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Ricky Lee gets real on 'National Artist' title: 'Para sa mga kapwa ko writer' |

Arts and Culture

Ricky Lee gets real on 'National Artist' title: 'Para sa mga kapwa ko writer'

Kathleen A. Llemit -
Ricky Lee gets real on 'National Artist' title: 'Para sa mga kapwa ko writer'
National Artist for Film and Broadcast Arts Ricardo "Ricky" Lee
The STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — On the occasions that this writer has seen interviews and even while interviewing National Artist for Film and Broadcast Arts Ricardo "Ricky" Lee, he remained a calm and steady subject.

He's not given to exclamations or projections; his cadence is steady, like a Zen master giving pieces of wisdom to his students without the embellishments. 

It is no wonder then, that Lee admitted that he minded the attention he received after he was named National Artist in 2022, along actress Nora Aunor, writer Gemino Abad, choreographer Agnes Locsin, musician Fides Cuyugan-Asensio, and posthumously filmmaker Marilou Diaz-Abaya, playwright Tony Mabesa and fashion designer Salvacion Lim-Higgins. asked the respected author and screenwriter about his thoughts on being a National Artist at his recent homecoming in Daet, Camarines Norte where he screened three of his awarded scripts for film, "Moral,""Anak" and "Himala." 

"Basically kasi, mahiyain akong tao. Ayoko 'yung attention na naka-focus sa akin. Alam ito ng mga kaibigan ko at ka-trabaho," confessed Lee. 

He shared that he rarely goes to celebrations or occasions by himself. He waits for familiar faces to go with him to a party or gathering. 

His shyness, he said, is the reason why he became a writer. 

"Nahihiya akong mag-isa pumasok. May feeling ako kasi baka tinitingnan ako, pinapansin ako. Ayoko ng attention in that sense and I think that's the reason why naging writer ako. Ni hindi ako nag-director. Lalo na artista, singer. I feel so shy and clumsy and awkward 'pag may naka-pokus na attention," he added. 

Lee said he was content with the minimal attention he got before being named National Artist. It was enough, the little stops for picture-taking requests from those who knew him as the author or writer behind their favorite books or films. 

It all changed, however, when he was inducted into the prestigious hall of the country's most respected artists. 

Never ungrateful

As a noticeable figure in literature, film and TV, Lee is recognizable whenever he visits the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). 

He recalled one instance when he had an usher that followed him around almost the whole day. He also noticed how he was called on in plays or shows whenever he is part of the audience after his induction. 

"Mula nang naging National Artist ako, tuwing papasok ako sa CCP, manood ako ng stage play sa ganitong lugar o even sa labas ng CCP, ipo-pokus ang ilaw sa'yo. Tatayo ako ngayon. Naa-awkward ako tuwing tumatayo ako. 'Pag tayo ko, gusto ko nang umupo e. Hindi ko alam. Lilingon ba ako? Kakaway ba ako? So torment sa akin 'yun. Torment siya na (thinking if), I'm doing it and I'm not doing it well," he shared. 

He also noticed more people asked for picture requests from him. He admitted he used to feel a little bit "awkward" about it. 

"I used to feel a little awkward about it. Na oo nga, naging title ako, lagi nang may label. Eh ayokong nagle-label. Ngayon may label na ako. Ay, National Artist. Nalagay na ako sa isang kahon, na may label. 

"So parang gusto kong magpumiglas. Gusto kong takasan 'yung usher na nagbabantay sa akin... So I feel na parang title ako, hindi na ako totally tao, na si Ricky Lee with all my mistakes, with all the madadapa and so on," he shared. 

The National Artist stressed, however, that he is not ungrateful. But that it came from someone who was naturally shy like himself. 

"I used to mind it in a way na hindi naman ungrateful ako or ang arte-arte ko. I used to mind it lang in the sense na hindi ako kumportable, nahihiya ako," Lee said. 

Changing perspective

His friends, however, made him see his newfound status from a different perspective, one that he eventually realized is bigger than himself or his shyness. 

In TV and films, the actors and directors are often put on spotlight. 

Film is most often said as a director's medium. The director takes the helm with his muses, which are the actors that breathe lives to their characters. The actors, meanwhile, have always been celebrated in whichever platform they appear. 

The writers, however, are often the unsung heroes, when they are in fact, the ones who weave the magic with their imaginative minds and storytelling. They can make the actor loved or hated depending on how they wrote the characters. 

While this may be the case, there are only quite a handful of writers for film and TV that are enjoying the level of popularity compared to directors and actors. 

This held sway for Lee as his friends argued that he is now serving as a means for writers to get their long overdue respect and recognition. 

"Maraming kaibigan ko ang nagsabi sa akin na isipin mo na lang ang daming tao masaya for you, masaya with you, dahil ang writer, binibigyan na ng attention. 

"Ganitong klase ng attention, lalo na sa pelikula. Hindi lang direktor o artista. And for so long, 'yun lang 'yung hinihingi ng mga writer — na 'wag niyo kaming gawing invisible. Filmmakers din kami. Andito rin kami. So sabi ng mga kaibigan ko, ikaw ang nagiging parang simbolo nila para makita 'yun ng mga tao," shared Lee. 

In a sense of clarity, Lee said he accepted the changes that came with his new title. 

The awkwardness he feels is overlapped by this realization. It was a slow process, but Lee does not mind the photos or attention now. 

"Tanggap ko na siya with the so-called hassles na tawag nila. Hassle sa pagiging National Artist... I've learned to live with it dahil mas mahalaga pa rin 'yung na-recognize ang mga writer," Lee said. 

RELATED: 'Honest ako sa panahon ko': Ricky Lee on writing then and now

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