In this multiplatform interview with the Inquirer, television’s newest heartthrob Tom Rodriguez talks about his hit series “My Husband’s Lover,” his love team with Dennis Trillo, his penchant for conceptual art, and how local show biz almost lost him to the US military. VIDEO EDITED BY CATHY MIRANDA/INQUIRER.net
Ladies!—and all you, gentle gentlemen—the hot new heartthrob’s real name is Bartolome Alberto Mott. He was first seen on television as Tom Mott on the ABS-CBN reality show “Pinoy Big Brother: Double Up.” Now he goes by the screen name Tom Rodriguez because, “people said I reminded them of Miguel Rodriguez.”
Tom is 25, 5’10” tall, dark and oh, those killer dimples (if you get past those eyes)!
As a rich and dapper yuppie, married, with kids, and with a gay lover, too, in GMA 7’s surprise hit series, “My Husband’s Lover,” Tom seems like he can show any girl, or boy for that matter, “a whole new world—shining, shimmering, splendid.”
Oh, yes, he played the title role in Atlantis Productions’ local staging of “Aladdin” last year.
Before MHL (another measure of the series’ success is this acronym that’s all over Facebook and Twitter-land), Tom was in the other TV mega hit, “Be Careful With My Heart,” as a guy who gets his lesbian friend pregnant. Talk about range.
To think show biz nearly lost him to the US military! But that’s a long story, which he relates in this multiplatform interview with Inquirer in a jolly mix of English and Filipino, Waray and Bisaya.
And that’s another long story.
When you signed up for the role of Vincent, were you ready?
I auditioned for it. I was scared because of what I knew the character would require. When we were told that [same-sex] kissing was prohibited on TV, I was relieved because, if it came down to that, I’d do it. I was sure that Dennis (Trillo), being a multiaward-winning actor, would have no qualms about that, either.
We feel that you’re taking a bigger risk than Dennis, actually. He’s won trophies for playing a comfort gay in 2004’s “Aishite Imasu 1941: Mahal Kita.”
I didn’t think of it that way. Popoy (Caritativo, his manager) and I were stunned by people’s reaction to the show. Popoy might have had this planned, but for me… short range lang ang tingin ko e. I was happy to have regular work and an unusual role that I could sink my teeth into.
Which part of the material pulled you in immediately?
It was one scene that I read for. That scene didn’t make it to the show, but I felt that it encapsulated the story and explained the characters very well. Dennis was given the option to choose between the two roles; he picked the gay lover.
I remember my conversation with Popoy: “Tom, there’s an audition at GMA 7, are you up to it?” I said yes, and asked what time. He said, “I haven’t told you about the role. You will play Carla’s husband…” I said, “That’s good; I haven’t worked with her.” He continued, “… and Dennis’ lover.” I couldn’t see myself but I knew I was flushed! I asked Popoy, “Are you sure? Baguhan lang ako; I’m not sure I can pull that off.”
Had you been allowed to choose, which role would you have taken?
I’d still pick the husband. Before Vincent, I hadn’t come across a role so different from who I was, and so out of the box, that I had to unlearn everything I knew about acting up till that point.
And I have [poured my whole self] into the role. Before we shoot any scene for MHL, I will have imagined every aspect of it—how it would look, feel, smell for Vincent. You see very little of Tom there. I am constantly thinking why Vincent does what he does.
For me, it all boils down to Vincent needing love and, especially, wanting his father’s approval. Though he’s gay, you see almost nothing of that softness because he’s trained to be guarded, since his dad is a military man.
Did you arrive at these conclusions by yourself?
Pretty much, although in our unit, everyone is open to new insights and inputs. Anyone can approach the director (Dominic Zapata) with an idea and he will listen. For example, the character sheet describes Vincent as bisexual because he’s married. After I read the pilot script a few times, I told Direk Dom, “Hindi po bisexual si Vincent; bakla po siya.”
If it were up to you, how would the series end?
I’ve thought up different scenarios and came to the conclusion that it’s better to take things as they come. If you stay in the moment, your reactions are more truthful.
I may not, but I try not to judge him. People, even those who do horrible things, think they’re doing the right thing. Sometimes you need to see the price that a person pays for his decisions. Nothing good came out of Vincent’s wrong choices, like his marrying Lally, just to win his father’s approval.
Aren’t you afraid of being typecast?
There’s always that fear. At the same time, it makes me happy… not many actors get to have a successful pairing with a lesbian character, as I did in “Be Careful With My Heart” (ABS-CBN, with Aiza Seguerra) and now, with a gay male character.
I have a new project with Viva Films, but I haven’t seen the script. I don’t know if the producers of the movie version of “Be Careful” will cast me in it. I love everyone I worked with on that show. I’m still in touch with them, especially Aiza and director Jeffrey Jeturian.
What have you learned playing Vincent so far?
Many things, the most important of which are acceptance and empathy. In the way that he loves Vincent is really no different from a heterosexual or homosexual man, or any of us. We all seek affection in the same way.
I say empathy because being Vincent just a few hours a day is exhausting and suffocating. It’s never good to have to lie to yourself. I hope viewers see the pain that he goes through.
Some men of the cloth certainly don’t. How did you feel about that?
Everyone is entitled to an opinion. That’s the beauty of democracy. We just have to make sure, even if we disagree, that we don’t lose respect for each other.
You had “familiarity workshops” with Dennis and Carla. How did those go?
We had to; otherwise it would be hard to do intimate scenes. We had to go past the physical awkwardness, if we were to effectively tell the story.
Could you see yourself as something else—like, maybe an action star?
Yes, that would be good, too. I’m into martial arts, boxing, and a few other sports. I played American football throughout high school.
Before that, growing up in Catbalogan, Samar, I watched all the films of Fernando Poe Jr., Robin Padilla, Lito Lapid and Dante Varona, who jumped from the San Juanico Bridge in one of his films. Whenever we crossed that bridge, I remember I asked myself, “Can I do that?” Who knew I was going to be in the movies! My dream was to be a visual artist, a painter.
Did you try to go in that direction at any point?
Yes, and I meant to specialize in conceptual art and illustration. Since digital art is the current thing, most of my work is digital. My family migrated to the United States, in Arizona, when I was 11. I went to high school there, and then had formal training for digital animation at the University for Advancing Technology in Tempe, Arizona. I landed an internship in Hong Kong. When I went back to the US, the economy was down so, instead of finishing my internship there, I considered joining the military. That’s when one of my sisters saw a TV ad for PBB.
What does your family say about your being an actor?
They’re very happy, very proud. My mom just called from the States to say how much the story of MHL moved her.
My dad watches, too (via Pinoy TV) and shamelessly urges his friends to tune in. My sister, who came to Manila to watch me in “Aladdin” last year, says she can’t believe her brother is on TV, and that she cries, watching every episode.
There are six of us siblings, three boys and three girls. I’ve been living on my own in the Philippines for four years now. Most of the family is in Arizona. My eldest sister and her family are in Texas. My youngest brother is in the US Navy, stationed in Okinawa, Japan. I hope to see all of them in December, for Christmas. I’m very fond of my two nephews and two nieces I love watching them open gifts.
Do the kids know their uncle is a popular actor?
Hahahaha. My niece once said, How come Tito is on TV and I’m not?” My nephews Matthew and Nathaniel both want to be like Tito.
Are you now glad you didn’t cross over to life as a military man?
Well, it was a good idea at the time. After my Hong Kong internship, I was to get another internship, in San Francisco. I thought—another city, another internship that wouldn’t pay, so maybe I’d have to get a real job as well, to support myself. The only jobs that didn’t seem affected by the recession were those in the military.
My dad was in the military. I lived in a military town. I was the stubborn guy—all my classmates trained to become soldiers and I went to art school.
Looking back, joining the military would have been accepting my defeat. My sister saw that PBB commercial in the nick of time. We went to California to try out. The very next day, they sent me here. Life has since been a roller-coaster ride, and I’m enjoying it so far.
When you switch to Filipino while speaking, the American accent completely disappears.
I relearned the language by reading books. Someone gave me a bunch of “Precious Hearts” novels. I read them but gravitated toward comic books, like the ones by Francisco V. Coching. I also speak Waray and Bisaya. (He spends the next five minutes proving it.)
What part does sexuality play in your acceptance of a person?
I relate to people on the basis of their attitude and behavior. If a person is a liar, that for me is a bigger no-no than being gay.
Do you know anyone in the same situation as Vincent and Eric?
Since the show started, maraming umaamin sa akin. On Twitter, many people have created anonymous accounts just so they could vent. They say they’re living that story right now, and they tell me where they’re at. Some old friends in the industry have also been more open than usual about their situation. Most of them are Erics. Now I know that it’s harder for closet gays, the Vincents. I hear from their partners instead.
At first I couldn’t understand how a man could be in love with a woman and another man. I’ve put a lot of thought into what Lally is to Vincent. I suspect that when Vincent saw Lally for the first time, he was attracted to her because she was the person he wanted to be. It was like he saw his avatar.
Had you any idea that your “love team” with Dennis would be this big?
Absolutely not. Dennis and I, to be honest, are half-amazed and half-shocked. When we appeared on “Sunday All Stars,” it dawned on me: We clicked! We went out there to sing one song—and there was so much screaming, and people asking us to kiss! Suddenly, we were a love team.
Reading Twitter entries about that SAS guesting, I see that times have really changed. I give credit to Ms. Suzette (Doctolero, head writer) for her courage to propose this subject matter to the network and for really following through.
What’s your favorite line of dialogue so far?
When Eric was in the hospital after a suicide attempt, Vincent told him, “Huwag mo na uulitin ’yon. ’Di ko kaya na mawala ka, kasi mahal na mahal kita.” It was a breakthrough moment for Vincent, and I felt it—I realized that it was possible for an actor to really put himself in someone else’s shoes. At that moment, I was Vincent, not Tom.
You didn’t plan on delivering that line the way you ended up doing?
That’s right. Vincent was really telling Eric, “Please don’t leave me. I need you here; I need you to love me.” That was crystal clear to me.
Before, when anyone told me he was gay, I’d say, “Come on, you still have male parts! In front of an attractive woman, I’m sure you’ll feel something.” I may have bullied a few of them. I regret that. When I had just arrived in the US, I was bullied, too; I know how that goes.
If your dream was to become an artist, what’s acting to you?
I never expected to do what I’m doing now. I just wanted to draw for a living. “Pinoy Big Brother” was, for me, a vacation that I didn’t have to pay for.
After the show, I wanted to go back home, but the network bosses urged me to try acting. Not knowing any better, I actually said, “Sorry, I find it cheesy.” Then I tried one workshop for a show and realized that acting was no different from creating a character when you draw. It’s just a different medium.
I discovered singing more recently. After the movie “Here Comes the Bride,” I joined a group called VoizBoys with Nico Antonio, Guji Lorenzana and Jay-R Siaboc. When I got the lead role in “Aladdin,” my sister couldn’t believe it. She asked, “Did you pay someone? Did they hit their heads?”
Who, for you, are the best actor and actress?
I really admire John Lloyd Cruz and Dennis. I saw Dennis in “Aishite Imasu.” My favorite actress is Gov. Vilma (Santos).
Did you watch any particular movie to prepare for “My Husband’s Lover”?
I watched “In My Life.” John Lloyd (Cruz) was so good in that movie; I have so much respect for him. Dennis suggested that I see “Brokeback Mountain.” The first time I did, I couldn’t get past the love scenes (between the two male leads). When Dennis asked how I liked the film, I didn’t know what to say. I tried again, and again, and finally found it beautiful. A love that transcends gender! It validated my decision to play Vincent.
How do you feel, seeing yourself onscreen in MHL? The camera loves your face.
At first I felt uneasy because I was still seeing Tom. I was surprised at myself when I watched that hospital scene again. I could see only two human beings very much in love with each other.
Have you been to a gay bar? Have you received indecent proposals?
The only gay bar I’ve been to is the fake one on the show. As for indecent proposals… I rarely ever go out. When I’m not doing anything, I keep to myself, stay home, draw, watch movies and read. I’m really a very boring person.
Don’t you have fears of someday waking up and realizing you’re a… Vincent?
That used to be a concern. But now I can look at Rustom (Padilla) and Charice (Pempengco) and all those who have come out. I asked Aiza about it… she said she knew [she was gay] at a young age. Well, I’m 25 years old and have never felt attracted to another man, only women.
Time to bring out the girlfriend?
Huwag na lang ’yan, please.
What are your thoughts on same-sex marriage?
It should be allowed. People always say marriage is sacred and should be only between a man and a woman. But we know how many such marriages fail. On the other hand, there are homosexual couples who have stayed long enough to raise well-adjusted children. How can anyone say they have no right to be married?
Is that an advocacy that the MHL might espouse?
What we’re doing right now is entertainment. We don’t promote adultery, promiscuity, betrayal or infidelity. We show only situations that happen in real life, and how people react and adjust to them. It’s a reflection of life packaged as a TV series.
Has MHL changed you in any way?
I’m still me, essentially. I love the same things—movies and comic books. The only thing that’s changed is that now I’m overwhelmed by everything that’s going on. I’m very thankful to the viewers for supporting the show and accepting me.
Don’t you resent, even just a little bit, the fact that now you are expected to discuss homosexuality with complete strangers?
I never thought of it that way. I can’t even claim to speak for the community because I’m not really a part of it. I can offer only my perspective as a heterosexual… or my insights as Tom. I would hate to offend anyone.
Do you get acting tips from Dennis or discuss scenes with him?
Sometimes. Most of the time I just watch him and absorb as much as I can. He’s very talented. I’m lucky to be working with him and Carla.
After Dennis, which actors would you like to work with?
I’m a big Ricky Davao fan as well. You never see his own personality in his characters; he changes with every role. I’d like to learn from him, and maybe from any one of the Eigenmanns.
What can you tell young people who, like you, almost walked away from their dreams?
Never give up on something you love. Even now that I’m an actor, I still buy art books and keep drawing in my spare time. Don’t make excuses. If you can’t do what you love as work, you don’t have to deny yourself the joy of … just doing it, anyway.
Some clips in the video above are courtesy of My Husband’s Lover’s official Facebook page.