Although he was launched as one of the new faces of ABS-CBN’s Star Circle Batch 9 in 2001, and landed a role in the Judy Ann Santos starrer “Luv Txt” that same year, Coco Martin didn’t get noticed until four years later, when he top-billed the indie film “Masahista” by Brillante Ma. Mendoza.
“I did some modeling here and there but nothing really big. There was a time when I simply bummed around, waiting for offers,” Coco told the Inquirer.
The actor was soon cast in numerous indie projects, turning in one good performance after another. This earned him the moniker “Prince of Independent Films.” Eventually, he caught the attention of mainstream show biz.
The transition from indie to mainstream was bittersweet, related Coco. As he enjoyed his first big break on television with ABS-CBN’s action-drama series “Tayong Dalawa,” Coco said critics started labeling him “a sellout,” and telling him that he had “abandoned his roots.”
But that couldn’t be farther from the truth, Coco stressed, adding that he couldn’t be more proud of his indie background. And despite his busy schedule which at times requires him to juggle movies, TV shows, endorsements and other show biz commitments, the “Juan de la Cruz” lead star vows to give back to the industry that nurtured him, and continue to make at least one indie film a year.
Excerpts from the Inquirer’s interview with Coco:
How did you feel when people started calling you a sellout?
Of course I felt sad. People would tell me, “Uy, si Coco, TV actor na; nakalimot na.” But I’m a proud product of the indie cinema. I wouldn’t be where I am right now, and have the right work ethic and discipline if it weren’t for all the indie films I did. We weren’t pampered and were pretty much on our own.
How do you give back to the indie scene?
I always tell my current costars and directors that some of the best performers and filmmakers, talent- and attitude-wise, are indies. Sometimes, I recommend some of the artists I’ve worked with to mainstream producers.
I’m also thinking of producing more indie films after last year’s “Sta. Niña” (which reaped honors in the Asean International Film Festival and the International Film Festival of Kerala). It’s where my heart is.
Will you be producing a film soon?
I have some ideas and concepts, but nothing concrete. But whatever we come up with, I’ll surely be hands-on.
Direk Brillante was instrumental in your success. Will you be collaborating with him again anytime soon?
We brainstorm for possible projects whenever we see each other. We’ve been raring to shoot a film with Nora Aunor. But it’s hard to find time to discuss it because of work. We don’t have a story yet because we’re still conceptualizing it. We have lots of ideas, and I hope we can get going.
You said you’d like to do at least one indie film a year.
I want to balance my projects. Ideally, I’d like to do at least one indie film, a mainstream movie and a TV series in a year—the best of both worlds. I want to give back and show my gratitude to the indies. At the same time cherish the mainstream projects I’ve been getting.
You barely have time to rest these days. How do you cope?
Sometimes I get so fatigued, my body will nearly fail me. I just see workload as a blessing. I used to have nothing, so I really want to make the most out of all the projects given to me. I don’t want to complain because God might take them away.
Does it affect your work?
There are times when acting becomes difficult—I can’t give the right emotions and my mind goes blank. All I can do is try to stay focused and get some sleep whenever I get the chance. My schedule may be tight, but I always give my 100 percent. I’d be the first to request a reshoot if I felt that my acting wasn’t good enough.
Do you agree that you’re the biggest star of ABS-CBN now?
I wouldn’t want fame to go to my head. I started out with nothing. I would like to think that whatever I have right now are just the fruits of all my hard work throughout the years.
With fame come intrigues. How do you deal with those?
I’ve been called many names and heard hurtful words. I try not to mind them. I was well aware of this when I entered this industry. I can take care of myself. You can’t please everyone, and some people will always have something bad to say about you and your work. I just take in and absorb the constructive criticisms to make myself better.
Why do you opt to keep quiet about your personal life, specifically about your family?
I believe there’s a right time to talk about these things. You can insult me or criticize my acting, but not my personal life. ‘Yun na lang sana ang ibalato niyo sa ‘kin. What I owe the audience are good performances. My personal life, sa ‘kin lang ‘yun.
Is there anything else you want to achieve?
All I wanted was a decent house, a car and a lugawan. What I have right now is more than what I could ever ask for. I’m not saying I’ll stop dreaming, but I’m afraid that if I aim for something too high, I may just fall flat on my face.