Enrique is done
Irish Christianne Dizon (The Philippine Star) - July 9, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Joke lang.” Enrique Gil, Quen to his family and friends, said that five times. (I counted.) It was a rainy Sunday and we were in one of ABS CBN’s spacious but sparse dressing rooms. The aircon was groaning loudly in one corner, and a bunch of people were half-fiddling with their phones, half-listening to the Q & A. (That’s showbiz for you—there’s always someone listening.) Our interview with the 24-year-old actor/dancer was just starting, when Supreme creative director David Milan walked into the room to introduce Star Cinema staffer, Ronan, who had all the answers to whatever Dukot-related question I had running in my head. (More on Dukot, Enrique’s newest film, later.) “He’s the guy to go to. Just interview him na lang,” Enrique playfully quipped. “So siya na lang cover,” I deadpanned. Quentuple sheepish joke langs followed. There was worry in his voice, a kind of awkwardness. Like he was afraid of offending me, a possibly easily-offended writer. (You can’t blame him, really. In this industry, the most innocent of comments can — and will most likely — be used against you.) I assured him it was cool, and he visibly relaxed. In person, the lead star of top-rating TV show Dolce Amore is every inch the pretty boy you expect him to be, albeit exhausted, those chocolate brown eyes droopy. He had been up since six a.m., shuffling from one work thing to another: “I rehearsed three numbers for ASAP, did ASAP live, then taped an ASAP episode for next week kasi I won’t be here. Tapos I taped a spiel for promoting Dukot. Then humirit ‘yung ASAP people na i-video ako teaching them dance steps, which they’ll present kay sir Carlo Katigbak, ‘yung boss namin. Then I taped for Take One (a behind-the-scenes show for Star Cinema films). Then this.” A packed Sunday schedule like that is the fever dream of many artistas waiting in the wings. Busy is good. Busy means you’re getting booked. Busy means you’ve got people hooked. This is not lost on Enrique, but he’s starting to realize there’s more to life than this artista race to mainstream relevance. And with Dukot, his new film, Enrique Gil, go-to pretty boy for formulaic rom-coms, finally makes that brave step outside the box.

F*ck the usual

Director Paul Soriano, the brainchild behind Dukot, told us in an email interview that Enrique was his “first and only choice” for the role of Carlo, a kidnap victim. The two men first crossed paths in 2011, when Enrique, then only in his third year in showbiz, auditioned for a supporting role in Paul’s award-winning film, Thelma. Catch: He didn’t get the part because he wasn’t as fluent in Filipino then as he is now. But fate had big plans for the neophyte. In 2014, the right partner (Liza Soberano) and a show called Forevermore catapulted Enrique to A-List heights and Paul ended up having to wait for him for nearly two years, just for the latter to be able to give him 20 precious shooting days. It was all worth it, Paul told us: “When making films, you have to be patient in all aspects of the process. When you’re able to do that, you will achieve something extraordinary for all to enjoy.”

On set, Enrique was a dream collaborator. “He had this ‘whatever it takes attitude at all times, and that’s really all you can ask for from an actor,” shared Paul. Trivia: He was doing Dolce Amore and Dukot simultaneously, and at one point, went straight to the location upon his arrival from Italy. And while Enrique says he shakes off his character as soon as the director yells “cut,” Paul revealed a very telling anecdote that shows how seriously Enrique Gil takes his craft: “He kept his hands tied even when the cameras weren’t rolling. He was on the set even when he didn’t need to be, observing and absorbing all he could.”

To be honest, Enrique did this film for no one else but himself. “It’s more for me to try something out,” he said with unflinching honesty. “If masasanay ka lang with one genre, you’re just gonna be there. They’ve never seen me like this: beaten up, dirty…” Playing a kidnap victim is hard if you’ve never actually gone through the trauma, so Enrique had to really be Carlo. “I was sitting inside the cell, as Carlo, and I was thinking, ‘What did the actual Carlo in this situation really do? What was going through his mind? On the third day of no food, no water, iba na yung pag-iisip mo. Anong iniisip mo? ‘I’m gonna die. Will my family pay that much money?  I don’t even know if they have that much money. Maybe they won’t get me because my dad doesn’t have a good relationship with me.’” But he cautions from overthinking, too. “The best way to act is to not even think of what you have to do. It’s about doing what you would normally do.”

Ask people who have worked with Enrique to describe him and this word will keep popping up: hungry. His Dukot co-star Alex Medina (an underrated actor himself, also Paul’s first choice as one of the kidnappers in the film) says Enrique is “a hungry actor” who “constantly asks questions and experiments with technique.” There was no special treatment for Enrique while they were shooting the film, Alex told us. “Actually, we were all bunched up in one standby area. And we hung out outside our tent din to talk to the staff and crew. We’re a tight-knit family even though on celluloid we play contrasting characters.”

Why did Paul have these two specific actors in mind anyway? Because the film is based on an actual crime, and Paul knew the victim and his family. “My neighbor was suddenly kidnapped and it was the talk of the town for a while, especially when we heard that, five days later, he was miraculously rescued,” narrated the director. Three years ago, he got to speak with the victim about the ordeal and he was so moved that he asked if he could turn it into a movie. They agreed, on condition that Paul would never reveal their identities, especially since the case is still classified and some of the kidnappers are still at large. “It’s quite relevant today since the new [Duterte] administration is firm and decisive on giving us Filipinos the safety and security we all deserve,” shared Paul. “We tend to only put a spotlight on high-profile cases and sometimes, small-time cases don’t get the same kind of attention. We must give grave importance to all criminal cases and always work hard to ensure the safety and security of every living Filipino.”

F*ck safe

Being in his enviable spot in showbiz is a blessing and a curse to Enrique and others like him. A blessing because it affords him the luxury to build a five-storey rest house in Anilao, Batangas (among other properties); a curse because it means living in a fishbowl 24/7, which means you have to be very careful, lest your very human moments ruin whatever fantasy of you the public has in mind. But at the photo shoot, Enrique’s guard was down. He dropped the makeshift nose ring and said, “P*nyeta!” the way Heneral Luna and I would. (“If it’s other people na nagmura, you wouldn’t notice it, you wouldn’t pay attention to it.”) He likes to pull pranks on his stylist and laughs uncontrollably when said stylist shrieks the amusing way only gays could shriek. This is a 24-year-old at the top of his game, but is imperfect underneath the carefully manufactured leading man image. How trapped does he feel?  “You just have to remember: No matter how normal you wanna be, you’re still in the public eye. It was your choice. That’s how the world is.” So does this mean he’s never going to say f*ck it and just do whatever he wants for as long as he’s in this job? “Ang daming ganung moments! Yung I’ll say, ‘F*ck it!’ But someone will say, ‘Oh, you have this endorsement ah.’ I mean, of course I won’t do something that offends people. But if I know it’s okay naman… I will do it,” he replied with a naughty smile.

This time, he didn’t follow it up with “joke lang.”

Tweet the author @IrishDDizon.

Produced by DAVID MILAN

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