COVER STORY

Dennis Trillo doesn't want to play it safe

The actor talks about fame, working behind the camera in the future, and his new film “Mina-Anud.”

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Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — “Gusto ko ‘yung andiyan lang ako sa isang tabi.”

Dennis Trillo is talking about fame — specifically, his popularity and why he does not really care about it. Don’t get him wrong. He knows the importance of fame in his work as an actor. That is part of showbiz’s currency; sometimes popularity trumps skill when one is being cast in a T.V. show or a movie. Trillo is acknowledged to be one of the best actors among his contemporaries, but he is also plenty popular. In fact, he is arguably one of the most popular actors in GMA-7, his home network.

According to the 38-year-old actor, it can be difficult to maintain fame. He just wants to fulfill his passion as an artist.

“Nakakapagod i-maintain ‘yun, halimbawa, ‘yung superstar level. Nakakapagod mag-maintain ng ganun,” he says, but not without clarifying that he does not see himself as a “superstar.” (He does, however, consider himself as someone who could be considered as a “veteran” actor). “Gusto ko lang magagawa ko ‘yung gusto kong projects.”

He adds: ‘“Yung fame, okay lang. Hindi ako masyadong nag-fo-focus doon.”

“Gusto ko lang na kapag narinig nila ‘yung pangalan ko, ibig sabihin quality ‘yung mapapanood. Mas importante sa akin ‘yun kaysa ‘yung sikat ka.”

It is hard to take an actor’s statement like this at face value. Besides fame and talent, an actor also has to take care of his image. In Trillo’ case, the image he may want to project is this: he no longer cares about the factors outside of being an actor; instead, he just wants to be seen as a “serious actor,” he wants to focus on his “art.” With 15 years of experience under his belt, he should no longer be just a matinee idol.

Yet it is also hard not to take him seriously.

On Dennis: Linen uniform polo shirt by Proudrace X Purveyr. Photo by JL JAVIER

To illustrate: last year, he starred with ABS-CBN actress Kim Chiu in “One Great Love,” a romance-drama that is part of the 2018 Metro Manila Film Festival. He won the Best Actor award in the said film fest.

He follows it up with the movie “Mina-Anud,” which opened in theaters on Wednesday, Aug. 21.

Helmed by first-time director Kerwin Go, “Mina-Anud” tells the story of Ding (Trillo) and Carlo (Jerald Napoles) who seized the opportunity to earn easy money when cocaine bricks accidentally drifted in the shores of Mina-Anud, a fishing town in Eastern Samar. The movie is based on true events.

“Isa siyang extraordinary na movie, first of all dahil sa theme niya,” Trillo says. “Taboo siya sa masa. Pero nangyari talaga siya sa Samar noong 2009. Ang role ko dun, isa ako sa mga local surfers. Gusto kong i-improve ‘yung buhay ng pamilya ko kasi family man ako dito. Nalaman ko na pwedeng pagkakitaan ‘yung cocaine bricks.”

“So ‘yun ‘yung kwento niya — kung ano ‘yung experience namin habang ine-enjoy namin siya and kung ano ‘yung effect ng pagpa-participate namin doon sa illegal na activity na ‘yun.”

The actor knew of the project even before the role of Ding was offered to him. His friend starred a video presentation the director used to pitch the project to producers. When the role was officially offered to him, he was excited.

“Nagulat ako. ‘Wow, magkakaroon ng ganitong movie.’ And nangyari talaga siya sa Pilipinas. Relatable siya sa mga tao,” he says. “And ‘yung movie, parang awareness siya dahil itong pangyayari na ito, nauulit pa rin simula noong 2009 hanggang ngayon. Maraming mga ilegal na kargomento na naliligaw at nadadamay ‘yung mga inosente na tao. Maganda na mapanood din ng mga tao para maiwasan ‘yung mga ganung pangyayari at makahanap ng solusyon.”

Trilllo is aware that doing “Mina-Anud” can be risky. For one, it’s a black comedy, a type of movie that is far removed from the genres that make a killing in the local box-office. Any project that also tackles the issue of drugs in any way can also be seen as controversial.

“Hindi ko naisip ‘yun,” he says. “Ang naisip ko, kailangan kong gawin ito. Kasi wala pang gumagawa nito. Ganun ‘yung mga gusto kong gawin, ‘yung mga landas na hindi pa natatahak ng ibang tao. ‘Yun ‘yung gusto kong mapuntahan.”

Again, all of that can be lip service. But Dennis’ filmography may prove otherwise.

On Dennis: Archival floral rash guard by Proudrace. Photos by JL JAVIER

Trillo entered showbiz at 22 years old and started out playing bit roles in ABS-CBN soap operas before moving to GMA-7. His breakthrough came when he played Gabriel, the third wheel to Angel Locsin’s Alwina and Richard Gutierrez’s Aguiluz, in the hit 2004 fantasy show “Mulawin.” In the same year, he won the Best Supporting Actor award for his role as a transgender woman who fell in love with a Japanese army official during World War II in “Aishite Imasu 1941: Mahal Kita.” These projects cemented his stature as a competent actor and a bankable leading man.

He says his choice in the roles he took on — even when he was still a neophyte actor — was influenced by his love for movies as a child.

“Bata pa lang, mahilig na akong manood ng mga movies,” he shares. “Grade 7 ako, pinanonood ko mga ‘Goodfellas,’ mga gangster movies, ‘Untouchables,’ ‘The Godfather.’ Ganun ‘yung mga nakalakihan ko kasi fan ako ni Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Martin Scorsese.”

“So siguro na-expose ako noong bata pa ako na dahil ganoon ‘yung mga pinanonood ko, gusto ko ganoon din ginagawa ko. Ganun ‘yung mga nakahiligan kong movies kaya ganun ‘yung mga roles na pinipili ko.”

This pattern is constant in his career. He is still your typical T.V. and movie star. He played a magician in the soap opera “Majica.” He was the love interest to Narda in the Angel Locsin T.V. adaptation of “Darna.” He was a space policeman in “Zaido: Pulis Pangkalawakan.” He was the leading man in the local T.V. adaptations of Korean shows “Endless Love” and “Temptation of Wife.”

In short: he has played roles your typical cineaste wouldn’t associate with an artist.

But he has also done interesting, difficult, and eccentric roles that are not usually associated with typical T.V. matinee idols. He took on the role of a transgender woman in the forementioned “Aishite Imasu 1941: Mahal Kita” at a time when playing a non-straight character can lead to being cast in gay roles. He played a swindler in the 2009 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival entry “Astig,” back when it wasn’t common for popular T.V. stars to play roles in the indie film fest. He played a gay man who has an affair with his married male best friend in the GMA-7 soap opera “My Husband’s Lover.” He even played the titular role in the biographical drama “Felix Manalo.”

On Dennis: Polizei T-shirt by Dover Street Market, scarf by Neighborhood, oversized pin by Comme Des Garcons. Photo by JL JAVIER

These roles are not new. And some of these choices may not stand up to the test of time (if “Aishite Imasu 1941: Mahal Kita” was made today, Trillo’s role should probably and rightfully be given to an openly gay or transgender actor). But the roles he takes on outside the mainstream box are always challenging, often a risk. Remember: he is still a mainstream T.V. and movie star; he has an image to protect.

According to Trillo, these choices are not “careful” choices — meaning, he does not choose a role based on what it can do for his career. Rather, when he opts to take on a role in a difficult or unusual project — like “Mina-Anud” — it is because he wants to do the role, because he wants to step out of the box.

“Ayaw naman natin na maumay tayo sa mga ginagawa, lalo na sa mga pinapanood natin. So ako, ayokong masabihang careful. Siguro mas bagay na word ‘yung ‘experimental,’” he says.

He adds: “Kasi ‘yung careful, parang sinasabi na nasa safe side tayo palagi. Para sa akin, mas maganda na mag-step out of the box ka. Para laging may bago, lagi kang matututo sa mga experience natin.”

Which isn’t to say Trillo feels he is no longer required to do the usual artista grind. Again, popularity is part of showbiz’s currency. And he is popular; people are still interested in what he does off camera.

“Hindi mo maibibigay lahat,” he says. By this, he means that still prefers keeping a big part of his life to himself despite being a public figure. But he understands that being an actor means giving more than just good portrayals in movies and T.V. shows to fans. “Kailangan mo magbigay ng kahit sukli man lang sa oras nila, sa pagsuporta. Andiyan sila palagi. Ayun ‘yung way mo para maipakita na na-a-appreciate mo sila.”

In his case, Trillo is open to talking about Calix, his 11-year-old son with former beauty queen Carlene Aguilar. He is also open about his relationship with actress Jennylyn Mercado.

“Okay na okay,” he says of his relationship with Mercado. “Lalo na ngayon.” In fact, he is a constant fixture in Mercado’s YouTube channel. One of her videos — which features the couple performing at an MRT station incognito — reached more than one million views. The video was inspired by a skit on the U.S. talk show “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” which featured the band Maroon 5 busking in a New York subway station in disguise. Mercado’s Youtube channel also features her and Dennis doing song covers.

On Dennis: Oversized tee by Gosha Rubchinsky, denim pants by Comme Des Garcons. Photo by JL JAVIER

“Noong nag-work ‘yung ginawa namin, sabi ko, wow, ang saya rin pala na nagkaroon kami ng sarili naming version ng ganun,” he says.”[Sa YouTube], mas nagiging free kami kung ano gusto naming gawin, ano gusto naming kantahin. Hindi katulad ng nasa isang variety show ka na bibigyan ka ng kanta na hindi mo naman talaga feel. So ngayon, kung ano ‘yung trip namin gawin, ginagawa namin. Isa ‘yun sa masasayang freedom na naging pwede naming gawin palagi.”

He helps Mercado produce the videos; he even directs some of them, a preparation for the “future career na gusto kong mangyari sa likod ng camera.”

Eventually, Trillo wants to work behind the camera. Not immediately as a director, but that’s the road he wants to take in the future. He sees himself staying in the showbiz for a long time, though he’s not sure if he will be in showbiz as an actor. He says he’s at a point where he can now choose what project he can do within the entertainment industry, perhaps even becoming a producer.

“A long time siguro kung isasama ko ‘yung filmmaking pero as an actor, hindi ko alam, e. Hindi ko rin masabi kung gaano katagal pa,” he says.

“Hangga’t feel ko pa, okay lang naman. Pero kung hindi na, sa likod na lang ng camera, ‘di ba?”

He said it himself: “Gusto ko ‘yung andiyan lang ako sa isang tabi. Andiyan lang ako.”

***

Styling by RIK RASOS
Produced by CHANG CASAL
Cover design by THE PUBLIC SCHOOL MANILA
Special thanks to APA AGBAYANI