Von Flores: Another Filipino actor making waves abroad
- Ricky Lo () - April 9, 2000 - 12:00am

ent1First came Paolo Montalban, followed by Lou Diamond Philips and then by Rob Schneider. All of them are Filipino (half or otherwise) making big waves in Hollywood and on Broadway.

Paolo, star of the NBC production Cinderella (as the Prince Charming, with Brandy in the title role), was here in December last year for a brief visit. Lou flew in last January to promote his movie Bats while Rob arrived last month also to promote his starrer Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo.

ent1And now comes Von Flores who, admittedly, isn't as well known hereabouts yet as the three other Pinoy actors (not home-grown like Lea Salonga and company) are. So you ask, Von Flores who? Happily, however, in Toronto and the rest of Canada, nobody asks who Von Flores is.

Come to think of it, who is he?

Here to attend the Philippine International Cable Show 2000 held in Cebu a few days ago and to promote his new action series starrer Earth: Final Conflict, aired on the AXN Action Series, Von was born in Malabon, Metro Manila, and lived in Pateros until age 13 when the whole family migrated to Toronto.

He is a graduate of The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, and The Centre for Actors Study in Toronto. Von also studied movement and dance at Richard Sugarman Ballet, Hart House Ballet and the Studio Dance Theatre in Toronto. In his colorful acting career, he has guest-starred in a variety of series including The Adventures of Sinbad, Forever Knight, Street Legal, Lonesome Dove and Night Heat. His feature film credits include Eclipse and I Love A Man In Uniform. He has also landed plum leading roles in a number of television productions including the series FX and Kung Fu, and, most recently, in Earth: Final Conflict.

Gene Roddenberry's critically-acclaimed sci-fi series Earth: Final Conflict (which airs every Wednesday at 9 p.m. on AXN) is about the earthly visit of a new race of extra-terrestrials known as the Taelons or the Companions. Hiding under the guise of peace, the Taelons pose a threat to humanity and force humans to determine the real reason for the aliens' visit. Roddenberry is also the creator of the hit television series Star Trek and the sci-fi television movie Planet Earth, both of which command a huge cult following worldwide.

Is this your first homecoming since you left?

No, it's my third but my first time to promote my TV show here.

You left at age 13. That was how many years ago?

(Laughs as if caught with his hand inside the cookie jar) Our family migrated to Toronto in 1973, so it's up to you to make the calculations.

So when was your first home visit?

In 1984. I came back because I needed to trace my roots, to understand my background better. Then I came back in 1995 and then now.

How long have you been in showbiz?

This is my 10th year in showbiz.

So you were already an actor when you came back in 1995.

I had just finished Johnny Demonic at that time, with Keannu Reeves as lead actor. It had been 11 years and I was missing home.

Did you have any showbiz inclination when you were here (prior to migrating to Toronto)?

No. None at all. I always thought I'd be in the (US) Naval Academy because I wanted to fly an airplane, which I do now. I took up flying lessons in Toronto.

(Joking) Are you sure you don't fly airplanes by remote control?

(Laughing) No. I fly the real ones!

So when did you get into showbiz?

Sometime in 1989.

Did it happen by accident or by design?

(Laughing some more) I was telling people I was running out of things to do in life. I was taking up Chemistry at the University of Toronto and at the same time planning to go into real estate, simply because I thought it was the best time to go into real estate. I was sick and tired of being a poor student. I was doing quite well as a real estate agent. Then I decided to take up acting classes...

... in New York...?

...No, in Toronto. I didn't go to New York until about eight years later. I was attending acting classes one night every week. The course was part of the Georgetown College program.

Was this after you took up a course in flying?

No. The flying is just recent; Chemistry came before that.

What made you take up a course in acting?

I don't know. Maybe because I was shy; I didn't really like big crowds. So I said, "Why don't I try something different?" It was funny because I befriended another Filipino-Canadian in class who told me about an audition for a show being shot in Toronto. The next day, I went to the audition but my friend never showed up! The show was called Night Heat, an NBC production. There were about 300 people who auditioned and the producers picked me. The casting director was so "excited," quote-unquote, discovering me that he asked me, "Do you have an agent?" I said. "No." He said, "You have to get one." So he gave me his card and a list of agents' names I could call. I did and got one for myself.

Was it smooth sailing from then on?

In a way, yes. Night Heat was my first TV appearance, my debut, in 1990. I was very fortunate because I did four or five more shows after that. I was a guest lead in Night Heat, playing the role of a vigilante. The script was almost Hollywood. I said I was very fortunate because not many actors get a "guest lead" on their first try.

What's a "guest lead"?

It means that the story for that episode revolves around you.

So what came after Night Heat?

Many other shows. Actually, I have done more than 40 television shows in the course of my career, mainly in Toronto. The last feature that I did was with Donald Sutherland, Aiden Quinn and Ben Kingsley. I've also done more than a dozen feature films.

How many of them were made in or by Hollywood?

It's very funny because a lot of the productions in Toronto originate from Hollywood, done in Toronto because of economics. It's cheaper to do TV shows and films in Toronto than in Hollywood, plus the fact that we have the talent pool, the technical expertise and the equipment, so why not? Two of the Hollywood films I did in Toronto were I Love a Man in Uniform which went to the Cannes Film Festival and Eclipse which is a very artistic film shown at the Berlin Film Festival and at the Toronto Film Festival.

Have you been nominated in the Canadian version of the Oscars?

Oh, you mean the Genie Awards? Unfortunately, I haven't been nominated and that's a sore spot for me. It's very funny because I've been submitted for, God, so many times already. But that in itself is quite an honor because, in my opinion, the producers respect me enough to submit my name and my work for consideration by the Genie Awards.

How would you classify yourself, a drama actor?

I would say yes.

But you also do action roles.

That's basically my bread and butter, action roles. The Adventures of Sinbad is an action series.

Do you do martial arts?

I did a long time ago. Now I just do kick-boxing.

What sort of films do you watch?

I love Italian films, European films. There's something about the Italians that really intrigues me. I went there for the first time in 1994, in Firenze, and I just loved it!

Which actors do you admire, you learn from?

I was very fortunate to see my hero, Peter O'Toole, in London. I made a wish and it came true. I wished that I could go to London and it came true. I went there to promote a show last year and I saw my hero in the play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell. I just love him in Lawrence of Arabia, my favorite film. What do I like about Peter O'Toole? Well, there's a childlike quality to the way he plays his roles. He was terrific in the teleplay Pygmalion where he was like a little kid playing around. Just from watching him onstage, I learn a lot from his technique.

Are you the only Filipino in Toronto who has reached this far in showbiz?

I would think so.

Didn't you have any difficulty breaking into the Canadian movie/TV industry?

I'm so lucky because I can't really identify with the struggles that a lot of other actors, Asian or otherwise, have had to go through.

Is there any discrimination/prejudice against Asians or colored actors in Canada?

I think there's always prejudice, even in Hollywood. I think they choose not to understand or they're simply ignorant of the cultures of either Asians or Afro-Americans or Hispanics. It's really too bad because there's a huge market for those types of actors in the United States or any part of the world. I don't see why they're so limiting in their view.

You're vindicated that you've reached this far inspite of your Asian-ness.

I'm very competitive by nature, very driven and very ambitious. I hope that this is just the beginning for me in my career and that I'll be able to take steps higher. We'll see what the universe has to offer for me.

Of course, you're proud of your being Filipino.

Oh, yes, I am!

Are your parents both Filipino?

My father, Valentin Flores, is Filipino; and so is my mother, Josefa Tanga. I'm the youngest of three children. I have a sister, married, who's in Toronto; and a brother, who has two kids with his wife, also in Toronto. All of us in the family are in Toronto.

Why did the family migrate to Toronto and not to, say, the States?

Wow, good question! I think it's because my Dad has a cousin in Toronto, raving about how clean and how safe and how beautiful the city was. At that time, Toronto was not as densely-populated as it is now. My Dad is actually a US Navy veteran and we could have gone to the States and made it our home. But no, we chose Toronto.

Did you have your early schooling in Malabon?

No. I was just actually born there. I studied at the Pateros Elementary School where my mom, my uncle and my grandfather also studied.

Oh, you come from the balut-producing country.

(Smiling) Yes, you're right. But actually, I don't eat balut.

What sort of childhood did you have here? Running with the ducks on the riverbank?

(Breaking into wide smile) Yes, I actually did that! I raised a few ducklings as a kid. We lived across the street from Berting Labra (whose wife, Seda, sold balut and penoy when Berting was serving his sentence at the National Penitentiary). We Filipinos are very resourceful people. It's very funny because to be in the balut business you have to be semi-well-off. You need a sizable capital. It's a hard business to be in.

Didn't you experience "culture shock" when you were new in Toronto?

Oh, God, yes!

What sort of adjustments did you have to do?

In the first place, I didn't want to leave because all my friends, my playmates and my cousins were here. I remember that the flight to Toronto seemed to take forever. We were riding a DC-8 or a DC-9. What was the very first thing I noticed in Toronto? Wide streets and fast cars. For a while, I was afraid to cross the streets. Even though I spoke and understood English, my accent was such that it was very difficult for me to be understood. On my first day in Grade 7, I couldn't understand the teacher's English because of her (Canadian) accent. For me, that was a tough start.

Did you feel the same prejudice you were talking about earlier?

I did. Early on, I realized that the funny thing about prejudice and racism is that they're based on ignorance. Nobody knew I was Filipino. They mistook me for a Chinese or other Asian nationalities, never a Filipino. Even the racial slur was funny because it showed how ignorant they were. I was called a Chink (slang for Chinese) and a Paki (for Pakistani).

Did it hurt you?

(Eyes turning sad) It did. I was hurt not only for myself and for my fellow Filipinos but for the Chinese and the Pakistanis and for all the other Asian and colored people.

Do you still feel like a second-class citizens in Toronto despite the fact that you're now a recognized actor there?

Once an immigrant, always an immigrant. Being an immigrant means not having a strong sense of home. Even though my heritage is Filipino, when I come here I can tell that there are certain things about me that are different. By the same token, even if I've lived all these years in Canada, there are a lot of things about Canada that's not me. There, I'm considered a member of a minority, which translates to being a second-class citizen.

Does it challenge you to do better, being called a member of the minority, a second-class citizen?

(Eyes lighting up again) Oh, yes, it does! I'm the type of person who, if you tell me, "No," the more I'll do it just to prove you wrong, and to prove myself.

Did the way your parents bring you (children) up change when you got to Toronto?

We were brought up the Filipino way -- you know, on values such as respect for elders. In some ways, we imbibed new things in Canada but deep in our hearts we are very Filipino. But even in the Philippines, my parents were liberal, they have this certain "hip-ness" to their attitude, very funky. My Mom has traveled all over Asia; I guess I got my love for traveling from her. My Dad, as I've told you, was in the US Navy before he got married, so he traveled a lot, too. In a way, they have a "western," quote-unquote, way of child-rearing, coupled with the Filipino way.

Are you still staying with your family?

No. I'm living alone.

Alone?

(Smiling widely again) Pretty much with my wife. She's Scottish, Anne Harrison, and she writes music for film and television. Her heritage is Scottish-British but she grew up in Canada. Right now, she's in L.A. studying make-up design. We've been married for five years.

With kids?

None. We have four Siamese cats, though.

Are you practising birth control?

She is. (Breaking into laughter) No, I'm just kidding. I don't know why we haven't any children yet. Maybe I have a great deal more to learn before we can have children. Anne and I have known each other for 10 years before we decided to get married.

What is it about the Philippines that you miss most?

The fruits! Lanzones, my God! It's my favorite fruit.

Aside from that?

The relaxed attitude of us Filipino, the laid-back attitude. And the weather, although not this one because it's rather hot, much too hot.

How would you like to do a movie in the Philippines?

I'd love to, I'd really love to! Any offer around? (Then again, he breaks into a wide smile which turns into a hearty laughter.)

CAME FILIPINO FIRST GENIE AWARDS MY DAD NEW YORK NIGHT HEAT PETER O TORONTO VON FLORES
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