Into the heart of FPJ

- Ricky Lo () - February 24, 2002 - 12:00am
FPJ 2002.

When the stickers started coming out in November last year, everybody wondered if, according to the speculations at that time, there was going to be a snap election and FPJ was being groomed for the Presidency from which his good friend, Joseph "Erap" Estrada, had just fallen eight months earlier.

No, the FPJ 2002 stickers were not "politically motivated;" they were simply teasers for Da King’s movie, Maverick Films’ Batas ng Lansangan, his first in two years, so those with presidential ambitions must have heaved a big sigh of relief.

Politics, or FPJ’s lack of interest in it, was one of the various topics of this very rare one-on-one with the man who has been reigning as King of Philippine Movies – simply Da King – for almost half a century, an unprecedented record and feat no other actor, whether here or any other country, has ever achieved. He’s the only actor widely known by his initials. Not many people still call him Fernando Poe, Jr., or haven’t you noticed?

FPJ showed up at Taste of L.A. (Roces Avenue, near Tomas Morato Avenue, Quezon City) at 11 a.m. sharp that Thursday morning, one full hour ahead of our appointment. True to form. FPJ is always ahead of his time, whether for an interview or in coming up with trend-setting starrers, such as Batas ng Lansangan (with Dina Bonnevie, Roi Vinzon, Ricardo Cepeda and Kaye Abad among his co-stars, directed by FPJ himself using his behind-the-camera name Ronwaldo Reyes) where he variates his legendary character as the man who puts everything at stake, including his life, in his fight and quest for justice.

He was dressed simply, as to be expected, and devoid of any jewelry (except for a watch). The hairstyle was the same and his attire, too, which was his all-time favorite long-sleeved shirt rolled three-fourths up. The voice is deep. "It used to be squeaky," FPJ himself admitted, "until several years ago when Van (de Leon) directed me in Anghel sa Aking Balikat and taught me how to (kind of) modulate it."

"Masarap daw ang
pizza dito," FPJ said, going over the menu and ordering, among other goodies, pizza. "Sabi ni Swanie (Susan Roces, the eternal Queen of Philippine Movies, FPJ’s wife of 33 years), masarap daw talaga ang pizza dito."

So over pizza and the other goodies, we enjoyed more than an hour of free-wheeling and quite revealing Conversation with Da King (who talked in a slow, almost measured manner, thinking hard before ever saying a word).

What haven’t you done – yet – in a movie? What else do you want to do?

(Thinks awhile)
"I want to do another historical movie, like Asedillo (the 1970 award-winning action-drama directed by Celso Ad. Castillo, about a school-teacher turned rebel in the Laguna-Quezon area), siguro circa 1920s. I can’t think of a role circa 1800s na nababagay sa akin, except the one in Juan dela Cruz."

Oh, Gerry de Leon’s unfinished obra maestra (produced by FPJ who also starred in it in the title role, halfway through because Manong Gerry died in the late ’70s). Sayang that movie.

"Yeah. Hindi puwedeng galawin. It was about 50 percent finished. ‘Yung mga eksena ko na lang ang hindi nakunan. But those of Gloria (Romero, as the mother) were completed. Nakakahiya nga kay Gloria because kung natuloy ang pelikulang ’yon, she would have won (as Best Actress) hands down in all the award-giving bodies. Siguro, during awards night, panhik-panaog sa stage si Gloria to receive her trophies. Kaya I really feel bad for Gloria. Sayang." (Dranreb Belleza played the young FPJ. – RFL)

Sayang nga talaga!

"I thought Manong was going to get well. I would have started shooting for it already because I had just finished shooting Alupihang Dagat then. Wala pa tayong monitor noon. Otherwise, Manong could have designated somebody, an assistant director, and give instructions through the monitor."

Juan dela Cruz was historically factual, di ba?

"It was based on several anecdotes, maraming untold stories. Parang Red Book ni Henry Miller. Si Rizal ang parang si Miller."

Would it have been the ultimate, the definitive, FPJ movie?

"I guess so because Manong said it would have been his masterpiece. It was going to be dubbed in Ilocano and Bisaya. We already got in touch with Gloria Sevilla for the Bisaya dubbing. It was going to be shown sana simultaneously all over the country."

Any political figure, local or foreign, whom you want to portray?

(Thinks hard)
"I can’t think of any; playing a political figure has never crossed my mind. It’s hard to do true stories because there will always be an opposition. . . There’s always an ‘other side.’ May mga mag-o-object. Even with the consent of the person himself, mayroon pa ring ibang taong aangal. May mga masasagasaan."

You’re the only actor I know who has a collection of your movies at well-preserved, kept in an air-con library. How do you take care of these, well, national treasures?

"Some of them have faded already dahil lumang-luma na, in black-and-white pa. I used to keep them atop the garage of my Antipolo house, naka-aircon ‘yon. The films were cleaned, manually, every six months. But now, medyo high-tech na so they are easier to clean. I’m now keeping them in our Greenhills home."

Just last week, I saw one of your old, black-and-white films on Cinema One. I guess it was Apat na Espada by Premiere Productions), directed by Nemesio Caravana who was noted in the late ’50s and early ’60s for costume action pictures.

"I did a lot of black-and-white movies, mga nitrate pa ’yon na madaling masunog. I did a lot of them for Premiere, for (the late) Pablo Santiago and Tagalog Ilang-Ilang Productions, like Mga Tigreng Taga-Bukid and Lo’ Waist Gang. Some of those films have been sold por kilo, ginawang torotot. Some are in the bodega, putol-putol na. Sayang, ’no?"

Isn’t it a good idea for you to do a movie about your father, the great Fernando Poe, Sr. who died of rabies at 35?

"Actually, I’m doing a script, hopefully to be finished within the year, for a 13-episode TV series (good for one season). Some of the situations and incidents in the script are based on the life of my Dad. I won’t be directing the TV series; I’m still thinking who among our TV directors I will choose to direct it. But I will play the lead role."

Who are the other stars of the TV series?

"Daboy (Rudy Fernandez) will be in it. His character and mine won’t be together on the screen because they belong to separate guerilla groups. Phillip (Salvador), Lito (Lapid) and Bong (Revilla) will also be in it. The setting is between the 1940s and the 1980s."

It must be an epic, a "first" in Philippine Television.

"The tentative title is Buhay, based on true events during the Japanese Occupation and the Second World War, then on to the Liberation until the middle of the 1980s. There will be four directors; I hope to get the best in the field."

Ang suwerte-suwerte naman ng TV station na makakakuha n’un. Have you talked to any of them already (GMA or ABS-CBN?)?

"None yet."

A brief clarification about your Dad. Was it a dog or a puppy that bit him (and caused his rabies)?

"He wasn’t bitten by a dog or a puppy, What really happened was that during a shooting, nasabit ang paa niya sa isang kabibi at nasugatan. Old people at that time believed that if you let a dog lick your wound, the wound would heal fast. We had four pet puppies at that time and my Dad let the puppies lick his wound. That’s how he got the rabies."

You were very small then.

"Doon ko nakita ang effects ng hydrophobia. Isang bimpo (face towel) na basa ang inilalapit sa kanya, nagri-react na siya. The bimpo was placed on his lips because they were drying up and cracking already. When my Dad died, the four puppies started frothing in the mouth, ready to attack anybody. Our katiwala (caretaker) had no choice but to throw them away."

If your father didn’t die that early, would things have turned out the same way for you?

"I would have been either of two things – a priest or a doctor. My father wanted me to be a priest but I wanted to be a doctor."

Would you have been happy if you became a priest?

(Smiles faintly in quiet recollection)
"I don’t know. At that time, they were already calling me a pari."

As far as I can remember, you’ve played a priest only once so far, in the 1967 drama Mga Alabok sa Lupa (with Divina Valencia as leading lady, playing a hostess) for which you won your first FAMAS Best Actor trophy (as a fighting priest who tamed a slum).

"I can never forget one of my scenes in that movie, the one with Johnny Monteiro who played a drunkard. There was a bet among the residents, between Johnny and me, that if I beat him in a drinking session he would stop drinking. I beat him. In that scene, we really drank, talagang nag-inuman kami, and I guess it was very obvious on the screen."

What sort of priest would you have been, kung saka-sakali? A running priest like Fr. Robert Reyes? Or a priest in the truest sense of the vocation — you know, spreading the Word at the pulpit and not meddling in things political?

(Laughs at the possibility)
"I don’t know. I guess I would have been a missionary, ‘yung nagpupunta-punta sa mga liblib na lugar at sa mountains. Because you see, I love nature. I’m a nature-tripper."

No wonder that everytime you finish a movie, you hie off to your Antipolo hideaway.

"That’s also where I work out."

It’s such a beautiful hideaway – so near the city and yet so far from the hustle and bustle. The place is located on the hills, overlooking Metro Manila. Very beautiful and very quiet, especially at night. Aside from working out, what do you do when you’re in Antipolo?

"I rest. I read. Sometimes, I go to our Lipa resthouse and there I plant mangoes. I started planting mangoes a month ago. It’s my nephew, Jeff, who takes care of the plants."

Your Antipolo hideaway is very conducive to looking back, to taking stock of things – the past and the present. When you’re alone (in Antipolo), what usually comes to your mind?

"I think of my Dad, my brother Andy and my Mom (Bessie Kelly Poe)." (Eyes turning misty behind his shades) "I usually think of them." (They were the loved ones who have gone ahead. – RFL)

What other episodes in your early years do you recall? What sort of childhood did you have? I understand you spent most of your childhood in your family residence (a sprawling compound with a wrought-iron gate) on Del Monte Avenue, San Francisco del Monte, Quezon City.

"Our father was a strict disciplinarian, like the father played by Christopher Plummer in The Sound of Music. I remember how every morning I and my brothers and sisters would line up and salute before our Dad bago kami pumunta sa school." (FPJ is the eldest boy among six children, coming after Elizabeth and before the late Andy, Jenny, Freddieboy and Evangeline. – RFL)

Any fond childhood memory?

"Did you know that I won my first Best Actor trophy when I was seven? When we were kids, ang tradition sa bahay namin during Christmas Day was to stage a play. Ang audience namin were our Dad and Mom at mga relatives. One Christmas Day, we kids presented a religious play. My role was St. Joseph, with balbas and all. In the middle of the play, my leg got caught in the wirings and the Christmas Tree tumbled to the floor. The set was destroyed. Of course, I was embarrassed; I felt guilty. Siguro to appease me, my Mom and Dad proclaimed me as the Best Actor. You know what my trophy was? A bagful of marshmallows!"

I still see that house everytime I drive along Del Monte Avenue. Is it true that you want to buy it back for, you know, sentimental reason?

"Sana. Kaya lang, it’s quite expensive already. It’s now owned by the Torreses."

Since you joined showbiz at an early age, didn’t you feel that you missed out on your teenage life?

"I was about 15 or 16. No, wala naman akong na-miss sa teenage years ko. Wala naman." (In his movie debut, FPJ had to look like a woman, dressed in a skirt and his head wrapped in a bandana as a ‘double’ for Lilia Dizon — who had sprained an ankle and couldn’t do a riding scene — in Everlasting Pictures’ Simaron, with Johnny Monteiro as leading man. – RFL) "I felt ill at ease in front of the camera. Kapag naririnig ko ang clapper, my mind went blank." (It was when he did Anak ni Palaris, a sequel to his father’s smash-hit starrer called Palaris, that FPJ became known as Fernando Poe, Jr. which was the real name of his brother Andy. FPJ’s real name, as everybody knows, is Ronald Allan Poe. — RFL)

Your family is very closely-knit. . .

"…yes, very closely-knit, so close are we to one another na kapag may nawala, it’s as if nagkakaroon ng vacuum. Like when my Mom died. . . Biglang-bigla. It was sudden. I was in Antipolo and talking to her that night. Everytime kasi I came up with an idea for a movie, I consulted her. My Mom was a good story-teller. We were talking at around 9 in the evening. The next morning, they called me up. . ."

Your Mom was so beautiful, she should have been an actress.

"Mahilig siyang mag-paint. She even went back to school, to take up Fine Arts at UP."

What are the best lessons that you learned from your Dad?

"Tha value of education. He was a very bright man. He was strict on your grades, dapat not lower than 87. I finished elementary grades at La Consolacion College and then I moved to San Sebastian and then to San Beda. My father died na at that time so palipat-lipat na ako ng school. I even studied in Mapua and UE. But I was already in the movies so I didn’t finish high school."

What about from your mom?

"My Mom was a peaceful woman. She was very artistic. When she studied at UP, nakaklase pa yata niya si Dina (Bonnevie). ‘Yon ang sabi ni Dina. She did a lot of paintings and some sculptures. I keep them all in Antipolo. She was even planning to put up her own exhibit before she died. It was her dream. From my Mom, I learned pakikitungo sa kapwa. Sa kanya, everybody was equal; lahat pantay-pantay."

As the eldest boy in the family, were you strict with those younger than you?

"Not strict; average lang siguro. Concerned lang siguro. Pero kung ngayon ’yon, I would have been more strict. Noon, walang mga drugs; ngayon, grabe na. Young people then were different from young people now. Life then was simple; now, it’s very complicated. As a young man myself, I also made mistakes, just like everybody else."

Mistakes? Such as what mistakes?

"Kasi at that time, madalas akong napapasubo kapag ang kaibigan ko ay nalalagay sa panganib. Because of the popularity of our movie Lo’ Waist Gang, people thought na ’yung mga kalokohang ginagawa namin sa pelikula ay ginagawa din namin sa tunay na buhay."

Your’e the type who’d do anything for a friend. During your "wild" days, ano naman ang mga gimik n’yo and your friends?

"We were not earning much during those days, so kapag nakapasok kami sa nightclub, like Nautilus, big deal na ’yon. Or we would go to the Roadside Café located in Vito Cruz, near the Rizal Memorial Stadium. Big time na sa amin ang ganoon. Or we’d go to Quiapo, sa Ambos Mundos. Simple pleasures like that."

On campus, ano ang mga excitement?

"Kantiyawan dahil natalo sa basketball, mga ganoon lang. Pormahan lang; nothing serious. Caloy (Loyzaga) was with us then at San Beda, so our team almost always won. The fight then was San Beda against Ateneo, unlike now when it’s Ateneo against La Salle. I’ll never forget the time when Ateneo won (over San Beda). Nag-parada pa ang mga Atenean in front of San Beda, having their motorcade around Mendiola Street. Ang San Beda noon, palaging bar top-notchers. When San Beda celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, nandoon ako. I saw Sonny (Belmonte, Quezon City Mayor) there; nandoon din si Herbert (Bautista, Quezon City Vice Mayor) who was the last to be called during the roll call dahil siya ang youngest. I missed other Bedans, though."

What about the girls?

"Iba ang ligawan noon. Hanggang patingin-tinging lang. Kapag nahawakan mo ang kahit kamay lang, serious na ’yon. . ."

. . .How very different from today! Ngayon, nabubuntis at naa-anakan na, parang bale-wala lang.

"At that time, movies were different, too. Makita mo lang si Rosa Rosal in a sexy dress, kahit balot-na-balot, daring na ’yon. Ibang-iba. . ."

. . .Ngayon, ipinapakita na ang internal organs, parang mild pa rin.

"Ang kissing scene noon, nakatikom ang lips."

Speaking of kissing scenes, you haven’t really done any torrid kissing until now. Do you have anything against it?

"No naman. But it all depends on the situation, on the eksena. Kung kinakailangan talaga ng eksena, why not?"

Many of your fans don’t want to see you die in your movies. (According to a report, a Muslim fan, enraged that FPJ died at the end of the movie, watched the movie again and shot the villain before he could do FPJ any harm.) How do you compromise with that, especially if the story, like Asedillo, really calls for you to die?

"Sometimes, but very rarely, my movies have two versions, dalawang magkaibang endings. One shown in some places and the other, where my character doesn’t die, in other places. But in almost all of my films, my character(s) don’t die. If they do, as in Asedillo, ipinapakitang nakalutang sa sky, mukhang masaya."

Aren’t you doing any movie with Celso (who also directed FPJ in Esteban)?

"I’d like to. In fact, I told him that I wanted something like Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven; we’ve been planning to sit down for some brainstorming but I haven’t seen Celso for years."

How do you preserve your image (the gentle hero, with a heart of gold, oppressed in the beginning but who sends his oppressors to Kingdom Come in the end with his rapid punches and deadly familiarity with the gun)?

"Not consciously maybe, not deliberately. What you see is what you get." (In real life, FPJ walks with very light footsteps, very much like Harrison Ford whom I observed closely when I and Kris Aquino interviewed him in Maui, Hawaii, in 1997. FPJ, like Ford, is also soft-spoken. – RFL) "I guess I took after my Dad. Malaking tao siya, pero quiet lumakad; hindi mabigat ang bagsak ng kanyang footsteps." (In an interview, Susan Roces said that you can glimpse the character of FPJ by his manner of walking. – RFL)

You used to do Western flicks, which your fans love so much and never tire of. Aren’t you doing one perhaps soon?

"We’re planning one, to be shot in Arizona. A cowboy film with a heart. Kapag natuloy, we might shoot in July, summer doon sa America."

You’ve done movies before in America, like Hawaiian Boy (playing a boxer, with co-star Eddie Mesa as a singer). Magandang i-remake ang movie na ’yan, di ba?

"What I want to remake is Rolling Rockers (an early 1960s Premiere movie directed by Dan Santiago, also with Eddie Mesa; FPJ played an ex-convict and Eddie, also a singer). This time, siguro with Gary (Valenciano). We’re toying with the idea."

If ever, that means you’ll be travelling long haul. Di ba you have daw a fear of flying?

"That’s not true. During the campaign, sakay ako nang sakay ng plane. When Erap ran for the Senate, for Vice President and then for President, we’d fly several times a day, sakay ng chopper o kaya ibang klaseng light plane. Nakasakay na ako sa Lear Jet, King Air, Queen Air at Cessna. Nasanay na ako sa small planes, so when I ride an Airbus or a 747, parang ang laki n’ung plane."

Politics. Once and for all, talaga bang you’re not interested in politics? (FPJ is credited for helping propel the political career of his pare/Erap, former President Joseph Estrada, to Malacañang.)

"Not at all."

What will, if ever, make you change your mind about politics?

(Thinks long and hard)
"Mahirap. Mahirap! For one thing, I have no experience in government."

You will win hands down if you run for any position, even for President...

"It’s really hard. Mahirap. I know a lot of politicians and I wonder why, even if they come from different parties, okey sila when they are together kahit na nagaaway-away sila sa media. And they even talk, sometimes, joke, about their (opposition) views on the issues. Iba sa showbiz."

Do you ever have time for yourself? How do you spend it? Do you listen to music? Ano ba ang type mong music?

"Well, Frank Sinatra pa rin ako. Sometimes, Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston."

What’s your favorite Sinatra song?

"All the Way."

Ano ba ang theme song n’yo ni Susan?

"Somewhere in Your Heart."

What about food? Any preference?

"Sinigang or paksiw. Anything. Gulay, especially. I seldom eat meat, though. Very little rice lang ako."


"Those by Henry Miller. Tropic of Cancer ... Tropic of Capricorn. When I was in L.A., I bought several Henry Miller books, including Red Book which I gave to (director) Totoy (Buenaventura). I became interested in Henry Miller because of Totoy. Mayroon pa siyang Remember To Remember, and The Air-Conditioned Nightmare. Malalalim. Medyo mahirap intindihin ‘yung ibang libro niya. Doon sa Red Book, may mga doodlings pa siya. As I’ve said, Red Book is my inspiration for the Buhay tele-series I’m doing. Totoy is well-read; I learned a lot from him. As a kid, I got interested in reading from my Mom who read all the Tarzan books to us."

Did you also go through the hero-worship stage? Who were your heroes?

"Sina Phantom, the komiks hero who never dies, and Tarzan. They were my childhood heroes. Our Mom also trained us to read the book section of the Reader’s Digest. I read pocketbooks every now and then, especially those given to me by Ethel (Ramos, FPJ’s bosom friend)."

What are naman your favorite movies by other actors?

"I love old movies. Mga movies ni Gary Cooper, Glen Ford, Richard Widmark, Gregory Peck at James Stewart. Among the new ones, sina Robert DeNiro who, I think, did better than Al Pacino in Godfather. I also like Montgomery Clift in I Confess and A Place in the Sun, and in Young Lions with Marlon Brando. Among the (foreign) actresses naman, sina Ann Blyth at Susan Hayward whom I saw in person when I did a movie in the States."

Your all-time favorite movie (by another actor)?

"Warlock (starring Anthony Quinn). Also, Gone With The Wind, Ben Hur and Citizen Kane. Malalalim na movie."

What about your own?

"The Panday series. I really enjoyed doing them."

How do you pray?

"Direct to God."

Do you have any favorite saint?

"I believe in the Virgin Mary. Remember, I was brought up the Benedictine way (at San Beda)."

Come to think of it, if you became a doctor, your childhood dream, what sort of doctor would you have been?

"A good one, honestly. I would have been a good doctor." (In Dalubhasa, his hit starrer in 2000, he played a neuro-surgeon. – RFL) "Okey lang that I didn’t become a doctor. After all, my ‘tor’ din naman ang profession ko – Actor."

When you look back, is there anything in your life that you want to undo, to change?

"Nothing. I’m happy with my life."

What’s the best thing about being FPJ?

"It’s before I became FPJ, because I’ve had a lot of friends who made me what I am today. I try never, never to disappoint my friends." (Sometimes at his expense. — RFL)

And what’s the worst thing about being FPJ?

(Thinks long and hard again)
"I can’t think of any."

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