Star-studded adaptation puts a modern twist on Rizal’s classics


From left to right: Barbie Forteza, Dennis Trillo and Julie Anne San Jose

Ask Barbie Forteza who her favorite celebrity is and one name always comes up: Dennis Trillo.

While they had previously worked together on a one-off project, a full-fledged TV series seemed elusive. So imagine her shock and excitement when told she and Dennis would headline GMA 7’s latest prime-time offering, the historical fantasy series “Maria Clara at Ibarra.”

“Thank you very much – Christmas came early for me!” a giddy Barbie joked during a recent press conference for the show, which airs weeknights at 8 p.m. starting today. “You made my dreams come true!” she teased the network executives present.

The 25-year-old Kapuso star’s crush on Dennis dates back to her early teens. Its good looks are a given. But what Barbie really admires about Dennis is his acting skills. “He’s one of the most awarded actors in our country, so it’s an honor to work with him. I’m actually shaking!

Forteza (left) with San Jose

Forteza (left) with San Jose

And the admiration is mutual. From what he saw during the taping, Dennis said he believed Barbie had the potential to be a great actress in the future. “You notice his traits and qualities – pang-veteran [actor] na ang galawan,” he said of Barbie, who won various accolades and awards for her performances in the independent films “Mariquina,” “Laut” and “Tuos.”

“It’s great to have a colleague like that because it makes work… our interactions easy. Our portrayal of our characters becomes more authentic,” he added.

Based on the novels “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo” by Jose Rizal, “Maria Clara in Ibarra” follows the adventures of Klay, a graduate nursing student in search of greener pastures abroad. But one thing stands between her and her dream: failure at Rizal’s studies.

Second chance

Klay’s teacher gives him a second chance and asks him to submit a book review of “Noli”. As an aspiring nurse, she feels that said topic is irrelevant to her chosen career path. After reading a few pages of the book, Klay falls asleep from boredom.

Denis Trillo


She wakes up to find that she has been magically transported to the world of “Noli” in 1884. In this alternate reality, she meets her teacher who tells her that she can only return to the real world once that she has finished the book and delves into the realities experienced by Filipinos during Spanish colonization.

As she navigates the world of “Noli”, she meets the characters of the novel and forms an unlikely bond with them. Klay’s friendship with Maria Clara (Julie Anne San Jose) opens his eyes to the contrasts and similarities in how women are treated – and the standards by which they are held – in their respective times.

Klay witnesses the blossoming romance of Maria Clara and Crisostomo Ibarra (Dennis). But soon, she finds herself in a dilemma. Will she be the bridge that forges the couple’s relationship, or will she recognize her growing feelings for Ibarra? Finally, will his new attachment to the world of “Noli” modify his own reality?

To ensure historical accuracy and respect for the source material, the production team employed historians, consultants and even Spanish language coaches. “For my part, I had to read ‘Noli’ and ‘El Fili’, and other books that focus on the socio-political climate of the time,” director Zig Dulay said.



“The issues and themes explored in the novels are reflected in the parents…we get to refresh those themes. Different topics, such as the education of women, are discussed,” added the filmmaker, known for her culturally and socially relevant works, for film and television.

The story is told from the perspective of a Gen Z person to make it more engaging and accessible to audiences, especially young people. “It’s written in a way that’s not only entertaining, but also informative,” Dulay said.

elements of romance

Dennis is no stranger to complex characters. Assuming the role of Ibarra comes with specific challenges, but he welcomes them all the same. “It’s not a role you can play with little preparation. You have to know and understand the novels. It’s also crucial that you read the script carefully, so you can imagine the dynamics of the scenes once the past and the present collide,” he said.

“We had Spanish lessons for dialogue. The way you act, move and talk should be appropriate for the given time and environment. We have to keep all of this in mind while acting to make the scenes authentic and believable,” he said.

scene of

Scene from “Maria Clara in Ibarra”

Because Barbie took an alternative learning program instead of a regular high school education, she couldn’t study “Noli” and “El Fili.” So what better way to learn the novels than by doing a show that revolves around those novels?

“I’m so grateful because not only can I finally study them, but I can also step into their world…I’m proud to be part of a meticulously created show that focuses on history and literature,” she said. “I think it’s a very timely show, and I hope it leads to a better understanding of Rizal’s novels.”

Although the series contains elements of romance, they eventually develop and evolve into love for the country. “I hope this show helps to appreciate history and promotes appreciation of literature, especially ‘Noli’ and ‘El Fili’, which I take for granted…so they can understand why these works remain relevant today,” Dulay said. INQ

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