Ruby Ruiz, Amelyn Pardenilla Embrace The Limelight At The Expats Premiere In New York

(L-R) Jack Huston, Brian Tee, Lulu Wang, Jennifer Salke, Nicole Kidman, Sarayu Blue, Ji-young Yoo, Ruby Ruiz and Amelyn Pardenilla
Photo by Marion Curtis / StarPix for Amazon MGM Studios

“Wonderful! They’re exquisite in the show and I’m so happy to have them be celebrated, discovered, loved, and enjoyed.”

That was how Nicole Kidman described to us the experience of working with her multicultural co-stars on the new series ‘Expats,’ among them Filipino actors Ruby Ruiz and Armelyn Pradenilla.

Puri (Amelyn Pardenilla), Essie (Ruby Ruiz)

Expats is a six-part series on Prime Video streaming its first two episodes this week and the remaining episodes will be released weekly. The limited series is created, written, and directed by Lulu Wang (The Farewell) is based on the novel ‘The Expatriates’ by Janice Y.K. Lee.

The show follows three American women – Margaret (Nicole Kidman), Hilary (Sarayu Blue), and Mercy (Ji-young Yoo) – whose lives intersect after a sudden family tragedy. The series interrogates privilege and explores what happens when the line between victimhood and culpability becomes blurred.

Set against the vibrant and tumultuous tapestry of 2014 Hong Kong, the series also beautifully highlights South Asian, Korean, Filipino, and Chinese cultures. Playing key roles are Filipino actors Ruby Ruiz and Amelyn Pardenilla and half-Filipino Bodhi del Rosario who plays one of Kidman’s children in the show.

Bodhi Del Rosario

While all the episodes are equally good, Filipino fans should look out for the special extended episode in the series entitled “Central” which surrounds Overseas Filipino Workers with a focus on Ruiz and Pardenilla. This specific episode highlights their life and experience as OFWs/migrant workers with both actresses playing integral parts of the story as a whole.

This pivotal moment in the series aligns with Lulu Wang’s vision to delve into the day-to-day lives of these women in Hong Kong. Wang envisioned “Central” as the feature-length penultimate episode, aiming to provide ample time and scope to explore this non-expat perspective.

The series scrutinizes the nuanced relationships between expats in Hong Kong and the domestic workers from the Philippines who reside and work in their homes.

“Since the episode was from a non-expat perspective, Nicole would be playing a supporting role to these other characters, and I knew that would be a difficult pitch,” she shared.

Nicole Kidman

To Wang’s surprise, Nicole Kidman embraced this ambitious undertaking, bringing her star power to a supporting role in service of the broader narrative.

Kidman confirmed this with us, saying it’s her joy to help women who deserve to fulfill their dreams.

“I’m so lucky to have the opportunities to be able to champion these filmmakers, the women, the cause,” she said. “To be able to say ‘Yes, I’ll be a supporting role in the show’ and I’m just so happy that I’ve been given the chance to do that. So I’m just hoping, I just want people to watch it.”

Ruby Ruiz
AJPress photos by Momar G. Visaya

Ruiz, a veteran actress recently seen in the Prime Video hit “Linlang” was blown away after reading the script for “Central.”

“I am so grateful that Lulu gave that weight and value in episode five for Puri and Essie, and the rest of the domestic helpers to have significance and more value in this series,” she said.

‘Excited, grateful’

Overwhelming was the word that she used when we asked her to describe her ‘Expats’ journey.

“After so many years of trying to put it together, we’re here, in New York for the premiere,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz got the role through auditions. She sent her self-tape and it was followed with interviews through Zoom for the callbacks. She admits she didn’t realize the gravity of the project when she was still auditioning.

“I didn’t know who Lulu Wang was,” she revealed. “And it was only later when I found out about Nicole Kidman’s involvement, and that this was one of Prime Video’s biggest projects.”

“Never in my wildest dreams, my dream was just to always have continuous work. This is such a huge blessing,” she added.

Since Ruiz played the role of Essie, the Woo family’s helper and nanny for the kids, most of her scenes were with Kidman herself. She admitted feeling a bit nervous but took it as a challenge to fully embody her character, living and breathing the role.

Ruiz mentioned that she and Essie share similar traits, like being loving, devoted, and committed. Because of these similarities, it wasn’t too hard for her to embrace the role. She even disclosed that she worked as a nanny in Canada before, so the emotions she felt for her on-screen charges were genuine and heartfelt.

“That experience of being a nanny before helped a lot. Mahal na mahal ng mga Pilipinong nannies yung mga alaga nila kasi ganun tayo magmahal eh, hindi lang siya basta trabaho,” she said.

Amelyn Pardenilla

Armelyn Pradenilla found herself in a unique situation where her life mirrored the role she was auditioning for. As a migrant worker auditioning to portray a migrant worker with aspirations of becoming a singer, she felt like art was imitating life. Singing during her audition was a breeze for her.

Originally from Cebu, Pradenilla moved to Hong Kong 23 years ago in pursuit of better opportunities. Working as a singer in Hong Kong hotels for over two decades, she harbored dreams of being part of a musical or acting onstage.

Similar to Ruiz, she auditioned not fully knowing what the project was about. “I just wanted to try, to be exposed. Kaya wala akong expectations,” she remarked.

“I was excited and so grateful to the Lord that I got the part. I thought extra lang ako with dialogues,” she said laughing. “Hindi ko talaga akalain na nasa main cast ako.”

She admitted to being star-struck on the first few days of the shoot.

“I was so overwhelmed,” she exclaimed. “Kasi siyempre, nakikita ko lang sila sa movies and shows and I’m a big fan. Tapos sa set nakakausap ko na sila.”

A registered nurse, Armelyn said she totally related to the role of Puri.

Alam ko yung mga sakripisyo ng migrant workers in order to be able to provide for their families back home. Ang hirap talaga kapag nasa ibang bansa ka at wala kang pamilya,” she said.

Looking around the yellow carpet and flashing cameras, Armelyn took a deep breath and gave a big, hearty smile as she tried to take it all in.

“Unbelievable na nangyayari ito kasi hanggang ngayon, hindi ko pa rin na-a-absorb lahat. Good timing din kasi ibinigay ni Lord sa akin,” she said, her eyes welling.

Ruby and Armelyn are both grateful for the opportunity to be a part of ‘Expats’ and as the series unfolds, it not only explores diverse perspectives and challenges stereotypes but also showcases a beautiful story about family, unconditional love, acceptance, and forgiveness.


Momar G. Visaya

Momar G. Visaya is the Executive Editor of the Asian Journal. You can reach him at [email protected].

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