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Getting to know more about Fil-Am Hollywood actor Germaine de Leon

Hollywood’s unhidden talent talks about how familiar he is with Filipino heroes; being a Padilla and working with Olivia Lamasan in his first film (starring Lea Salonga); his role on “Dexter,” and his latest film released “Here Comes The Boom,” which will soon hit Manila theaters January 8

by Oliver Carnay

Oftentimes in the past, I would meet Fil-Am talents and start promoting them in the Fil-Am communities and back home (Manila) ---, Cris Judd, Camille Mana, Michael Copon, Jocelyn Enriquez, Sean Michael Afable, Cheryl Burke, Jasmine Trias, Mig Ayesa, Paolo Montalban, Tiffany Limos, Alec Mapa, Billy Joe Crawford, Tia Carrere, Dean Devlin, Q. Allan Brocka, Joy Bisco, Jokoy, Jordan Segundo, Camille Velasco, The Basco Brothers, Rembrandt Flores, Abigail Kintanar, Kevin Kleinberg, Ron Bilaro, Reggie Lee, Guiji Lorenzana, Sean Collado, Cher Calvin, to name a few. But coming across a certain Fil-Am actor like Germaine de Leon (GDL), somebody who has never been more passionate and knowledgeable about our Filipino heroes and the Philippine history, is a big deal to me.

He was being mentioned to me by one of my Hispanic actor clients Christian Rodrigo and did not even know that GDL is nephew to actress Suzette Ranillo, a friend and colleague. I personally met GDL after recently watching his comedy play “Kong: The Goddamn 30-Foot Gorilla” at the Noho district’s SkyPilot Theater, a few blocks from where I live. Yes, the guy looks Latino onstage, but he looks more of a mestizo Filipino in person when I met him up close and personal after the show. I have reviewed his credits and told myself, “This guy is a chameleon, and one great actor ...!”

As a working actor in Hollywood, Germaine de Leon (GDL) is oftentimes mistaken as a Latino and played only Hispanic and American roles in tv and films. He was a notable character in the tv series “Dexter” and guested in many other tv shows such as “CSI:NY,” CSI: Miami,” “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “The Closer,” “Castle,” “E.R.,” among others. He also appeared in the Edward James Olmos helmed tv movie “Walkout,” and pitted talent with some of the most recognizable rising Latino actors in Hollywood. And if I am not mistaken, the only Filipino actor who played in an all (95%) Latino cast in a tv-movie.

Incidentally, Germaine de Leon stars opposite Kevin James, Salma Hayek, Charice, and Reggie Lee in the movie “Here Comes The Boom” which will start playing in Manila theaters on January 8, 2013 (it opened in U.S. theaters last October).

Here’s an excerpt of my interview with him:

OC: How are you related to the Padilla clan and who among your relatives are close with?

“My grandfather was Amado Cortez-- a famous actor from the 50's and 60's. His birth name was Arsenio Padilla. He is the uncle of Robin Padilla. My grandmother married Gloria Sevilla (mother of Matt Ranillo and Suzette Ranilo), thus connecting the two families. This happened long before I was born so I feel connected to them all. I consider both sides a part of my life.”

OC: How much Filipino are you? What are your favorite Filipino foods? When was the last time you were in Manila and have you connected with other Manila-based actors?

“My mother is a Filipina and my father a white American. My favorite filipino foods are hands down “bangus” and “pork sisig,” If I could, I would eat it everyday of my life. I love the fat belly of the “bangus” and the texture of the “sizzling sisig” especially if it's so hot they cook an egg on top of it. There is a big difference I believe in filipino food made in U.S. and made in the Philippines. There is a freshness in food made over there that cannot be matched here.”

“The last time I was in Manila was this last summer. I got a chance to meet Willie Revillame and guest on his show. It was wonderful experience. Filipino audiences are by far better than American audiences. They are so vocal in their appreciation for you and go out of their way to promote you. I was touched.”

O.C.: You’ve done a lot of tv and films in mainstream Hollywood. Can you talk about the most notable ones and among your favorites ... Why?

“I've done 30 films and tv shows. My favorite by far was HBO's critically acclaimed film “Walkout,” directed by Academy-award nominee Edward James Olmos. The film was a recreation of the 1968 east L.A. high school walkouts, which were a series of protests organized by high school students of predominantly Hispanic descent. I played Harry Gamboa, one of the leaders of the movement who would later become one of America's most coveted artists and a professor at my college Cal State LA. It was on the first and perhaps the most powerful movements to combat racism, to promote ethnic minority unity and to create a better self image of people of color. They fought for equal treatment, the ability to speak both English and Spanish in schools (a legal agreement made during the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo when the U.S. robbed the South West from Mexico (a promise since forgotten)), and an equal distribution of financial resources to students of all public schools. I desperately wished for a day when Filipinos living in America will rise up and do the same. As it stands, Filipino unity and pride takes a back seat to assimilation and Anglophilia. An interesting fact, however, is that the leader of the 1968 walkouts was half Mexican- half Filipina.”

O.C.: You’ve been on “Dexter” and you mentioned that the last time you were in the Philippines, someone recognized you from the tv series, how did you feel?

““Dexter” is currently the #1 rated show in America. It amazes me that it has not yet been released in the Philippines.  Some people had access to dvd’s of past seasons, but the bulk recognition I received was for my role horror film “Buried Alive,” as well as my guest starring roles in the various CSI's. Most of my work has not reached the Philippines ... I hope “Here Comes the Boom” will change that trend.”

O.C.: I noticed that most Filipino Hollywood actors portray either a Hispanic or Chinese roles. Why do you think so? Among the characters you’ve already played, what was your favorite and are there any dream roles you wish for?

“Despite the huge population of Filipinos living in the US, thus far they have not been represented in Hollywood. There are a handful of Filipino working actors (myself included) who have made a career playing Hispanic, Asian, or perhaps ambiguously white. This is due in part to decisions made by Hollywood leaders. However, I feel that Filipinos share responsibility as well. Filipinos in general stay far too quiet about our history, our culture and our relevance to the total American story. In the U.S., we’ve focused too much on assimilation. It is time now to instill in our children and ourselves a sense of beauty and pride in being a Filipino. We need to encourage the youth to learn and speak Tagalog, to read “Noli” and “El Filibusterismo,” to take pride in the accomplishments of our people and most importantly, to not feel intimidated to share it with mainstream white society. We cannot expect White and Filipino unity until there is first the Filipino unity.”

“I consider being a good actor not very far off from being a good journalist. The amount of research  necessary for a proper character portrayal may even be more than a journalist would require to write a non-biased article. When I prepared for Dexter I spent countless hours with real MS 13 gang members, in order to get an understanding of exactly what they do, how they do it and why they do it. I wanted my point of view to come from their perspective not from popular sentiment towards gang members. It also was very exciting and I would consider that one of favorites.”

“A dream role for me would be to play one of the Philippines’ many national heroes, as their individual stories fascinate me. Maybe Datu Mambantayao, who founded Kibawe to save the girl he loved, or Juan Luna, one of the most famous and respected Filipino painters, would be the dream roles for me.”

O.C.: In the hilarious stage play “Kong: The Goddamn 30-Foot Gorilla” where you played the lead role, what was the most challenging part playing “Kong”?

“The hardest part of playing Kong was the physical fitness, and physical intensity necessary to play the toughest badasses of all time. There were fight scenes left and right. Which isn't that bad when doing film because breaks are taken. In stage there are no breaks ... the intensity must be kept up for the entire show.”

O.C.: When did you start acting? What was your first role?

“My first role was playing Lea Salonga's little brother in “Sana Maulit Muli” when I was ten years old. I think that role sub-consciously put the idea of acting in my head, something that didn't show itself until I decided to pursue acting at 19 after taking a theater courses in college. For that reason I am forever grateful for Philippine cinema. Working with Olivia Lamasan was my first introduction  to method acting, something I later studied in great depth here in LA with acting coach Lorrie Hull. I started by doing independent movies, some of which did quite well at international film festivals including Cannes. I later won an acting award at the Method Fest Film Festival which led to my obtaining an agent and manager.”

O.C.: Your movie “Here Comes The Boom” will be showing in Manila on January 8. How is it working with Charice and Fil-Am actor Reggie Lee? Did you have a chance to hang out and bond with them while shooting? What is your role in the movie? How was the audition process?

“Working with Charice was an amazing experience. She played my classmate in Boom so we had a lot of time to get to know each other. I played the bad boy or “astig” of the class while she was the "goody-goody."  I was amazed at how proud of a Filipino she was. She actually spoke to me in Tagalog without feeling silly or shameful, something many Filipinos I meet are very reluctant to do. She encouraged me to go back to Philippines and experience the lifestyle there for myself, to learn more about Filipino history and our heroes, to reconnect with my family and to improve my Tagalog. She is a true entertainer and a wonderful human being. I feel she deserves all the success and respect she has gotten.”

O.C.: Have you ever thought of trying an acting career in the Philippines?

“It has been a long dream of mine to make a film in the Philippines especially with my family. An idea I've had ever since I did voice over work for the film “The Great Raid” which had Filipino stars such as Cesar Montano on the same screen with American stars Ben Bratt and James Franco. I believe there waits an open door connecting Hollywood and Manila. If ever I'm given the opportunity to make a film in Manila, I wouldn't hesitate to get on a plane. I have the highest respect for Filipino actors such as Christopher De Leon and Richard Gutierrez, along with my uncles Matt Ranillo III, Robin, and my grandmother Gloria Sevilla and aunt Suzette Ranillo. I would not hesitate if the right opportunity came to work with them and learn from them. (Update: Filipino director Raymond Red had recently met with Germaine de Leon and may work together in his next film.)

12.27.12 by OC

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