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Atom vs Mike: Both sides now

FUNFARE - Ricky Lo - The Philippine Star
Atom vs Mike:  Both sides now
Atom Araullo and director Mike de Leon on the set of Citizen Jake, the director’s comeback movie after 17 years, in which Atom plays the tile role. When offered the role, Atom recalled saying, ‘Why me?’

Just when we thought that he would simply ignore (shrug off) Mike de Leon’s “closet movie star” social media post against him, Atom Araullo finally broke his silence in a kilometric message on his Facebook account. Although they didn’t mean to, the word war between director and actor (punned by some showbiz observers as “ang giyera ng atomic at ng leon”) is giving their movie, Citizen Jake, the much-needed push (no, the “war” is not a cheap gimmick) since it’s getting a lukewarm response from the public. Turning suddenly curious about the movie, some people have been enticed to watch it, and maybe (“hoping” to) get a clue to how the whole mess has started.

I presume that the social-media-savvy STAR readers have read Mike’s posts against Atom so Funfare is not rehashing them. Yesterday’s Funfare raised a question: Why did the promising partnership go wrong? Maybe we can find the answers in the following social-media exchange between Atom and Mike. No further comment from this corner.

Here’s Atom’s side from his Facebook account, published with the permission of Noel Ferrer, the manager of Atom who is now in Indo-China shooting episodes for his new GMA show titled The Atom Araullo Specials:

Before anything else, I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who supported Citizen Jake. Despite the inherent challenges of promoting an independent movie that deals with a controversial theme, I am humbled by the strong response to the film, good or bad. It was the result of more than a year of hard work by a resilient, dedicated, and talented team.

Sadly, I found myself in the middle of a minor controversy just as Citizen Jake was released to a wider audience last week. I chose to keep quiet while the movie was still in cinemas because I didn’t want to distract from the film, or be accused of cheap gimmickry to promote it. Besides, I figured that those who really mattered know me well and would not be swayed by what they hear in the rumor mill.

Nevertheless, I feel like I owe it to the supporters of the movie, many of whom are asking (me) to set the record straight. I intend for this to be the first and last time I write on the matter.

I was approached to be part of Citizen Jake around September of 2016. Early on, without a script or a clear story, director Mike de Leon wanted me to play the lead in the film. It was a surprise. Mike had no basis to determine whether I could act or not, much less carry an entire film (with what would turn out to be a challenging role). Naturally, my first questions were: Why me? What movie are we crafting to justify my participation as an actor? Mike was adamant that he wanted a journalist and non-actor to play the character because of his unique vision for Citizen Jake. I believed in the director, and like others who admire his work, I wanted to see him make another film after some 17 years of retirement at the time. So, I said yes.

Mike knows that it was not an easy decision. Journalists becoming actors is unconventional to say the least. Colleagues raised their eyebrows, and surely many in the film industry did, too. I knew that I would be subjected to an intense level of scrutiny from all sides, and others will harbor suspicion about my motives. But this was the price to pay for an extraordinary opportunity to speak truth to power in a different medium.

I have had more than my fair share of good fortune in my life, and the least I owe the universe is to have the courage to step up to the plate when called upon. I learned that from my parents.

Citizen Jake seems like a love-it-or-hate-it kind of movie. As a co-writer, I sensed that early on as we strove to interweave various arcs, elements, and layers of meaning into a cogent narrative to fulfill Mike’s vision. A lot has been said about how brave the film is in tackling its themes, but Mike is also brave in staying loyal to his singular style of storytelling. He never panders to the audience, something which I respect.

Do I stand by the film? Of course, I do. Will I defend it? That goes without saying. While it has its weaknesses and limitations, I am immensely proud to be part of Citizen Jake. Meanwhile, and I fear I’m stating the obvious, Jake Herrera is not Atom Araullo. Although there are similarities, we don’t necessarily share the same politics. The film is told through the point of view of the privileged elite and can be seen by some as cynical or nihilistic. Maybe it is. It does not presume to answer any questions about our predicament as a nation. But, for me, that doesn’t make the story of Jake less interesting or worthy of attention.

The film itself is already a statement. As for my own political views on current events, I have expressed and will continue to express them in my own way and on my own terms. I have not had a problem with being outspoken in the past, and my views have not changed since the making of Citizen Jake.

Mike made deliberately hurtful remarks about my journalism, which, ironically, has nothing to do with my participation in the film. All I can say is that I have never made any claims

about the quality of my output or my stature in the media industry. To do so would be futile and obscene. I just aim to do my best like everyone else, always acknowledging that one continues to learn and improve every day. I’ll leave it to the public to appraise the value of my work, accumulated over a decade of being a journalist.

Despite everything, I do not wish to besmirch Mike’s reputation the way he did mine. However, I think it is important to explain that while many were shocked by his recent tirade, I was not. It was only the latest in a string of unprovoked, irrational, almost random tantrums that I had to endure during the making of this film, determined as I was to see it through. It had a profound effect on me, and to be honest, made it that much harder to perform my duties in the movie. Almost everyone who at one point worked on Citizen Jake knows this, and his voluminous texts and emails will bear it out. When others found themselves in Mike’s crosshairs, I tried to be there to lend a sympathetic ear.

Perhaps his woeful behavior continues because he is never held accountable. Mike is a deeply troubled person. The kindest thing I can say about him is that he needs help, patience, and understanding as he wrestles with his personal demons. But while he has certainly tested the limits of my endurance, I can rest easy knowing that I worked hard, behaved professionally, and did all to the best of my abilities at the time the film was made.

Mike’s contribution to Philippine cinema is unquestionable. I hope he remains productive after Citizen Jake, making more movies that will rouse our consciousness, make us uncomfortable, and spur debate. I am still grateful for the opportunity to have worked on this film, now that I close this chapter of my life.

* * *

And here’s Mike’s reply to Atom posted on the Citizen Jake Facebook page:

Thank you for breaking your silence, Atom. Many of the things you said are true — that I am a deeply troubled person, I accept that. I come from a crazy rich family anyway. But let me just add that you forgot to mention a few important events. I will mention just one. When we were shooting the last sequence with Teroy, you unexpectedly ignored my direction and did something that was not rehearsed nor agreed upon. Many people were witness to this. The following day, I told you that never in my career as a director has any actor disrespected me as much as you did. Then I told you that if you wanted to direct yourself, then by all means do it. You can overact all you want. I will just shoot whatever you wish to do and direct the other actors in the scene.

Atom: Mike is a deeply troubled person. The kindest thing I can say about him is that he needs help, patience and understanding as he wrestles with his personal emons… Despite everything, I do not wish to besmirch Mike’s reputation the way he did mine. However, I think it is important to explain that while many were shocked by his recent tirade, I was not. It was only the latest in a string of unprovoked, irrational, almost random tantrums that I had to endure during the making of this film.

Mike to Atom: Many of the things you said are true — that I am a deeply troubled person, I accept that. I come from a crazy rich family anyway… And you say that you cringe at being called a celebrity, a star. How hypocritical. Don’t bother to cringe at being called a celebrity anymore because you revel in it. You make commercials now and you exploited the Marawi bakwit by making that offensive commercial featuring yourself monologuing like Citizen Jake…

Then you went into a meandering explanation about why you did it without really saying anything, not even apologizing. Then I said, “Bakit ganyan ka, bakit ba ang yabang mo? Bakit ba ang tingin mo sa sarili mo you’re better than everyone else?” And you said, “No one has ever told me that before.” So I concluded by saying, “Well, it’s about time somebody did. As an actor, you’re ok pero marami ka pang kakaining bigas.” I also told you in one of my earlier “tirades” that I find that you have no empathy, so how can you be a journalist if you lack this basic ability to understand people’s problems (not mine). Isn’t journalism about the story, not the journalist? But in your case, nobody is more important to Atom Araullo than Atom Araullo.

And you say you cringe at being called a celebrity, a star. How hypocritical. Don’t bother to cringe anymore because you revel in it. You make commercials now and you exploited the Marawi bakwit by making that offensive commercial featuring yourself, monologuing like Citizen Jake, all under the sponsorship of McDo. You consented to a magazine article whose title was “ AA (abbreviation) promises to be the greatest storyteller of this generation” e wala ka pa namang real accomplishments except being the famous boy in the rain who braved the wrath of Yolanda, an unrelatable documentary on climate change shot in Scandinavia, and of course, Umagang Kay Ganda.

I may have my demons to deal with but you have yours, too, my friend. So accept that you are a celebrity and don’t use the noble profession of journalism to hide your inadequacies as a human being. You know how your performance in Citizen Jake was enhanced and “fixed” in the editing. That I had to use two cameras all the time in anticipation of this. That it was how the film was put together that made you look good. You won’t want me to upload your most horribly acted scenes, and the one that had my team rolling in laughter every time they saw it. I tried to keep that scene by modifying the editing flow but I was overruled by my team who told me in no uncertain terms that that scene had to go.

And in the last instance before I made a post, I asked you for a statement (something that we had agreed upon) about the film to be posted on our page, not on yours, of course because it would have been lost in all the photos of you climbing mountains, swimming the oceans, commiserating with the downtrodden, or enjoying a meal in Hong Kong. It would be your statement about Citizen Jake, not as an actor but as a co-writer because your contribution was substantial. Something I could post and say that this is a statement by Atom Araullo, not by Mike De Leon, but Atom Araullo himself on our official page.

Perhaps it would entice your millions of social media followers to watch their idol on the big screen but wonder of wonders, they never came to watch the film and still they scream, “I love you, Atom. I want to marry you, Atom.” But I digress, about that statement, you hemmed and hawed (as is your wont) and replied that you are not used to making statements unless you’re interviewed and so I cut it short by saying, “Fine.” That’s it, thanks anyway. That was the last straw. You said you had to endure a lot throughout the making of the film. Well, guess what, I had to do that, too. I had to endure your superciliousness, your overweening ego, your disparaging remarks about movie people and actors, even your lack of manners. I had to remind you to at least say thank you to the staff and crew before you left Baguio. Is that what you learned from your parents? Or did they fill your head with hot air as you were growing up, telling you were the best in everything you did.

You know how it feels to be working with a 34- or 35-year-old man (I forget now) who still admitted to telling his parents EVERYTHING. Everything. It felt like I was dealing with the entire Araullo clan and needed their approval for everything that happened to their son in this film. In closing (and like you, I won’t say anything anymore) let me add this: Having admitted that I’m a deeply troubled person, I will make no excuses for it — not even the usual “artists are temperamental and accountable to no one but their art.” But please be kind to your soul and accept the reality – stop pretending to want to embrace the universe, when all the time, you only want to embrace yourself. This is called narcissism. — Mike De Leon.

(E-mail reactions at [email protected]. For more updates, photos and videos, visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on Instagram @therealrickylo.)

ATOM ARAULLO

MIKE DE LEON

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