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How Inigo Pascual “Aced” His New Beginning

When Inigo Pascual showed up on the set of Fox’s country music drama Monarch for his first day of filming, he spent most of it in tears. Not because he had to do a big, dramatic scene, but because he cried when he found out he had his own trailer.


“I didn’t know I had a trailer, to begin with,” Inigo told us during our exclusive interview for FreebieMNL Spotlight. “After all my makeup and wardrobe tests, I hung out with the makeup artists sa trailer nila until I needed to use the restroom.”


He asked where the nearest restroom was, and their response dumbfounded him. After pretending like he knew what they were talking about, Inigo found his own trailer in the parking lot. It had “Ace”—his character’s name—emblazoned across the door. He was in shock as he pushed it open and stepped inside for the very first time. His eyes widened as his gaze leaped from the aircon to the couch and to the fully-stocked kitchenette. Suddenly, he felt the lump in his throat dissolve into tears.


“I cried,” he recalls. “Na-amaze talaga ako kasi may heater, may TV, lahat. Naiyak ako kasi it was always a dream of mine to work in the States. Nung pumasok ako sa trailer ko, dun lang nag-sink in lahat. Yung feeling na, ‘This is what I’ve been dreaming of.’ So I called all my managers one by one. Sabi ko, ‘May trailer nga ako. Totoo na ‘to.’”

A challenging experience

Inigo almost missed out on the role of a lifetime because he was hesitant to audition for it. His American agent often emailed him about auditions, but he never sent out any self-tapes. He was unsure if he could make it in Hollywood, and he already had a lot going on in the Philippines. So when his agent told him about Monarch, he didn’t exactly jump at the news.


“As grateful as I was that someone out there was trying to get me projects, I was content with what I had in the Philippines,” he says.


At the time, Inigo was preparing for a concert. But even as he continued his preparations, he couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if he did audition for the role of Ace Grayson in Fox’s “epic, multigenerational musical drama about America’s first family of country music.”


“I was in the process of doing something that I obviously love. But at the same time, there’s this opportunity that could open bigger doors for me. So I was questioning myself. I asked, ‘Am I really okay with what I have, career-wise? Or do I want to chase the Hollywood dream I’ve had since I was a kid?’”


Inigo was so torn that his team at Cornerstone Entertainment Inc. had to help him figure things out. “Honestly, it was my managers who pushed me to do it. They sat me down and said, ‘This project is perfect for you. They’re looking for someone who can act and sing. If you land this role, you can potentially grow your reach globally.’ They opened my eyes to the possibilities,” shares Inigo. “So I finally decided to do it.”


Because he was going back and forth about the project, he missed the deadline by two weeks. Despite this, Inigo decided to submit his self-tape anyway. Inigo didn’t expect anything to come of it, so he was stunned when his handler told him he got a callback.


“I didn’t put any pressure on myself. I was all, ‘I’ll just enjoy this. I’m very grateful for this opportunity, but I need to not hold on to the thought of getting it.’ Because what if I don’t? I didn’t want to feel sad about it. So I just went ahead and did it. After 10 to 12 hours, they emailed us and said, ‘You’re part of the top four that we’re choosing from.’”


Inigo was flabbergasted. “I was like, ‘Huh? Seryoso ba ‘to?’ Akala ko kasi pina-prank lang ako nila Tito Erickson [Raymundo, Cornerstone President]. But they said, ‘No, totoo ito, they want you to do a callback via Zoom.’”


Two days later, Inigo was sitting in front of a laptop at his handler’s office—the same place where he filmed—for a callback with the staff of Monarch. You’d think he was as cool as a cucumber because of his extensive resume and showbiz pedigree. Nope.


As the son of multi-awarded Filipino actor-singer Piolo Pascual, most of Inigo’s local projects were offered to him. He went into the Monarch audition with little knowledge of how the process would go. Moreover, Inigo was asked to do a scene where his character would have a seizure. All in all, the callback was quite a challenging experience for him. But he did his best and went home with no regrets.


“Alam mo yung pakiramdam na sa sobrang kaba parang umiikot yung kwarto kung nasaan ka?” Inigo asks. “Yun yung naramdaman ko the whole time. But na-enjoy ko naman yung ginawa ko. It was a good experience doing a callback for the first time, in front of a new group of people.” 


After another two days, Inigo was asked to get on a Zoom call with his Cornerstone family. “I was expecting the worst,” he recalls. “I was ready for them to say, ‘Inigo, you didn’t get the part.’ But then they started the call, and Tito Jeff [Vadillo, Cornerstone Vice President], sabi niya sa akin, ‘We got some sad news from the Fox team. They just want to let you know that you got the part.’”


The first part of Jeff’s sentence made his heart sink, so it took a while before Inigo’s brain could process the second part. Once it did, Inigo started sobbing as Jeff and everyone else in the call looked on, their eyes glazed with tears of joy and pride.


“Halo-halo na yung emosyon ko, kasi during the call, sinabi na rin nila sa akin that in a month’s time I had to move to the States and start filming. So sabi ko, ‘Paano yung commitments ko dito sa Pilipinas? Paano yung training ko?’”


Inigo didn’t need to be worried; everyone around him was thrilled that he was set to join the main cast of Monarch. No one made him feel like he had to choose his life and work in the Philippines over a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.


Inigo shares, “Coach Mickey said, ‘If that’s what’s planned for you, go for it.’ I was wrestling with the idea na masasayang yung training I had been doing for a long time. But he said, ‘You’re not wasting it. You’re carrying it with you.’”

Pressing on

That’s precisely what he did. Inigo proved that all his training was not going to waste, particularly when the Monarch team approached Inigo and asked him to be the face of a behind-the-scenes video they were working on.


“I was a MYX VJ for almost two years, but they didn’t know that. So when they asked me to do it, they said, ‘Just talk about where you are, who your character is, that sort of thing.’ And I was like, ‘Hi guys, what’s up? My name’s Inigo, and I’m here on the set…’ dire-diretso na ako. Nagulat sila. They said, ‘This is your first show, right? How do you know how to do this?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I did a little hosting in the Philippines.’ Natuwa ako na na-amaze sila sa ginawa ko.”


But things weren’t always that easy for him. When Inigo first arrived in Atlanta, Georgia, he struggled to adapt to his new environment.


“I don’t want to say I was alone because my mom was with me, but we felt alone together. We were so far away from everyone and everything we were used to,” explains Inigo. “Siguro kung mag-isa talaga ako doon, nabaliw na ako. It was a blessing that my mom was with me throughout the process.”


In the Philippines, Inigo worked with a battalion of people. But when he arrived in Atlanta, he had to do a lot of it alone. He didn’t have an assistant, driver, or road manager to do the talking for him. But the worst part of being on his own was the loneliness. Initially, he had no one to hang out with in his spare time.


Things changed when he moved into an apartment near the Georgia Institute of Technology. His new home was in the heart of the city, and that allowed him to meet more people.

Eventually, he made friends outside of work, with whom he’d hang out after work hours. Atlanta has a vibrant live music scene, and when he wasn’t on set, Inigo spent a lot of time checking out different bands with his new pals. The topic of what he did for a living often came up, but since he didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, he invented a cover for himself. “Hindi ko sinasabi na artista ako. I’d tell them I was a writer for Fox,” he laughs. He was finally forced to tell his friends the truth when they stalked him on social media and found that he has 3.5 million followers on Instagram.


Atlanta is known as a “showbiz town” because many movies and shows are filmed there, and Inigo bumped into his fair share of Hollywood celebrities. He even went to a party with some people from the Cobra Kai cast. His childhood crush Nina Dobrev from The Vampire Diaries was also there.


Partying aside, one of the things that helped Inigo adjust to life in Atlanta was the bond he formed with his co-stars—once he got over his initial shyness. But while he spent a lot of time with everyone on the weekends, he bonded with Emma Milani, who plays aspiring country singer (and Ace’s love interest) Ana Phoenix, the most. 


“She was the very first person from the cast that I had a conversation with,” says Inigo. “I messaged her on Instagram and said, ‘Hey, I’m Ace. I’m going to be your partner on the show. I just wanted to introduce myself.’ We’ve gotten so close since then.”


Inigo considers himself lucky that he was paired with Emma, who’s also a newcomer to the Hollywood scene, just like him.


Nung una palang kinakabahan na ako, kasi iniisip ko baka ma-pair ako sa tao na familiar na sa galawan sa Hollywood. Natatakot ako na ako lang yung ma-amaze sa lahat ng ma-e-experience ko. But the fun thing about being with Emma is that we were experiencing everything for the first time kasi Monarch is her first big project in the States. Having our own trailers was something we were both freaking out about. Sinabi ko tuloy sa sarili ko, ‘Sobrang sarap sa pakiramadam na hindi lang ako yung nagkakaganun.’ Kasi sobrang big deal nun sa ‘kin.”


Inigo adds: “With Emma, it felt good because we constantly asked each other, ‘How do you think I did?’ or ‘What can I do to make it better?’ It was fun to do scenes with someone I felt comfortable with on- and off-cam.”


Still, it took a while for Inigo to get comfortable with everything that his role demanded. One example is that he struggled to get his Southern accent right. Luckily, the show’s staff connected him with a dialect coach who worked with him until the expressions and accent rolled off his tongue.


The accent wasn’t the only problem. On the show, Inigo plays a character who belongs to the first family of country music. In real life, however, his playlists were largely devoid of country. The only country artists whose work he was familiar with were Chris Stapleton (Inigo sang his hit single “Tennessee Whiskey” for his Monarch audition) and Hunter Hayes. So before filming began, he did a deep dive into the genre.


“I would listen to country music upon waking up and while taking a shower,” he shares. “I had to understand it fully. I was working with Trace Adkins, who’s well-known in that world. So I didn’t want to be all, ‘I’m from the pop world or the R&B world.’ I wanted to expand my knowledge of what country music is all about.”


Inigo became a fan of the genre and decided to incorporate it into his future work as a solo artist. But when he started recording his songs for the show, he realized it was harder than he had imagined. While Inigo went into the recording studio thinking he had it under control, he didn’t.


“I couldn’t do the things they wanted me to,” he reveals. “I’d get so frustrated every time I had a recording session. It got so bad that I ended up questioning my ability. But everyone was very encouraging and helpful to the point na ikaw, nandun ka na sa breaking point mo, pero they refuse to give up on you. So mapapaisip ka na why give up on yourself?”


Inigo pressed on, and with the help of the show’s executive music producer, Adam Anders (who also worked on Glee), he eventually nailed his songs. His success in the recording studio made him more confident about bringing Ace to life. Inigo says it also helped that some things about Monarch reminded him of life in the Philippines.


“Nagkakaroon din ng mga biglaang changes. Meron ding mga miscommunication, actually. Sabi ko, ‘Nangyayari din pala sa Hollywood yung mga ganung bagay. Kaya na-realize ko, in the Philippines, I don’t think we’re lacking anything. I feel like we’re going in the right direction, kasi we’re innovating and upgrading every time we come out with a new project.”

Within reach

Earlier this year, Fox pushed back the premiere of Monarch to September after originally scheduling it for January 30. Inigo says the schedule is what sets American and Filipino shows apart.


“The thing with Americans is that they film TV shows the way Filipinos film movies, wherein you shoot no more than five scenes a day. Sa Philippines, isa sa pinakamahirap na na-e-experience ng mga nagsisimula pa lang is yung bigla kang isasalang tapos you have to do 30 scenes in one day. In the States, there’s always a union representative on set. They ensure that everyone has enough time to rest or travel to and from the set. We work every day, except on weekends. So siguro yun yung main difference. Mas may pahinga ka.”


He got so used to life in Atlanta that when he returned to the Philippines for the first time after wrapping up work on Monarch, it took him a while to readjust to the pace of local showbiz. But he acknowledges that the years he spent going at breakneck speed made him the artist he is today. 


“Hindi na ako sanay sa bilis ng mga pangyayari!” he laughs. “You know, yung training dito sa Philippines amazes me. Dito, you learn your choreography for ASAP Natin ‘To a day before you have to perform it on national TV. Tapos minsan pagkatapos mo sumalang, may mall shows ka pa. Dalawang mall show yun na magkasunod, tapos magkabila pa, North and South. I asked my handler, ‘Paano ko nagagawa yun dati?’ But I used that experience to my advantage when I was in Atlanta.”


Inigo Pascual had a successful career in the Philippines, even before he embarked on his Hollywood dream. But he was always compared to his father, whose career cast a long shadow over his own. He insists he never saw his last name as a disadvantage, but he did welcome the opportunity to start fresh in the United States. Not because Inigo wanted to get away from his father, but because he wanted to prove that he could succeed on his own merits.


Inigo’s character comes from a similar place. “He was adopted from the Philippines, and now he’s trying to find his place in his family’s world. When I moved back to the Philippines years ago, so many people had an idea of how I grew up and who I am, which didn’t necessarily fit with the reality of my life. For me, parang ganun yung situation ni Ace. As Ace, I had to do scenes where I’d feel like I’m not as talented as the rest of my family. As Inigo naman, I was always compared to my father. I was judged because of my last name rather than what I was capable of. Nakatulong yun sa ‘kin when it comes to portraying Ace.”


Inigo shared his thoughts about his character with Melissa London Hilfers, the creator and executive producer of Monarch. He enjoyed working with her because she was very collaborative.


“We’ve had conversations about Ace’s birthday and Zodiac sign. I asked her what Ace is like from her perspective as a writer. And then I went, ‘What if Ace wants to go to the Philippines and learn more about his roots?’”


As interesting as that sounds, viewers won’t get to see that in the first season of the show. But Inigo believes it could happen if they get more seasons. (A second-season pickup seems highly likely for the show, as its pilot was Fox’s most-watched debut since 2019.) 


Monarch provided Inigo with a fresh start. But he knows he’s not the only Filipino who’s been making strides in the international scene.


“We’ve got Jo Koy, Liza Soberano, who’s doing a movie with Cole Sprouse, and Olivia Rodrigo. I’d like to collaborate with her. It’s cool to see artists who are proud that they have Filipino blood. As a kid who grew up in America, I encountered many Filipinos my age who were ashamed of their heritage. That made me want to change the mentality of some second-generation Filipinos through my acting and music. I wanted to show them it’s not lame to be proud of who you are.”


He sees Monarch and the other opportunities opening up for Filipinos in the global scene as a fresh start for the country’s entertainers. As far as he’s concerned, now’s the time for those who dream of taking the world by storm to actually do something about it. In fact, Inigo himself has his eye on another prize.


“I came into this show thinking I wanted to experience it, but at the same time, expand my reach in music. I love acting, but I’ve always dreamed of winning a Grammy someday. Now that I’m here, I feel like that dream isn’t impossible anymore. It’s within reach now.”

Images Inigo Pascual/Instagram

Interview and Cover Story Julian Mauricio

Transcript Marc Daray

Special thanks to Cornerstone Entertainment Inc.‘s Caress Caballero and Erickson Raymundo

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