Game of the general
No stranger to portraying 19th-century characters on stage, actor John Arcilla is playing a historical figure onscreen for the first time in Jerrold Tarog’s “Heneral Luna.”
Arcilla described the role of General Antonio Luna as a “dream come true,” if in a roundabout way. Originally, Arcilla’s goal was to play the other Luna—the general’s brother, painter Juan Luna, in a musical.
“There was something about the life of these brothers … I can relate to their angsts, their principles,” he said. “Their emotions are colorfully intense.”
To learn more about the general, Arcilla reviewed history books and Googled away. He made sure to include anti-Luna material on his reading list. “I want to [present] a real person who had frustrations, fears, flaws.”
He had his work cut out for him; the general was a formidable figure. “He was the only Filipino general who openly fought against American colonization. Just like Jose Rizal, he was an ilustrado (from the upper class) who studied in prominent schools in Spain and France.”
Arcilla learned that the very traits that made the general “a great and important man” proved to be his downfall. “Even if you are the hero in your own story; you could be the anti-hero in others’.”
Yes, the actor is quite at home in the revolutionary era. In various theater productions, Arcilla has played Emilio Aguinaldo, Apolinario Mabini, Andres Bonifacio, Jose Rizal and Crisostomo Ibarra and Simoun (of “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo”). On the big screen, he was in the cast of John Sayles’ “Amigo,” set during the Philippine-American War, too.
In “Amigo,” he pointed out, “I played a fictional character.”
For Tarog’s film, Arcilla has to transform himself into an icon of the revolution at once revered and reviled—a complicated, celebrated, controversial hero.
Apart from the knowledge he had accumulated from theater work (under mentor Nonon Padilla), he relied on coworkers in creating his rendition of the general.
All his research should be in harmony with the rest of the crew’s ideas. After all, he said, “Film is a collaborative medium. Good news is, I am working with a great team, from producer/cowriter Eddie Rocha to director Jerrold and the cast.”
Arcilla called his costars—including Epy Quizon, Nonie Buencamino, Ronnie Lazaro, Joem Bascon, Paulo Avelino, Arron Villaflor, Mon Confiado, Archie Alemania, Ketchup Eusebio, Mylene Dizon, Art Acuña, Alvin Anson, Alex Medina—“[not just a] powerhouse, but a powerful cast … they’re amazing.”
First things first. Before the cameras started grinding last month, he had to capture the general’s physical appearance by growing a moustache.
“It’s Antonio’s distinct trademark,” said Arcilla. “It took only five days to grow. The challenge is keeping it on my face.”
Luckily, the team behind his new ABS-CBN soap “Pure Love” didn’t require him to shave it. “They liked my new look.”
On the “Luna” set, the makeup staff routinely gives his moustache “kiss me” curls at the tips “for that period look.”
Wearing it, he said, “It feels like I am possessed by the general. The magic is that it is mine; I grew it myself. It sustains the ‘Antonio’ effect even away from the set.”
He’s grateful for this project, also because it has fulfilled another cherished dream: To learn horseback riding.
“I didn’t expect to do that in this age of spaceships and touch-screen gadgets. I found it very … musical,” the singer-actor said. “When a horse ‘trots,’ there’s a 1-2, 1-2 rhythm … like the 2/4 beat of a song. When a horse ‘canters,’ there’s a 1-2-3 beat … like a faster [but] mellow rhythm of a song’s 3/4 [beat]. When a horse ‘gallops,’ there’s a 1-2-3-4 beat … like 4/4 beat of a march.”
Horseback riding was likewise gratifying because “it made me feel connected to nature … as if I were one with the birds and other creatures around me.”
The newfound passion sparked yet another unexpected purpose. Said the actor, a dog-lover: “I’d love to have my own stable and take care of at least three horses.”
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