From 'Bridal Shower' to 'Tagpuan': My MMFF roles and finding meaning in cinema and acting
The Metro Manila Film Festival is just around the corner. MMFF has always been and will always be a part of Philippine Christmas celebrations, and I’m so glad that despite all movie theaters remaining closed this Christmas due to the pandemic, the Metro Manila Development Authority, which oversees the MMFF, found a way—for a certain fee—to make all the movie entries available and accessible to all through online streaming. This means that even Filipinos abroad and foreigners alike can watch it too. It’s a breakthrough in the cinema industry.
Acting and cinema
I think you all know that acting and cinema are my passions. From the time I was cast as a “sundalong pandakot” (foot soldier) in our kindergarten play at the then Maryknoll College (now Miriam College) Child Study Center, to the time I joined the lights crew and operated the old-fashioned spotlight towers in the Ateneo Children’s theater, to my Shakespearean performances in Tanghalang Ateneo in college, to doing television and film professionally, acting and cinema saved me. Acting and cinema led me to discover who I was and who I could be.
My first MMFF entry was in 2004 for the film Bridal Shower. It was directed by Jeffrey Jeturian and produced by Seiko films. I played a macho dancer opposite Cherry Pie Picache. To date it still is one of the most difficult roles I have ever portrayed in my acting career.
After the film was shown, several people thought I was a real macho dancer from a real gay bar and I instantly received countless indecent proposals right after the film was shown. Imagine how I had to deal with that kind of issue when I was fresh off from college? But it made me happy in a way because it only showed that my portrayal was authentic.
At the start, my producer, Robbie Tan of Seiko films, was concerned that my being an Atenean might get in the way of my acting. But with the guidance of Direk Jeffrey and after several workshops, I was able to pull it off despite being a neophyte actor. I got my first of three acting nominations from Gawad Urian because of Bridal Shower. Then I won “Breakthrough Performance by an Actor” that year from the Golden Screen awards.
The acting bug has bitten me hard and deep. I ended up doing three more films for "MMFF: ZsaZsaZaturnnah" (2006), "Banal" (2008) and this year’s "Tagpuan."
In 2009, I made one of the biggest decisions of my life. At what I consider the peak of my showbiz career, I quit.
I quit to pursue my dreams in public service. I ran for Quezon City councilor in 2010 and officially became an elected public official that same year. After one term, I ran and won as congressman of the fifth district of Quezon City and the rest is history.
The long sabbatical from doing films to focus on public service was a wise decision, an essential part of my journey and growth as a person and as an artist. That’s another topic for another day.
But the passion remained. It never left. I always had this creative thirst to do acting and be part of films. At one point, I terribly missed acting that I would watch my old films and critique myself. I would also watch other Pinoy film classics like Carlito Siguion Reyna’s "Hihintayin Kita sa Langit"—one of my favorites—and imagined myself playing the role. I would also reread my old scripts and act in front of the mirror seeming crazy. But isn’t that part of the definition of passion? To be passionate enough to look crazy?
Quenching that thirst: 'Supremo'
It came to the point that I was getting distracted because of this creative thirst. I had to quench this thirst for me to get back to my element, for me to be the best version of myself again. So, after a few years, I decided that if given the opportunity, I will do one film project a year, and make each one relevant and meaningful.
In 2012, together with some passionate filmmakers, we produced the award-winning film, "Supremo," the life of Andre Bonifacio. I played Andres. He has always been my favorite hero. A dream come true.
Doing "Supremo" gave my being so much meaning and energy once again that it positively affected all aspects of my life including being a legislator. I was inspired! Thanks to acting and cinema.
Multiple hats: Legislator, producer and actor
Wearing these hats is more than a challenge. There is always so much to do, and so little time. So how do I choose projects?
With acting not being my full-time work anymore, and considering the scarcity of my free time, I told myself that from that point on, I will only do projects that I really like—projects that make an impact, projects that resonate with the audience.
Acting should have meaning. It should serve a greater purpose. My passion for acting and cinema is in my core. And so is public service. My process in choosing roles is aligned with my conviction as a public servant. There is no conflict between art and service. They are two branches from the same tree. And they are both in my DNA.
With this, I was able to produce two critically-acclaimed films: "Supremo" (2012) and "Kaputol" (2018). This year, as an official entry to the MMFF, I am proud to produce and play the lead in a screenplay by no less than the award-winning screenwriter and playwright, Mr. Ricky Lee, with an equally accomplished and award-winning director Mac Alejandre. I am joined by the top caliber actresses of our generation, Ms. Iza Calzado and Ms. Shaina Magdayao. Our fates crossed in "Tagpuan."
How 'Tagpuan' came to be
Having Ricky Lee onboard was already half the journey. Another dream come true to work with him once again. We wanted a love story but not the usual rom-com. We wanted a mature love story that happens to real people. Something visceral. Something real.
What is love after romance? Until when should we fight for love? Is forgiveness required or just an option? We wanted a love story where the film begins with a relationship that has ended. There was love but romance flew out the window too soon.
Direk Mac Alejandre wanted Binondo, Hongkong, and New York City as backdrop, melting pots where one can find oneself in the midst of the noise and chaos.
When I finally read the script, I found it relatable and unique. Definitely not a fantasy on love. Tagpuan’s world is grounded. And it doesn't just talk about love. It talks about the influence of sexuality, the testosterone versus the progesterone in a relationship. It talks about forces affecting a relationship. Forces that we never thought would affect communication and perception of the ones we love and others.
"Tagpuan" is about the diaspora of OFWs and immigrants, their struggles and conditions. It talks about dreams and how dreams are forgotten and pursued. That love doesn't exist in a vacuum. How we react to love is determined by the invisible forces that shape us.
Most of all, "Tagpuan" celebrates love in the midst of extreme joy and pain. Love is always worthy of celebration.
In the film, I play Allan, an accomplished businessman whose success was driven by a complicated past that resulted in self-imposed rules which made him inadequate in dealing with and expressing his emotions. Allan took control of his life that’s why he’s successful in battling poverty. But in his attempt to control the other aspects of his life, he was never able to control the world of love where he traveled like a lost soul here and there hoping to find meaning.
On this premise, Allan will cross paths with the adventurous and open-minded Tanya, played by Shaina Magdayao, and his estranged, artist ex-wife of five years, Agnes, played by Iza Calzado. At one point in the movie, their destinies will all meet in one “Tagpuan.”
How to watch 'Tagpuan'?
The MMFF is quite specialthis yearbecause it has been made more accessible not just to Filipinos here in the country, but to the rest of the world. There is no need to go to the theatres. You can experience MMFF 2020 in the comfort and safety of your own homes via upstream.ph.
"Tagpuan" officially airs on Dec. 25, 2020, but you can already book your e-tickets today. One film costs P250 here in the Philippines and $10 abroad. Unlike the usual one ticket for one person, this can be enjoyed by the entire household for the price of one.
Poster of Mac Alejandre and Ricky Lee's MMFF 2020 entry "Tagpuan" starring Alfred Vargas
I hope you watch it, along with the other entries to the MMFF. Let’s support the local movie industry and continue our Pinoy Christmas traditions of watching MMFF movies on Christmas day.
Here’s the Direct link to order "Tagpuan": https://bit.ly/TagpuanTickets
After watching it, let me know your thoughts at: