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Arjo Atayde on what makes a brilliant actor

Vanessa Balbuena (The Freeman) - January 3, 2021 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines —  It’s been nine years in the making and Arjo Atayde hopes 2021 will have cameras finally grinding for the movie “Hey Joe,” the story of which he created when he was just starting out in show business. It was supposed to co-star him with Eddie Garcia, but the veteran actor’s untimely demise last year scuttled plans of what would have been an electric tandem on screen.  Still, Arjo hopes to see his brainchild to fruition.

“It took time for me to do it again and I guess this is the best time to tell this story as it’s happening all over the world. It happened during the pandemic and everyone experienced it,” he told journalists in a video conference arranged days after his historic win as Best Actor at the Asian Academy Creative Awards for his performance in “Bagman,” an iWantTFC original series. He is the first Filipino to win in that category of the international award-giving body, besting nominees from China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan and Myanmar.

In his wish list to act alongside with are John Lloyd Cruz and girlfriend Maine Mendoza. Of his acting heroes, Arjo could recite a laundry list, but on top of his head were Denzel Washington, Robert de Niro, Edward Morton, Anthony Hopkins, Eddie Redmayne, Miles Teller, Leonardo diCaprio, Jonah Hill, Kevin Hart, Will Ferrell, Meryl Streep, and Halle Berry.

Initially eyeing a career in comedy because he wanted to work with Babalu and Redford White, Arjo said he did not set out to be a matinee idol or kontrabida. But the son of acclaimed actress Sylvia Sanchez always knew he wanted to do what his mother did for a living.

“I really wanted ever since. Ang dami ko sinalihan na VTR, commercials, auditions for shows…never naman ako tinanggap. Nung time na ayoko na mag-artista, sabi ng mom ko may workshop, try ko lang,” the Star Magic artist shared. “By the time I didn’t want anymore, dun naman napunta sa akin. So I grabbed the opportunity.”

Arjo and his siblings grew up in soap opera and movie sets. Like a sponge, young, wide-eyed Arjo would absorb everything around him. “Yung mom ko sa sobrang busy niya and my dad was abroad for quite some time, balikan din kami ng balikan, so we would spend time with her during ‘Esperanza’ days. We would hang out with sila Ate Juday, sila Emman, Marvin…It was an experience for us. I was exposed to actors. I would grab the script of Ate Juday and start reading. I was amazed how they actually do it on screen. All of a sudden, nakasilip lang ako ng ganyan, you see someone crying.”

In his first project, “Electronic Boy,” Arjo had no less than Pen Medina as mentor. “He would teach and guide me on set. I would ask a lot of questions. My mom just told me to improve more. She was honest and frank when I needed to improve and what I had to improve. I would just watch and observe. Kunwari if the character is a killer, I would watch documentaries.”

While children who venture in the same field as their accomplished parents often struggle to move out their shadows, Arjo said that has never crossed his mind.

“Get out of my mom’s shadow? No. This was my goal, to represent the country in any way that I can, like I told my mom in the first place. Fame is not my game. I’m not trying to prove anything. I just really wanted to act and have fun. It’s like a playground for me, I feel like I’m playing and working at the same time. All that pressure, I don’t think about that. I just do what I love doing and enjoy every bit of it.”

He also wants to correct the assumption that showbiz kids have it easy.

“Having a mom who is an actress doesn’t necessarily mean they will get you. I think that’s a misperception sa mga anak ng artista,” said Arjo. “You still have to work hard, even my sister Ria. It’s just a big factor that our mom is in the industry because we already have the exact and factual guidance given to us.”

On living in a household that has three working actors – character actors no less with more often than not, intense characters – Arjo said it’s not any different as other families, as they make sure to shake off their roles once the director yells ‘Cut!’

“Kulitan, kwentuhan lang kami. Total opposite of what I do. Netflix, kain, yun lang ang trip naming sa family. Especially with the pandemic, everyone’s stuck at home, no choice but to bond. Minsan napag-uusapan ang showbiz, but nothing too intense because we do it every day. We talk about other things when we get home.”

He describes the past years he’s been in showbiz as “very, very interesting.” Meeting and dealing with different people at work, “I think the only thing you have to do is be kind,” he said.

Having a standard for himself that he could never meet, Arjo said he always wants to do more. As a result, there’s no project that he was actually “okay with at the end of the day.”

Despite the Asian recognition, Arjo assured that he’ll remain a good, humble soldier. “I would do whatever genre they want me to do. I will never get stuck doing just that. Hopefully I get to explore and learn more, and I get to widen my range. Getting stuck like that, you will grow but slower than you should, because I think learning has something to do with unlearning and starting from scratch and learning from another character. I’d say that has been the most interesting in my eight years in the business.”

Arjo dedicated his victory to his family, his girlfriend, and to everyone else who believed in him and helped him from the start. “Each and every actor along the way of my journey has been a factor, for I learned in whatever they threw towards me, the way they showed and shared their brilliance,” he said. “I dedicate this to everyone in ABS-CBN, Star Magic family, everyone. They know who they are. I am very thankful.”

Brimming with pride and emotion was his mom, who offered quite a lengthy message for Arjo during the digital media conference, where she revealed her son was on the verge of throwing in the towel in frustration of the pandemic, but more so, the ABS-CBN shutdown.

“Tandang-tanda ko nung high school ka, dapat isa ka sa magre-represent sa Pilipinas sa World Hip-Hop pero malaking away natin yun kasi hindi kita pinayagan noon at ang sama ng loob mo sa akin,” Sylvia began. “Hindi talaga kita pwede payagan kasi maaapektuhan ang school mo dahil graduating ka. Hindi nangyari yun ‘nak, pero erto ang kapalit. Itong Asian Award, ito ang inuwi mong trophy para sa aming lahat. Months ago sinabi mo sa akin ‘Ma, stop na ako ng pag-arte, ayoko na, pagod na ako.’ Ang dami mong pangamba at questions sa sarili mo na hindi ko rin masagot. Sabi mo magpo-produce ka nalang. Ayaw man kita sabihan noon na huwag kang mag-quit ng pag-arte kasi eto yung mundo mo, pero buhay mo yan eh. Desisyon mo yan. Hindi kita pwede pakialaman.”

“Pero ‘nak, hindi na ako ang sumagot sa iyo, ang Diyos na mismo. Binigyan ka niya ng award. Ito ang perfect na kasagutan sa lahat ng mga katanungan mo. Isa lang ang gusto sabihin ng Diyos sa iyo: binigay ko sa iyo ang talent na ito kaya, stay. Okay nak? Dito ka nararapat. Happy ako kasi isa ka sa mga taong nagbigay karangalan sa Pilipinas. Happy ako bilang Kapamilya mo kasi sa gitna ng kalungkutan natin lahat, nag-uwi ka ng award at sinabi mo sa amin na huwag tayo mawalan ng pag-asa. Pasasaan ba’t babangon din tayo at ito ang isa sa maganda na sign. The talent given to you by God, embrace it, own it, take care of it, and use it. But please Nak, stay humble, always keep your feet on the ground. Huwag kang magbago. Bagkus mahalin mo ito. Paghusayan mo pa yung passion mo, at maniwala ka sa akin Arjo, hindi lang ito ang makukuha mo.”

Elaborating on why he considered quitting then, Arjo said, “Given everything that’s happened, it affected me so much that I was just like ‘You know what I’m out.’ I don’t wanna do showbiz anymore because of this damage they’ve done. It was a massive damage not only to me but to a lot of people. I actually told several people already. This is just crazy. I can’t accept it. Either we’re complete or I don’t want na…because each and every actor in ABS-CBN matters. And I didn’t even ask for a sign, but oh my God, I was just hopeless, but this happened. I’m just thankful for my support system – my cousins, my sisters, my family and everyone who believes in me.”

When his name was announced as Best Actor, Arjo was shell-shocked and didn’t know how he felt. “I was just proud to represent the network and the country – that’s been a dream of mine. I got emotional because I was like, What? How? How did I win?! This is amazing. I can’t explain the feeling, I wish I can make someone feel it the way I did. It’s indescribable, irreplaceable feeling. Once in a lifetime.”

Explaining his acceptance speech where he highlighted fellow Filipino actors more than himself, Arjo said, “I appreciate actors who give so much respect, even more than I do, to the craft. There are a lot of Filipino actors I respect, and I’ve seen them grind and work. What amazes me is show they do their characters. Filipino actors have something to show people abroad, if only given the chance. If I could be the key to that, to be able to push Filipino talent out there, then I am more than willing. We need to and we can. I’m very passionate about these actors getting recognition, those who actually deserve it, because I idolize and respect a lot of actors. It just came out, I was stuttering, but I just felt like saying it. I want others to be known, not just me. There are so many good character actors out there.”

What makes a brilliant actor? “A real person, with a heart and mind that won’t stop learning,” said Arjo, who for his fans and believers, was just as well describing himself.

ARJO ATAYDE
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