Profiles

So You Think You Know Baron Geisler

The controversial actor describes the angels and demons in his lifelong arch of stumble and stir.
IMAGE Rennell Salumbre
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Back when I was a college junior, I had a classmate who wrote a play with Baron Geisler in mind for the lead. It wasn’t some cutesy 15-minuter, mind you. It was a full-length piece, in iambic pentameter if I remember correctly, photocopied and bound in garish school zone copy center green. It was encyclopedia-thick and bowling-ball-heavy. No one ever volunteered to read it. I asked the guy why he’d written such a comprehensive story for Geisler, and he didn’t seem to know why himself. I suppose that’s exactly the thing with the actor—we think we understand the extent of his influence, until something new with him comes up and we realize we really don’t.

We fondly remember him as a child star in Ang TV, the kiddie gag show that dominated afternoon television in the ’90s; as Fonzie in the smash teen drama Tabing Ilog; as an excellent actor in a range of movies from the naturalistic indie, Jay, to the comic mainstream Kimmy Dora: Kambal sa Kiyeme. He was a clean-cut youngster, so we think he’s one of us. But that’s the thinking that often leads to disillusion. Jennifer Lawrence is an awkward girl next door? The Fappening. Lionel Messi is a kid who didn’t let poverty get in the way of his passion? The Panama Papers.

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And so with Geisler: time passes, and suddenly he is the stuff of scandal. We fickle observers now feasting on news about sexual harassment, lawsuits, and repeat stays in rehab. There are the memes, often viral, but rarely with context, and in them, Geisler is almost always in medias res. He’s screaming for a fight but the camera doesn’t show us with whom. He’s wearing betlog shorts, but there is no story to the caption. He’s got someone in a headlock or he’s eating a sucker punch, but there is little to indicate how it got there.

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And so with Geisler: time passes, and suddenly he is the stuff of scandal... There are the memes, often viral, but rarely with context, and in them, Geisler is almost always in medias res.

Which brings us to the beginning. Born Baron Frederick von Geisler, his German grandparents migrated to Chicago in the United States shortly before the outbreak of World War II. His father, Donald David Geisler, ran away from home in his middle teens, originally for Japan. “Gusto kasi niya ng mga Haponesa,” the younger Geisler laughs as he tells me. The elder Geisler ended up here, however, where he met and married Gracia Bayonito, then an insurance firm manager in Makati. Donald Geisler later served in the Korean War under the 7th Infantry Division. He was injured, received a Purple Heart, and returned to relocate to Angeles in Pampanga with Gracia.

As one can imagine, the young family faced the usual problems in a place with the body politics of Angeles. “Kaya maangas ang daddy ko kapag may nangbabastos kay mommy,” Geisler says. The veteran would grab the catcaller by the collar, hoist him off his feet, and, if the offender was a serviceman, rip off his stripes.

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They weren’t very well-off, so the Geisler kids, Baron, Grace, and Donnie, were ashamed of their father’s clunkers, a green 1953 Pontiac and a circa-70s Volkswagen Combi; kids at school called both D2, for detulak. Later on as teens, Grace would be ostracized for her choice of rock music at a time of synthy pop, while the boys would get into frequent fights. “Three kids versus me, minsan,” Geisler says. “Galit sila sa aming mga mongrels. But I’d really beat them up. And Donnie would be proud of me.”

The three found ways to lash out. As a cheap thrill, the brothers would steal the padlocks off neighbors’ gates; one sibling started smoking after the other, before they were busted by their mother and forced to eat the tobacco leaves. “Iyak kami ng iyak,” Geisler says, “But after a while nagyosi kami ulit kasi may isa pa kaming stash.”

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It wasn’t all bad stuff, of course. With so many GI luxuries around, Geisler had access to things a local boy could only dream of. For instance, they lived near the first-ever branch of Burger King. “Kapag binigyan kami ng one dollar ni mommy, sobrang happy na kami. Ang sarap!”

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There was a youth center and arcade, where American girls would congregate. “Uso na noon yung pekpek shorts na butas butas, kita ang panty.” Geisler says. He and his brother would ride around on bikes—Donnie’s a big one with imported parts, Baron’s a dinky one as befitting a younger sibling. Once, a girl offered Baron a marshmallow rabbit she had already bitten into. Donnie told him, “Kunin mo na, para na rin kayong nag-french kiss!”

But there was always that undercurrent of anger in the young Geisler.

Sports were accessible too. There was a proper gym where he could do gymnastics and taekwondo. “Bugbugan pa ang taekwondo dati. Ngayon medyo cutie-cutie na lang, point system,” he says. He took up soccer, too. “Pero lagi akong salingpusa,” he says, before pointing out that his biggest idol wasn’t his dad but his brother, who would excel in every sport. “Ako, hanggang silver lang. Siya, nag-Olympics,” Geisler says.

But there was always that undercurrent of anger in the young Geisler. He would ask the house help to make him coffee shakes, which were otherwise forbidden. “Gusto ko ’yung rush. Bata pa lang ako addictive na ako.” And there was the time he got banned from the gym. “Favorite ko kasi si Ultimate Warrior sa WWF,” he says. At the gym, an American kid imitated the wrestler’s trademark scream and grimace. Outraged, Geisler attacked the boy. “I felt really bad after.”

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As a kid, Geisler was hooked on the proto-Cable programming available to the air base and its surrounding communities. He watched the cartoons that deluged the Saturday mornings of that era. He collected the corresponding toys. “I would direct my own scenarios. Para akong tanga,” he laughs. And his uncles would bring home video tapes from abroad. “Like Clockwork Orange, ha. And hindi nila tinatakpan ang mata ko.”

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So by the time Ang TV came to town for a casting shoot, Geisler knew the ropes. “They asked, ‘Can you sing? Can you dance?’ At yes lang ako ng yes. Fighter kasi ako e.” He sang his sister’s favorite song, New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” and got a callback.

Pretty soon he was in the thick of fame, swamped with work and swarmed by fans: one teen idol among other identical stars. Except not quite squeaky clean.

He says the trademark Fonzie bag of his Tabing Ilog days would often contain weed. “Bata. Tanga,” he says of himself, at the time. He also fell into bad company. “Kinalimutan ko iyong mga sasakyan ni daddy,” he says. Both the Pontiac and the Combi got rusty with disuse. Finally deciding to pimp the Combi, Geisler entrusted the van to his friends. After two weeks, he discovered that the car had been cannibalized, the parts sold for drug money. “I feel bad these days, when I see a Combi,” he says, snarling.

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What followed was Geisler’s steady assault on his own fame, and thus public grace. 

What followed was Geisler’s steady assault on his own fame, and thus public grace. Understand that despite the bluster, Geisler is a terribly shy man. Just before he entered the restaurant where we were to have our interview, for instance, I caught him peeking through a window, cigarette perched on lips, sizing up not just the place but me. Later on he told me, “Akala ko tipong maarte ka. Kung nalaman kong cool ka, sana sa bahay na lang tayo.” It’s not surprising that fame brought him to shambles.

His unraveling took a turn for the worse after breaking up with a girl he thought he would marry. He tells me the details of the breakup, and as his face hardens with the anger we see in those videos of him that circulate every so often. Afterwards, he puts a hand on his chest. “Tangina, ang bilis ng puso ko,” he says.

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Geisler says he was drunk for two straight years following the break up. “I was living like a zombie. Walang kausap. Not my mom. Not my siblings. I was just painting. I paint kasi when I’m broken. Or when I’m happy.”

Understand that despite the bluster, Geisler is a terribly shy man.

He would call his former partner from time to time, “To check up on her,” he says of his excuse. Then, in the middle of their conversations, and already deep into his drink, Baron would begin bawling wanting to start their relationship again. His number would get blocked. He’d clean up just enough to get unblocked. Then the cycle would start again. “Crazy talaga.” he says. Rock bottom came when, after about two weeks of Geisler hanging out with gun and drug dealers in Manila, his mother came to pick him up and enforce a sort of house arrest.

“One day, I woke up, took a deep breath, and decided in my head the things I would set out to do.” Geisler says of his latest moment of clarity. Write a book. Work on a movie. Get into business.

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He’s done all that, so far. There’s the award-winning film Ma Rosa. And his upcoming book, 366 Days of Being the Best in Beast Mode, to be released by ABS-CBN publishing. He’s about to launch his own collection of shades, and a bunch of other business deals that are in the works. He’s looking to start a reform program to help others fight substance abuse. And he’s continuing his advocacy against political detention. He tells me all this in the excited staccato of someone enjoying a sprint of sobriety. And he promises to shock people with a big reveal by the end of the year. “The MMA fight? That was nothing compared to what’s coming up,” he says.

“One day, I woke up, took a deep breath, and decided in my head the things I would set out to do.” Geisler says of his latest moment of clarity. Write a book. Work on a movie. Get into business.

These days, Geisler is surrounded by a formidable support system. There’s Johnny Manahan and Ernie Lopez helping with his financial logistics. A whole stable of coaches keeping him fit: Che Cuizon, Enrique Silva, Ron Catunaw, Alvin Aguilar, Ron Tongol. “Heto ang mga bibigwas sa akin kapag may ginawa akong masama,” Geisler says.

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“So are you really clean?” I finally ask.

“On and off. I will not lie. Pero wala na iyong anger.” he says. “Balance na lang. Smoke, but train. Drink, sure, pero steady lang, tapos train again, and harder.” He ends by admitting that, through all this, he has yet to learn to slow down. “I’m working on that.”


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If, this far into this piece, I have given the impression that Geisler is aware of his own meltdowns and recoveries, it is because I believe he is. That is his brand, what has set him apart from his squeaky clean contemporaries. In our interactions, he has proven meticulous in planning the meet up, conscientious in arriving on time, and apologetic to an alarming degree when he requested a venue nearer to his place. This man may be a sloppy drunk, but he is a shrewd dealer.

And perhaps therein lies the reason why the public loves and hates this guy so much, why they can’t stop watching and can’t stop laughing (whether with or at him). Maybe it’s that beyond the undeniable quality of his acting, beyond the recurring narrative of personal failure and recovery, we never really know what’s real and what’s staged, and we can’t help but want to figure the puzzle out.

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If, this far into this piece, I have given the impression that Geisler is aware of his own meltdowns and recoveries, it is because I believe he is... This man may be a sloppy drunk, but he is a shrewd dealer.

And, unlike us, Geisler himself doesn’t seem to care. In one viral video of Geisler the “train wreck,” we see him drunk and screaming at a bouncer outside an Angeles bar. The rapper Abaddon later parodies the video, sets it to music, makes an embarrassing scene doubly so by making Geisler the unwitting actor in a documentary about his own personal cul de sac. Any actor would have flipped. But Geisler and Abaddon collaborate together to make a powerful video against substance abuse, which leaves us scratching our heads again.

I bum a stick off Geisler in the middle of our succeeding banter, and off the record and decidedly off-color, his smoker’s cough kicks in. He gets up, hocks a loogie into one of the plant boxes near us. I suddenly remember that my old classmate had burned his Baron Geisler play—the one and only copy—in a fit of creative remorse. Maybe he finally figured things out. A clear head does that to a person.

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This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of Esquire Philippines.

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About The Author
Paolo Enrico Melendez
Paolo Enrico Melendez was a former chairperson of the National Democratic Organization Student Christian Movement. He is an award-winning author, a grant writer for social enterprises, and a compulsive playlist-maker. When he isn’t writing for magazines and anthologies, he also plays right wing-back for a former company’s football club.
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