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The escape artist

Looking up: Director JP Habac and actor Paulo Avelino talk feelings and alcohol in the film I’m Drunk, I Love You. Photo by Geric Cruz

MANILA, Philippines -  Paulo Avelino walks into the room with an air that hushes everybody else up, which is a fitting entrance for the actor who’s been dubbed the “Prince of the Philippine Teleserye.” It’s not so much his celebrity but his actual presence that elicits this quieting effect — a veneer that conceals as much as reveals an emotional depth that us mortals aren’t free to plumb, unless he opens up himself.

This reserved exterior, and the energy that comes with it, is something you’re probably going to see more of in JP Habac’s feature-length directorial debut, I’m Drunk, I Love You. Paulo’s character, Dio, is a film student fresh out of college who embarks on a road trip with his lovelorn friend Carson, played by Maja Salvador. The premise behind the film is an equation familiar to anyone who’s every sent a drunk text: emotional vulnerability + alcohol = a hell of a story. It’s the kind of coming-of-age movie that draws its power from the notion that the young can afford to be a little reckless, lest youth be wasted.

We’re left to wonder, though, exactly what kind of shenanigans Paulo got up to in his own college years. These days, he speaks in hushed tones and a measured cadence — mannerisms of caution developed over years in the entertainment industry. Devoted fans might recognize him from his early days in Starstruck 4. Others may have lauded his award-winning performance in Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa. At the very least, you’ve probably swooned over his face as Gregorio del Pilar in Heneral Luna, the spinoff of which is set to come out pretty soon. He’s 26 now, and a lot of growing up had to be done to get him here.

“For me acting has a lot to do with maturity. Like, as you grow older, you learn new experiences,” he says. This comes up quite a bit, the reality of getting older. “That’s what you actually use when you tackle different roles. It’s all about acquiring experience, not just as a person but as an actor.”

This particular role, however, Paulo approached with a sense of fond distance. As in, he seems to imply: That’s not who I am anymore, but those were the days. Ask him if he has a wild drunken story and he’ll hold back on specifics, but you can tell by his eyes, which sport the kind of tired look you wish you could tuck into the covers with your own hands, that he’s reaching deep into the well of memory. “We’re playing fresh graduates,” he says, pausing before peeling away his veneer just a little bit more. “It actually reminds me of my younger days, my college days, when it was kinda similar to that. The music, plus, y’know, just going out of town, being with someone, buying cheap drinks, cheap food, looking for the cheapest place to stay in… that was really…” — here again, the measured cadence — “that was something I enjoyed.”

It’s something he still enjoys, having grown up in the quiet of Baguio. Every now and then he’ll still search for a kind of peace the city can’t give, whether in the mountains or by the beach. “I just love getting out of the city and just going somewhere where there’s not a lot of noise and you can actually see the stars and you can actually breathe fresh air,” he says. You get the feeling maybe that’s the kind of setup you need to really get to know Paulo (away from the glitz! The cameras! The media!). Jeez. Just a minute ago I was jibing with this dude’s love of sabbaticals. At what point did I start getting goosebumps from his gravelly baritone?

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Part of what also drew Paulo to the script was the music. He read it alone one night while drinking, he recounts with a chuckle, struck by how the songs chosen for the film resonate with the story. You might’ve seen the music video for his cover of Shirebound & Busking’s LLOYDY, a song that mourns about not being John Lloyd Cruz. (If you haven’t seen it, John Lloyd Cruz is actually in it. Maja Salvador is Paulo’s romantic opposite, ignoring Cruz. Intertextuality, man.) It’s a moving rendition, but Paulo won’t necessarily agree, as someone who doesn’t listen to his music or relish his appearance on the big screen. “Whenever I watch myself or see myself onscreen, all I see are flaws,” he says. Even after the film’s release, Paulo will still be dissecting his performance. Perhaps this is one way he accumulates and processes experiences.

The main takeaway may as well be this: beneath it all, Paulo is basically a dedicated actor who works hard at his craft. He loves Raging Bull and Love in the Afternoon. He thinks Daniel Day-Lewis is cool. Though his advice to his younger self would be to party harder, he doesn’t drink to get wasted, not anymore. “I like going out and enjoying myself as well but, at the end of the day, you have your goals, you have your responsibilities. You still have to go to work.”

We’re just about winding up the shoot when Paulo decides to jump on the bed for some final shots. The ceiling is pretty low and he’s crouched on an elevated surface in the corner, mentally calculating the force and bounce required to stick a safe landing. Once his body hits the mattress, the covers artfully crumple up (like magic!) as he cracks a toothy grin (a rare sighting!), allowing gravity to do its work as his body loosens up, post-impact. You witness something like that, and you remember the beginning of IDILY’s trailer, where Maja’s character Carson looks at Paulo’s sleeping face and says to herself, “Ang ganda gumising araw-araw kung ganito ang makikita mo.” There’s the moment when you think, yes, oh my God, yes. All we are is getting older. Paulo Avelino seems to be doing it right.

 

Shot on location at Privato Hotel

 

Photos by Geric Cruz

Styled by MJ Benitez

Photography assisted by

Arabella Paner

Styling assisted by

Andrea Mojica

Paulo’s grooming by

Jett Torrevillas

JP’s Grooming by

Eddiemar Cabiltes

Produced by Marga Buenaventura and Ina Jacobe

Sittings by Belle Toledo

and Coco Maceren

 

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