Chai Fonacier Talks About Nocebo, and The Art That Lies Ahead

A lot is to be said about Chai Fonacier. She’s a ball of energy, and a force to be reckoned with. A multi-talented and multi-passionate artist, she first thrived in Cebu as a singer-songwriter, and theater actor. And in case you missed it, she’s currently taking on the world.

Chai is a familiar face for Cebuanos that have listened to her songs from way back. Her melodic voice is memorable, and her music is one-of-a-kind. You’ve probably heard Lavlav, a song she performed in 2015 for Vispop 1.0. She was part of the first season of Pinoy Dream Academy, and a member of the Cebuano triphop trio WOMB.

However, Chai’s not just a pretty face with a beautiful voice. Aside from being a singer, she is also a dancer, writer and actor. With such talents, it’s not surprising that she’s set up for bigger things.

Chai started occasionally acting for short films in 2010. Her first full-length feature film was for a minor role in Remton Zuasola’s Swap, released in 2015. In that same year, she played her first major role for Miss Bulalacao, for which she garnered a Best Supporting Actress award at the Cinema One Originals Film Festival. Since then, Chai’s career has skyrocketed. She has appeared in multiple films and TV shows, and received acclamations for her work in Patay na si Hesus.

Onto Bigger Screens with Nocebo

Now, Chai is on bigger screens. She has been cast alongside Hollywood actors Eva Green and Mark Strong for Nocebo, a film by Lorcan Finnegan, the director behind last year’s unsettling Vivarium.

Nocebo is the first Philippines-Ireland co-produced movie, which explores consumerism, fast fashion and human exploitation. Emily Leo and Brunella Cocchiglia are producing the film, together with Bianca Balbuena and Bradley Liew. Meanwhile, XYZ Films is executive producing the film.

The story is set between London and Manila. It revolves around fashion designer (Eva) who suffers from a mysterious illness that puzzles doctors and her husband (Mark), until a Filipino caregiver, played by Chai, comes to help. The term nocebo refers to the effect of having negative expectations regarding treatment, the opposite of the placebo effect.

“It’s an honor to work with and learn from the people I’m working with now, especially after a year of significantly fewer projects due to the pandemic.”

Since local occult culture is a big part of the film, Chai had to do consultations with an expert to prepare. There were ample discussions with Lorcan and the writer Garret Shanley, who also wrote Vivarium. It’s also the first time Chai has been cast in a psychological thriller.

“I spent my quarantine time here studying the script, meting and discussing with the different departments, and rehearsing with Eva and Lorcan all via Zoom,” Chai shares. She’s also sought help from friends to prepare for the character, an exercise she found helpful as it provided her with a sounding board.

“I’m playing a really interesting and dark character that I haven’t done before,” she revealed, adding that the experience has been fascinating considering that most of the projects she’s done have been comedies.

Though she admits that she’s nervous about the role, she admits that she’s found characteristics in the character she can relate to. It was also meaningful for her to portray a Filipino character—specifically one who’s Cebuano—especially for an international film.

Acting in the New Normal and Moving Forward

With the pandemic greatly affecting the film and TV industries, Chai admits that she felt “quite rusty” in the first week of work in Dublin. The last on-location shoot she’d done was a year ago, before the lockdowns started.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been difficult to carry on with productions. Plenty of adjustments had been made to ensure that shooting went smoothly, and that the cast and crew were safe.

“Who knows? Stranger things have happened. I didn’t even think I’d be a film actor.”

Even with the challenges, Chai shares, “It’s an honor to work with and learn from the people I’m working with now, especially after a year of significantly fewer projects due to the pandemic.”

Chai started shooting in Ireland in February, and production will stretch out until April. Then, she will fly back to the country to continue the Philippine leg of the shoot. “Traveling to a place one has never been is always an enriching experience,” she added.

With all this in mind, Chai says she hopes for better things ahead, and looks forward to what’s next for her career-wise.

“Art is always going to be there,” Chai answers when asked about her plans for the future. Of course, she admits to allowing some mystery into what’s brewing in the future. “Who knows? Stranger things have happened. I didn’t even think I’d be a film actor.”

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