Rocco Nacino all fired up

KAPUSO DAY - Butch S. Raquel - The Philippine Star

When things didn’t turn out the way he hoped for in the fifth season of GMA 7’s reality search Starstruck, Kapuso homegrown actor Rocco Nacino never thought he would make it in show business.

“Sa totoo lang, throughout the show, I asked myself, ‘Ano kayang mangyayari sa akin? Magkaka-show ba ako? Ano kaya magiging trabaho ko after Starstruck?” 

The artista search labeled him Second Prince, two notches behind US-born culinary student and season winner Steven Silva.

A third-place finish did not guarantee a kaleidoscopic career, but showbiz was a risk Rocco was more than willing to take. If all else failed, he had a ready back-up plan: His nursing license entitled him to a medical degree. He could still be a pediatrician as planned.

A year later, he garnered his first acting nod from the entertainment press — a Golden Screen nomination for his work on the GMA Afternoon Prime drama Koreana. By 2012, he received recognition from multiple award-giving bodies for his breakthrough work in the indie film circuit.

Life is a gamble “and I’m glad I took that risk,” he chuckles, his sunny disposition in full view. “I’m really thankful to GMA for that. I’m happy that I got to establish myself as Rocco Nacino. I’m happy that people recognize me. I’m humbled by this experience.”

In the lead up to his top-billed status, Rocco grew to be an unstoppable force in film and on television. Role after role, he delivered.

His hard work eventually came to fruition when he began harvesting critical acclaim for his portrayals. He established his niche playing complex, layered characters — titular heroes (PLUMA: Rizal, Ang Dakilang Manunulat and Pedro Calungsod: Batang Martir), an idealistic politician (GMA News TV’s award-winning political mini-series Bayan Ko), a con-artist (primetime drama Akin Pa Rin Ang Bukas), and similar well-chosen roles that hoisted his career to top-tier.

This year, he was cast as a tortured war soldier in Hiram Na Alaala, GMA’s primetime offering.
“As an artist, I’m more vulnerable to emotions now,” he says, reflecting on the dynamics of his craft. “Mas malalim na ako humugot ngayon. But I make sure to keep myself grounded. I make sure that it doesn’t get to my head. Same goes for every celebrity. Once it gets to your head, you’re doomed,” he laughs a little.

In Hiram Na Alaala, Rocco plays Joseph, a Philippine Military Academy (PMA) graduate sent to fight insurgency in a war-torn community. In the battlefield, he meets fellow soldier Ivan (Dennis Trillo) who becomes his best friend and confidante.
“Fiancée ko dito si Kris Bernal, at maraming mangyayari sa amin ni Dennis. Magkakaroon ng psychological issues, which will be addressed in the show.”

Hiram Na Alaala is not the usual narrative. It tells the mental repercussions of physical torture told through the lives of tortured soldiers. It’s a venture not for the faint of heart — each sequence tests an actor’s true mettle, of how much hard work he is willing to put in for a character.
In that meter, Rocco is a good fit. “There’s this scene na parang welcoming ng mga plebo,” he narrates a scene filmed at the PMA headquarters.

“They had all the plebes stand in the middle of the field. Yung mga upperclassmen nasa harap, so one guy shouted a command. Pag harap nila lahat, sumugod sila sa amin.”

It was a surprise attack. Director Dominic Zapata concealed the nitty-gritty of the scene to extract genuine reactions from Rocco.
To a confused actor making sense of the sudden fiasco, it was a terrifying spectacle. “I remember asking myself, ‘Should I run?’” he snickers at the memory. “They made me do push-ups, jumping jacks, knee-jumps, sit-ups. It was crazy. Ganon pala yung pag-welcome nila. And you have to endure that for an hour.”

The scene didn’t last long — 10 minutes at most, but it was a wake-up call.

“I was put to the test,” he adds an afterthought. “That’s why after my experience at PMA, sabi ko, hanga ako sa mga sundalo. Sila yung epitome of putting your heart into it, because if you can’t endure that one-hour initiation, you’re out for good. To be a soldier, mas marami ka pang dadanasin.”

Some scenes required even greater physical effort: Obstacle courses, military marches and rifle drills that measured his grit and spirit.

Rocco is thankful that the armed forces were more than willing to share their combat know-how.

“They kept telling me about their experience, how it happens, anong dapat gawin. I ask questions, sagot naman sila ng sagot. Nakakatuwa yung mga consultants namin sa PMA, they’re really helpful. Tsaka ini-impart talaga nila sa amin yung discipline.”

Working side-by-side with a decorated actor like Dennis is also a welcome bonus. “I told him, ‘Bro, it’s on! I’m gonna beat you,’” he shares their on-set repartee. “We’re both excited about this. We talk about it a lot. Sabi ko, ‘Uy, sobrang ganda ng characters natin. We keep telling each other how we’re looking forward to this project. It’s nice to be working with him again.”

Their last collaboration came four years ago in the GMA daytime drama Gumapang Ka Sa Lusak — Rocco’s first acting project. “He’s a friend, and one of the people I idolize when it comes to acting,” says Rocco. “I’ve also sparred with him in boxing. We’ve established a certain friendship already.”

Incidentally, Dennis hosted the same StarStruck season Rocco joined. “It feels surreal just watching that person on TV, and now I’m working with him.”

Fellow StarStruck graduate Kris is also a joy on the set, says Rocco of his three-time leading lady. “Mas malalim na siya ngayon in terms of acting, pero yung chemistry namin nandoon pa rin.”

Rocco and Kris road-tested their chemistry in Koreana (which gave Rocco his first acting nomination). The following year, they rekindled their team-up via the Kapuso danserye Time of My Life.

Hiram Na Alaala is Rocco’s entry into the action genre. “I’ve always wanted to do action projects, and this is like a gift from GMA — a Christmas gift for me!” he says. “I’m happy to be doing lots of combat scenes. I’m really psyched to do that. I’ve been training a lot so that I can be physically prepared for the role.”

Rocco is particularly skilled in mixed martial arts (MMA) — a sport he has mastered since college. “I started to do MMA when I was commuting — for self-defense,” he interjects. “I learned jiu-jitsu, muay thai, arnis, wing chun, judo. I liked it, so tinuloy ko.”

He eventually turned his love for MMA into a business venture — a start-up events company engaged in fight promotions. “We’re so happy to have closed a deal with (a reputable mall). We’re going to be holding a championship fight soon,” he reveals.

For his next television project, Rocco hopes to work again with real-life ladylove Lovi Poe. “We’ve been talking about it so much,” he beams. “We want to do a romcom ‘cause that’s one of the highlights of our relationship — we always make each other laugh. Sabi ko, ‘Why don’t we make something out of this?’ She agrees naman. Kahit drama, whatever. Just any project with her.”

Rocco and Lovi are a reel hit. From their island romance in 2011’s Mistaken Identity (“Where it all started!”), they renewed their team-up in Yesterday’s Bride in 2012, and again for Akin Pa Rin Ang Bukas in 2013.

An actor of his caliber has nowhere to go but up. “So much has happened, but I’m happy with my upbringing, with how my parents instilled discipline in me,” he says, speaking of his parents with reverent fondness. “It’s because of them that I decided to finish my education first. Because of them, ganito ako ka-passionate sa trabaho ko, sa lahat ng ginagawa ko.”

Rocco plants his feet right where they should be. “Showbiz has changed me a lot, but I’m thankful to my friends and family. They keep me grounded.”











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