‘I got burnt out’ — Aga Muhlach on showbiz

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“I always try to make my characters endearing,” Aga Muhlach says about portraying a role. “Kasi kailangan, mahal ka ng tao, eh. Kapag nanood ka ng sine, kailangan kumapit ka sa taong ‘yun, eh. You start caring for that character.” Photo by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Aga Muhlach insists that his new movie, “First Love,” is not a comeback.

His first movie following a seven-year hiatus, after all, was last year’s “Seven Sundays.” But in many ways, “First Love” is a return to form, a chance for fans and general audiences to glimpse the matinee idol who stole their hearts in “Bagets” and “Sana Maulit Muli” the way they know and love him best.

It had started out as something different. Muhlach was staying in Las Vegas for the summer when he got a call from director Paul Soriano, who was driving up from Los Angeles and had been wanting to do a movie with him. “I told him I’m not under contract with [anyone],” says Muhlach. “‘I’m good,’ sabi ko, ‘I’ll just do what I want to do.’”

After a series of meetings, the story Soriano had pitched kept changing, but they weren’t getting anywhere — so they pivoted. “He realized, ‘You know, I think, Aga this is not the project for us,’” Muhlach recalls. “He calls me [and says], ‘You know, I rented all your movies, and these are your strong points.’” He pauses for effect, then laughs. “Sabi ko, ‘Uh, yeah, direk, I know that.’”

His strong points — and Muhlach’s filmography is a testament to this — called for a love story. “I’m not young [anymore],” he says. “Drama, romance, that’s all I did. This generation is different, the times are different. Baka sabihin ng tao, ‘Oh, what’s new?’”

He had one condition: “I wanted to work with Bea Alonzo.” Soriano, it turns out, had been thinking the same thing, and that’s when Muhlach felt that something was truly happening.

Photo-7 (19).jpg “First Love,” a film by Paul Soriano where Muhlach stars with Bea Alonzo, is a return to form, a chance for fans and general audiences to glimpse the matinee idol who stole their hearts in “Bagets” and “Sana Maulit Muli.” Photo by JL JAVIER

In “Seven Sundays,” he played what he describes as the “loser kuya,” but in “First Love,” he gets to be the leading man once more. Asked what makes it different, he says, “All love stories are the same. It’s the same feeling. It’s the same emotions. It’s the same love. So what sets it apart is, it’s a movie I’m doing now, at the age of 49.” 

These days, Muhlach has a decidedly naturalistic approach to filmmaking: “I’m not into characters. I’m into the film as a whole. I just want it real.” It’s also important that viewers get their money’s worth. “I’m not going to give you trash!” he says. “They’re there to be entertained. It’s either you laugh or you cry. People like that.”

In this case, will “First Love” make them cry? “Lahat naman ng pelikula ko, naiiyak sila,” he says. “While [Soriano] was presenting the story, my wife was listening, [and she] was crying already.”

“I always try to make my characters endearing,” Muhlach adds. “Kasi kailangan, mahal ka ng tao, eh. Kapag nanood ka ng sine, kailangan kumapit ka sa taong ‘yun, eh. You start caring for that character.”

CNN Philippines Life sat down with Muhlach to discuss what it is that made him return to acting, the different between making movies then and now, and where he feels he is at this point in his life and career. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

Photo-9 (23).jpg “What made me [come back to show business] was just the filmmaking talaga. The experience. And tama nga ako, because when I did 'Seven Sundays' last year, sabi ko, 'Wow, ang sarap talaga,'” says Muhlach. Photo by JL JAVIER

You shot “First Love” in Vancouver for a month. What was your experience, working with Bea and Paul? 

It was wonderful. It was magical. There was so much excitement. I always say this, parang magic ‘yung nangyari, working with them. This project is very special to me because it’s my first love story that’s going to come out after how many years of living a normal life.

When I was dubbing, I saw some parts, and I was, like, crying. Sabi ko, ‘Putragis, ang ganda ng pelikula.’ [Laughs] We knew we had something special there. [When we were shooting], I never looked [at the] monitors. It is as raw as it is. 

What happened sa one month na ’yun, you can’t duplicate that. When I was dubbing, some scenes, I had to tell them, I can’t dub it. ’Di ko kayang ulitin na ’yan.

After seven years of not doing movies, what made you want to jump back in?

It comes to a point where you realize, parang, man, I love this job, the industry. Kaya sometimes you miss it. I got burnt out. So after a while, you realize out of nowhere, people still thought I was busy. People thought I was still working. I said, “I’m not working. I’m not doing anything!” May pangalan na rin ako siguro, but I never thought of myself that way.

Even during my younger years, I was always normal. [It’s] only when I work that I’m [an actor], but after work, at home, you’re not gonna see any trophies, any [posters]. I don’t even have files of my films. I don’t even have pictures from past pictorials. Nothing that [says], “An actor lives in this house.”

So what made me [come back] was just the filmmaking talaga. The experience. And tama nga ako, because when I did “Seven Sundays” last year, sabi ko, “Wow, ang sarap talaga.” And what’s nice is when people watch it. They get to see what you worked for. Hindi sayang.

Photo-15 (8).jpg During the discussions with director Paul Soriano about the film, Muhlach already had one condition: “I wanted to work with Bea Alonzo.” Soriano, it turns out, had been thinking the same thing. Photo by J; JAVIER

How would you describe where you are at this point in your life and career?

I don’t know, I don’t know. I’m just here. Nothing’s changed, my name’s still the same, the only difference is, I have kids. I have teenagers now. I am very much married, happily married.

I’m in that place where I am very comfortable with my skin, very comfortable with life. I still need to work, but it’s okay if I don’t work. We’re not talking about yaman here, it’s just that, if you don’t want to be busy, mag-hihigpit ka lang ng sinturon. Kaunting tipid ka lang sa buhay, ganun. Plus, there’s faith also, trust that I have a great provider. I have my God. It’s humbling, it’s very humbling. So that’s where I am. At peace.

What keeps your heart beating?

It’s my family. Man, my wife is like my life. I’m just dying to promote this movie and then I’m back to my wife. She ran the Chicago marathon, and I wasn’t there.

We’re always together. For the past 18 years, [we’ve been having] coffee every morning. We talk for hours. It’s still the same up to now. We laugh, and it’s like, “What do we talk about?!” And of course, the kids are there. I love my children, of course, but then, sinabi ko sa asawa ko, “The kids are 17 now. They’re turning 18 soon, and then they’re leaving [for college].” Sabi ko, “You’re stuck with me.”

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“First Love” opens on Oct. 17 in cinemas nationwide.