How Pedro Calungsod changed Rocco’s life

FUNFARE - Ricky Lo - The Philippine Star

It happens all the time  you know, second choices turn out to be the better choices after all.

Name some?

Joel Torre took the lead role in Peque Gallaga’s 1982 classic Oro, Plata, Mata after Albert Martinez begged off and Joel became a star. Same good graces were bestowed on Marian Rivera who replaced Angel Locsin (who hopped ober da bakod from Kapuso to Kapamilya) in the GMA fantasy-series Marimar. Piolo Pascual took a big step toward serious acting when he played an activist in Chito Roño’s Dekada ’70 as replacement for Jericho Rosales.

And, of course, with derring-do, Vilma Santos graduated to “adult” roles by essaying the titular role in Celso Ad. Castillo’s Burlesk Queen after Lorna Tolentino turned chicken; Gina Alajar in Laurice Guillen’s Salome for Alma Moreno who preferred to do Gil Portes’ made-in-Brazil Carnival Queen, and Bembol Roco in the Lino Brocka classic Maynila sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag for Jay Ilagan who had a misunderstanding with Brocka (after doing Brocka’s trilogy Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa).

That’s why Rocco Nacino doesn’t have to mind that he’s second choice for the title role in Pedro Calungsod, Batang Martir, a 39th Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) entry from HPI Synergy Group directed by newcomer Francis Villacorta, which dramatizes the martyrdom of Calungsod who at 17, “made the ultimate sacrifice of choosing to stand by his beliefs and bravely faced persecution during his missionary trip in Guam” in the 17th century. Calungsod was canonized on Oct. 21 last year.

“As they say,” conceded Rocco, “it doesn’t matter if you are the second or the third or the fourth choice because what counts is you get the role.”

Original choice was JM de Guzman who had to quit due to personal problems, never mind if photos of JM in Pedro Calungsod outfit were  already circulated last year.

Playing Calungsod became much more challenging than playing real people, living or gone (but not that long), because hardly anything was recorded about Calungsod. In fact, an artist has to draw Calungsod’s likeness from pure imagination. It’s not known if Calungsod, who is said to have hailed from Cebu, has any living great-great relatives.

“I simply relied on whatever direk Francis told me to do,” admitted Rocco, a Born-Again Christian who bears a disquieting resemblance to the second Filipino saint (after St. Lorenzo Ruiz). “From what little I’ve learned about Calungsod, I see him as very righteous, at matulungin, youthful and vibrant with a peaceful face, and always putting the safety of others before his own.”

Rocco started internalizing for the role early this year. He politely turned down an offer to  parade sexy (as he always did) in the Cosmo Bash and saw to it that he always appears “proper” (although not “saintly”) as much as possible. It doesn’t mean though that he has to curb his growth as an actor so Rocco doesn’t confine his role choices such as his semi-kontrabida role in the GMA soap Akin Pa Rin Ang Bukas (directed by Laurice Guillen with, among others, Cesar Montano, Lovi Poe and Solenn Heussaff as co-stars).

Because they had to adjust to Rocco’s tight schedule, shooting of the movie took almost three months. In one crucial scene showing how Calungsod was strapped with weights before he was thrown into the sea, Rocco almost lost his life. “The weights were very heavy and they pulled me downward fast,” recalled Rocco. “I freed myself before I hit the bottom and surfaced safe.”

Like the actors (Morgan Freeman, among them) who claimed that their lives have radically changed after they played Mandela in bioflicks, Rocco said that playing Calungsod was a life-changing experience.

“I began to look at life in a new light,” he admitted. “Naging positive at optimistic ako. My belief in God was renewed and my faith became stronger. The best lesson that I learned from Calungsod’s story is, as I was saying, ‘others first before yourself.’ And keep on praying.”

2013 has been a good year for Rocco whose career took an upswing three years after he was discovered via the GMA reality-TV talent search StarStruck.

“I look forward to better things in 2014,” Rocco hoped.

Lucky in career but unlucky in love?

Not in the case of Rocco who said that he has been keeping a happy balance between love and career. He didn’t really say so but he hinted that he and Lovi Poe are having a “beautiful friendship” (which usually leads to a serious relationship).

“We’re good,” was all that Rocco would say. “We’re okay.”

(E-mail reactions at [email protected]. You may also send your questions to [email protected]. For more updates, photos and videos visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on www.twitter/therealrickylo.)

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