Keann & JR not worried about being typecast in BL roles
Certified straight, new BL (Boys Love) movie Run stars Keann Johnson (in yellow) and JR Versales with writer-director Mel Magno (center) said that it’s ‘the least of our worries’
STAR/ File

Keann & JR not worried about being typecast in BL roles

FUNFARE - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - January 21, 2021 - 12:00am

The road paved with good intentions by the Thai-originated BL (Boys Love) trend is a crowded avenue today, with the Philippines cashing in on the rage with its own versions of the theme, kicked off by The IdeaFirst Company’s Gameboys (now on Netflix) starring Kokoy de Santos and Elijah Canlas, followed by an avalanche of others delineating various shades of male gayness, making some people wonder why (yes, why not?) nobody (except IdeaFirst with Pearl Next Door) has initiated a female equivalent to be called GL (as in Girls Love). Enough of the BL stuff?

Stay tuned, one more is coming.

The latest outing is called Run, written and directed by theater artist Mel Magno (of his eponymous Film and Theater Productions). The film, set for streaming tomorrow (Friday, Jan. 22) on ktx.ph for P199 (tickets are valid for 48 hours), is about Mark Merano (Keann Johnson) and Gene Villarama (JR Versales), two gay guys who are (as the title implies) running away from an unaccepting society and not from themselves nor from their families that have known their sexuality from the day they were born.

How does Run differ from the rest of the BL films?

Keann and JR (inset) had no qualms doing the passionate scenes. ‘When you are in love,’ says Keann, ‘you do it regardless of who you are in love with, beyond gender.’

“I would say that Run tackles the topic of homosexuality in a deeper manner,” explained Mel who has done two films, Ripples and Bata, Gabi Na Saan Ka Pupunta?, with Run as his first foray into BL territory. “Bata touches on homosexuality but not as deep as does Run. In Run, malalim ang pagtalakay sa homosexuality. It deals with a part of my own life, although the story is a composite of the lives of people I know, including mga pananaw (opinions) ko sa lipunan which has not fully accepted the reality of homosexuality. I would say that the whole film is my statement. Which of the two characters am I? I am Gene Villarama but I want to be Mark Merano, gusto kong matanggap ako ng isang Mark Merano.”

In real life, Keann and JR are certified heterosexual. A B.S. Biology student at Our Lady of Fatima University in Valenzuela City, Keann has appeared in Santigwar (2019) and in an episode of the GMA series Tadhana before an impressive turn in the 2020 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) entry The Boy Foretold by the Stars which climaxed in an extended kissing scene with his co-actor Adrian Lindayag; while JR, a Cebuano, has starred in Wapakman (2009), Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles (2012) and Seklusyon (2016).

Secure with their sexuality, Keann and JR had no qualms doing the passionate scenes.

“When you are in love, whether with a girl or with another guy,” claimed Keann, “you hold hands, you hug and you kiss. Love should be above gender, beyond gender.”

“They were cooperative,” related Mel, “but initially during the shoot of the shower scene with another actor, I had to explain to them that they had to do it. I told them, ‘Forget that you are Keann and you are JR...think that you are your characters Mark and Gene. You are actors; embrace your characters.’ Do it, otherwise baka tapos na ang pandemic ay hindi pa tayo tapos. They were already shaking from the cold. My strategy worked.”

And, according to Mel, what worked was the songs he played during the shoot.

“I wrote 14 original songs for the movie,” shared Mel, “and every song fitted every scene in which it was played, not just partially but in full. For that shower scene, I played Mahal, Huwag Kang Matakot.”

Since they are both single, Keann and JR claimed that they didn’t have to worry about girlfriends frowning over Run. Their families have given them the thumbs-up.

“They know the kind of work that we are doing,” said Keann, speaking for himself and JR.

Mel said that what attracted him to Keann and JR was their eyes.

“Several managers offered me their talents but when I saw Keann and JR, ‘yung mga mata nila ang agad nakita ko, di ba the eyes are the windows to the soul? As a theater director, that has always been my basis for hiring actors. You can do many things with just your eyes, right? There’s also the kilig effect, the gut feel. For example, when I listen to a song and it makes me happy or cry, if it hits me in the heart, I know that it is ‘it.’ Same with actors. Something in me must be touched.”

Reminded Keann, “Viewers should not just look at the passionate scenes in Run. They must also pay attention to the story which is essentially about love and family.”

Aren’t they worried that they might be typecast in BL roles?

“That’s the least of our worries,” said Keann, and JR agreed. “We’re treating Run as just another genre, just like such other genres as horror, romcom, drama.”

Well, Kokoy (who went full frontal in the Cinemalaya entry Fuccbois before Gameboys) and Elijah (who won an Urian Best Actor award for Kalel, 15 before Gameboys) have graduated to non-BL roles. They are cast in the TV5 dramas Paano ang Pasko/Paano ang Pangako? (Elijah) and Stay-In Love (Kokoy). So why can’t Keann and JR?

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

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