Sandino Martin: ‘Nakaka-proud maging taga-theater!’

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In 2017, Martin appeared in the films "Changing Partners" and "Ang Larawan," both stage musicals adapted to film. This year, he's juggling three projects — a stage play, "Himala," and two T.V. shows. Photo by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Sandino Martin is doing something that’s probably a little dangerous.

He’s testing how long his body can endure juggling three projects at a time: a stage play, “Himala,” and two T.V. shows — an in-production serye with Jericho Rosales, and one, “The Blood Sisters,” currently on air — and he’s been going from one set to another with little amount of sleep.

“I finished taping for the T.V. show at around 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. and I have a ‘Himala’ performance in the afternoon,” he says when we sat down for an interview. It was a rare free day for him but he still wanted to be doing something. “I was functioning for two shows with two hours of sleep.”

In “Himala,” the stage adaptation of the classic 1982 Ishmael Bernal film, he plays the role of Pilo, a ‘fuckboy,’ played by Pen Medina in the film — enamored with Chayong (Laura Centeno in the film, Neomi Gonzales in the play). The role of Pilo has been expanded from the movie.

“I want a lot of work, I don’t want to be stagnant,” says Martin. “‘Pag wala akong T.V. [work], accept ako ng play. Ngayon lang nagkasabay ‘yung T.V. at saka play, I want to test myself, how is my endurance, what’s gonna happen to me,” he says with a laugh.

I tell him that might be dangerous.

He acknowledges the risk. He says, “I just want to try because during the time we were doing ‘Changing Partners,’ Agot Isidro was doing ‘Ang Probinsyano.’ Sabi ko, ‘How can you do that?’ ‘A lot of passion, a lot of hard work,’ [she said], so now I’m doing it. Kaya naman pala. Mahirap lang. Sakripisyo tulog.

For most of his career, Martin is no stranger to testing his limits. Failures have brought him to where he is. He failed the journalism exam in University of the Philippines and ended up taking theater arts, which changed his life.

Another failure was getting fired from an ABS-CBN teleserye.

“I think hindi rin ako ready that time, so I got fired,” he recalls. “I think I was not good enough. I was 19. Really hard days, nagkaroon na ng trailer, nag-mall show na kami, pictorial, then all of a sudden, I was fired.”

“When you’re young, you would take that personally,” he continues. “But now that I’m trying to recollect [that experience], I think it was for the good. Kung ginawa ko siya that time and I failed? If I wasn’t good? Baka iba na career ko ngayon.”

Now, Martin has a filmography to die for. His first film, Jay Altarejos’ “Unfriend,” where he played the lead role of David, an unhinged high school teenager madly in love with another boy, premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 2014.

It was followed by a Cinemalaya film, “Dagitab” by Giancarlo Abrahan. Then, Kanakan Balintagos’ (formerly known as Auraeus Solito) Cinema One Originals entry “Esprit De Corps” where he won Best Actor and received nominations for the same category at the Urian Awards.

In 2016, he played the titular role in “Ringgo: the Dog Shooter” opposite Janice De Belen and Bembol Roco. He won Best Actor at the World Premieres Film Festival.

2017 was a busy year as well for Martin. He was part of the acclaimed musical film, “Changing Partners” and the Metro Manila Film Festival Best Picture winner “Ang Larawan,” both of which are stage musicals adapted to film.

To think that he almost ended up quitting to be an actor after a string of failures early on in his career.

CNN Philippines Life  sat down with Martin to talk about transitioning from film to theater, the two practices crossing borders, and why it’s a good time to be an actor in the Philippines. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

Diptych 2.jpg The film "Himala" inspired Martin to be an actor. When asked about what it means to be in the stage play, he says, "Sabi ko nga parang hindi ko gustong gawin ‘yung 'Himala,' kailangan ko siyang gawin. It’s part of who I am as an artist. It’s part of what brought me up, of my childhood, which led me to admire Nora Aunor and Ricky Lee, so I just need to do it." Photos by JL JAVIER

You’re one of the few actors in your generation who has had a strong filmography, from “Unfriend,” to “Oro,” and more recently, “Ang Larawan” and “Changing Partners.”

Feeling ko nagkakataon lang. But I choose my work wisely. I’m new in the industry, I need to build the foundation of my body [of] work because that will define you as an artist. I choose my work so much, I read the script, I get to know the director, the producers. Once I know I’m in good hands, I will do it. Especially when I was starting, makapal ang mukha ko ‘nun na parang, ‘Sinong director ko?’ I’ll research [on them], I’ll watch trailers if I haven’t seen their film(s), or if I read the script and if it’s good … if the [work] will take me somewhere, if it can push the film to its limits, I will definitely do the film.

What film inspired you to be an actor?

Lagi ko ‘tong sinasabi …Himala” is my favorite film of all time. I watched this film when I was five years old, [then] every holy week. I grew up watching that film.

Hindi naman kami film viewer [as a family], my mom is into arts, more on music, pero that film, ‘yun talaga ‘yung baptism of fire ko. Back then, hindi ko siya maintindihan but when I was 10 or 11, I was crying — naintindihan ko na siya. I admire Nora Aunor, that woman is so good. That film is way ahead of its era. ‘Yun ang nag-spark sa akin [na]  'I wanna do what they’re doing.'”

“Unfriend” was mostly about your character, David. That’s a challenging thing for a first film. How did that experience change you?

That time, galing ako sa theater so hindi ko alam kung paano ‘yung bato ng energy sa lente. Pinanood ko ng maraming beses ‘yung pelikula, nanood ako ng ibang mga pelikula from abroad, sabi ko ang subtle naman nilang umarte! Tapos ang laki-laki [ng acting] ko [onscreen]. Makikita mo talaga ‘yung discrepancy. Pero pasok naman sa character, I was a 16-year-old boy na sumasabog sa loob, so pwedeng maging external. So bumawi ako next time. Natutunan ko na you can do a scene a million times, with a different objective.

So pagdating ng susunod kong pelikula, pabawas na nang pabawas [‘yung sa acting ko]. I’m still experimenting. I watch myself ‘Ah that’s good … that’s not good, don’t do it again.’ I’m my worst critic. When you criticize yourself, you know what you’re doing na maganda at mali, at pwede pang ma-improve.

In “Changing Partners” you worked with a great ensemble of actors. How was that like?

I started “Changing Partners” as a reading in Virgin Labfest. Nung nabasa ko ‘yung script sabi ko maganda ‘to hindi ko ‘to ibibigay sa iba, ganid kung ganid! (Laughs). Sabi ko talaga kay Vince [de Jesus, the writer of the play], 'Vince, akin ‘to!”

Then it became a play. Umupo ako sa casting, I suggested some friends … Jojit Lorenzo and Anna Luna .... because I think it was a very intimate project, and working with friends, hindi mo na kailangan mag-warm up ng connection or rapport. Nung na-build na siya as a play, we all became friends. We became a group. We created a play from our hearts, provided our own costumes … we kept on doing it. We fell in love with the music, the text, and with each other.

Hindi naman namin inakala na magiging pelikula. Hanggang sa nangyari na lang siya. Minsan talaga may nangyayari na hindi mo pinaplano.

How did you approach playing a character like Cris, who had a story that was told in so many levels.

Cris is a very typical young person in a relationship. I’ve been a Cris sa buhay ko ilang beses, I’ve been an Alex too, sinasabi ko ‘yung mga sinasabi niya. Feeling ko it’s an homage to all your past relationships, and all you need is to remember those things (laughs), remember what you said, why you’re saying it. Kaya masarap siya gawin, kasi ‘yung mga unfinished business … nagagawa mo. Life imitates art. Ginagawa mo lang ulit.

Photo-1.jpg "This is the most exciting time to be an actor for film, T.V.., and theater. The theater industry is booming and it’s crossing borders with film, which is so fun," says Martin. "Masarap siya. For me, art should be like that. Art should be collaborative. Art should be progressive." Photo by JL JAVIER  

So you guys have been doing “Changing Partners” for a long time. How much does the film mean to you?

I think the film changed the game when it comes to storytelling in Philippine cinema. Meron nang mga love stories about breakups, madami nang stories na ganyan but “Changing Partners” is a love story told in four perspectives. Feeling ko it will change how [we tell stories] in the future. And I’m glad to be part of that. “Changing Partners” is really important to me. First of the first. It’s a triumph for theater people. And “Ang Larawan” too! Nakaka-proud maging taga-theater.

The acclaim and audience reception for “Changing Partners” was immense. People were raving about it. What do you think that says about Filipinos and romance? 

We like falling in love. But feeling ko recent lang na-discover na pwede palang love story pero hindi happy ending. In one film, nakwento mo ‘yung story of a woman, a man, a gay man, a lesbian. Feeling ko ma-open up ‘yung senses ng mga Filipino na ‘Pwede pala silang ma-inlove at walang judgement, pantay-pantay pala tayo, nasasaktan din pala sila.’

And now you’re doing “Himala” which is kind of like a full circle for you.

Sabi ko nga parang hindi ko gustong gawin ‘yung Himala,” kailangan ko siyang gawin. It’s part of who I am as an artist. It’s part of what brought me up, of my childhood, which led me to admire Nora Aunor and Ricky Lee, so I just need to do it.

I didn’t pass the audition. I was gunning for the role of Orly. But all of a sudden, the role of Pilo opened. Ed Lacson [the director of the play] told me that aayusin ‘yung role. Sa film he just wants to make love to Chayong. When we were talking to Ricky Lee, because we had so many questions … you have so much bravery and imagination to write something like ‘Himala.’

Filipinos tend to believe easily and it was the Marcos era! And alam ko mga Marcos ang nag-finance nito [“Himala” was produced by the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, a government owned film development corporation in 1982. Imee Marcos was the director general — ed]. So hindi ko alam kung ano ‘yung tumatakbo sa utak ng mga Marcos!

Pero ang isang trivia ni Ricky Lee, he got inspired by [the story] of a girl in Mindoro who was peeing and all of a sudden, looked up, and saw the Virgin Mary. It became a thing in their province. Originally, there’s no lead. The lead is the community as a whole. But nung pumasok si Nora Aunor, kailangan meron, so it became Elsa. Sinasabi ni [Ricky Lee] sa akin, ‘Ikaw Pilo, may gusto kang sabihin, si ganito may gustong sabihin ...’ So ‘dun na, nagkaroon na kami [ng idea] na this is not just about Elsa, or the miracle of Elsa, this is the story of everyone.

Ngayong ginagawa ko siya as a play, nababaliw ako. I don’t want it to end! It’s a social responsibility to do this kind of work.

As someone who really loved the film, how do you think “Himala” stays relevant until today?

It’s very truthful pa din to the era. The sad thing about the film is, pinakita na ‘yung ganon [before] but until now we’re still experiencing it. Walang nagbago. 1982 pa ‘yun pero 2018 na ganito pa din tayo. Nothing has changed, that’s why “Himala” is still relevant. It still has resounding elements that are very close to home.

Do you think it’s an exciting time to be an actor in the Philippines?

Yes! I will say that with all my might and heart. This is the most exciting time to be an actor for film, T.V., and theater. The theater industry is booming and it’s crossing borders with film, which is so fun. Natutunan ko kay Bobby Garcia, in London, there’s no theater actor, commercial actor, T.V. actor, film actor — everybody is an actor. When you go to the other side of the room, it’s something new, the acting is different. Masarap siya. For me, art should be like that. Art should be collaborative. Art should be progressive. And we’re doing it, it’s happening, and I’m happy to be alive! (Laughs)


“Himala: Isang Musikal” is running until March 4 at the Power Mac Center Spotlight, Circuit Makati. Tickets are currently sold out but check the play’s Facebook page for announcements.