As Spanky as ever

Edna Imperial - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - On March 22, Spanky Manikan turns 72, and he is as spunky as ever. Indeed, 70, is the new 50 and, on certain spirited days, it gets even younger and bolder.

Say, for instance, Spanky’s dynamic performance in Tanghalang Pilipino’s 27th season closer, Nick Joaquin’s Mga Ama, mga Anak. Who would ever think that that hysterical character, wrangling and wrestling with his own conscience and demons — both old and new, imagined or real — is a dyed-in-the-wool septuagenarian?

And to think that these days, Spanky works on the double, straddling in theater and television, with an occasional film on the side. The Sunday (March 2 matinee) I watched the play, I was told that the actor had just come from long hours of taping for his latest drama series Ikaw Lamang on ABS-CBN the night before.

Pray tell, how hectic can a supra senior actor get in this day and age? Is Spanky perchance flirting with fate, even as he tirelessly communes with his friends Beethoven, Wagner and Strauss in his library in his spare hours?

With his punishing schedule, such as it is, does Spanky still find time with his family and constant flame actress Susan Africa, who also works on a day job as associate director and editor for the Asian Institute of Management Alumni publication.

These seemingly indefatigable doers, however, have their own fling at something different, albeit related to their main concern, Spanky especially. The actor likes to teach stage and the theater arts, sometimes conducting workshops for the youth, as part of his payback and to constantly be in touch with his temple.

But mostly, he loves to travel — anywhere — when and where his schedule allows and takes him. That’s why he jumps at every opportunity for any location shoots — the farther, the better.

For Ikaw Lamang, Spanky, who plays a grandfather, missed the Bacolod setting in the early episodes featuring the very young Coco Martin and Kim Chiu, and settled for Batangas in the succeeding sequences with already grown-up stars. At any rate, he has traveled far and near in his career, in places such as Sri Lanka and Australia, working spaces and characters that best suit him to a T, including those of foreigners.

For examples, in his award-winning role (Best Supporting Actor, Bahaghari Awards 1995) on GMA 7’s Parola, Spanky played a Chinese gentleman with a credible grasp. Also his uncanny grip of the Vietcong general is quite amusing in Saigon Commandos, one of his various foreign films shot in the Philippines.

And in Ploning, Judy Ann Santos’ attempt at the Oscars in 2008, Spanky’s Tsuy, a Taiwanese fisherman, made us think and look again as though he was the real McCoy.

Spanky started acting on stage with PETA’s Halimaw (1972) and has created a litany of memorable characters and performances worthy of a national treasure. From PETA to Dulaang UP to Bulwagang Gantimpla to Tanghalang Pilipino and to the defunct MET and Teatro Pilipino (of the late Rolando Tinio), his collective playbill runs the universal spectrum from Kabesang Tales to Henry IV to Marat Sade to Puntila and Matti and to a slew of others in between.

His latest, the senile and sardonic Don Zacarias Mondon of Mga Ama, mga Anak might as well prove to be his crowning glory after all.

Like last year’s Der Kaufmann: Ang Negosyante ng Venecia, TP has another ace up its sleeve, with Spanky on a roll for outstanding male lead in a play, for next year’s Gawad Buhay and, possibly Aliw Awards. (Incidentally, the same credit goes to Jonathan Tadioan this year, for his unforgettable take as the persecuted Jewish money lender in the local Shakespearean reading and reinterpretation by Rody Viera, from the Tinio translation).

In films, Spanky first appeared as Bembol Roco’s co-construction worker in Lino Brockas’s celebrated Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1975). In Brocka’s tragic Bona (1980), he raved and raged as Nora Aunor’s angry brother who threw her out of their house in a violent fit.

In 1982, Spanky portrayed in Ishmael Bernal’s Himala the persistent photojournalist who took the cake and ate it, too, in a manner of speaking, by winning the Best Supporting Actor honors from the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) and the Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA).

He followed it, in 1983, with Bernal’s Broken Marriage, this time as the journalist buddy of Christopher de Leon, Vilma Santos’ estranged husband in the socio-realist film, undoubtedly Bernal’s best.

His recent turn as a wise old man in Maryo J. de los Reyes’ Bamboo Flowers (2013) has caught the attention of discriminating critics, earning him a Best Supporting Actor nomination from the PMPC Star Awards for Movies 2014, thus giving more gravitas to his already advancing career.

On TV, Spanky will always be remembered for his infamous role as the hateful and hated Gen. Silva in Lobo (2008), featuring Piolo Pascual and Angel Locsin.

And like his most memorable TV character to date, the spanking Spanky Manikan shall eventually evolve before we know it, even as we speak.












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