COVER STORY

The reinvention of JM de Guzman

Like his role as Lio, a man born with face blindness, in his upcoming film “Kung Paano Siya Nawala,” JM de Guzman is no stranger to starting over.

 

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — JM de Guzman was nearing the end of a three-year stint in rehab when TBA Studios approached him with a script for a movie featuring a character who is unable to recognize faces. “Nung nag-start ako ulit lumabas, ‘yun ‘yung first script na nabasa ko,” says the actor, who graduated from the facility in July. “Hindi ko pa siya nagagawa before so [naging interesado ako].”

He did his research, reading case studies on the rare condition, which he mentions by the more technical term “prosopagnosia” during our interview. “Affected ‘yung brain mo because of trauma or an accident,” he explains.

In “Kung Paano Siya Nawala,” however, he plays Lio, who was born with face blindness. “Lahat ng decisions niya in life, affected nung condition niya,” de Guzman says. “‘Yung behavior niya, sinisisi niya lagi dun. Nandun siya sa point ng buhay niya na kailangan niyang sundan ‘yung puso niya — hindi na siya naghe-hesitate because of his condition.” Fiercely loyal to his family, Lio has yet to build a meaningful romantic relationship because of his affliction. All that changes when he meets Shana (Rhian Ramos), who’s determined to venture with him to familiarity and beyond.

Photo-1.jpg Photo by JL JAVIER. Styling by DAVID MILAN. Hair and makeup by JHAM SAVELLANO

JM de Guzman, like Lio, is no stranger to starting over. He actually first broke into the industry as a cast member on the children’s sketch show “Ang TV 2” alongside Shaina Magdayao and Arjo Atayde. It wasn’t until a decade later that he cemented his status as a household name, playing Miguel — the role originated by Rico Yan — on the remake of teleserye classic “Mula sa Puso” in 2011. In 2014, following an earlier stay in rehab for substance abuse, he won audiences over once more in the romantic comedy “That Thing Called Tadhana,” which at one point had been the country’s highest grossing independent film.

After such an accomplishment, there should’ve been so much to look forward to. But in 2015, he had to take a break and bow out of prospective projects to focus on getting himself better. So when it was announced earlier this year that de Guzman would be returning to television screens in “Precious Hearts Romances Presents: Araw Gabi,” it was like everything had been on pause and he — along with his fans and supporters — could finally hit “Play.”

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Photo by JL JAVIER. Styling by DAVID MILAN. Hair and makeup by JHAM SAVELLANO

“Kung Paano Siya Nawala” elicits a similar feeling of anticipation — fans of “Tadhana” might even take note of the unreleased Up Dharma Down song in the trailer. According to de Guzman, who also served as executive producer and looks forward to writing and directing someday, its appeal lies within its portrayal of romance. “Relatable siya sa mga sawi, ‘yung mga sinubok ng pag-ibig,” he says. “[Pinapakita niya na] dapat you love yourself first before ka makapagmahal ng iba.”

CNN Philippines Life sat down with de Guzman to talk about stepping into his characters’ headspaces, how the break from acting has changed him as a person and performer, and how he plans to spend the next years of his life. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

Photo-15.jpg Photo by JL JAVIER. Styling by DAVID MILAN. Hair and makeup by JHAM SAVELLANO

Would you say that “Kung Paano Siya Nawala” introduces a new side of you?

Sa tingin ko, oo. Siguro ‘yung mga weaknesses na na-expose nung character ni Lio. Pagka na-i-involve siya sa relationship, 'pag nag-ko-commit siya, merong touch din ng sarili kong experience. ‘Yung insecurities ko noon, ‘yung issues ko noon sa sarili ko. May part ng sarili ko na ganun din.

How is this movie different from other rom-coms and previous roles you’ve played?

Ito kasi, may relationship na. Umabot sila sa [punto na] lumalim na ‘yung love, so lumalim ‘yung issues. Before kasi, hindi ko pa ‘yun nagawa. So rollercoaster siya. May na-share siyang buhay sa ibang tao. Kung ano ‘yung decisions niyo, kung ano ‘yung mga pananaw niyo sa mga bagay, whatever, affected na ‘yung isa. Kayong dalawa na. Buhay mo, buhay ko, buhay niya, buhay namin.

Photo-21.jpg Photo by JL JAVIER. Styling by DAVID MILAN. Hair and makeup by JHAM SAVELLANO

Paano mo pinapasok ‘yung headspace ng characters mo?

Kahit ano namang gawin kong pag-i-internalize, kung paano ako pinalaki, kung paano ‘yung kultura, ‘yung upbringing ko, and kung paano ako mag-isip, hindi ko maaalis ‘yun completely. So meron talaga siyang touch ni JM, pananaw ni JM. Pero syempre, hinahaluan ko siya ng dynamics na, iba ‘yung posture niya, iba siyang magsalita, iba ‘yung tingin niya. Iba siyang mag-react sa certain situations, para hindi siya pare-pareho tingnan. May sarili siyang identity. Nabigyan mo ng justice ‘yung character mo. So parang may ganung feeling na na-miss ko ma-feel.

Since you mentioned having missed parts of acting: Was it difficult for you to step back from your work and your career?

Yes, kasi it’s what I love to do. Maraming natutulong sakin ‘yung acting, ‘yung ginagawa ko. Marami siyang na-i-improve sa sarili ko, internally, sa utak, pananaw sa buhay. It‘s something na hindi ko rin pina-plan tanggalin sa [buhay] ko.

How did you pick yourself back up?

Mahabang story ‘yan. By myself kasi nung una, [one day at a time] lang, kaya ko na dahil nag-undergo na ako ng rigorous therapy sa facility nung time na ‘yun, so iba na ‘yung pag-handle ko sa sarili ko. [Pero] nagkamali ako. Still, with the help of my family, friends, mga nagmamahal at sumusuporta sakin, noon ko lang talaga naramdaman ulit na importante ‘yung buhay ko. Na I have to value everything and appreciate everything [I have].

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Photo by JL JAVIER. Styling by DAVID MILAN. Hair and makeup by JHAM SAVELLANO

You turned 30 this year. What kind of person do you hope to be in your 30s?

‘Di, ah, 23. [laughs] Kanina napansin ko ‘yun, bago ako pumasok sa ABS-CBN, namimili ako ng isusuot. Magiging bata ba ako o pormal na ako? Kaya tingnan mo, halo. Naka-polo ako tas rubber shoes. Sabi ko, sige, gitna na lang.

Sa 30s, gusto kong mag-focus. Si 30s na JM, sobrang goal-driven. Makapagpapatayo ako ng bahay, makakapag-ipon, start a family business.

Sa tingin mo, paano ka nagbago as an actor and as a person pagkatapos ng pinagdaanan mo?

Hindi, hindi ako nagbago. [laughs] Joke lang. Alam mo kasi, isa sa pinaka na-anxious ako nung bumalik ako is, parang umuulit lahat. Kasi ‘di ba, nung una, na-rehab ako, bumalik ako, tas dahan-dahang umaangat ‘yung career ko. Ngayon parang same ‘yung nangyayari ngayon. Dumadaan ako ulit dun, nostalgic ako [pero] to the point na napa-paranoid. “Dito ba akong point nalaglag? Dito ba? Dito ba akong point bumagsak?” So natatakot ako at naging sobrang careful na ako. Isa rin sa kinatakot ko na baka maging too careful naman ako na maapektuhan na ‘yung performance ko.

Natutunan kong i-enjoy, i-appreciate; at the same time, alagaan ‘yung sarili ko on top of it. Kasi ako lang din ‘yung makikinabang, ako lang din ‘yung mahihirapan. Hindi ko alam ‘yung limitations ko. Hindi ako aware sa sarili ko.

Photo-25.jpg Photo by JL JAVIER. Styling by DAVID MILAN. Hair and makeup by JHAM SAVELLANO

Do you view or approach your work any differently now?

‘Yung binago ko ngayon is, before, gusto kong ibigay ‘yung best ko, pero wala akong pakialam sa mga tao sa paligid ko. Parang, basta maibigay ko ‘yung best ko, kahit mairita sila sakin, sa process ko, wala akong paki. Pero ngayon, sa tingin ko, hindi na ‘yun ‘yung pagbibigay ng best mo, eh, kung hindi ka nagiging tool sa ibang tao para mabigay din nila ‘yung best nila. Ngayon, mas nag-fo-focus ako sa pagiging positive force dun sa team, tapos tutulungan ka rin nila. [Mas collaborative], para maka-create kayo ng isang magandang project.

What do you find most fulfilling about having returned to acting?

Para sa akin, ‘yung fulfilling, ‘yung [makakabuo] ka ng character sa isang story. Napagdaanan mo ‘yung kailangang pagdaanan, conflict [sa buhay] niya, and ‘yung alam mo na sa sarili mo na nabigay mo ‘yung best mo para maitawid ‘yung story dun sa character. Alam mo na kahit kaunti, kahit siguro isang tao na maka-relate man lang. It’s something, for me, na para makapag-deliver ka ng mensahe sa ganung paraan. Kapag may nakita kang nagdala, or kinilig, or naiyak, o na-entertain sila kahit papaano, it’s fulfilling. Nagagawa ko nang maayos ‘yung trabaho ko.