When brotherhood works

DIRECT LINE - Boy Abunda (The Philippine Star) - December 4, 2015 - 9:00am

They are brothers, and both are actors. The first built a name for himself as a stage and indie film actor, capping that with a Best Supporting Actor trophy in the 10th Cinemalaya Film Festival for his brilliant performance in 2014’s The Janitor. The other, after an impressive debut in the stage musical Rak of Aegis (where he played Tolits) is now earning his own following as Axel, one of James Reid’s two sidekicks in On The Wings of Love nightly on ABS-CBN.

Being brothers, Nicco (who’s older by two years) and Benj are the same in the sense that both enjoy acting, but are different in what they bring to the table. They even look different.

Nicco is shorter, curly-haired and wears glasses. Benj, born Don Benjamin Manalo, is taller and wears his hair long and straight. Nicco started acting when he was still in second year high school, and continued with it right through college, working with various theater groups like Tanghalang Pilipino, Atlantis Productions and PETA; Benj, inspired by what he saw as his kuya’s success, initially wanted to become an actor as well but decided to take a different route and tried dancing.

He joined the Philippine All-Stars and also had a brief flirtation with music when he tried putting up his own band and releasing some independently-produced songs, but one day, when his handler asked him if he was interested in auditioning for Rak of Aegis — “Ano ‘yon?’ was his first reaction — one thing led to another, and before he knew it, he was already part of the cast of the musical, and got offered the part in On the Wings of Love which was totally unexpected.

To their credit, Nicco and Benj have tried hard to carve their own identities in showbiz although Benj confesses that he really idolizes his brother such that whatever Nicco is into, he also wants to try. In fact, that’s what led him into showbiz in the first place. “Sobrang idol ko si kuya; inggitero ako sa kanya,” says Benj. “Kahit nu’ng mga bata pa kami, siya lagi ang pinu-push nila mommy at ninang, tapos ako naman si nood lang until ‘yun na nga, nag-commercials siya, so sabi ko gusto ko din.”

Nicco, who is now seen regularly in the Kapamilya series Walang Iwanan, jumped from one theater company to another in the beginning and started making waves in the indie film scene until he crossed over to television. “My first official indie (film) was Tukso, directed by Dennis Marasigan for Cinemalaya,” says Nicco.

After that, he appeared in other indie films, but they didn’t create that big a splash until The Janitor came along. Suddenly everyone knew his name. “Dati meron na rin akong mga movies na naging lead ako, pero hindi gano’n kaingay. It wasn’t like now na everyone is getting into it (indie films),” says Nicco. “Pinaka-major na napansin ako ‘yung The Janitor.”

Now along with Benj, Nicco is also conquering the small screen. He has a comic role as the sidekick of John Estrada in Walang Iwanan. “Itong ginagawa ko ngayon na serye, first regular show ko for ABS-CBN,” continues Nicco.

He’s glad that for the first time in his career, he gets to play a role with comic touches. “Ngayon lang ako nabigyan ng ganitong role na sidekick na medyo light,” says Nicco. “Dati kasi, ang mga roles ko, kidnapper, holdaper, barkada ng kontrabida. Masaya ako na nabigyan ng chance na mag medyo comic role.”

The two have learned to count on each other for advice. When Benj did Rak of Aegis, who else should he turn to but his own brother? “Lagi kong tanong sa kanya, ‘Kuya, paano ba ito?’ Kasi nga, first-ever ko na theater experience ‘yun. Sobrang clueless kasi ako,” laughs Benj.

One thing that the two brothers agree on is that they have an important role to play as each other’s mentor and biggest supporter. “Natutuwa ako for him (Benj). I’m so proud seeing kung paano nag-re-react ang audience ng OTWOL sa kanya, lalo na online kasi sobrang ingay,” says Nicco. “There’s no rivalry.”

Benj, meanwhile, has learned to appreciate his brother even more for all the help and support he’s been getting. “I sometimes get (text) messages from him. And I’m really thankful for him. Kaya rin siguro malakas ang loob ko pagdating sa acting is because I know my brother is there. Ever since, I really look up to him. Lahat, automatic, nagtatanong ako sa kanya. Imbes na magbayad ng mahal, sa kuya ko na lang, di ba?”

The two know that they still have a long journey ahead of them in showbiz. But however long it takes, they will always be there for each other. That’s how their brotherhood works.

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