2015. What a time to be alive, friends.
I can’t recall any recent year, none at all, when local mainstream entertainment was in such a boom. Yes, fads come and go, and something or other has always struck the Filipino’s collective fancy. From the masa to the bourgeois and beyond (which either unironically profess their love—or at the very least, tolerance—of the trendy or hide in some closet of class division) there’s always been something that takes over for a certain length of time. The usual few months, two to three, give or take.
I’ve just never experienced anything as powerful as 2015. The latter half, to be precise. The sheer force of its back-to-back hits is overwhelming and amazing. We have the sui generis love team AlDub (which had just climaxed earlier today, as I write this, in a monumental Eat Bulaga! event in the Philippine Arena, which even rivals the gatherings of the Iglesia Ni Cristo, who owns the place), the second-biggest onscreen item du jour in James Reid and Nadine Lustre (care of On the Wings of Love), and the country’s latest cinematic triumph Heneral Luna, which had just run in theaters for a staggering six weeks.
Paulo Avelino, like many of his peers in showbiz, knows what that’s like. The one thing the Philippine fandom seems to do a lot better than any other fandom in the world is that it’s great at making each player look like a bigger star than he or she really is, within the context of the product. Paulo’s Gregorio del Pilar in Luna was so well-received, thanks to both the film’s own merits and his own good looks, and this acclaim so amplified by social media that there was really no choice but to give the del Pilar movie the green light. (How could they not, anyway, when they set the sequel up with a mid-credits scene worthy of a Marvel movie?)
Like the Boy General, Paulo seems unfazed by the frenzy that’s arose all around him. The politics in Luna, he notes, is the same not only as in the politics of the present, but as well as in the politics of show business. He is out here to do his job which, like del Pilar, is something he is also steadfast and passionate about. What we have before us, then, is a man who is cool in speech, relaxed even as he’s calculating and strategizing, and unassumingly self-aware, after having weathered the unforgiving jungle that is his profession.
So I don’t think you’d wanna talk about your career story that much.
Let’s talk about the movie. I’ve seen the movie—
Yeah. You’ve been popular before that, but what has the movie done for you?
Well, I actually didn’t expect it to be talked about by a lot of people. I expected worse. Didn’t really expect it to be such a huge hit, Heneral Luna. When it was first offered to me—I auditioned for the role of Gregorio del Pilar, [director] Jerrold [Tarog] made me read a love letter. I think it’s to Cora, one of del Pilar’s girlfriends. They said that if this does well, we might—there’s a big possibility that we’ll do a sequel showcasing del Pilar. So, there.
But I can’t really tell if it really made a big impact on my career, because I rarely check social media. I rarely talk to people about it; if I talk to people about it, I talk about the film, the story, history. Well, coming from management I heard it made a big impact.
What was everyone expecting when you were all making it, and after you were done shooting it?
Well, it took a year to finally finish the script, almost a year to shoot, and another year for post-production. So everyone had high hopes that the film would make it; if not, it would spark something in the hearts of Filipinos.
Are you a history buff at all?
What did you know about, going in—
Well, not just del Pilar, but also the events, Luna.
Well I knew chaotic, and there were a lot of sides, a lot of stories, a lot of books written about certain instances during Luna’s time, which might—or might not—be real. So it’s really hard to tell, because no one’s alive to tell the story anymore. But yeah, it’s interesting, it’s interesting! It’s interesting how they tackle the role, they tackle the story. They didn’t really show a typical hero, a typical superhero like one of our historical figures, like a textbook or grade-school book explanation. But once you get to dig a little more, it’s not that glamorous. You realize it’s pretty much the same thing over and over, that’s still happening to this day.
Do you believe the events of the film? Do you believe that was what happened?
Kind of, kind of, yes. Well, some, [were] maybe [made] for cinematic purposes. there were stories also that were circulating about Luna stealing a lump of money, or treasure. But you know, as I’ve said, it’s not something—we couldn’t really tell if it’s true or not. So we might as well concentrate on what Luna really is, and how he was: he was a brilliant general, he was hot-tempered, and… he loved his country.
What’s your opinion on how the film and the script portrayed not just Luna, but everyone in the movie?
For the other characters, you know, all of us were given a brief summary of who our characters were. One thing I like about Jerrold is that he gives us freedom to express or be the character without basing it on our history. Giving your own personal take on it.
I saw your Twitter bio, and in the description you said you were a cinephile.
Did you have to watch anything to prepare for this role? What kind of research did you do?
To prepare for this? I read around two or three books. One was by Nick Joaquin, A Question of Heroes, and the other one was your typical history book.
What do you think of how the film was received? I know you said you don’t check social media all that much, but other than lighting a fire in the Filipino, it spawned an obsessive fandom, don’t you think?
Yeah, it did, it did. Because, you know, as I’ve said earlier, social relevance. It’s the same thing, you know? A hundred years ago or more, may technology lang ngayon, but the same thing’s happening. Not just in politics, but in our daily lives, with work… everything!
Is it similar to showbiz?
Yeah, a little. It is. It’s like I said, not just in politics, but also in work. On our side, too.
Is it as frustrating as what Luna had to deal with?
Well, not really. You know, sometimes, in our line of work, the fame is getting in the way of… how do you call it? Your artistry? What you really wanna do.
Okay, we’ll talk about that later. I’ve got questions about that. But aside from the social relevance, there are—I don’t know if you’re familiar with Tumblr, or how fandoms are, but there are certain fandoms that have sprouted up around—
—they make memes?
Yeah, yeah! There are memes; memes of you, memes of [co-star] Joem [Bascon]…
How do you feel about that? Is that the kind of reaction you were expecting at all to the movie?
Not really, but you know, I really find it funny. And creative, also. But you know, I think these memes also helped our film a lot to spread the word and make people know that Luna‘s out. It’s a nice film. It’s interesting.
But don’t you think they’re, in a way, not taking the movie seriously? Or the message of the movie as seriously as they should?
Not really, not really. I don’t think so, you know. For sure, the people who made it, made it for fun. And also, as I’ve said earlier, it drew attention. They helped the film get popular, in a way.
Moving on to the del Pilar movie, is that happening?
…Can you say if it is?
It is! It is. But…
Can I print that?
I’m not sure. (laughs) Yeah. You can print it.
But it was the intention, wasn’t it? You guys put that Avengers scene at the end of the movie.
Yeah, that last part. It’s happening. But it would take a few more years.
Why a few more years?
Research, finalizing the script would take a year, plus pre-prod, shooting’s another year, post-prod is a year, so in three years, maybe. Hopefully.
What are the biggest things that get in the way of these movies being made?
For this, it’s script and pre-production. It’s a long process—you have to get your facts straight, you have to make it well-written, you have to give it a certain appeal that wouldn’t feel like your boring history class, and preparing. Preparing for the scenes, the shots, getting everyone’s schedule all together.
From what you’ve known about him, or I guess how you’ve portrayed him in the movie, is there anything you identify with del Pilar?
With del Pilar? It was probably his—he obviously loved his country, he always respected his higher-ups.
Earlier you said something along the lines of the fame getting in the way of what you wanna do. I wanna get into that, but let’s start with del Pilar again. One of the memes that came out after the movie is basically the fans swooning over you and your character, right? Do you think that that’s too much, that they’re kinda obsessed with how handsome del Pilar is?
No, because del Pilar was really a handsome guy, the way it was explained in books or in pictures. The funny thing about del Pilar, he had a girlfriend in every town! Yeah, man! Every town he goes, the places he visits or he gets assigned to. So loverboy, in a way. Charming. He was really a charming guy. So… I don’t know if I’m that charming, if you could compare my charm to del Pilar, but I think it worked!
But do you feel that they’re looking into that too much and maybe not looking at, I don’t know, how he sacrificed himself?
You know… it helps the film, but at the end of the day, the film is the film, and the film would always be true to its message.
[pull_quote]”The funny thing about del Pilar, he had a girlfriend in every town! Yeah, man! Every town he goes, the places he visits or he gets assigned to. So loverboy, in a way. Charming. I don’t know if I’m that charming, if you could compare my charm to del Pilar, but I think it worked!”[/pull_quote]
Right, okay. Do you wish fans weren’t so preoccupied with the fame part of being famous? What you’re doing right now, what’s someone else doing right now, or who someone else is with right now, do you wish they weren’t so obsessed with that?
Yes. As much as I appreciate their help—in a way they have also been part of my career, from the start until now, and those who are… how do you say it, new to it, I guess—sometimes they get too attached, and sometimes they forget that we’re also like them. We also get hurt, we fall in love, we fall out of love, we do crappy stuff, we make a lot of mistakes in this life. And sometimes they act or they talk or they, like on social media, tweet or message you like they own you. Or they’re giving you a command. Which is, sometimes, up to some point it’s entertaining, but sometimes they get too attached. At the end of the day, they start bashing you, for example, if you don’t end up with your love team, or you date someone else, or you just do something stupid.
Is that why you don’t check social media as much?
Not really. A little, that’s one of the things. But you know, like now, my Instagram account, it’s more of me, actually, than my Twitter account. Because on Twitter, I use it to promote; I do sometimes on Instagram, but on Instagram, it’s just black and white.
What’s the worst thing people have ever said about you on the news?
On the news? Hmmm… what is it? You know, I think it’s when people start degrading you because of your social status. Me, I’ve always been not really a happy-go-lucky, but a person of today. Of now. So it’s not like you have any plans or you don’t really see yourself succeeding in life, but I’d like to cherish the moment, enjoy the moment, just live life for what it is. What you see now, what’s around you. At the same time naman, I also plan things; like now I got into writing again, so hopefully I finish a script.
You write scripts?
Yeah. Songs, poems.
People say something about you because they feel you’re not ambitious?
Not really. It’s like… I can’t explain it. I really can’t.
But it’s not true, whatever they say?
It’s not. You know, I don’t really give a damn about money or fame. I’m doing all of this because I like what I’m doing. I love acting. I’m in love with my craft. I just wanna do so many things in the future. There’s so many characters out there I haven’t done, so many scripts floating around, waiting to be produced. Those things excite me. I can’t wait to just do another project, to just be someone else.
For the roles you choose, how do you choose them?
I have a lot of friends on the indie side of cinema in the Philippines. Once in a while, they send me scripts and they ask me if I wanna do it, producers send scripts. Sometimes it’s not really about the character. Sometimes it’s a really beautiful story, whether you’re support or you’re one of the cast, or you’re just part of it. You’ll be proud that you did those [projects].
Do you feel that you have a stereotype right now?
Yeah, there is. I don’t wanna talk about mainstream, but in the mainstream, [I’m more known for] teleseryes… but I’m lucky that it’s not that stereotypical, the stuff I do. But there is a stereotype.
I don’t know if you can answer this, or if you’d like to answer this, but are you tired of being a hunk?
Yeah. I’m past those days. It’s nice to have a fit and healthy body, but I’d really like people to see me as an actor.
Which actors do you take inspiration from?
There’s a lot. Joaquin Phoenix, Benicio del Toro, I like… I can’t remember the name, but it’s at the top of my head. I have a portrait of their faces in my mind. Eddie Redmayne is one. Johnny Depp, in a way, some of his films. I’m really bad with names, but I have a portrait of their faces. This guy in Leon: The Professional? Would you be familiar with that?
The bad guy, I forgot his name. But there’s a lot.
So your type is the actors who change their appearances for a role.
Would you do that?
Have you done that?
I have… I try. I try my best.
What’s the most you’ve transformed?
Well, most of the time kasi I do projects in between. My projects overlap. So you can’t change your look that much. Like your hair, your physique.
So when you said fame stops you from things you really wanna do, is that part of it?
Kind of, kind of. But you know, that side, I also see it as a different character. I’m a different character for this, for TV, for mainstream films. At the end of the day, I still enjoy, I still learn a lot whether it’s mainstream or indie.
What do you really wanna do, right now? Specifically?
Now? Now perhaps, for a role, I wanna do something really anorexic, like The Machinist. It’s always been a dream role.
That’s a risky role.
Yeah, of course. But someday, someday. Before I turn 30.
Okay. Other actors talk about spots in showbiz. Certain spots in not just networks, but the whole scene. Do you subscribe to that theory?
Yeah, I’m not really in the business for the race. For the race to fame, the rat race, however you want to call it. I’m here because I really love what I’m doing.
[pull_quote]”In the ’70s and ’80s; then, we were doing so many beautiful films. Sometimes even if their films are really dark, it’s really different. Even if it’s not a love story, people watch. That’s what I’d like the industry to evolve into again: being fearless.”[/pull_quote]
What do you think of those who are in the business for the race?
Well, we have our own reasons. If that’s their reason, that’s their drive to stay in the business, to be in the business. I see nothing wrong about it. But at the end of the day… yeah. I might say something bad. (laughs)
How bad do you really have to watch your words?
You know, I rarely filter my words, but sometimes kasi you say something and people think it’s directed towards them or towards someone they know, when it really isn’t. So I just don’t want any drama, I don’t want to start a Twitter war, an Instagram war, a war with anyone in the industry. I’m just here to do what I want.
Do you feel you have any privacy in your life?
I try to maintain and keep a certain privacy but yeah, it’s not much. In this business, you can’t hide yourself totally.
Do you regret getting into the business at all?
Not really, not really. I matured in this business, I learned a lot, I met so many people. It kinda shaped the way I see things. How I am now.
So you’re okay with having made sacrifices to be in this business and doing what you love.
Yes, yes. Same thing with everyone. We’re just on TV. We’re just in cinemas. We’re just on print. It’s the same thing with everyone. We have to sacrifice something along the way, at work, or in life to get something, or to let go of something. There’s always something you need to sacrifice.
What’s one thing you’d like your fans—or fans, in general—to understand about you?
…Shit. Maybe the one thing they don’t understand about me is my true character is so far away from what they see on screen.
I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
And then… without naming names or dropping anything, what’s one thing in showbiz that you’d like to change? Or would change?
You know, I wouldn’t say I want showbiz to go back in time, in the ’70s and ’80s; then, we were doing so many beautiful films, and we didn’t really care about—well, they did care about the box office and earning—but, you know, sometimes even if their films are really dark, it’s really different. Even if it’s not a love story, people watch. That’s what I’d like the industry to evolve into again. Being fearless. Doing a TV show where you wouldn’t really think about ratings. It’s like everyone across the globe is doing beautiful TV shows, TV series; Netflix has their TV series that are beautiful as well. I’d like to see the Philippine industry evolve into that. You’re always after quality.
Coming from inside the industry, is this your main frustration with it?
In a way.
Do you think that it could happen?
It’s slowly happening.
Is it starting with your movie?
Well, that was a game-changer. Nobody expected it to earn more than a hundred million. But it did. It just didn’t earn more than a hundred, it earned more than two hundred. And I’m really happy. People take time to watch these kinds of films that are beautiful. And hopefully in the future, more people would too.
Having played a historical character, how would you like to be remembered after your career is over? After your life is over, even? How would you like to be remembered in the grand scale of Philippine cinema?
Hmm… I really don’t know. Maybe in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, or even, hopefully, a hundred years from now, I want people to know me because I have a very interesting filmography. Very interesting films.
Even if you don’t end up being a consistent leading man or anything?
Not really, not really. I really want to have a beautiful filmography.
This story originally appeared on the November 2015 issue.
Photos by Ralph Mendoza, styling by Jed Gregorio, grooming by Sylvina Lopez