This was originally published in our March 2015 issue. We are deeply saddened to say that veteran actor Dick Israel passed away last year, but his legacy lives on in his work.
Eddie Garcia was quite the vile snake, back in the day. A handsome devil, and you can take that any way you please. I’m talking about his long run as the preeminent Goon of Philippine Cinema. And I say this with more than a little fondness. Old Hollywood had the Heavy, Philippine Cinema had the Goon. Both seemed, at the time, perpetual fixtures in the showbiz pecking order, but with the death of the domestic action film and the slow and steady rise of the Character Actor, the Heavy and the Goon have become relics of another time. Both, too, were designed to populate the pulpiest of pulp cinema and embody a moral absolute so severe as to be almost caricaturish, their cackle and lechery pitched at a hysteria that left little room for subtlety. All a Goon needed to evoke Evil Incarnate was hone his maniacal leer and laugh into a riff he could fire at will. In lesser hands, and there were lesser hands at this, it lapsed into gratuitous cliché.
And yet there was Garcia. There was the late Rodolfo “Boy” Garcia (no relation), Vic Silayan and those mighty and iconic Diaz brothers, Paquito and Romy. And there was Dick Israel, too, and his cohorts, John Regala and Efren Reyes Jr. and Roi Vinzon and even Pen Medina and Mon Confiado, who were a different sort of Goon, more feral, more coarse, more malicious, more violent. The Next Gen Goon, if you will. Dregs of a less uncomplicated time. All outsmarting the one-dimensional cartoons they were tasked to play into perpetuity, with nuances of wit and charisma and sophistication, making you believe they could one-up the Hero and making you sort of root for them to do so from time to time, too. It was an ambivalence that not only defied the antiquated black and white way their respective B-movie universes saw things, but was also a kind of self-awareness, as if they were the only ones who realized how fundamentally silly all this was, and they were letting us in on the joke.
I’m not sure what drew my socially-awkward, under-achieving and put-upon grade school self to the Goon. Perhaps they mirrored my own inadequacies without my being aware of it. Perhaps I was just in thrall to the fundamental pull Goons have. The rebel impulse, taken purely on its own terms, has always been an intoxicating opiate, and the balls to act on it one epitome of machismo. Besides, the impossibly handsome, faintly sexist, ridiculously infallible Heroes they harassed were often too abstract to identify with.
By the time I was old enough to articulate all this, of course, I was soberly tracing my fascination to their dexterity as performers instead, remembering how Garcia all but basks in Character Actor elder statesmanship today, how Vinzon had his own tenure as a flinty action star, how batshit intense Regala was in Kinatay, how Israel all but stole Badil as the crusty post-stroke election fixer in Badil and how delightful Reyes Jr. was as the mild-mannered, cross-dressing teacher in Babae Sa Bintana. But in many ways, I still go back to all those afternoons as a kid when I watched their films on TV when I should have been taking naps. I may have worshiped FPJ and Rudy Fernandez, but I envied and coveted the cocky swagger of Efren Reyes Jr, the lewd bluster of Dick Israel, the serpentine guile of Eddie Garcia. I wanted to be a Goon. Because Goons, as characters and even as actors, didn’t care. And there is nothing cooler than not caring.
Roi Vinzon. More than 80 films, one Best Actor Award (MMFF, Lukas Abelardo, 1994); Best Supporting Actor award (MMFF, Resiklo, 2007).
His way in. He used to model for the fashion designer Pitoy Moreno, and sing for P150 a night with Rico J. Puno (his classmate in PSBA) in Malate joints, before he found himself on a movie set. His early films included Maryo J. Delos Reyes’s Bongga Ka Day and Lino Brocka’s Ina Ka Ng Anak Mo.
The challenge. Before he could cut his teeth in action films, he was rejected by stunt director and character actor Baldo Marro for an Ace Vergel vehicle. He took the rejection seriously (“Umiyak talaga ako,” says Vinzon), trained under the SOS Daredevils for two years, and consequently blew Marro’s mind with his fighting chops the next time they met. His second great heartbreak in the industry was when he lost the title role in the biopic Joe Pring: Manila Police to Philip Salvador in 1989.
Made for the movies. At his peak, he was showing up on three film sets in one day, earning more than half a million for one film. “Magkakaacidity ka sa tension. That was the time na maayos pa ang mga kontrata at uso pa ang pelikula.” Times have changed and he finally yielded to the TV offers; now he is best remembered as the retired general with a gay son in the 2013 soap My Husband’s Lover. “Ito lang ang craft na alam kong ipambubuhay sa pamilya ko.”
Dick Israel. More than 220 films, two best Supporting Actor Awards (MMFF, Patrolman, 1988; FAMAS, Kanto Boy 2: Anak ni Boy Guapo).
Trademark. Israel’s vile tongue, framed by his wildly aggressive beard, is a veritable icon of Philippine Cinema. As soon as it starts rolling in his mouth, as if surveying stray bits of coke in his gums, you know things are about to get ugly. It’s a trick he got from Jack Nicholson, an actor the man looks up to.
Provenance. The illegitimate son of a movie director, Dick, Ricardo Vizcarra Michaca in real life, spent his growing up years on the movie set, but only got to taste life in front of the camera in his 20s in the Vilma Santos-Edgar Mortiz flick, I Love You Honey. He fell in love with the movies, and with himself (“Wow, ang galing ko!”), when he attracted attention as a kontrabida to Ariel Ureta in a film with Eddie Garcia. He quit school and welcomed the offers to play the bad guy. “I became one of the best rapists in town,” he recalled to Storyline in 2012. “Naexperience ko minsan papasok ako ng sine—palihim di ba?—naririnig ko yung mga nanonood talagang they hate me. I feel elated kasi yun talaga trabaho ko eh, galitin sila.”
His influences. “John Lithgow, isa yan sa mga paborito ko. Sabi niya mas mahirap ang role ng character actor kasi karamihan ng mga scriptwriter yung mga beautiful lines binibigay sa mga bida eh. Kaya kung kontrabida ka kailangan nag-iinput ka para lumutang yung [character] mo. Nilagay ko sa mind yun pero hindi ko naman pinapakawalan yun hangga't hindi ko napapakita sa director [yung gagawin ko].”
His most memorable turns. As Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez in Humanda Ka Mayor! Bahala na ang Diyos, and most recently, after suffering a stroke in 2010, as the cane-dependent vote buyer in Chito Roño’s riveting election film Badil.
What he's learned. “Being an actor, kahit ano ang kailangan [dapat] kaya mo eh. Parang ano yan eh, 'When you love someone you risk it all no matter what may come.' Bryan Adams ang nagsabi nun.”
Pen Medina. More than 70 films, one Best Actor award (CinemaOne Originals, Layang Bilanggo, 2010), two Best Supporting Actor Awards (MMFF, Muro Ami, 1999; 10,000 Hours, 2013).
Provenance. UST Fine Arts, and community theater, working under stage top guns Joonee Gamboa and Adul de Leon. He made his big screen debut via Ishmael Bernal’s Himala. Over the years, he’s played a priest, a national hero, an ideal father, but it’s the villain roles he is most remembered for: the vicious tennis-playing successor to Vic Diaz’s syndicate chief in La Vida Rosa, the man who threatens to bring an ex-whore back to her former life in Ligaya Ang Itawag Mo Sa Akin. “Siguro mas nag-eenjoy akong salbahe,” says Medina. “Siguro kasi hindi ko mailabas sa totoong buhay—cliché, pero may katotohanan.”
Mark of a villain? “Totohanin mo sa isip mo. If you’re supposed to rape someone in a scene, huwag mong isiping ‘Rapist ako.’ You have to make the lust real in your head.” It’s part of the “extreme exercises” that he sometimes teaches in workshops and will be writing about in an acting book he is planning to publish this year.
What he's learned from playing the bad guy. “Ang mga kontrabida ngayon, sa
pelikula man o sa gobyerno, pare-pareho lang. Anong kailangan ba nila talaga? Atensyon."
Efren Reyes Jr. More than 110 movies, four best Supporting Actor nominations. Wrote three screenplays and directed one film: Sa Iyo Ang Itaas, Sa Akin Ang Ibaba…ng Bahay (1997).
Provenance. Reyes is the son of two cinema luminaries: actor, writer, director and producer Efren Reyes, and producer Virginia Montes. The actress Tessie Quintana is an aunt, and he is the great-grandson of Severino “Lola Basyang” Reyes.
His way in. He appeared in a film called Eskinita 29 as a child, but it was in the 1980s when he fully committed to the movies. Lead roles would eventually give way to the more challenging task of playing villain to the likes of Philip Salvador (Gabi Na Kumander) and Ramon “Bong” Revilla (Pieta: Ikalawang Aklat).
Turning point. A two-year respite in the US would give him the chance to figure out why his bad guy turns weren’t earning him raves. “I realized it was because in my head I was still the lead actor. My heart was telling me, you’re the good guy, you’re the star. My head was saying the opposite. The confusion registers in the performance.” He returned to work in 1989 with a new resolve: “If I was going to be a kontrabida, I vow to be the meanest.” That year, he did two pictures: Delima Gang and Tatak ng Isang Api, which finally gave him the critical nod he wanted: for the former, he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in the FAMAS, and for Tatak, he got a Best Supporting Actor nomination from the Urian.
What has playing the bad guy taught him about being a man? “Walang pupuntahan ang kawalang-hiyaan.”
Mon Confiado. More than 300 films. One Best Supporting Actor award, (FAMAS, Faces of Love, 2008).
Provenance. The son of character actor Angel Confiado from LVN Pictures, he spent his growing up years in the atmosphere of the movie set. “My father was 50 when he met my mother at 15. We were the second family, sa shoot kami tinatago.”
His way in. The senior Confiado didn’t approve of his son joining the movies; and Mon never thought of becoming an actor anyway. Until Elwood Perez offered him a bit part in a Chuck Perez action vehicle called Big Boy Bato: Kilabot ng Kankaloo. He would soon work with Peque Gallaga and his team of creatives, with the late Don Escudero as his mentor. In the 2000s, he became a staple kontrabida in Joey Reyes’s many youth-driven flicks.
Source of pride. “I’m one of the few Filipino actors na nagka-characterize talaga ng malalim,” says Confiado. He didn’t shower for days for Brillante Mendoza’s Captive to get into the role of an Abu Sayyaf leader; lost 40 pounds for his part in the horror flick Diplomat Hotel (borrowing
Christian Bale’s tuna-and-apples diet for The Machinist); studied Mandarin for Bus, which is about the Luneta hostage crisis in 2010, where he plays the Chinese tour guide. Whether it’s a lead part or a small role, he says it’s building characters that excites him the most.
A different villain. Confiado belongs to the new generation of anti-heroes, a far cry from the kontrabida caricatures of old. “Dati yung mga kontrabida dini-distort pa yung mukha eh. Hindi ko maintindihan bakit lagi silang tumatawa, kahit nangre-rape tumatawa. ‘Yan yung mga style nila Romy Diaz, and it worked at that time. Kahit ako ganun din dati. I would even wear leather jackets just because everyone else was wearing one. Pero ang explanation doon it was to protect you during stunts. Ngayon, mas realistic na ang attack ng kontrabida. Yung iba hindi na sumisigaw, bumubulong na lang. Pero in the end pupugutin pa rin ulo mo.”
Recent memorable turns. As the hired assassin in Chito Roño’s Badil; and as the other man in Angel Aquino’s life in Erik Matti’s On The Job.
Will next be seen In Mandirigma, opposite Derek Ramsey, where he will play a character inspired by the Malaysian terrorist Marwan.
Dindo Arroyo. More than 100 films.
His way in. In the late '80s, Arroyo was just collecting rent from Viva Films, which was then shooting at an apartment owned by his family. Philip Salvador spotted him and asked if he wanted to be an actor. He was advised to grow his hair long and learn taekwondo. Soon enough, the engineering student was playing Eddie Garcia's henchman in Ikasa Mo, Ipuputok Ko (1989).
Source of pride. He’s worked with the Magic 5 of the action genre: Salvador, Lito Lapid, Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Rudy Fernandez, and Fernando Poe, Jr. whom he met in a drinking session. “Ayaw mo daw gumawa ng pelikula sa’kin?” FPJ asked him. “Makainuman ko lang kayo, habambuhay na ‘kong babangka sa lahat ng kuwentuhan,” Arroyo shot back. “Halika, fight scene na ho tayo. Bayad na ho kayo.” Da King personally handpicked him for five big projects, including Dito sa Pitong Gatang, Hagedorn, and Dalubhasa.
Most dangerous stunt. In 1993’s Nandito Ako, with the pressure of a seven-camera set-up, his stunt double backing out last minute, and the director asking, “Anong balak mo?” he jumped from a helicopter to a moving train. “That’s how much I love my job.”
Damn good advice. From Salvador, “To love the craft and not to stop studying. Watch everything from James Bond to Weng Weng.” From Da King, pick his comrades. “Yung maliit ipagdadasal kang umasenso. Yung mga bibidahin, ipagdadasal na huwag kang tumapat sa kanila.”
Soon to be seen in. Ritwal ng Kapatiran where he plays the father of a slain fratman. “Iiyak ako dito. Sana hindi matawa ang mga tao.”
John Regala. Close to 80 films, three Best Supporting Actor awards, the last one for Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story (2011).
Beginner's mantra. Regala started in the business when the macho film held its own against the melodramas, and when screen villains were a dime-a-dozen. He knew he needed to stand out. In his words: “Sa showbiz para mapansin ka, dalawang bagay lang ‘yan: gumawa ka ng mabuti, o gumawa ka ng masama. Pinili ko gumawa ng masama.” He didn’t have the cash to pick a charity and do good. So he chose to pick fights. “Manununtok lang ako. ‘John Regala: Nanapak.’” And his name will be all over the tabloids the next day.
Provenance. Actress Ruby Regala and the character actor Mel Francisco. Plus, That’s Entertainment.
Real life bad boy. He might have taken his drugged psychopath roles too seriously that just when he was becoming a success as an actor, he became the right hand man of a drug lord, and was sleeping with a queen of a drugs syndicate. “I felt like Superman, no one could stop me.” The addiction eventually would— because the suicide attempts failed—and his movie career crashed soon after. It was only in 2011, when his friend, ER Ejercito, offered him the lead villain role in Manila Kingpin did he start rebuilding the career he lost.
But just how effective a villain is he? To illustrate, he recounts doing a scene with Kris Aquino in Carlo J. Caparas’s The Vizconde Massacre Story: God Help Us. “Carlo J asked me to help Kris. I didn’t inform Kris kung ano gagawin ko. Everything I did was supposed to shock her, so she would have a natural reaction to everything. So yung eksena namin sa kuwarto, yung dakot ko sa kamay niyang ganun, hindi na siya sumayad sa lupa. Ibinalibag ko siya sa kama. Nung rereypin ko na siya, pinaikot-ikot ko siyang ganyan. Aba’y biglang pinack-up ang shooting. Ayaw niya na ‘kong ka-eksena.” Both actors would then have to work with body doubles. “But when Kris saw the movie, nakita niya yung kaibahan.” Kris would eventually recommend Regala for The Fatima Buen Story (1994) for which the actor would win Best Supporting Actor trophies from the Urian and the Philippine Movie Press Club.
The most dangerous thing he's done for a film. “Yung nagpabaril ako ng live ang bala. (Kunin ang Ulo ni Ismael, 1990) Naubusan kami ng blanks. Eh yun na lang ang kukunang eksena. Sabi ko, ‘Sige tirahin mo na ko ng live! Pag-sigaw ng action, tatakbo ako, kalabitin mo na ‘yan.’” He’s used to doing his own stunts. “Kung hindi ko kaya, huwag na natin gawin. Ayokong niloloko ang tao.”
All shoots produced by Jerome Gomez except Dick Israel's. Israel quotes courtesy of Storyline.