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A remarkable year for Nonie Buencamino

Nonie Buencamino.Photo by Joy Torrejos

CEBU, Philippines — It has been a good year for Nonie Buencamino.

Not only did the actor shed his antagonist trademark as he starred in the well-received ABS-CBN afternoon melodrama “The Greatest Love” as Peter Alcantara, loving spouse to Gloria (Sylvia Sanchez) who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, the acclaimed performer also had his first lead role in a film this year as Father Gus Saenz in the thriller “Smaller and Smaller Circles.”

Directed by award-winning filmmaker Raya Martin and based on the best-selling novel by Filipina author F.H. Batacan, “Smaller and Smaller Circles” urges viewers to look closer. Closing in on the murders of young boys in the teeming slums of Payatas, Jesuit priests Father Gus Saenz (Buencamino) and Father Jerome Lucero (portrayed by Sid Lucero), protégé to Father Saenz, explore the cramped landscape of Manila in the 1990s to solve the murders.

Although dark in nature, the film still has a lightness to it—with subtle jokes and backhanded humor here and there. Despite being a work of fiction, Buencamino says that the story is also a reflection of society, discussing abuse and questions that no one really has a definite answer to, or shy away from altogether.

Shown in cinemas early this month, the film adaptation of the Grand Prize for Novel in English at the 1999 Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, “Smaller and Smaller Circles” was produced by TBA Studios—the same independent studio that churned out gems like “Heneral Luna,” “Bliss,” “Sunday Beauty Queen” and “Birdshot,” and was distributed by Columbia Pictures. 

Buencamino, undoubtedly one of the stalwarts in Philippine theatre and cinema, has played innumerable, varied faces: from leaders, to notorious villains, and everyday people. And whether they are main or supporting roles, he manages to carve his way into the viewer’s mind with his complex roles, even more so his effective acting.

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“Masarap naman pala maging bida,” the actor laughs during a recent interview with Cebu media at the Casa Gorordo Museum Café, as he seriously adds that that there really is no definite “lead star” in “Smaller and Smaller Circles” since the characters are essential in their own right and that the plot rises above its characters.

However, playing lead has allowed him to have a lot of scenes, thus having more opportunity to build characters and scenes. For the actor, his role in “Smaller and Smaller Circles” sanctioned him to flesh out a character, and work on the process of building his role.

Despite not looking like the canon Gus Saenz who is described in the book as tall and lanky, with almost a hippie vibe— something that Nonie is apparently not – the actor made up for it in his nuanced acting.

He studied Father Gus Saenz well and made the priest’s words his own. He embodied his nature, his sense of humor, his steadfastness and strong conviction to discover truths which are often painful. The challenge for acing Father Gus was in his thought process—many of his traits involved unspoken reactions, while being a priest per se, an expert on forensic science and pathology.

 “I have nothing to complain about in my career. I’m lucky to be given challenging roles. It was never my aspiration to be a star. It’s a privilege to play a lead role,” quips Buencamino, who was hand-picked for the role.

He also praised his scene partners, and the rest of the cast made up of big names in the industry such as Sid Lucero, Bembol Roco, Christopher de Leon, TJ Trinidad, Gladys Reyes, Junjun Quintana, Alex Medina, Cholo Barretto, Ross Pesigan, Raffy Tejada, Jess Mendoza, the late Joy Viado, Ricky Davao and Carla Humphries among others.

 “It’s a collaboration between the screenplay and the actors. When the director is relaxed, cool, not impatient and angry—there’s an easy feeling kahit mahirap ang ginagawa namin. It was a pleasant experience. Most of the actors, we knew each other already. My co-stars were very good. I couldn’t ask for more,” Buencamino shares, adding that the production staff had a good eye as well.

Buencamino, with his arsenal of roles from kings, to rapists, to husbands, and everything in between—never fails to do his homework, and tries his best to memorize, if not build a character through and through. He has turned down a handful of roles, and despite that and the spectrum of characters under his belt, he doesn’t really long to play a certain character, doesn’t have “dream role” as they call it. All he wishes is that he gets to do well-written and fitting characters as seen in his theatre work, and television appearances like in the drama anthology “Maalaala Mo Kaya,” for which he seems to be a go-to actor.

With his skill and experience, it has gotten easier to shake off roles and the feelings that come with them.

 “There is still some effort. It’s easy to go back and I’m able to detach,” he says, sharing further how in the past, he would still cry well over the end of an emotional scene.

 “There is an on and off switch now, which is ideal for professionals, and with this line of work it’s important to protect the self. It’s easy to say, minsan nadadala but when the job is done you leave it there,” says Buencamino, currently seen in the MMFF musical entry “Ang Larawan” along with other industry veterans.

For Buencamino – humble and unassuming despite his and his wife Shamaine Buencamino’s status in the entertainment industry – being able to play characters which are different from how he sees himself is an accomplishment, and nothing short of fulfilling. It’s not the applauding crowd that keeps him going, but the craft itself and his love for the art as seen in his splendid work which makes him a treasure unlike any other – an artist deserving of his place among the stellar theatre and cinema cosmos.

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