Carlo Aquino began his career in 1992, and he has been working steadily as an actor and occasional musician ever since. His resume boasts of roles in landmark movies like 1998’s Bata, Bata… Pa’no Ka Ginawa?, in which he delivered the now-immortal line, “Akala mo lang wala, pero meron, meron, meron!” opposite no less than Vilma Santos herself.
At 15, he starred in Kahapon, May Dalawang Bata and won a Gawad Urian award for Best Actor. He has since picked up other acting awards and even more nominations. Showbiz-watchers took notice of his skill and success, which led to them dubbing him the best actor of his generation.
While some of his peers would’ve killed to be labeled as such, Carlo admits it
made him feel self-conscious. But he dealt with that feeling by putting his best foot forward whenever he was on the set of a movie or TV show. That coping mechanism worked to his advantage.
“Nagpapasalamat ako na ganun ang tingin nila sa akin, pero nahihiya ako. Personally kasi, ginagawa ko lang ang trabaho ko, at sinisigurado kong maayos ito kasi mahal ko ang industriya. Mahalaga sa akin ang trabaho ko at ayokong mawala siya sa akin, so iniiwasan kong maging pabaya. I always push myself to do my best sa bawat project na binibigay sa akin,” he says.
That coping mechanism worked wonders for him. In fact, it’s why people see Carlo as one of showbiz’s foremost actors and prime leading man material, even though he hasn’t actually taken on many lead roles at all. Carlo’s presence and talent is such that he has made an indelible mark in Philippine movies without having to deal with the pressure of carrying an entire film on his shoulders.
In fact, Carlo’s latest big-screen outing Meet Me in St. Gallen, produced by Spring Films and Viva Films — marks his first time to be the male lead in a mainstream movie. After 26 long years as an actor, Carlo is finally a bona fide cinematic leading man.
Which begs the question, why did it take him to long to step up to the plate?
According to Carlo, there are a number of reasons. First, he didn’t really set out to become a leading man in the first place. When he joined showbiz all those years ago, he did so because he just wanted to act, not because he wanted to be a star.
“Ever since naman, as long as may work ako, masaya na ako. Yun kasi talaga yung gusto ko—makapag-arte at sa pag-arte ko, maka-inspire ako ng maraming tao. Ang habol ko talaga noon is magkaroon ngconnection sa mga manonood. Hindi na importante sa akin kung ako ba yung bida sa isang project o hindi. Meron sigurong part of me na nangarap din maging leading man kahit papano, pero ayoko din kasi yungpressure na kailangan mag-hit yung pelikula mo kasi ikaw yung bida, kung hindi…” he trails off.
Carlo eschewed leading-man roles because he already had a lot on his plate growing up. At the time, he was the breadwinner for his family, so he didn’t need the additional pressure of having a movie’s performance at the tills resting squarely on his young shoulders.
Second, he went through a period of self-doubt where he started to wonder if he was really cut out to be an actor.
“May tendency kasi ako na i-doubt ang sarili ko. Nagkaroon tuloy ng time na hindi ako ganun ka-confident dahil may insecurities ako. Hindi ko alam kung saan nanggaling yun, pero siguro kasi I started very young, and nung pumasok ako sa showbiz hindi ko naman inasahan na magiging ganun yung takbo ng career ko. Hindi ko inasahan na magkakaroon ako ng chance na gumawa ng magagandang pelikula. Hindi ko rin inasahan yung inulan ako ng papuri. Nung tumanda na ako, I felt like kailangan kong ma-sustain yun. Ganun yung naging effect sa akin ng lahat ng yun. Nagpapasalamat ako sa mga nabigay sa akin noon, pero hindi ko naiwasang ma-pressure dahil nga sa mga yun,” he explains.
There also came a time when the offers slowed down to a trickle, which made Carlo feel worse. He admits to asking himself, “Bakit ganun? Bakit noon, puro praises sila sa akin, tapos all of a sudden parang nawala na lang ang lahat?”
He felt lost. He stopped going out as much, preferring to stay home and noodle around on his guitar, which didn’t help matters. But eventually Carlo found his way again.
He says his ABS-CBN and Star Magic families helped him do that. TV Production execs Ginny Ocampo and Ruel S. Bayani awarded him plum roles in hit teleseryes like 2015’s We Will Survive and 2016’s The Better Half. Returning to Star Magic, the Kapamilya network’s management arm, also played a major part in Carlo’s comeback. After all, it was under the guidance of Johnny Manahan—aka “Mr. M”—that Carlo’s star first shone brightly.
“Malaki ang pasasalamat ko sa kanilang lahat, kina Direk Ruel at Ms. Ginny, pati kay Mr. M na tinanggap ako ulit ng buong-buo after ilang years. Kasi kapag may naniniwala sa ‘yo, when there are people around you telling you nice things about yourself, it’s easier to ignore all your insecurities, ‘di ba? Kaya sobrang laking bagay nung binigay nilang encouragement and help sa akin noon.”
Now that Carlo has righted himself again, he’s more than ready to take on the challenge of being a leading man in Meet Me in St. Gallen. At first, however, he couldn’t believe that Erickson Raymundo, Joyce Bernal and Irene Villamor (the film’s director and writer) of Spring Films really wanted him to play the male lead.
“When they pitched this to me, ilang beses ko silang tinanong kung sigurado ba sila na gusto nila akong kunin. Oo daw. Sabi pa nga nilang lahat sa akin, ‘Halika, sumama ka sa amin. Magiging maganda ito.’ Nakakatuwa silang katrabaho kasi napaka-positive nilang lahat. Mahirap siya because it’s a whole new monster. First time ko nga bilang male lead. Pero sobrang thankful ako na sa akin nila binigay itong opportunity na ito.”
Carlo says he was attracted to the project because of its concept, which he describes as unique. He also welcomed the chance to work with Bela Padilla, his leading lady in Meet Me in St. Gallen.
“Kay Direk Irene galing yung concept. Nagustuhan ko siya kasi it’s not your typical romantic comedy. It also tackles moral issues. Naintriga din ako nung sinabi nila sa akin na central ang dialogue dito sa pelikulang ito, to the point na kapag nag-buckle ka, or medyo matamlay yung delivery mo, babagsak yung buong pelikula. Never pa akong nakakagawa ng ganung pelikula, and naisip ko gusto ko siyang subukan, kaya ako napa-oo. Happy ako na in this lifetime, magkakaroon ako ng ganitong klaseng pelikula, at partner ko pa si Bela. Successful yung mga movies niya, and she’s smart pa. Sobrang saya ko na nakatrabaho ko siya.”
Carlo says getting into character was somewhat challenging for him because he and Jesse are totally different.
“Pareho kaming musicians, pero hanggang doon lang ang similarities namin. Magkaiba kami in the sense na hindi sinusuportahan ng parents ni Jesse yung mga plano niya sa buhay. Yung parents niya may ibang plan for his life. Ako kasi, nung lumapit ako sa parents ko at sinabi ko sa kanila na gusto kong mag-artista, sinuportahan nila ako. Magkaibang-magkaiba ang circumstances namin ni Jesse kaya nagpatulong ako kay Direk Irene. Yun naman ang gusto ko sa kanya bilang direktor. Kahit ano ang itanong mo sa kanya, sasagutin ka niya.”
Carlo hopes that Meet Me in St. Gallen will remind moviegoers that despite the fact that technology has taken over most aspects of human life, there’s still something to be said about real human interaction.
“Mas madali to connect with people dahil sa mga gadgets, pero iba pa rin kasi kapag in person mo nakasama o nakausap ang kapwa mo. Kapag magkaharap na kayo, sigurado ka na totoo yung sinasabi niya sa ‘yo, ‘di ba? Mas ramdam mo yung sincerity ng isang tao kapag ganun.”
Carlo is ready to show people just why he was called one of the best actors of his generation with Meet Me in St. Gallen. It may have taken Carlo a while to get here, but he doesn’t regret not taking the leap earlier in his career. Carlo believes everything happens for a reason and at the right time. “I got lost for a while, pero hindi ko pinagsisisihan yung pinagdaanan ko kasi I wouldn’t be where I am now if it weren’t for all of that.”
“Meet Me In St. Gallen” is written and directed by Irene Villamor, the same writer and director of the certified hit movie “Camp Sawi”. Another production of Spring Films and Viva Films. IN CINEMAS FEBRUARY 7, 2018.