The first-ever American TV series filmed entirely in the Philippines debuts on Monday, March 30 on WGN America.
Known for his work on “Independence Day,” “Godzilla, “Leverage,” and “The Librarians,” this is Devlin’s first project involving his Filipino roots.
The series is centered around Alex Walker (Christian Kane, “The Librarians” and “Angel”), a former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent who goes into early retirement and moves to a beach in the Philippines he remembers visiting years ago. Alex finds himself drawn into cases where he uses his skills as a longtime operative to put away the bad guys that cross his path.
The idea came to Devlin during his honeymoon in Hawaii some 14 years ago when the local news had a story about residents capturing a drug dealer on their own.
“It just got me thinking about island justice, island culture and island spirituality. I always said, ‘I really would like to write something about that,’” Devlin told the Asian Journal. “Over the years, I thought, ‘Why do it in Hawaii?’ I’m half Filipino and I’ve never done anything connected to my own culture so when the idea came to put this story in the Philippines then things started to accelerate quite quickly.”
Beyond the “poverty porn” and other stereotypical notions people may have about the Philippines, Devlin didn’t want to make the storyline about the current political climate and the controversial drug war.
“To be able to bring things from the culture — the looks, the costumes, the traditions — and put that seamlessly in a very American show…one of the goals here is not to say that Filipinos are the other. The goal is to say Filipinos are us and we’re all part of the same beautiful community,” he said.
As for the challenges that came with filming in the country, Devlin joked, saying “The better question is what wasn’t the challenge?” His production company, Electric Entertainment, partnered with ABS-CBN and built a soundstage at Bigfoot Studios in Cebu.
Thankfully, the production had finished and left the Philippines before the government stopped international flights because of the coronavirus outbreak.
“We literally wrapped production 18 hours before they stopped the international flights. It was crazy. It felt like we were on the top of that building in Saigon during the fall of Vietnam trying to get the last helicopter out. But we finished the season,” Devlin said.
The 10-episode series, shot in the island of Cebu, features a predominantly Filipino cast and crew. Actors Samantha Richelle and Arthur Acuña star as detectives Kai Mendoza and Ernesto Alamares, respectively.
When Devlin and Kane took a trip to Manila to scout local talent, Richelle auditioned for the role of Kai Mendoza upon the recommendation of Dela Torre and blew them away.
“In me preparing for the role of Kai, I literally fell in love with her…She’s such a ballsy character, but yet also very sympathetic. It was just amazing to be able to delve into that,” Richelle told the Asian Journal, adding that a week before filming began, she did combat training and learned how to shoot.
“You’ll see in the show, every episode we pushed a little bit farther on [how] she can go as an actor and every time we raised the expectations, Samantha reached it. This character really develops over the course of the season and this is no easy acting job,” Devlin said. “She’s really the breakout actor on this show.”
Filmmakers Francis Dela Torre, Hannah Espia, Dan Villegas and Irene Villamor directed several episodes; meanwhile, Pao Orendain served as director of photography and Digo Ricio as production designer.
“This is a very intense American way of doing a TV series…This crew was amazingly responsive because this was not in their comfort zone at all. It’s not the way that they do shows in the Philippines. They were all eager to learn [and]…they all kind of wanted to show what they could do,” Devlin added.
With more Filipino faces on an American network, Devlin sees it as a way to usher in more Filipino representation.
“There’s been a wonderful explosion of diversity in entertainment over the last few years. But the Asian community in general — and the Filipino community in specific — has really been left behind that. We wanted to be part of the energy that’s correcting that and part of pushing us into the spotlight and saying, ‘Hey, take a look. I think you’re gonna like what you see,’” he said.
“Almost Paradise” airs on WGN America at 10 p.m. ET.