FUNFARE By Ricardo F. Lo (The Philippine Star) Updated May 07, 2010 12:00 AM
Whether on screen or off it, there’s no gray area where Leo Martinez is concerned. Either you like him or you dislike him.
He has strong views that, maybe without his being aware of it, hurt people including his colleagues. In the ABS-CBN suspense-political-drama Tanging Yaman, Leo plays Solomon “Manong Sol” Buenavista, a corrupt, ruthless and worldly vice president. Those who don’t like Leo wonder, “How much of Manong Sol is there in Leo Martinez, the person?”
“For many TFC (The Filipino Channel) subscribers in the US,” according to Funfare’s Big Apple correspondent Edmund Silvestre (of The Filipino Reporter), “Leo is arguably this season’s most hated soap character you simply want to burn in hell even before the series wraps up, along with abusive and dishonest real-life politicos.”
But what is Leo in the eyes of his New York-based younger brother and fellow Atenean Antero “Ner” Martinez?
“He is kind-hearted, honest and a man of principle,” Ner told Edmund. “He’s just a brilliant actor doing his job effectively. He loves playing those kinds of roles. But he’s really kind and funny.”
Leo also popularized the character Congressman Manhik Manaog in the TV show Mongolian Barbecue in the ’80s. He’s currently director-general of the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP) and chairman of the Performers Rights Society of the Philippines (PRSP), and former chairman of the Katipunan ng mga Artistang Pilipino sa Pelikula at Telebisyon (Actors Guild).
Edmund did an exclusive e-mail Funfare/Filipino Reporter tie-up interview with Leo.
Your Manong Sol character will be remembered as one of the most hated kontrabidas in Philippine TV drama series. Is this the most evil character you have played in your career?
“Not the first time. In Flordeluna about 30 years ago, I also played the villain (first husband of Laurice Guillen’s character Jo Alicante) and there was a scene where I took Janice de Belen to a motel and almost raped her. One taping day, about four old women attacked me in the studio with their umbrellas. It was Susan, mother of Janice, who had to explain to them that it was just acting and I was just following the script. That’s what I get for being true to my craft. Hahahahaha!”
How did you get your role in Tanging Yaman? Were you the first choice?
“I really don’t know. The last time I worked with ABS-CBN was 1997-99 in Onli in da Pilipins with Tessie Tomas, etc. I spent the last 11 years with GMA 7 so when ABS-CBN called to offer the role, I checked with GMA 7 executives who graciously allowed me to accept the offer.”
How did you prepare for the role?
“I teach film and TV acting using the Eric Morris method ‘No Acting Please’ and that’s how I attack all my roles. I have a specific method which is clear and I just follow the process. No more research. Interestingly, there are so many models in Philippine politics. A few of them are running in the May 10 elections.”
Did you have any particular politician in mind when you initially attacked the role?
“None. But as I said we do not lack examples in the government now.”
Do you have any say in portraying your character or you simply follow your director’s instructions?
“The building of a character is the actor’s job. The director gives the guidelines and the scriptwriter gives me the lines to deliver.”
You’ve long been identified with your other notorious character — the greedy Congressman Manhik Manaog. And now you’re doing another infamous character. Are there instances when people really think you are as bad in real life as you are on TV?
“Fortunately, no. Cong. Manhik Manaog makes fun of corrupt politicians. He makes corrupt officials the laughing stock of the decent Filipino audience.”
You also get to play “nice” characters like Lolo Pancho, the lolo of Marimar. Do you find it less challenging when you play goody-goody roles?
“No. After all, as they say, there are no small parts, only small actors. Also, we all have different sub-personalities in us. I tap the goody-goody in me for the Lolo Pancho in Marimar and the priest in Sugo roles. For Manong Sol I tap the mean and criminal in me. Hahahahaha!”
How is Cong. Manhik Manaog different from Vice Pres. Solomon Buenavista?
“Cong. Manhik Manaog only points out the corrupt in people. Vice Pres. Solomon demonstrates the evil that man can do to his fellowmen.”
Whatever happened to Cong. Manhik Manaog? Isn’t he making a come back?
“Oh yes. Especially now that it’s election time. Just several nights ago, I was at the Araneta Coliseum and I did a monologue and was interviewed by ‘Bhoy Abundant.’ Enjoyed it immensely. I got to say this: ‘Ako po ang inyong abang lingkod, Cong. Manhik Manaog at your self-service. Ako po ay founding member ng Lakas Tama Party. Mas kilala po ninyo ako ngayon bilang Vice Pres. Solomon Buenavista o Manong Sol. Ako po ay isang corrupt politician, marami na akong nakurakot at ako’y patuloy na nagpapayaman sa puwesto. Marami pong katulad ko sa gobyerno. Tuwing eleksyon, ako’y namimili ng boto, nandadaya sa bilangan at nananakot ng botante. Ngayon po ay eleksyon na naman at kandidato na naman po ako at ang mga katulad ko. Pag nanalo pa naman ako sa eleksyong ito, ay anong klaseng tao naman kayo.’ Ganda, di ba?”
Aside from delivering excellent entertainment, is there a hidden political message Tanging Yaman wants to convey to its viewers?
“Yes. It’s about time we took our politics seriously since so much is at stake. Also, there is a lot of corruption going on and we should not accept it.”
Are you not worried that your character is an insult to some Filipino politicians?
“No. In fact, that’s what I want to do. Insult them to shame.”
Do you believe there are still real-life politicians out there who are honest and idealistic like the Pres. Juan Policarpio character (played by Rowell Santiago)?
“Yes, there are. A lot, I’m sure. But the electorate prefers popular actors/entertainers to craft our laws.”
Can you name some of the good politicians out there who deserve our votes?
“Noynoy Aquino, Mar Roxas, Gibo Teodoro, Dick Gordon, Sonia Roco, Martin Bautista, Kiko Pangilinan, Alex Lacson, Gov. Grace Padaca, Mayor Jesse Robredo and Gov. Ed Panlilio.”
Are you actively involved in the May 10 presidential elections? Are you supporting any particular candidate?
“Yes, I join the Noynoy-Mar sorties whenever I can. A few days ago, I was with old friends Subas Herrero, Noel Trinidad, Albert Grupe, Danny Olivares, etc. distributing Noy-Mar leaflets to motorists in Aurora Blvd. near Ateneo. We decided to do something for the Noy-Mar team. No fanfare. Only a handful of us but that’s how we want to contribute to the campaign. People Power pa rin.”
Can you name senatorial candidates who must be in people’s ballots come May 10?
“I’m looking only at the Liberal Party. Sonia Roco, Martin Bautista, Yasmin Busran-Lao, Alex Lacson, Ruffy Biazon, Risa Hontiveros, Danny Lim, Neric Acosta.”
Do you have any political plans? Have you been invited or offered to run, let’s say for congressman or senator?
“Since 1995, I have been asked to run for senator or congressman and I have consistently refused. This year, I joined the party list AMS (Alyansa ng Media at Showbiz) and I am the third nominee.”