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Meet the Fil-Am actress who played the first Filipina in the Marvel Cinematic Universe


Over the course of its blockbuster first season, Marvel’s “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” had Philippine social media abuzz over various Pinoy-centric “Easter eggs” spread throughout the episodes.

There was the Tagalog translation of the villains’ motto in the end credits, the surprise inclusion of rapper Shantidope’s “Amatz” on the soundtrack, and the introduction of an outspoken Philippine delegate in the season’s penultimate episode. 

By the time the finale rolled around, Pinoys cheered on as that character, Philippine Air Force pilot Lt. Col. Ayla Perez helped the new Captain America (Anthony Mackie, “Civil War”) save the day.

Lt. Col. Ayla Perez is played by Fil-Am actress Jane Rumbaua ("The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”). A child of two doctors, Rumbaua was born in Bataan, before moving to Jacksonville, Florida, at the age of three, where activities such as gymnastics and cheerleading helped her overcome her childhood shyness.

It wasn't until she took to the stage in school plays that she discovered her passion for acting.

“I started out in the Nativity play as a cow!” laughs Jane, when asked about her first acting role. “I was a good cow - I was the best cow ever! But I loved it. I just remember it was my first time performing, and I felt at home onstage.”

While her parents (naturally) wanted their daughter to follow in their medical footsteps, they indulged her creative pursuits on the condition that she kept her grades up. “They were doctors, so they pushed academics a lot,” Jane tells GMA News Online. “So my treat was if I did well in school, then I got to do acting. I got to do gymnastics and be creative on the weekends…I was able to pursue it more towards college, when I was able to do some commercials and modeling. I’ve even done stand-up comedy!”

Describing herself as a method actor who counts the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis (“Lincoln”) and Natalie Portman (“Star Wars”) as influences, Rumbaua says that it was being cast in a Burger King commercial early on that opened her eyes to the possibilities of making an actual career out of performing.

From there, she would appear in commercials and infomercials (remember the Sobakawa cloud pillow?) before graduating to guest appearances on TV shows like “MacGyver,” “The First,” and “Star-Crossed.”

She then took on supporting roles in films such as 2017’s award-winning “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”, alongside Oprah Winfrey (“The Color Purple”) and Rose Byrne (“Bridesmaids,” “Spy”) for HBO.

Funnily enough, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” wasn’t Jane’s first foray into the Marvel universe — she actually played a small role (a doctor) in 2015’s ill-fated “Fantastic Four” reboot.

It's her scene-stealing turn as a former Air Force pilot that’s proving to be the more memorable for audiences and performer alike, though.

“Every minute, I was so happy, I couldn't believe I was there, you know? I mean, I'm still smiling from the whole experience! The people were great, the costumes were great, it was so surreal! I had to calm myself down, because it really was a dream come true! Like, I was on set, and I could see the cameras (I'm a big camera geek – I do photography!), so I'd be looking, and thinking, ‘What kind of camera is that?’ but I just tried to look professional and be like, ‘Yeah, this is cool. Yeah, whatever.’ Inside, I was like, AAAAA!’”

Being alongside famous co-stars is a thrilling bonus too. 

“Anthony Mackie is such a professional and plus, he's got a great personality. He's funny, and he made all of us (supporting actors) feel very comfortable, taking the time chat, asking about our background, our history, you know? He was really cool like that," she said excitedly.

"And he called us by our first names, which is hard when you're the star and you've got, you know, so many people around you all day," she continued, sharing how she really had to hold back her tears in their final scene when he gave his speech. "It was such a strong emotional scene, and, afterward, he’d be, ‘Thank you. Thank you. That was great. Great job, thank you!’ Inside, I was like, ‘Thank YOU!’ (laughs).”

In the finale, Jane saw her character commandeer an out-of-control helicopter to save the lives of everyone on board. A thrilling, visually-impressive sequence that would look right at home in a blockbuster action movie, Marvel fans lost no time in voicing their approval of Perez’s heroics on social media.

“I was happily shocked, and I am just so grateful,” says Jane, of the overwhelmingly positive feedback she’s received since the episode bowed on Disney+.

“I knew my friends and family would be happy for me, but I had no idea that I would have such a heartwarming response from other people, all ethnicities, but especially the Philippine and overall Asian communities! A Filipino girl actually just messaged me, to say that when she saw my helicopter scene, she cried because she saw a face that looked like hers on TV. She was so proud to be a Filipino, and to able to see a strong female Filipino in Marvel," Jane said.

She shares another anecdote of a woman who told Jane of her younger daughter "who now wants to be a helicopter pilot" after seeing her scene.

"The main message that I'm receiving from people [who have watched it] is that representation matters, definitely, and that means a lot to me.”

The warm reception of the Perez character has been doubly gratifying for Jane, who says that, following the success of films like “Crazy Rich Asians,” more opportunities have emerged for Asian actors.

While she has no idea if she will be asked to reprise Perez role in a future superhero adventure, it is clear that she has no intention of slowing down.

In the months after her Marvel experience, she devoted her time to writing and producing a number of short films, including her directorial debut, “Spotlight.”

Telling the story of a shy girl who manages to find her voice after a family tragedy, “Spotlight” has, as of this writing, scored Best Picture and Director nods at the recently-concluded 2021 Online Christian Film Festival. It is now being adapted into a feature-length film.

When asked about her formula for success, Jane credits hard work for the roles she got, a thick skin for the ones that she didn’t, and, perhaps most importantly, a commitment to always be true to herself.

“When I was first starting to audition, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what do they want? What do they want?’ It took me a long time to turn that around, and now I've gotten to the point where I know that I have my take on the character, and that's what I want to show them. It’s like, this is me. This is my take, my nerdiness, my quirks, and that actually makes you stand out because no one else has that. That mindset, that approach, it’s turned around a lot of things for me.”

Between having the MCU under her belt, multiple projects in the works, and a passion for helping help young actors in their careers as a mentor and acting coach, it’s safe to say that Jane Rumbaua has come a long way from school plays and infomercials. Successes in her chosen field notwithstanding, Jane hasn’t let it go to her head, as her parents are always happy to help keep her feet firmly on the ground. 

“Growing up, my parents didn’t really understand my creative side, with my acting and my writing, and my drawing. (Even) at this age, around once a month, my mom will still go, ‘If you want to go to med school and be a doctor, I'll pay!’”

Spoken like a true Filipino! — LA, GMA News

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