By Cedric S. Reyes, Photography by Jack Alindahao, Styling by Quayn Pedroso
Show business has a terrible habit of forgetting. Keeping millions of individuals glued to their screens and at the edge of their seats can’t be easy, after all. Left to its own devices, the entertainment industry, especially our own, has a habit of taking on new talents and testing the waters for mass appeal, or the uncanny critical darling. These talents feed the line. Only a handful of fresh-faced teen idols are able to incite the response necessary to propel them to stardom, and this exclusive club forms the earmarks of a generation. Vilma Santos, Rico Yan, and Scout cover girl Nadine Lustre are just some of the lucky ones. When we think about specific eras of pop culture, they’re the ones that we remember.
To the club that thousands of new talents strive for, it seems Ronnie Alonte was given an all-access pass. For a moment, right at the end, just as relief started to settle at the close of 2016, all eyes were on the smug-faced newcomer. He was by all means a star on the rise, but the end of last year hitched wagons to Ronnie’s ascent and secured his place as one to watch. Serving top billing on two films of the Metro Manila Film Festival simultaneously can do that to a young actor’s career. Still, Ronnie’s was a new name, one that rang like a tune and commanded attention. Snappy and memorable, his was the kind of moniker that agents pitched in meetings, because a pretty name is just as important as a pretty face. But Ronnie Arthur Alcantara Alonte has been his name for 20 years, since he was born in Biñan, Laguna. His name is real, and despite a maddening onset of success, so is he.
Such is Ronnie when I meet him one afternoon in Escolta, the concrete-laden business district now making a quiet little resurgence. People tend to get antsy when waiting for stars, and our production team is seeking solace from the sweltering heat by the bar stools of Fred’s, a local bar with an alarmingly early opening time at the ground floor of First United Building, while exchanging casual banter about our subject. Which film was he better in? Did you hear that song he did? How about Maalala Mo Kaya? Ronnie’s work and his history precede him. When he appears at the shoot, bearing a tight grin on his face and plenty of charm, the team and I become alert, watching as he apologizes profusely for being late and shakes hands with everyone on location. With every terse introduction, he says his name–“Ronnie.”
Everyone is on their toes, all recognizing Ronnie as the man who starred in two MMFF films last year, the actor pegged in his industry as one to watch. Because of his height, Ronnie looks agile and imposing, and he walks with a loose gait, with movements that are exaggerated but graceful in a way that only an athlete’s are. He looks confident, and dare I say, even a little excited. He looks convincingly like he is happy to be there, dodging the Manila heat with us. He and I head straight to a quiet corner of the bar. As we walk, Ronnie finds a grain of rice from breakfast on his shirt and flicks it off without pause. “Nag-almusal kasi ako,” he explains to me, laughing. There’s no blinding aura of bravado around him, no aggressive smack of perfume as we walk. Ronnie looks stunningly ordinary.
I realize that the actor introducing himself to me is far from what I expected. Given the torrential fame he’s had to deal with, I would have understood a bit of cockiness, or the occasional request for something or other from his assistants. But Ronnie holds his own. He talks without encumbrance, casually and without regard for appearances. Maybe it’s too soon to tell, but it seems he hasn’t changed much since his start in the entertainment industry two years ago.
I realize that the actor introducing himself to me is far from what I expected. Given the torrential fame he’s had to deal with, I would have understood a bit of cockiness. But Ronnie holds his own. Maybe it’s too soon to tell, but it seems he hasn’t changed much since his start in the entertainment industry two years ago.
At the time, Ronnie’s name only rang a bell to those who watched daytime television. Though quite a way from becoming a household name, he had already been on television for two years, five days a week, as part of teen idol boy band Hashtags. Acing dance routines and flashing his abdomen on occasion were part of the job. The young looker with a smirk and a square jaw was used to placating a steady stream of fans between dance rehearsals and tapings, taking photos and signing shirts like it was nothing out of the ordinary. As a professional dancer with a regular gig, he settled into a routine, and fans started to worry that the drill was turning humdrum.
Ronnie didn’t mind. His lithe physique and disarming smile got him a start in commercial gigs, which, in the beginning, were few and far between. Being able to show that he was more than just his looks with a regular job that showcased his talents as a dancer was more than enough. As far as Ronnie was concerned, he’d won the professional lottery by becoming a Hashtag. As he says the name of his boy band, he takes his hands and puts two fingers over two more–a number sign, and also the insignia of the Hashtags.
His happy-to-be-here demeanor is authentic, and I find it’s infectious, too. This is because Ronnie’s origins are always top of mind for him. A few big breaks later, young and at the height of his career, Ronnie is sitting across from me, wearing cotton shorts and a bright yellow T-shirt. He takes off his sunglasses to reveal a tired pair of eyes. He hasn’t been getting a lot of sleep. His face is eager nonetheless. There are many things that can be said about Ronnie Alonte–that he sings, dances, acts. But when he sits down to introduce himself, the first thing he says is where he’s from. “Hindi talaga ako taga-dito,” he explains with something that looks convincingly like pride. “Taga-Biñan, Laguna talaga ako.”
For everything that Ronnie is capable of doing, it’s this ardent connection to his roots that makes him stand out. Even more interesting is the fierce dignity he sheathes this connection in. His isn’t an easy story to tell, after all. After the motorcycle accident that left his father unable to work and the subsequent bankruptcy of his family, Ronnie found himself transferring from one school to another as he dealt with his family’s setbacks. A basketball varsity scholarship eventually supported his education, supplemented by the occasional commercial talent fee. His job as a Hashtag supported him and his family, and gave him the opportunity to tell his story, too.
When Ronnie sits down to introduce himself, the first thing he says is where he’s from. “Hindi talaga ako taga-dito,” he explains with something that looks convincingly like pride. “Taga-Biñan, Laguna talaga ako.”
Ronnie confides that the first acting job he ever landed was for the role of himself. The story of his unassuming beginnings found its way to the producers of his network and became the basis for a capsule drama made for nighttime television. Though apprehensive at the beginning, Ronnie credits this episode as the green light for his acting career. He didn’t know that this path was only just beginning. For him, the shift was made more out of necessity than choice. “Dito sa Pilipinas, hindi pwedeng dancer ka lang. Kailangan balanced, artist talaga.”
It might have been his acting chops, or his natural charisma onstage, but something about Ronnie caught the eye of Erik Matti. A big fan of Matti’s previous work, particularly his crime thriller On the Job, Ronnie was floored at the chance to work in Seklusyon, Matti’s grimy horror entry to the 2016 MMFF. “Binigay ko talaga ang lahat ko, kasi pinagkatiwalaan sa akin yung role ng isang director na napakahusay,” he said of the trust that was given to him by the renowned auteur.
Giving his all meant that Ronnie had to sidestep the disturbing occurrences on set. An isolated house in the deep recesses of Antipolo, with a giant tree growing out of an abandoned pool, the location was organically frightening for Ronnie. It didn’t help that one cameraman left production after seeing an old woman in a noose onset. The role of Miguel, one of the four deacons being tried in Seklusyon, was emotionally taxing and physically demanding in equal measure. Hours of shooting, sometimes with camera equipment strapped to his person, left Ronnie questioning whether he was truly capable of giving justice to his role. Still, he forged on, spending half of his week shooting for Seklusyon, praying that he’d be spared the paranormal activity, and the other half playing the cold-shouldered bad boy in Vince and Kath and James.
The memory of Ronnie’s Miguel, the straight-faced deacon plagued by the romances of his past, is a stark one in my mind. It’s easy to see why Matti saw Ronnie Alonte fitting the role. Ronnie looks serious, but also as if he has a genuine quality about him, making him the ideal vehicle for gritty emotion. He’s honest and spontaneous in person, but I wasn’t sure how well he would fare in a comedic Wattpad-based romance like Vince and Kath and James (VKJ).
When describing the stark contrast between his two characters, Ronnie admits he struggled with transitioning into the role of James after playing a stoic deacon just the night before. He’d find himself walking with his arms still pinned to his sides, like a man of God, on the set of Vince and Kath and James. This was a habit that eroded with some time and the guidance of VKJ director Theodore Boborol.
Ronnie looks back on these experiences fondly. Despite becoming acclimated to a lack of sleep and a demanding schedule, Ronnie says that he’s become a braver artist after Seklusyon and VKJ. He had to stretch himself far, and, considering his growth, he was glad to find in himself the same boy from Laguna.
“Na-miss ko mag–basketball noon,” he says of the personal challenges he went through while filling his roles as deacon and teen rebel. Because of his late hours, Ronnie had to pack his free time with as much sleep as he could manage, leaving little room for him to come back to his first love. As the sport that supported him before he found himself in the thick of the entertainment industry, basketball will always find a place in his heart and in his schedule. The thing he misses the most about Biñan, he says, is playing basketball on the streets of his barrio. There was a basketball court on the set of VKJ, and while it was far from Laguna, getting to shoot a few hoops there reminded him of home.
As he tells me the story of catching both of his films on the day the MMFF opened in Laguna, Ronnie’s face is awash with gratitude. It shows in his actions, too. Of course, people recognized him under the lights of a post-credits cinema. He was glad to meet them all, sans entourage, flanked only by friends who have known him since he was a child.“Kasama ko mag-laro ng basketball iyong mga ’yon,” he says of the group of five that accompanied him to watch Seklusyon and VKJ back to back. “Gusto ko kahit nagbago na iyong buhay ko, pareho pa rin ako.”
I have only just met him, but I can almost recognize an old acquaintance, a childhood memory on the street. Ronnie looks, sounds, walks, and is even aptly named like a celebrity, but all his stories suggest otherwise. Despite a line of work that can so easily poison the well with conceit, Ronnie is gentle, self-effacing, and willing to listen. He must be the same guy he talks about when he talks about his past.
“I have only just met him, but I can almost recognize an old acquaintance, a childhood memory on the street. Ronnie looks, sounds, walks, and is even aptly named like a celebrity, but all his stories suggest otherwise.”
Most people don’t know how lucky they are. But Ronnie seems to have a pretty clear idea. For all of the bad hands he’s been dealt, Ronnie Alonte exhibits a glowing optimism that makes him hard to look away from—whatever he’s doing. And he’s just getting started. While it’s not certain for now whether he will make it to the intimate club of generation-defining celebrities, Ronnie is going to keep trying. Armed with a thorough range of talents and a head full of gratitude, Ronnie Alonte wants to be remembered. When he does make it, he’ll have his lucky stars to thank.
Grooming by Kaye Misajon, Video by Petersen Vargas, Special thanks to Fred’s Revolucion, The Den, The Public School Manila, GEN. MDSE, Shintaro Lopez, First United Building in Escolta, Manila, RB Chanco, Peachy Bautista and the rest of Ronnie Alonte’s team
This story is from our May-June 2017 issue and has been edited for web. Find the whole issue, here.