Profiles

Robin Padilla: Always a Rebel

At 47, Robin Padilla is a different man. With a clean slate (he was given an absolute pardon by the president, erasing his prison record) and a new daughter, Robin Padilla is leaving the bad-boy trope far behind.
IMAGE Jun de Leon
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Robin Padilla likes his oatmeal neat: no fruit, no milk, no sugar. Oatmeal without the bells and whistles, which is about as pure as oatmeal can get.

So here is the action star draped in camouflage, sitting on a stool in one corner of the room, fielding questions while eating oatmeal calmly from a mason jar. But Robin Padilla is a changed man. His has become a life without bells and whistles, too. Frugal, healthy, secluded, becalmed.

Ill temper, uncouth mouth, graceless bravado: these are, of course, the standby tropes of Robin Padilla the action star. These are also the standby demons that beset Robin Padilla the man.

Robin Padilla may have epitomized reckless young angst in his showbiz prime, arguably with more persuasion and authenticity than any of the prefab young idols the studios were grooming to become the voice of their generation back then, but in the intervening years of crashing and burning on his habitual excesses, of doing hard time for hard felonies and being bitten by the hand that fed him, of religious conversion and spiritual renewal, he has become a paragon of growing old with grace, beholden to no one but his god and shorn entirely of his vices. He may not have exorcised the demons of his youth but he has at least sweet-talked them to chill a bit, much as he still tussles with them from time to time when they get antsy. “Hindi naman naso-solve agad yan. ‘Yung iba nga, nakamatayan na hindi pa naso-solve.”

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Ill temper, uncouth mouth, graceless bravado: these are, of course, the standby tropes of Robin Padilla the action star. These are also the standby demons that beset Robin Padilla the man.

He has a far less romantic term to describe them: attitude problems. Before we move on from the subject, he’s taken to calling them something else, as if to emphasize its chronic severity: a disease. His voice spikes and he tends to hit the table a little too hard a few times when he enthuses about his ongoing campaign to advocate federalism, or when he rants about the perpetual extortion we undergo from the first world, how the film industry has become nothing but a factory of brainwash, how our indigenous people are our mirrors and how we may be systematically destroying them without realizing it, the films he still wants to make, including one set in the Fil-Am War. But for the most part, he comes off so thoroughly mellowed out, you can’t help but believe him when he says he has his demons under control, as much as you believe him when he says they’re still around. “I’m not proud,” he disclaims, with the nonchalance not only of a man who’s aware that whatever leverage he has now may be precarious at best, but also of a man who acknowledges his debts. With no shred of false humility, just his usual off-the-cuff candor, he boils his career down to a stroke of luck. Still, these may be the very demons that got him in heaps of trouble, landing him in jail at some point, serious jail at that and not celebrity jail, but these are also the same demons he harnessed for his work and buttressed his stardom with. Stroke of luck or not, he’d be nowhere without them.

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Despite hegemony, or perhaps even because of it, action stars have long been our default avatars of masculinity, never mind that they’re yoked to notions of machismo that may seem outmoded in the changing gender zeitgeist of the world we live in now—you know, boys don’t cry, tough guys don’t dance, all that. Our domestic pantheon had arguably three fixed points of varying temperaments: FPJ, Rudy Fernandez, Robin Padilla, their influence cutting swathes through several generations and several demographics. To some, they were folk heroes. To others, brothers-in-arms. To nearly everyone, they were titans of sexuality. FPJ was The King because he came first and had the bearing of royalty, not to mention a touch of the mythic. But coming as he did from a more conservative time, and despite the constant presence of a woman for him to ride off into the sunset with, his libido was oddly muted to the point of being “covert.” It’s his code and the determination with which he lives by it that you fixate on instead, that uncommon valor and the transcendence that comes from attaining it.

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There is a veracity to show how the action star masculine ideal defines manhood as an overlap of heroism and temerity, of physical exertion and outlaw guile, of taking no bullshit and never deserting your post, of no quarter and comeuppance, of a burning love for women.

Rudy Fernandez, on the other hand, was pure ground-level grit, all but reflecting how dark and violent and cynical the world had become in the interim, having been wrung through enough sociopolitical turmoil to bring about an end to the innocence. But he had suavity and charisma and an eye for the ladies, while being wracked with pathos, with crushing ambivalence, with moral frailties. He was a man on the wire, good cop and bad cop both, hero and antihero in the same breath. It was this ambiguity and the ease with which he navigated its frictions and dissonances, not to mention the way he made even the most flawed of nobilities attainable, that made his work, and his icon, often so intoxicating.

Hindi ako marunong umarte. Kung ano napanood mo sa screen, ako ‘yun.” Celebrity fandom tends to blur the lines between person and persona, perhaps out of outright naivete or some wishful deficit in separating reality from illusion or some genuine craving for sustainable myths they can milk to invigorate their projections. Whatever it is, Robin Padilla was sui generis in the sense that he had no line for his fandom to blur. Here was the New Macho and it was a scoundrel fetish: coarse and brazen and gutsy and brutish and frank and unsentimental, a man who loves women but fights with them when they cross him, all lothario swagger and street cred. It was a game-changer, the blueprint for a goldmine. The clones came marching in without delay, staking their claims on the jackpot, turning their jacket collars up, doing their own variants on that sneer, eventually spilling over into the streets where kids aped his bluster and his postures, voguing on the Bad Boy. Robin, of course, was not voguing on anything, he was just playing himself, releasing the bats, so to speak, tapping into the eternal mystique and unremittingly erotic magnetism of the rogue male.

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There is a veracity to show how the action star masculine ideal defines manhood as an overlap of heroism and temerity, of physical exertion and outlaw guile, of taking no bullshit and never deserting your post, of no quarter and comeuppance, of a burning love for women. Taken one way, it’s lofty and inspirational, an aspiration to an ideal that is itself fast becoming outmoded. The action star was, after all, the cathartic voice of its predominantly working class fan base, men who work with their hands, men who estrange themselves from family to eke out a living, men who struggle to find their place, men who crave inspiration, men who were molded by a particular set of circumstances and rituals, by barbershop circumcision and standing up to your bullies in the schoolyard, then honing that into an enduring capacity to rise above. There may be no action stars left but theirs may be a robust legacy for anyone who cares to lean in and imbibe.

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Thinking about it, Robin’s own life trajectory is its own parable of renewal. He doesn’t deny that his compulsion to rebel against whatever you got in his younger, coltish days was reckless and brash, but he also recognizes that the compulsion comes from a genuine knot in his stomach, a knot that took years to define itself. “Dapat nage-evolve ’yung pinaglalaban mo,” he tells me. In the blissed-out swirl of fatherhood and politics that has become his life away from the movies, Robin Padilla’s battles may have changed, but he remains a warrior, and where there used to be a rebel yell lodged like a catch in his throat, there is now an outcry for revolution waiting to explode.

This article originally appeared in our February 2017 issue. (Produced by Kara Ortiga. Styling by Clifford Olanday. Shoot direction by Paul Villariba. Grooming by Jing Monis. Styling assistant: Miguel Escobar. Production assistant: Ednalyn Magnaye. Shot on location at M Barbers at B Hotel.)  

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Dodo Dayao
Dodo Dayao is the director of Violator and If You Leave. He lives in Quezon City and is always working on something.
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