The following article was originally published in the June 2012 issue of Esquire Philippines. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.
“Wherever I am right now, I’m perfectly fine with it,” says John Lloyd Cruz this Saturday afternoon in the bedroom of one of the 27th floor suites of the Makati Shangri-La. Outside, the afternoon light is turning into evening, signaling we should be winding up the interview because the actor has a 7 p.m. dinner to attend. “I’m happy where I am, with what I’ve accomplished, with my contribution to the industry.”
Cruz is turning 29 this month, and while it may sound a bit too early for him to be weighing in on such things as his contributions to the entertainment world he’s inhabited for 15 years, much less feel completely satisfied about these contributions, it is good to know that he is perfectly in agreement with the here and now. That his days of whining about not being given the chance to play the offbeat roles he wanted are over. That his woes about not getting as much exposure on primetime have been resolved, now that a new soap, with Bea Alonzo, is about to grind come end of May 2012. He has come to terms with the realities of being a star among many next-big-things gunning for the same opportunities. The formerly world-weary John Lloyd is gone. In his stead is a more confident, forward-thinking adult. It’s as if he told himself, Fuck this, I will commit to my job, and I’m going to enjoy my life as soon as the shoot’s over.
It is no doubt the same ‘fuck you’ resolve that eased him into the idea for the afternoon’s cover shoot, where he is supposed to play an exaggerated version of the darker side of the John Lloyd Cruz public image. The John Lloyd who enjoys one drink too many. The John Lloyd who enjoys his women the same way.
“We’re not shooting anywhere else, we’ll just shoot everything here,” Esquire creative director Vince Uy says, speaking in a hushed tone among magazine assistants, racks of suits and piles of designer shoes in the suite’s living room. “We’ll do The Hangover— but there will be no mention of the word ‘hangover,’” Uy deadpans.
But the props would spell it out soon enough, this movie in Uy’s mind—overturned empty bottles of champagne in ice buckets, half-finished plates of greasy morning-after food (burgers, fries, clubhouse sandwiches), the Shangri-La’s 300-thread count sheets in wild disarray, a table lamp so weary from the previous evening’s shenanigans that it couldn’t bring itself to stand. And then, of course, there’s that pair of beautiful Brazilian models, Malu and Olivia, in lingerie and little else.
“Does this mean I’m preferring the pasta over the girls?” Cruz would say in one of the final layouts, shooting the photographer Roy Macam a glance while holding a fork in one hand and a bowl of spaghetti bolognese in the other, his body facing the panoramic view of Ayala Avenue instead of facing the two models lounging around on the couch.
Who knew Cruz would be game for all of this? Game about touching on the two subjects he’s always refrained from discussing at length—drinking and women. Perhaps he wanted to show he has acquired a sense of humor about all those nasty tales that have been spun around him and those two topics in the last several years (if you’re not aware what those tales are, you haven’t been spending enough time on the Internet).
Later in the afternoon, sitting in one of the Louis-Louis chairs in the bedroom, occasionally taking a sip of the Glenmorangie single malt we had brought, he would say he enjoyed the shoot, that he was excited about doing it. “You know once in awhile you will stumble upon a project, upon a story that would excite you,” he began. We were on the subject of the things that spark his eagerness. “Or even this one, the shoot we just did for your magazine. I think this is something done in good taste. I think that’s very important, not just for my present stature, but to be with these creative people, and to be moving around them, in their imagination, is something that is very special to me.”
The other project he stumbled upon, he would later tell us, is his reunion movie with Olivia Lamasan, who helmed his award-winning turn as a gay man at odds with his lover’s mother in the 2009 film In My Life. The movie, this new one, is called The Mistress, a drama about a doomed love affair between a worldly young lothario (Cruz) and a beautifully feisty young woman (Bea Alonzo) already committed to an older man (Ronaldo Valdez).
"In the end, the opinions that matter are from people who matter. So, who matters to you?"
It wasn’t merely the chance to work again with Lamasan that convinced Cruz to temporarily excuse himself from the ongoing production of his long-delayed reunion movie with Sarah Geronimo, the second installment to the wildly successful romantic comedy A Very Special Love. “The script is flawless,” he says of The Mistress screenplay. He was so taken by the story he cried towards the end of the first script reading. It didn’t matter that he was only replacing Derek Ramsey, who had already shot a few scenes before making the decision to move to another network, TV5. Or that Cruz is actually the third actor to be associated with the project, the first being Sam Milby.
While he knew he liked the project, “He was so unsure if he could pull it off,” says Vanessa Valdez, the scriptwriter (A Love Story). “‘This is so not me,’ sabi niya. He doesn’t think he’s sexy. The script was looking for a very self-confident man, well-traveled, with a natural swagger, sexy. That’s why we found the idea so exciting because he hasn’t done it.” Cruz’s first few shooting days, however, reports Valdez, confirmed that the actor has nailed the part, based on the enthusiastic reactions from the on-set crew. “He has always played the good boy, the guy who is makulit, sweet when he tries to win the girl. But here he’s an adventurer, a man who does what he wants and doesn’t care.”
It’s also not a romantic comedy, a genre for which he has been the go-to-guy ever since his early movies with perennial screen partner Alonzo, a genre that has given him three Box-Office King recognitions. While he has committed himself to every rom-com leading man role he’s taken on, to keep at it was something of a struggle in the beginning. He was always vocal about his longing to play the more serious, complex parts. But he has since changed his perspective.
“Kung sino man ang magsasabi, especially if it’s another actor, ‘Naku, wala ‘yan, puro rom-com lang naman ginagawa niyan.’ I’m not saying I’m good at what I do. I’m just saying that I’ve learned to see the challenge sa bawat binibigay sa ’kin,” Cruz says in his always-calm, diplomatic tone. “And this is what I do, what I discovered: Pa’no mo idi-differentiate ’yung halos pare-pareho mong ginagawa? I play the most common characters in every story—how do you make it rich? How do you make it exciting? How do you make it engaging? Grabe, ang hirap, pare, ha. I’m not kidding.
“Give me the role of a psychopath. At the onset, alam mo na e, the audience gets it, kitang-kita ka na e. But you give them a role na ganito na sobrang gray in the beginning and you have to slowly draw them into your character. ’Yung sa ‘kin, not because this is what I keep doing, there’s no challenge. Not because we cater to more people parang papetiks-petiks lang ang trabaho. We put so much heart into it.”
While it is a bit premature to say that The Mistress will pave the way to meatier, out-of-the-ordinary projects in the near future—especially since there is that Sarah movie on the horizon, which everyone is predicting will be this year’s biggest hit—Cruz surprises us by saying there is a more essential change he sees happening, a shift.
“I have a feeling that it is coming to an end,” he says, without a ring of regret or worry in his voice, when we ask him if he feels that his days as a matinee idol are over. While it would be a cause for other actors to immediately seek the next network padrino, John Lloyd seems to be taking this eventuality, which might inevitably mean losing a huge part of his audience, as part of the plan, a necessary step towards a new trajectory. “I’m glad it’s happening,” he says, about the possibility of outgrowing the roles he’s known for. “Meaning nag-eevolve ka na rin, di ba? Paanong hindi, sa anong paraan, na hindi mo maappreciate na mage-evolve ka na? Lalo na sa amin, napakaiksi lang ng career span na meron kami. Maya’t maya may bago. So napaka-limited ng time para sa’yo, to explore your potential, to explore what you can be, what you can do.”
Like a veteran observer, which is the way he’s come to sound in the last few years, Cruz explains the way it works in the network he belongs to. He was answering a question we posed: if he is scared at all about younger actors. “I’m more threatened by diminishing opportunities,” he replies. He cites the phenomenal John Lloyd-Bea partnership, which has by now done four soaps and six movies in a span of a short nine years. “It will come to a point we’ll be looking for something else. Quality na nga over quantity. Kasabay pa no’n your fees are getting higher, you become more expensive.” At the other end, there is this multitude of new talents the network is continuously developing, hungrier for opportunities, more budget-friendly.
“Madalas kesa minsan ang definition ng mabait is ’yung oo nang oo,” the actor continues. “‘O, bigay ko sa’yo ‘to.’ ‘Okey po, okey po.’ ‘O, gawin mo to.’ ‘Okey po, okey po.’ Madalas sa trabahong ito, ’yung opportunities madalas napupunta do’n sa mabait kasi oo siya nang oo. Pero ikaw kasi sa sarili mo you’re thinking long term, you’re thinking longevity.” And Cruz finds himself often not on the same page as his mother company.
“He is a great actor. I know he still has a lot of other things he can do. Even if his company is shaping him in another way. He’s an artist, and he will eventually explode to become another creature.” –Ronnie Lazaro
Still, Cruz remains a prized talent at ABS-CBN, and an ace—one of the very few—in the network’s movie-producing arm, Star Cinema. This despite occasionally finding himself of a different opinion in matters that involve the shaping of his career. This despite always preferring to take the outsider stance.
He has always been the rebellious one, he admits quite proudly. The guy who likes to question things. The guy who has never really taken great comfort in the celebrity lifestyle. The guy who chose to be with family over offers to star in international films (“Some people will die for that opportunity pero, alam mo ‘yun, parang I appreciate the fact that I have that luxury.”).
These days, away from the spotlight, he hangs out with, apart from his cousins, an older group of artists and free-thinkers, among them writer Lourd de Veyra, activist Gang Badoy, and longtime friend Ronnie Lazaro. “I guess it’s a mutual admiration thing between us,” the character actor Lazaro says on the phone. “He’s very respectful, very simple, humble. He’s one of those actors who doesn’t a put a wall between you—or at least he chose not to with me.”
Their friendship started in a conversation in a car, about dreams, about actorly craft, about life—way before Lazaro played Cruz’s father in the 2003 drama series Kay Tagal Kang Hinintay, the series that brought Cruz to wide renown. “I’m quite honored to be considered a friend,” says Lazaro. “He is a great actor. I know he still has a lot of other things he can do. Even if his company is shaping him in another way. He’s an artist, and he will eventually explode to become another creature.”
“Para siyang imaginary life,” Cruz says when asked what he admires most about his friend who, despite the decades he’s spent working on film and television, has chosen to carve a life away from the showbiz scene. “It’s the life you imagine. Sobrang galing e, how he lives his life, the things he chose to do.”
Which prompts us to ask Cruz what he’s learned from Lazaro.
“The truth,” Cruz says. “The truth about yourself, and what you want to offer. The truth about what you want to achieve, what you want to share. It’s always about the truth when we talk about Ronnie.”
And then we ask the younger actor who he listens to when it comes to career matters. “Hindi ko alam,” he says, after a moment of hesitation. “I’d like to imagine a certain group na sinusubaybayan ako. Almost imaginary. So imagine there’s 10 of you—because you are your own worst critic—imagine you have a group like that and they follow your every move. It will inevitably boil down to taking pride in what you do.”
But Cruz has always taken it upon himself to watch over his career, his every performance. He says what scares him most is that people will see through the non-effort, when he’s faking conviction, or his commitment to a role.
“There are moments you find yourself not knowing what to say, not knowing how to answer the question. That still happens. And that’s what I don’t want to happen. Ayoko n’ung hindi ko alam ’yung pinasukan ko,” he offers. He is aware not everyone is watching his films, his performances, his little movements, but there are people who do. “And in the end, the opinions that matter are from people who matter. So, who matters to you? I’m sure lahat ng artista iba’t iba ang audiences. Ikaw, alam mo you have this audience you can never bullshit.”
"I'm doing what I'm supposed to do. I'm not thinking about legacy."
This resolve to commit to every single role might have inspired critics and cineastes to keep comparing him to some of the great actors in Philippine cinema, among them Joel Torre, Dindo Fernando and Jay Ilagan. Especially Ilagan who, like Cruz, didn’t possess the typical matinee idol looks, even as he was cast in important roles in some of the best movies from his time. Ilagan is remembered for being able to inhabit his movie characters with depth and adventurousness. He possessed a likeability that he wore like second skin, and an authenticity that came from not taking himself too seriously. Something people will likely say about Cruz himself many years from now when it’s time to look back at his career.
Which brings us to the subject of legacy. How does the 29-year-old actor want to be remembered? Is this something that concerns him?
“Not really,” he answers quickly. “Dati tinanong nga ako e: ‘Why are you doing this? Why do you do what you do?’ Wala. I guess I’m living in the now and I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. I’m not thinking about legacy.
“Maybe it’s more interesting to find out, if [Ilagan, Fernando, Torre] thought of legacy when they were at their peak? What I’m saying is I don’t believe you do things to earn recognition. You do things dahil kusa mo siyang ginagawa.”
It’s the nearer future that concerns him, if anything. Turning a year older this month, he is excited about finally moving out of the family home, the 1,100sqm French-Mediterranean-style property he built for his parents in Antipolo two years ago. He considers it a big step, he says, living alone, and is looking forward to the new challenges it will offer.
“It’s very exciting. I’m looking forward to failures and achievements,” he says, a little self-mockingly. Little achievements like “paying your own bills” and failures like “not being able to pay your own bills.” For a man already set in his ways, he says it would be quite a task. “Alam mo naman at 29 medyo stubborn ka na.”
Acting will still be part of that near future, and his now, of course. He is looking forward to more work. Those days when he’d be visited by thoughts of quitting, of packing his bags and moving to some strange location to work with underprivileged communities are, at this point, a memory. “Not at this moment,” Cruz says, taking a sip of his single malt, unmindful of the sky turned dark outside. “Kasi, right now, I’m all about working hard. I’m all about studying my every move. I’m all about helping my family build a corporation, setting up a company. This is what I think my life will be in the next three years. Basically I’ll be doing the same things. Para sa akin exciting ‘yun.”
John Lloyd Cruz has learned to find excitement in the constant. And as to your opinion about it, Fuck that. The guy doesn’t even care if he soon gets tagged with that showbiz curse word laos. “Ako? Feeling ko nga palaos na ‘ko e,” he says as if there’s really no cause for worry. “Siguro, pare, kasi sa ‘kin trabaho ko ‘to but this is not my life. Trabaho ko ‘to, but I’m not gonna die for this.”