Casting hits and misses in a single show
A recent “Maalaala Mo Kaya” episode starring Arjo Atayde was an instructive viewing experience because it offered a study in contrasts when it came to casting:
The protagonist, real-life fashion designer Rocky Gathercole, who’s made it big abroad, was played as a youth by Zaijian Jaranilla, and we were glad to see the former child star doing very well in the role.
He had to play it giddily gay, and he managed that thespic adjustment quite nicely. But, he had the good judgment not to swish it up to excess, so when other scenes turned darker and more painful, he hit the spot as well.
And there were many painful and violent moments in store for the gay youth, as even his father (Nonie Buencamino) made life a torment for him with his irresponsible behavior.
Just like Zaijian, Nonie was a great choice for the complex role, another example of inspired casting.
Aside from playing it colorfully mean, the actor bothered to explore the nasty character’s other aspects, like his bumbling and seldom-expressed love for his son.
This surprising “contradiction” made his portrayal unique and deeper than expected. So, for the teleplay’s first third, the spot-on portrayals by Zaijian and Nonie made it a viewing treat.
Unfortunately, when the protagonist reached adulthood, the role was passed on to Arjo Atayde, who didn’t look and feel right for the part.
At first, we thought that the unusual casting decision to make the action-drama actor “play gay” was an interesting “out of the box” idea. But, while Arjo “got” the character’s gay moves and pouts and finger-waves sort of right, it was mostly a superficial, “at face value” portrayal.
Arjo’s bad luck was the fact that his appearance was preceded by the exceptional performances turned in by Nonie and Zaijian. They predisposed the viewers to raise their sights, standards and expectations—so, when he failed to match them, it showed even more starkly.
Some other actors who’ve played gay onscreen have done better by not thinking that depicting “flaming fairies” is just about “flaming” hotly and spicily enough.
They realize that there’s more to a gay character than just his mincing moves and moves. In fact, some “glorious” gays don’t even flare and flash at all—it takes all kinds.
Filipino actors who’ve done well in gay roles include Ronaldo Valdez, Dindo Fernando, Martin Escudero, Christian Bables and Nathan Lopez.
When they “play gay,” they bother to get under their assigned character’s skin, and try to understand and empathize with him in all the aspects of his life and relationships, not just his “flaming” gayness.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.