Actress Chuti Tiu with husband/director Oscar Torre. Photo Credit: "Pretty Rosebud."

Actress Chuti Tiu with husband/director Oscar Torre. Photo Credit: “Pretty Rosebud.”

According to British philosopher John Stuart Mill’s Greatest Happiness Principle, “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.” But for Cecilia “Cissy” Santos, the heroine-type in Oscar Torre’s new controversial film Pretty Rosebud, it isn’t so cut and dry.

Everyone believed Cissy had the perfect life: successful job, handsome architect husband, loving family. But for this tormented “good girl,” her recipe for happiness was quickly falling apart in her mind. And like any typical rebellious teenager, she lashed out, using the only thing she did have control over — her body — hence bringing issues of infidelity and social taboos to light.

Chuti Tiu, the film’s first-time screenwriter and lead actress — earning her a Best Actress award at the Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema (IIFC) for her emotional portrayal of Cissy — is no stranger to the silver screen. She’s known for her roles in Beautiful (starring Minnie Driver and directed by Academy Award winner Sally Field), The Specials, and even the hilarious comedy The Internship with Wedding Crashers duo Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn.

But her better half helped to bring out the best in Tiu, for her husband (Torre) was at the helm of Pretty Rosebud, an avid actor himself (most recognized for his lead performance as a political prisoner in the film Libertad, which he also produced). You may also know him from television shows such as Cane, Cold Case, PIT: Paranormal Investigative Team and Dollhouse. But this time around Torre finds himself at the other end of the camera for the first time, making his directorial debut with Pretty Rosebud. And it appears that the Torre/Tiu dynamic duo proved their raw cinematic talents, for their passion project also earned awards for Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Cinematography at the IIFC — a first in its history.

Celebrating the human spirit and breaking boundaries for women everywhere, Pretty Rosebud — like Cissy — struggles to find its voice in this stereotypical and opinionated world. Torre and Tiu could not be more proud of their film (or their “baby” as they like to refer to it), and it showed in their recent talk with GALO. Delving into societal issues of culture, marriage and adultery, this director-writer team peels back the layers of Pretty Rosebud, and shows that happiness is only in the eye of the beholder.

Editorial Note: Portions of the interview have been edited and shortened.

GALO: “Why spend one moment of your life waiting to live it?” This is the question that the film’s main character, Cissy Santos, is faced with. Society often strives for the perfect white picket fence life, believing that is what leads to happiness. But Pretty Rosebud changes our view of that, exploring the difficulty of marriage as well as infidelity. Why was it important that you address this topic, especially for women?

Chuti Tiu: I think it’s very common for women to suppress what they’re really feeling, thinking or needing, in place of what they think will please other people or what they think others want to see from them. And that’s a mistake, because in the end, you don’t please anybody. Maybe temporarily a woman could do a song and dance for her family or her work or society, but in the end it will all come crashing down, which it does for Cissy. It’s based on a pack of lies; it can’t sustain. That’s why I really wanted to write this film — and it’s not just a journey for women, men go through this as well. But especially for professional working women who are also married and have families and other responsibilities, it’s a common misnomer that women are great at multitasking, for example, and that may be true on one hand, but I think it can be taken to an extreme. Women can just run themselves ragged, forget about their own health, their own needs and what they truly want — and that’s something I’ve had to struggle with as well.

Poster for "Pretty Rosebud." Photo Credit: "Pretty Rosebud."

Poster for “Pretty Rosebud.” Photo Credit: “Pretty Rosebud.”

GALO: As a married couple yourselves, I imagine that these themes hit close to home. Through the making of this film, what did you learn about yourselves that you will take with you moving forward, perhaps in terms of communicating with one another?

CT: I’ll just speak for myself, but I was blessed to work with a director (and speaking of him as the director who understands me so well) who just happens to be my husband. Oscar likes to joke that I listen to him more on set than I do at home [laughs]. And so, I thought maybe I’ll argue with him less at home than I do on set — not that at home I should think that he’s always right, but I do believe that on the set there should just be one person helming the ship, and I didn’t want to contest Oscar and undermine his leadership. Basically, he’s the director, so I wanted him to lead.

GALO: Were there ever times when being husband and wife created situations when there were conflicts of interest, or did you find it relatively easy, like you said, to stay professional on set?

Oscar Torre: I can’t think of one situation when our relationship was an issue. We had a lot of conversations before we ever shot this film. She wrote the screenplay, and I was going to direct it, so we had a lot of conversations regarding what she’s trying to say and how am I going to shoot that, how am I going to convey that.

I’ve been an actor for a long time — we both have — and I’ve seen what happens when the director doesn’t get along with either the lead actor, or the writer or even the cinematographer — everybody can feel blood in the water. It starts creating chaos, and that’s something we did not want. And it was never really an issue. Once we were on set, I was the director and she was the lead actress, who happened to have written the screenplay, but our conversations were mostly [typically] of those between a director and lead actress. I also didn’t want the other actors to feel I was giving preferential treatment to my wife, so I tried treating everybody the same.

And even in the story that was something I wanted to do. Even though it was through her point of view, I didn’t want to take sides. I didn’t want to create the husband as a villain and make her all good. All these characters you’re rooting for are flawed and make mistakes along the way. I think that when a marriage fails, there are two sides to it — one may be at more fault than the other, but there are two sides to it, and that was something I was trying to convey.

GALO: Like you mentioned Oscar, you’ve been in front of the camera before, in the critically acclaimed film Libertad, and in television shows like NCIS, The Mentalist, and most notably CBS’s Cane. You’ve never had a hand in directing before, but how did those acting experiences prepare you for your directorial debut with Pretty Rosebud? Was directing something you always planned to get into?

OT: No, I hadn’t always planned to be a director; my passion had always been in acting. But for the last few years, I started thinking I want to direct — I don’t know if I’ll be any good at it, but I want to try it. As an actor, I’ve always had a lot of ideas, but you’re limited because it’s not your film, it’s not your show, so you can only do so much. But I always wondered what it’d be like to direct.