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Just playing the part

MANILA, Philippines - There is no way you could have missed Nonie Buencamino as TV actor. He is Dr. De los Reyes in the local version of Zorro, he is Mr. Apacible in Joaquin Bordado and Raul Perea in Kambal Sa Uma, among others.

For the cineaste, he is the Muslim rebel in Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Bagong Buwan, Elias in Jose Rizal by the same acclaimed director and Pio Valenzuela by another director’s Jose Rizal Sa Dapitan. He is the closet gay in Sibak, a drug lord in Ataul for Rent and the NBI agent in Dahas.

He is a favorite of indie directors and he plays a sadistic husband in Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe which at some point shocked with a scene showing him making love to an animal.

His latest indie film Sabungero sees him playing the role of cockpit gambler named Badong. The way Nonie portrayed the part, cineastes were one in saying he has come up with another winning role. Nonie as Badong has many layers and his transformation from the mere cockpit kibitzer to the scheming type shows him gambling not just with cocks but with humans as well. The part is Nonie in one of his best film appearances.

To prepare for the part, Nonie said he interviewed his regular barber who was a long-time sabungero. For the record, he is no certified sabungero. He treats sabung like boxing and loving the thrill of it. To get a first-hand experience, he went to a big cockfight in Araneta Coliseum before the shooting started. It wasn’t long before he could actually memorize the hand signals used for betting. On the side, he also tried to recall the behavior of some compulsive gamblers he knows.

What registered on the screen was a detestable gambler who can metamorphose from cockpit charmer to venomous snake and still look surprisingly humane in spite of himself.

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What kind of a gambler did he set out to flesh out for Badong the gambler?

Points out the actor: “I imagine him to be the sleazy type and the one who has to resort to a lot of cash loans. He’s the sweet talker type and very addicted to gambling. He is the kind who would bet the money his wife has budgeted for Meralco bill.”

He actually discovered some insights on gamblers while doing the film. He adds: “There are gamblers who do not know when to stop and those who do not know the limit of reasonable betting. Of course there are those who rely on the chance of winning fast buck to improve their finances.”

Did the actor sympathize with the role or he actually hated the character he made sure he looked the hateful part?

Explains the actor: “First of all, I actually need to sympathize with all the characters I portray. I leave it to the audience to decide whether they would hate the role or not.”

But the way Nonie fleshed him out, the actor comes up with an acting coup worthy of a Robert De Niro in Raging Bull.

But on the whole, he treats sabung like boxing where anyone can end up loving the thrill of rooting on one’s bet.

The big surprise is that the film was directed by newcomers in the person of Miguel Kaimo and Rozie Laurel Delgado. “They are very quick to praise,” he says. “It helped a lot that these young directors encouraged me to explore. They are also very particular with most of the shots.”

By the way, Delgado studied film at Marilou Diaz-Abaya Film Institute and was Nonie’s student in the class called Directing Actors.

What’s the actor’s life outside of film, stage and TV commitments?

On the day one set out to interview him, Nonie was accompanying his actress-wife, Sharmaine Centenera, to the wet market. They have four children namely Delphine, 18, Gorio, 15, Jose, 12 and Julia, nine. That he is married to another superb actress makes him proud. The eldest, to no one’s surprise, has inherited her parents’ love for acting. It is a great set-up for him because it means they have many things to discuss and talk about at home.

On the other hand, Nonie likes to think marriage has improved his craft.

But the big bonus is that he is married to an actress who can be honest about his performances.

Recalls Nonie: “In the early phase of our union, there used to be a lot of criticism and bickering. Nowadays, it’s very constructive and I am grateful because I have a wife who is willing to tell me the truth about my performance even if it will hurt me. She believes I can accept it and can work on it to improve myself. Believe it or not, she praises me only when I deserve it.”

But there is only one thing he aims for when he is in front of the camera: Truth in acting.

Off-camera, Nonie is plain husband, lover, grocery and market escort and babysitter.

Asked what lesson people can learn from the big flood, Nonie snaps, “Don’t acquire so many material things.”

Perhaps it is the same lesson cockpit gamblers can learn from: Not to engage in high-risk betting for the sake of acquiring worldly possessions.

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