John in the Company of Heroes
CONVERSATIONS - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - August 29, 2015 - 10:00am

Name the actor who has played, and is playing, more heroes than other actors ever have and you come up with, yes, John Arcilla.

When he was just starting in 1988, John played Andres Bonifacio (Ang Supremo) in Jose Dalisay’s Ambon sa Madaling Araw and, a year after, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo in Huling Gabi sa Maragondon. So far, he has breathed life to other heroes such as The Sublime Paralytic Apolinario Mabini in Nonon Padilla’s play Tonio, Pepe at Pule; Dr. Jose Rizal in Ilustrado: Ang Buhay ni Rizal, Simon in El Filibusterismo and Crisostomo Ibarra in Noli Me Tangere, all staged at the CCP Little Theater with director Padilla, librettist Paul Dumol and maestro Ryan Cayabyab; and now as Gen. Antonio Luna in Heneral Luna, directed by Jerrold Tarog from his own screenplay co-written by Henry Hunt Francia and E. A. Rocha (who is also a co-producer, with Fernando Origas as executive producer, and Leo Martinez and Vicente “Ting” Nebrida as co-executive producers).

Produced by Artikulo Uno (the same company behind Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo, shown in last year’s Metro Manila Film Festival [MMFF] with Robin Padilla as titular star), Heneral Luna is set during the Philippine-American war of 1899 when a fiery Filipino general emerged, according to the production notes, “facing an enemy more treacherous than the American Army…his own countrymen.” (Watch the movie to know the whole story.)

Nebrida happily announced that Heneral Luna will have advance screenings in New York/New Jersey, DC/Maryland, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Dubai today (Aug. 30) and tomorrow (Aug. 31) to commemorate National Heroes Month. It opens in the Philippines on Sept. 9.

“For the first time,” added Nebrida, “SM, Ayala and Robinsons cinemas have accorded 50 percent student discount to individual students and/or block screenings from any and all schools nationwide. This is unprecedented.”

The cast also includes Arron Villaflor as Joven Hernando, Mon Confiado as Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo, Bing Pimentel as Doña Laureana Luna, Mylene Dizon as Isabel, Perla Bautista as Doña Trinidad Aguinaldo, Lorenz Martinez as Gen. Tomas Mascardo, Joem Bascon as Col. Francisco “Paco” Roman, Alvin Anson as Gen. Jose Alejandrino, Alex Vincent Medina as Capt. Jose Bernal, Art Acuña as Major Manuel Bernal, Archie Alemania as Capt. Eduardo Rusca, Epy Quizon as Apolinario Mabini, Leo Martinez as Pedro Paterno, Nonie Buencamino as Felipe Buencamino, Ketchup Eusebio as Capt. Janolino, Ronnie Lazaro as Lt. Garcia and (in a special participation) Paulo Avelino as Gen. Gregorio del Pilar. 

Why are you so fascinated with heroes?

“The lives of heroes are very interesting. Everybody can learn from them as I do in the process of playing them.”

What can we learn from this film about Gen. Luna?

“The film covers the period from the time Gen. Luna was assigned to be the head of the military as general in the Philippines to his assassination. This wasn’t thoroughly discussed in schools, right? The film will hopefully shed light on whatever happened to Gen. Luna who was during the Philippine-American War like what Andres Bonifacio was during the Philippine-Spanish War.”

How much more challenging is it playing these heroes than non-historical characters?

“It’s more exciting because you don’t just read them. You somehow experience their lives and it’s so fascinating. Suddenly, they are not just names and images to me, parang I have now a deeper understanding of them as human beings, not as god-like or saint-like or super-human.

“One more thing is that most of the writers and directors of these films are very reliable and very knowledgeable, so they are a big help. Maybe I have to be extra careful in portraying these heroes because I have to be faithful to history. The portrayal must be historically factual. I have to read books about them and other sources.

“I believe kasi that acting is a study of human behavior, it is somehow a study of psychology or social psychology. I mean, we’re studying their characters and where their motivations are coming from; we study the milieu, the values or culture of the required era. And as I grow into this profession, parang lalong na-a-affirm na ganoon na nga.”

Why is the movie made only now?

“Actually, the script was written 18 years ago at ngayon lang nag-materialize. I think the producers waited for the right time and the right people to do it.”

Back to your fascination with heroes…Were you interested in them way back during your school days?



“Since I was in the elementary school, I have been fascinated with the lives of heroes. I love heroes, I love history even up to now. You know, I’m very critical about our history because I just don’t believe what I read. I am aware naman that the writers of our history books before were kind of obsolete na. The writers of our history were actually the Americans, so they wouldn’t put themselves naman in the middle of controversy, they would rather put the Filipinos in a bad light. So I read the writings of Renato Constantino and Ambeth Ocampo, mas naniniwala ako siempre sa point of view ng Filipino writers kaysa point of view ng colonizers.”

This film should be another bright feather on your already well-decorated cap. Aside from Bourne Legacy, how many other Hollywood films have you done?

“That’s the first real Hollywood film that I’ve done, although ang dami ko na rin naman nagawang international films, one of them an indie with Joel Torre directed by John Sayles who is considered ‘the father of American indie films.’”

And you are the first Asian to be nominated (for Best Supporting Actor) at the British Film Awards.

“That was for Metro Manila, produced and directed by British director Sean Ellis. It was also nominated for Best Picture in BAFTA and entered by UK in the Best Foreign-Language Film category of the Oscars. I played a security guard in that movie, na driver ng armored car.”

After Gen. Luna, who’s the next hero that you want to portray?

“You know, kung hindi mamasamain ng mga writers and producers, my dream role is really Juan Luna, the painter who killed his wife. There’s more anxiety in Juan Luna. Antonio Luna expressed his emotions through outbursts, he was very temperamental. Juan Luna was more of an extrovert while Antonio Luna is an introvert who kept his emotions inside, mas repressed. Antonio Luna is more fiery, expressive of his anger but it was a calculated anger because he was really a controllable person. He would say, ‘Patayin ‘yan!’ But it was more of a bluff, more of lip service. Otherwise, he could have killed a lot of people but he did not. There was no account that he killed anyone. I realized that when we were already shooting the movie.”

Aside from promoting the film, anything else that occupies your time?

“We’re having a presscon (last Thursday, Aug. 27) and that same night I‘m flying to Malaysia for the ASEAN Film Festival where my indie film Halaw (Departed) will be shown. It was directed by Sheron Dayoc who won Best Director in the 2010 CineMalaya. The film also won Best Film and me Best Actor for my role as an illegal recruiter who doesn’t take advantage of the young girls being recruited but sincerely wants to help them have a good life. The film also got a recognition from the Berlin Film Festival and is invited for exhibition in various international film festivals. Then, I will go to Europe for a month-long series of concerts.”

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