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Trust your actor.’ ” As fate would have it, I screwed up on the first day of shooting. A folk house filled to the rafters, and on a mini-stage, a deliciously hunky William Martinez as folk singer Alex, lip-synching to Boy Camara’s version of the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song, “Teach Your Children.” There was a lot of action going on in the frame, separate threads intertwining: Alex’s family proudly watching, a rugged lesbian Kano (Cherie Gil) surreptitiously pushing drugs, a coterie of gays encouraging Manay to flirt with Alex, then a sudden stampede triggered by a random gunshot. I would ad lib during blocking rehearsals to bookend the philosophical riffs of Manay that Bernal would provide, enabling me to me to give the dialogue a more conversational, spontaneous feel.My first take was supposed to be the exposition of Manay Sharon’s fixation with his prospective boy toy Alex. CREATE something.” Mentally, I quickly sorted out what Bernal was trying to tell me. He did not want me to perform right after he said “Action! I also began to quickly read his body language and the subtext of short directorial prodding.Bravely, Bernal’s film presented Manila as it really was—rife with drugs, prostitution, poverty, miserable housing conditions, and unemployment—a vivid representation of pessimistic city dwellers feeling trapped, paranoid, and suspicious. But in spite of the relentless entreaties of top tier film stalwart Marichu Vera Perez-Maceda, seconded by presidential daughter Imee Marcos, the Immovable Madame Marcos of the City of Ma’am said No.Pressed upon by a pervading anxiety caused by an unendurable system that Bernal skillfully avoided blaming directly, but somehow presented in a manner that was so graphically powerful that the former First Lady of the Philippines and Governor of Metro Manila, Imelda Romualdez Marcos, took offense and had type of “developmental transformation” was arbitrarily inserted: a cinematic collage of the lead characters in disjointed snippets of celluloid where a sonorous voice-over solemnly intoned how the wretched have decided to forsake their sinful ways, atone for past mistakes, and effectively transform their lives. Topping injury with insults, still being the norm at the tail end of the dictator’s rule, a year-long ban by the Martial Law era censorship board also effectively kept the film’s participation as competition entry to the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival—this, in spite of the critical acclaim and the strong buzz that was going to win the Golden Bear. Locally, as expected, the FAMAS Awards was already on automatic Imeldific mode and didn’t give a single nomination.
It was a big deal in the 1970s to be working with Bernal.
series—blockbuster grab bags of exotic travelogue vignettes and bizarre cultural practices around the world tacked together to shock the sensibilities of curious Westernized audiences. Even when the powers that be at Regal Films made it clear that they were less than enthusiastic about Ishmael Bernal’s decision to cast me, for example, by offering me the heart-stopping talent fee of P15,000 to portray the major role of Manay Sharon, the successful gay couturier, opposite such big-name stars as Charito Solis, Alma Moreno, Rio Locsin, Lorna Tolentino, Cherie Gil, and Gina Alajar. There were no cell phones, no e-mails, no Facebook; heck, Mark Zuckerberg was not even born yet. We were both larger than life—tall, with booming voices—we had presence and we knew it; and we knew how to make an entrance with certified tongue-in-cheek theatricality, quick in dishing out the bon mots over anything culturati or vulturati and everything decidedly sward (1970s for “gay”). I had been secretly waiting for a chance to work with Bernal since .” So, almost 10 years after we first met, and after Bernal had already completed 28 films, I was still waiting in the wings.
All right, maybe my ego was slightly bruised and I vacillated. It was 1971 and I was delighted when Bernal deigned to come down from the pantheon of Café Los Indios Bravos’s Algonquin-style Center Table— composed of the likes of Virgie Moreno, Nick Joaquin, Jose Garcia Villa, et al.—to make of San Miguel Beer. Understandably, when the phone finally rang in 1979 with Douglas Quijano (celebrated talent manager and in-house royalty-cum-project coordinator for Regal Films) on the other end, saying Bernal wanted me for his next movie, anyone should forgive me now for snatching a cringe-worthy descriptor from : He had me at “Hello.” Of course my role had to be that of a duplicitous, bitchy, sharp, manipulative, well-intentioned gay couturier, Manay Sharon, who loves to direct people’s lives on a whim and just as quickly dump them when they somehow manage to live up to his self-fulfilling prophecy that these ingrates will lie, steal, and take advantage of his goodwill. What serious (read: ambitious) stage actor would not want to cross over from the decidedly limited, Makati-centric Pinoy Broadway theater world to the relatively more glam, prestigious, notorious, and raucously celebrated social activism during Martial Law of Bad Boy Bluebloods, the likes of Bernal, Brocka, et al.?
” Additionally, Bernal stressed that Manay Sharon was not going to be anything like the stereotypical queen often seen at the time in Filipino movies. A well-annotated script is every insecure actor’s indispensable crutch.
The inscrutable Bernal look he gave me signaled that the role demanded more than a modicum of complexity in characterization and that a certain gravitas was going to be expected. Instead, all I heard was the sketchiest overview of the plotline when I was itching to get my hands on a character study. Bernal’s trust in me became evident when he gave me the freedom to cast my personal friends to play my.