FILM

At 90, Eddie Garcia was still the most hardworking actor in the business

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Eddie Garcia is currently the most nominated and most awarded person in the history of the FAMAS Awards, a distinction that probably won’t be taken away from him any time soon. Photo: Garcia on set at "Hinatayan ng Langit" by JAKE VERZOSA

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Almost everyone in the industry has a story about Eddie Garcia’s professionalism.

Here’s mine: In 2011, TV5 — then still in the business of producing scripted shows — held a solo press conference for Garcia for his role in their primetime soap drama “Ang Babaeng Hampaslupa.” Showbiz press conferences notoriously never start on time; a call time of 12 noon means the event will start an hour and a half later, if you’re lucky.

Some 20 minutes before the press con’s 12 noon call time, TV5’s press relations officer sent a text message: “Please arrive on time, sir Eddie Garcia has been here since 11 in the morning.”

I arrive a few minutes after noon and was immediately ushered to interview Eddie.

“What made you decide to do a soap opera for TV5?” I asked. Garcia, at the time, had been doing soap operas exclusively for GMA-7 since 2002. That he was doing a show for a rival network was a bit of a coup for the fledgling network.

“Why not,” he answered, amused, as if I shouldn’t have asked the question. “I’m an actor. I go where the work is.”

I remember this when I saw Eddie Garcia again. He was quiet and unassuming, wearing a striped long sleeve polo and black slacks, at the Nominees Victory Party for the 67th Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Science (FAMAS) Awards at the Sampaguita Gardens in Quezon City on April 9. He was there as a Best Actor nominee for his role as a retired METROCOM colonel in Benedict Mique’s “ML.”

He is currently the most nominated and most awarded person in the history of the FAMAS Awards, a distinction that probably won’t be taken away from him any time soon.

His record was not mentioned during the FAMAS nominees party. But it seemed like he did not mind.

Despite his modest get-up, Eddie Garcia is still a towering, intimidating presence during the event — especially when you consider that with his stature, he did not need to attend simple functions like a nominees’ victory party. Yet, not only was he there; he arrived 20 minutes before the event’s call time.

“Because it’s a job for him, hindi sasakit ang ulo mo kay Tito Eddie because he comes more than prepared sa set. Isa pang maganda ay because of his vast experience, he gives a lot of tips na nagagamit niyo sa paggawa ng pelikula,” Mique says of Garcia.

He adds: “He brings in passion, love, and technical prowess in all aspects of filmmaking into the movie. That’s 70 years of filmmaking experience he is coming in with.”

Before becoming a movie star, Garcia was part of the Philippine Scouts, a military organization of the U.S. Army mostly composed of Filipinos and Filipino-Americans. Photo by JAKE VERZOSA

***

Eddie Garcia has never been out of the limelight since he started working in show business in 1949.

But 2018 can be considered as another flagship year for Garcia — though he has had many in his career — thanks to a new career milestone.

In August, he won the Best Actor award at the 2018 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival for his role in “ML.” Then, in November, he won the Best Actor award at the 2018 QCinema International Film Festival for playing a soul who meets an ex-lover in purgatory in Dan Villegas’ “Hintayan ng Langit.”

To top it off, in December, he won a Special Jury Prize at the 2018 Metro Manila Film Festival, for his role in gay-themed movie “Rainbow’s Sunset.”

This prompted showbiz media and critics to ask: is Eddie Garcia the greatest Filipino actor of our time?

Such labels are arbitrary, so it’s hard to say. But given Garcia’s simple, almost utilitarian approach to acting, it can be said that he probably wouldn’t bother with such honorifics.

“The award is just a bonus for a job well done,” he tells me.

For Garcia, acting is just a job — for better or for worse. “Kung ano ang tinatawag ng role, ‘yun ang gagawin ko,” he says.

It can be argued that this is a reflection of how he began as an actor. Before becoming a movie star, Garcia was part of the Philippine Scouts, a military organization of the U.S. Army mostly composed of Filipinos and Filipino-Americans.

He was supposed to enlist with the U.S. Army when the Philippine Scouts disbanded a few years after World War II.

Garcia says that while he had no dreams of becoming an actor (he had always wanted to be a soldier), acting saved his life.

“Kung hindi ako natuloy na mag artista, siguro patay na ako sa Korea. Kung nabuhay ako roon, sa Vietnam. Kung nabuhay pa din doon, retired colonel,” he says.

A friend convinced him to try out showbiz.

“Nagpresenta kami kay [Manuel] Conde,” Garcia says. “Kako, sige, subukan natin. Ini-screentest kami. Mga 40 kami, pito kaming napili.”

When he was chosen for the part, Garcia told his commanding officer: “I won’t be able to re-enlist, I joined the movies.”

His commanding officer replied: “Good luck, Garcia.”

In August 2018, he won the Best Actor award at the 2018 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival for his role in “ML.” Then, in November, he won the Best Actor award at the 2018 QCinema International Film Festival for playing a soul who meets an ex-lover in purgatory in Dan Villegas’ “Hintayan ng Langit.” Photo by JAKE VERZOSA

Besides him, among those who passed the audition were Johnny Monteiro and Mario Montenegro, both of whom later on became popular movie leading men. The movie is “Siete Infantes de Lara.” He has since appeared in hundreds of movies.

It’s nearly impossible to name one definitive Eddie Garcia film performance because he has appeared in so many iconic films — including classics such as “Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang” (1974) and “Ganito Kami Noon… Paano Kayo Ngayon?” (1976).

Among his more recent notable and award-winning performances: his role as an inmate in “Death Row” (2000), as the patriarch of a prominent Filipino-Chinese family in “Mano Po” (2002) and as a lonely gay man who takes care of a stray dog in “Bwakaw” (2012)

He is also a director, having helmed movies such as “Atsay” (1978, starring Nora Aunor), “P.S. I Love You” (starring Sharon Cuneta and Gabby Concepcion, 1981), and “Abakada Ina” (starring Lorna Tolentino and Nida Blanca, 2001).

“‘Pag gumagawa ako ng pelikula iniisip ko kung magugustuhan ba ito ng manonood. Kaya karamihan ng mga ginagawa kong action, hinahaluan ko ng comedy para matawa naman ang tao,” Garcia says.

“Ang pagtanggap ko kasi ng role, ‘pag drama ‘yun kailangan maiyak ‘yung tao, kung kailangan mainis sa’yo dahil kontrabida ka, dapat mainis sa’yo. Para effective.”

What’s impressive with Garcia’s career as an actor, says Leo Katigbak, head of the ABS-CBN Film Archives, is how he gained commercial and critical success despite rarely being cast as a romantic leading man “the way Eddie Rodriguez or Christopher de Leon or Dindo Fernando or Jay Ilagan or even Ronaldo Valdes were.”

Katigbak adds he was also stereotyped — he did a lot of action films during his prime — yet he still managed to become one of the country’s most awarded actors because “he was always so good at what he did.”

“I think [Eddie] is an intuitive actor and can be fearless. He has no qualms taking on roles of all varieties. He is also comfortable and sure of himself and has no inhibitions. You would always expect him to bring his best whatever the role or movie,” he explains.

Katigbak adds, “You would never cast him as someone weak because Eddie was always imposing and larger than life.”

“He's always been the embodiment of a badass male character to me. Now that I'm older I think I can verbalize it better: he's like the Batman to Fernando Poe Jr.’s Superman. The heroes he portrayed are just more nuanced and flawed and human,” says Juan Miguel Severo, who wrote the screenplay for “Hintayan ng Langit.”

“Ang kailangan ng isang actor ay maging prompt. Kung ang call [time] mo ay alas otso dumating ka ng mas maaga. ‘Wag mong bibigayan ng sakit ng ulo ‘yung direktor mo at you come prepared on the set. Saka ‘yung camaraderie pairalin mo, ‘wag kang maging prima donna,” says Garcia. Photo by JAKE VERZOSA

***

How is Eddie Garcia still one of the most active actors in the industry?

Easy: despite his age — he is 89 years old, turning 90 this May — Garcia is still the most dependable actor in the business.

Severo says Garcia is always on time and always prepared on set — with an “annotated and highlighter-bright script” to boot.

“There was this one time when Direk Dan [Villegas, who directed ‘Hintayan ng Langit’] went straight to the set from the editing room of his other movie, ‘Exes Baggage,’ and was gonna take a nap because the actors weren't on location yet anyway, but decided to power through that day without sleep because Tito Eddie was already there, more than an hour earlier, and one just doesn't make an Eddie Garcia wait!” he shares.

Mique sums it up: Garcia is the “ultimate professional.”

Which isn’t to say, however, that he is the perfect professional.

“Retirement? Not in my vocabulary.” — Eddie Garcia

For one, being an “ultimate professional” means Garcia will end up accepting roles in movies he may not agree with. This came to the forefront last year during the promo for “ML,” a movie that was unabashedly anti-martial law. The film revolves around Garcia’s Colonel Dela Cruz employing martial law torture tactics to Tony Labrusca’s Carlo.

During the press conference for the 2018 Cinemalaya, Garcia was quoted saying, “I am for martial law.”

In an interview with Esquire Philippines, he said: “I was not involved in the martial law era. But the first two years were very good — people were disciplined. Even jaywalking — you can’t see people jaywalking. They cross on the pedestrian lane. The streets were very clean and there were less crimes… for the first two years. But after that, it got a little haywire.”

There is a disconnect, for sure. Severo admits deciding not to ask Garcia about his beliefs when he heard that the actor’s “politics are problematic.” Before the interview with CNN Philippines Life began, he noted that political questions are off limits.

His “Manoy” persona also has not exactly aged well. The actor is known for his action movies and his villain roles, but Garcia is perhaps immortalized as “Manoy,” as he is often called in show business. “Eddie Garcia is imprinted in the imagination of the public as ‘Manoy,’ a character that he has played in various guises in several comedies, often sex comedies,” wrote film critic and Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino member Lito Zulueta. “Often caught in rambunctious dalliances and hilarious situations, Manoy would scrape through either by his trademark charm or by sheer resignation, but not without the character uttering an expletive or two in smacking Bicolano language.” In short: Garcia played roles that might be considered today as problematic.

Garcia is rarely the naughty, flirtatious, and sexually confident Manoy onscreen these days. But hints of this persona would come out from time to time in interviews.

In 2011, Garcia made headlines after admitted during the press conference for the Vice Ganda movie “Praybeyt Benjamin,” that he was intimate with another man when he was 15 years old. “Kailangan lahat ng bagay sa mundo kailangan mo subukan,” he said.

During the promo for his gay-themed movie Rainbow’s Sunset, Garcia told veteran showbiz scribe Ricky Lo: “When it comes to sex, you don’t have to force it. Wait until you really want it and that’s the right time to do it. Huwag pilitin.” According to 2002 report published in the Philippine Star, Eddie had a wife, who died of cancer in 1995. As for his other relationships, the actor is known for being tight-lipped about his personal life.

***

Garcia can be considered as the oldest working action star in Philippine showbiz star. In fact, he’s one of the oldest working actors in Philippine TV and movies, period.

Should he consider retiring?

The idea of retirement in Philippine showbiz isn’t common — actors often don’t retire; they just stop acting quietly, or they just don’t get acting projects altogether.

Work isn’t scarce for veteran actors as well. Actress Anita Linda, the country’s oldest active actor at 94 years old, still does T.V. and movie work. Eighty-four-year-old Tony Mabesa co-starred with Garcia in “Rainbow’s Sunset.” Eighty-two-year-old Joonee Gamboa appeared in the award-winning “Oda Sa Wala.” Eighty-year-old Robert Arevalo and Eighty-five-year-old Gloria Romero remain active in T.V. and movies.

Garcia on choosing what roles to take: “Ang pagtanggap ko kasi ng role, ‘pag drama ‘yun kailangan maiyak ‘yung tao, kung kailangan mainis sa’yo dahil kontrabida ka, dapat mainis sa’yo. Para effective.” Photo by JAKE VERZOSA

But Garcia has done over 600 movies and T.V. roles, according to online database IMDb. What role hasn’t he played? What else can he do?

Garcia himself fully cannot explain what the values of a timeless actor like himself should be — and, in turn, why he is still a relevant working actor until now.

But he does have some advice for other actors: “Ang kailangan ng isang actor ay maging prompt. Kung ang call [time] mo ay alas otso dumating ka ng mas maaga. ‘Wag mong bibigayan ng sakit ng ulo ‘yung direktor mo at you come prepared on the set. Saka ‘yung camaraderie pairalin mo, ‘wag kang maging prima donna.”

He isn’t considering retirement either. “Retirement? Not in my vocabulary.”

***

Garcia won the Best Actor plum at the 67th FAMAS Awards on April 28 (sharing the award with Victor Neri for his role in “A Short History of a Few Bad Things”). The recognition is both expected (he is Eddie Garcia, after all) and unexpected (this year’s set of FAMAS winners is notably young, with Nadine Lustre being named Best Actress for her role in “Never Not Love You” and Dwein Baltazar winning the top prizes for her second directorial work, “Gusto Kita With All My Hypothalamus”).

Of course, Garcia’s speech upon getting the award wasn’t political. He gave an anecdote about the FAMAS, perhaps a nod to his stature as the award-giving body’s most awarded actor.

It’s hard to say what he will do next because he’s done almost everything.

But, rest assured, his acting job will remain just that: a job.

“Para sa akin it’s just a job. Pagbutihin mo para the best recommendation for the next project. It’s nothing highfalutin, it’s just a job,” Garcia says.