FEATURE: Joem Bascon: Team player
Irish Christianne Dizon (The Philippine Star) - January 14, 2017 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Joem Bascon, 30, grew up with a very unflattering nickname. “Ang tawag sa akin kuba kasi lagi akong nakaganito,” he says, slouching his back. Joem was an introvert who preferred staying indoors rather than playing with the neighborhood kids. “Mahilig lang akong mag-drawing ng loob ng bahay namin,” he reminisces. When he was not preoccupied with sketching the family sofa, TV or sink, he could be found in his mother’s bedroom, shooting hoops with his little brother Julius. “Gumawa ako ng maliit na basketball ring.”

This triggers another memory, another just-as-unflattering nickname: “Paa.” To be clear, it’s not because he looks like a foot (This looker is a two-time Cosmopolitan magazine centerfold, thank you very much); but because of two reasons: First, he’s the Bascon family’s resident Bigfoot who wears size 11 and 1/2 shoes; second, Joem’s first love required correct footwork — his first love was basketball. Joem grew up playing and watching the game. Michael Jordan was one of his heroes, someone whose moves he observed and tried to replicate. “Yung nakalabas yung dila,” he says in jest, referring to MJ’s iconic winning face during Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals. All this talk about his youth and his first love makes him pause. “Puro basketball lang pala ako dati,” he says, realization dawning on his face. “As in puro basketball.” He was not into music, or films, and knew nil about showbiz. Nothing in this wallflower’s past should have led to a career in the entertainment industry, but here he is; here he is still, 10 years after jumping into the abyss. Maybe some things are really preordained.

The Rookie

Actress Heart Evangelista had a hand in Joem’s unexpected detour into this razzle-dazzle business. Joem, then an industrial engineering student at the University of Santo Tomas, heard his crush was in Antipolo taping for the soap Hiram, so he hoofed it there, excited to see her in person. The show’s director, Jerry Lopez Sineneng, spotted Joem, and made an offer the latter could not refuse: free workshops by way of ABS-CBN’s training arm. For a year, Joem received complimentary training, but the commuting expense from UST to Quezon City, then from QC to Mandaluyong where the Bascon family lived, was a little too heavy on the college kid’s pocket. Actress/trainer Beverly Vergel proposed a solution: they would continue to give him free basic acting classes and hire him as a training assistant. “I needed money,” Joem says matter-of-factly. “Kailangan mong bitawan yung gusto mo (basketball) para magawa mo yung kailangan mo para sa ngayon. Kailangan kong mag-aral, tapos kailangan kong mag part-time job nung time na yun.”

The original plan was just to stay onboard until he had saved up enough pocket money for the next school year (“College ka na eh. Hindi naman dapat nakaasa. Alangan naman parents mo forever magbayad, di ba?”), but opportunities started opening up. There were a lot of auditions being held, and Joem smartly heeded his mentors’ advice to just give it a shot. “Eh ako naman, nandun na ako, gagawin ko na lang siya,” he explains. “Kung nasaan ako, gagawin ko lang siya paulit-ulit. Pag nakuha ko siya nang maayos na maayos, eh di okay.” His first TV gig was for a Maalaala Mo Kaya episode co-starring with no less than Judy Ann Santos. The rookie was beside himself with nervousness, but one of his co-actors, the late veteran Dick Israel, made things easier. Tito Tats (Joem’s term of endearment for Dick) patiently taught him how to ad-lib and how to act in between takes. The old guard’s generosity paid off: Joem nailed his first-ever confrontation scene on his first try — complete with the requisite sigawan and sampalan. That was it. A portal had been opened and there was no turning back: “Nag tuluy-tuloy na yung work kaya hindi ko na nabigyang focus yung school ko.”

The Lookalike

As he bagged more roles, industry insiders began to notice Joem. Many of them noted the resemblance between this newbie and Piolo Pascual, i.e. the hunk of all hunks, king of ABS-CBN and the first of his name. People called Joem “Jordan,” Piolo’s character’s name in the soap Sa Puso Ko Iingatan Ka, something Joem found very flattering. But a man cannot just ride the coattails of someone else. His manager wanted to differentiate Joem from the other potential matinee idols — where others were safe and rated GP, Joem was going to be daring and rated R. While others made girls kilig with their bedimpled smiles, Joem was making grown-ass women blush with his Rated R magazine features. (For visual aid: Google “Cosmo Men 2009, Joem Bascon”.)

The inherent danger in baring skin is the tendency to be typecast, but Joem didn’t suffer that fate. If anything, it opened the door to the world of independent cinema, a then-uncharted heartland, the brave actors’ playground. His first was Batanes, an Adolf Alix movie starring him, Iza Calzado and Taiwanese actor Ken Chu. It marked many firsts for Joem: his first lead role, his first time to do a love scene, and his first award (Breakthrough Performance by an Actor, Golden Screen Awards). Batanes was a turning point for Joem, who, at that time, was starting to get frustrated with certain realities in the system. Like any actor starting out, he had dreams of becoming a leading man someday, only to realize that getting there is not just a matter of looks and talent and hard work; there are politics to navigate and partialities to break as well. “Hindi naman ako maka penetrate sa mainstream movie at that time because it was the time of Piolo, John Lloyd, Jericho, the kings of Star Magic. Sila yung nandun so hindi kami maka-entra. Kung e-entra kami siguro kami yung support,” Joem says. “Sa indie nakakakuha kami minsan ng lead (role) or ensemble cast wherein pantay-pantay kayo. You feel na, ‘bida pa rin ako dito,’ so okay ako.”

The Actor

He doesn’t sound resentful as he says this, but bravely admits, “Siyempre nung una may selos. Bakit sila lang? Nandito naman kami, kami yung mga bago. Ba’t di niyo kami i-try?” Eventually, Joem got sick of feeling like he was getting the shorter end of the stick and chose instead to find a solution. “Sabi ko, ‘Gagawa na lang ako ng ibang paraan kung saan ako mag e-excel.’” The answer was to take on character roles, like that of Colonel Paco Roman in Heneral Luna, the most successful Filipino independent movie of all time. (FYI: Joem was just a “reliever,” the substitute who got the part after the original choice backed out due to medical reasons.) His Heneral Luna director Jerrold Tarog describes Joem as “one of the most down-to-earth actor’s I’ve ever worked with. Tahimik, magaan kasama, walang arte. His humility is sincere.” That humility is the same reason he got to do — count them — 11 films in 2016 alone: from the blockbuster comedy The Super Parental Guardians to the crime-drama Oro, the strong, albiet controversial, 2016 Metro Manila Film Festival entry. Joem says yes to everything, down to pro-bono projects for film majors’ theses. “Hindi ko kasi ma-feel yung bida na ako, yung meron akong say na pumili at magsabi na, ‘Ito yung stand ko diyan. Ito yung opinyon ko kung maganda yung role,” he ruminates. “Masaya na ako kahit anong role basta may work ako. Basta gagalingan ko na lang lagi. Pag binigyan mo akong role, ibibigay ko rin yung best ko sa’yo.”

Spoken like a true actor.

* * *

Tweet the author @IrishDDizon.

 

 

Photo by John Michael Alcantara

Produced by Irish Christianne Dizon

Makeup by Crisha Uy

JOEM BASCON
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