe medical condition. The difficulty of this condition was the beginning of the breakdown of my marriage. It wasn't until after my divorce that I needed to reinvent myself. I always wondered what would have been my path if I had elected to be a performer. So with that in mind, I tried to pursue acting. It seemed like a reasonable investment of my time because I have a son who is sick and I needed to have some flexibility. I knew that I could never return to a desk job.
NIE: What has been the most challenging for you in this profession, and why?
Celestine Caravaggio: The most challenging thing as an actress has been being able to weather what everyone thinks of you. I am a lot older now and I have a lot of experience in “the business”. For these reasons, I feel a lot more confident than most actresses starting out. However, I’d be lying if I didn't express that I do doubt myself from time to time. I leave auditions questioning the choices I’ve made. I worry about my physical appearance - this is a visual medium - will I book because of the way I look,? Do I look too heavy on camera? etc. I know these are common thoughts for actresses. With all my experience in life and the confidence I should have from my years in the business etc…I still have these moments of self doubt…What keeps me motivated is that I am determined to grow this career so that I can use my profile to raise awareness for my philanthropic ventures.
NIE: What process and techniques do you use to get into your characters?
Celestine Caravaggio: I always look at a character and I think about the context of the scene. Then, I challenge myself and find what experiences I have in common with the character in the scene. For me, it’s important that I don't convey what other people would do if they were in this character. I always look at it as an opportunity for me to give the character life…who am I in this character in this scene. What role(s) have been the most challenging for you? I have been training with Bruce Clayton at Pro Actors Lab. What he’s taught me is that its not about ‘being” a character, it’s about finding that part of “me” to bring the character to life. I look at scenes based on a few factors: What is the scene about? What does the character want? What does the other character want? Then, I look at the scene and I make choices.
NIE: What would you say is the biggest asset for anyone in the industry to achieve?
Celestine Caravaggio: Of course, you need to have talent. But, I would say the biggest asset is for one to understand the BUSINESS. That will help you think of how to play your cards with industry players, how to strategize your goals and how to manage what you’ve amassed and what is ahead of you. This was the perfect way for me to build a strategy with my agent, Marla Mann. She understands the talent and casting side of things. I have a broad understanding of business, strategy and growth. We worked on building a two year plan with my acting career. So far, we are on plan. It’s easy to make adjustments but it is important for me to have a strong dialogue with my agent.
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NIE: What obstacles do you face as an actress and what do you do to overcome and achieve your goals?
Celestine Caravaggio: It’s interesting because I’m 43 years old…whoa!…I’m still processing how I feel about my age… I started my acting career at a late age. But for me, I see that as a bonus! I would not be able to approach this with this attitude and maturity decades ago. With my age, my life experience, that to me is an important message in modelling for people who perhaps didn't follow their dreams earlier. I see it as an opportunity for people to see that it doesn’t matter when, but following your dreams and building dreams in general are OK and we’re all meant to live a genuine experience no matter where we end up in life.
“Life is about choices. There is no right or wrong. Just make the choices and don’t worry about them. You will end up where you’re supposed to.”
- Celestine Caravaggio:
NIE: What are some of your secret tips that help you in this industry to keep grounded and focused?
Celestine Caravaggio: My secret tip is to always be grateful. Always remember how hard it was to get to this point. That’s what makes it feel so rewarding when you achieve something positive. I have lived - had kids, had to live through the heartache of having a child with special needs…seeing how that affected my family - his brother, my husband - all of the heartbreaking circumstances lead me to this stage in my life…that is what humbles me.
NIE: Who inspires you to be a better at your profession?
Celestine Caravaggio: My children inspire me. I have an interesting story…I once stopped at a traffic light in Toronto. A homeless guy was looking for change. I heard a voice in me say, “treat this one like he’s a friend.” I gestured to him that I don’t have change. He started talking to me through the glass window. Another voice said to open my window and engage with him, something I wouldn't have normally done. I asked him what he said. He said, “Your family’s happiness depends on your heart.” He could see that I didn’t register what he said and he said it again. Finally, it clicked. I had to move on because the traffic light had changed to green. To this day, I believe it was such profound message. I keep $5 [five dollars] in my console in case I see him again. I haven’t seen him since. HIs words are the reason why I am working. Everything I do, I do with my kids in my heart.
NIE: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to pursue a career as an actress?
Celestine Caravaggio: I would say that you always have to improve your talent and you also need to know “the business”. That is the only way. Don’t just “wing it”. Put thought and time into rehearsing a scene for auditions. Even if it is a simple nuance for commercial with no lines. Read breakdowns carefully and put an effort into curating your wardrobe, makeup, style, class etc. Dress the part. Work on your acting skills…take classes. Even the most seasoned actors are still improving their instrument.
NIE: What are the most impactful words of wisdom someone told you and who was it?
Celestine Caravaggio: I divert to the homeless man. His words changed me.
NIE: What are three things you would say to your younger self that you know now?
Celestine Caravaggio: 1: “Live” - Life is about choices. There is no right or wrong. Just make the choices and don’t worry about them. You will end up where you’re supposed to. 2: In order to be successful, you should make one right move after another. 3: Figure out what you want and plant seeds. With water and sunlight, the seeds will grow and before you know it, you’ll have a tree.
NIE: So what is next for you?
Celestine Caravaggio: I have just recently become a union actor. I have been booked on an Apple TV series (that I can’t mention yet) as well, I have just booked a recurring role on an evening drama series on the CBC. I also have two movie of the week films airing this December. I play Yolanda in “Baby In a Manger” and Cheryl in “A Christmas Recipe for Romance”.