The prime of Vice Ganda
The prime of Vice Ganda
Pablo A. Tariman (The Philippine Star) - December 20, 2013 - 12:00am

His latest film is probably the toughest. He plays boy, girl, tomboy and gay but he didn’t have to go far to research the characters

MANILA, Philippines - Trailed by TV cameras, Vice Ganda arrives in the presscon venue in casual elegant black, hugging a bouquet with an entourage that in- cludes Maricel Soriano who plays his mother in his fifth movie team-up with director Wenn Deramas.

It is a grand, if, fitting entrance for someone who made something of himself after living an unheralded life along Jose Abad Santos St. in Manuguit, Tondo where he was the young- est in a family of five.

His face changes hues as he remembers all the dark Christmases in that part of Tondo and what the family had to put up with. “We had this small, green Christmas tree in a dark living room. Everything was simple, every member of the family was there and somehow we managed to have a happy Christmas.”

His rise from stand-up comedy to movie and TV stardom changed all that — even the color of Christmas.

From the dark Christmases of the late ’70s and early ’80s when he was still known quite simply as Jose Marie Borja Viceral, the Yule season now — by his own admission — is indeed bright with signs of prosperity all over the place.

He has a house fit for a prince, he helped send all his siblings to school, he managed to give his mother a car but in the process, he admits he lost his privacy. “My boyfriend and I have to go abroad to enjoy that lost privacy. Not that there is anything to be ashamed of in our relationship. We enjoy each other while we can but we have to go elsewhere before everybody starts figuring out where my boyfriend came from and what his supposed intentions are for getting involved with me.”

His latest film is a comedy titled Girl, Boy, Bakla, Tomboy and by his own account, the flick says a lot about his life reflected in four different roles implied in the film title. “Out- side the laughter and the kabaklaan, my latest film mirrors how I care for my family and what mothers sacrifice to give their children a better life. I am very close to my family. You can say 100 percent of this movie is my life told by four characters all portrayed by me.”

Truth to tell, his latest film is probably the toughest. He plays boy, girl, tomboy and gay but he didn’t have to go far to research the characters.

The gay part he is living to the hilt and for the tomboy part, all he had to do was look into the façade and psyche of Aiza Seguerra and Charice Pempengco. The long line of tomboys auditioning for the Showtime seg- ment, That’s My Tomboy, was also a big help.

Direk Wenn manages to highlight Vice’s evolution as an actor.

But as always in the earlier team-up, Vice would tell Deramas every time they shoot a scene from Petrang Kabayo to Sisterakas and Praybeyt Benjamin, “Please direk, ’wag mo na akong pa-artihin dito. Next project na lang.”

But in Girl, Boy, Bakla, Tomboy, Wenn put his foot down and told Vice enough already. “In this film, we have to show people you can act and you deserve to be called an actor. Indeed, he got my message and started giving suggestions on how we can improve certain scenes and how he plans to approach the part.

He has become that meticulous in the new role(s). I reminded him, ‘You have proven yourself as a box-office attraction. Now we have to show them that you can act as well.’”

The director admits that the latest filmfest entry is also the toughest he has handled that he rues, “If someone so much as joke about planning a sequel to this film in the middle of the shoot, I’ll slap him. That’s how difficult doing this film was.”

Vice can only agree. The constant shift from one role to the other involves quick changes of costumes, make-up and prosthet- ics. “The terrible fatigue doing this film was indescribable. I’d often ask a half-naked Ejay Falcon to wait a while for the next scene for my quick costume and make-up change. I was doing a farmer’s work in Pila, Laguna plowing a rice field while frogs manage to land on my face. I told direk this is no longer funny and he said, ‘Nakakatawa na ang mga dialogue mo. Kailangan na natin i-visualize ang humor.’”

Deramas says it wasn’t difficult handling Vice because he came from another form of theater which is stand-up comedy. “I met him during one of his gigs at The Library and I can say that what he was doing can’t be easily duplicated by any actor on the le- gitimate stage. He can dissect people in the audience and make something funny about it in seconds.”

Of course, that sense of humor can go overboard as when he singled out a TV host-news anchor in an imaginary gang rape episode. He has realized its consequence and has properly apologized.

For now, Vice is up there in the highest echelon of tinseltown.

He is enjoying the usual perks: Astro- nomical talent fees and his share of fame and recognition.

What he doesn’t enjoy in showbiz is quite revealing of victims of showbiz.

“To be robbed of your real self is some- thing I can’t accept about showbiz. Some people will ask you to do something against your will and principle but you have to do it all in the name of so-called professionalism.”

Even Vice’s presscons are filled with peals of laughter over his acerbic one-liners.

“The sadness behind the laughter is also true even among non-comedians,” he points out when asked if comedians actually suffer behind that happy façade. “Look at those victims of Typhoon Yolanda in Samar and Leyte. Recovery is a long way to go but when a TV camera pans them, they give their real, sincere smile as though every- thing is all right with the world.”

He admits he can cry over little things: Disappointments, family problems and the like.

But come Christmas, he will celebrate it as a matter of personal choice.

“We should help our poor brothers and sisters as they go through the recovery period. But we should celebrate the birth of Jesus in our own simple ways. We need not postpone it. After all, we are not celebrating a disaster. We are simply recalling the birth of our Savior.”

If ever he is given a chance to do things all over again, he says he wants to be a ma- cho man for a change. “Let’s admit it, you have better chances of achieving some of your dreams if you are straight — like being a president.”

To those who want a taste of his success, he says, “You can’t follow in my footsteps because this path was destined for me alone. I worked hard not trying to be another Dol- phy or another Vic Sotto or another Ai-Ai de las Alas. I just want a piece of success as me. The same is true for those aspiring to be actor-comedians.”

Even his idea of happiness hews along the same line.

“I will be very happy if I am able to do things that my heart dictates, not to live up to some image expected of me by the public. That is the only way I can find true happiness.”

A small but significant wish from some- one who didn’t even finish AB political sci- ence at the FEU of his earlier youth.(Girl, Boy, Bakla, Tomboy — starring Vice, Ejay, Maricel, Joey Marquez and Ruffa Guetierrez, among others — opens in all the- aters on Christmas day.)

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