Yet nothing he’s done so far stands up to the scale and ambition of Goyo, which both its director and Avelino himself have called their biggest film to date. An entire town center and a towering church facade were built for the production, which in its entirety lasted over seven months and took about 60 shooting days across various locations to finish. Heneral Luna was already a huge blockbuster—but Goyo went even bigger. And at the center of it all is Avelino, reprising the role of another complex man, and a figure of historical dispute.
“Nobody really knows how Goyo was,” says director Jerrold Tarog. “Nick Joaquin, Jose Alejandrino, Teodoro Kalaw and Isaac Cruz all saw Goyo differently. But there was something in the small details of the historical accounts of his life that hinted at a combination of overconfidence and youthful naivete. This was what I wanted for the film: not so much the heroic side—which would have been boring—but the flawed side.”
To see that side, Tarog needed his Goyo to be brooding, introspective, and fallible. “I was looking for someone who could convey internal struggles more than the arrogance and overconfidence that Gregorio del Pilar was accused of by some authors,” says Tarog. “I wanted doubt and fear hiding behind a mask of self-satisfaction.” He needed an actor who could put himself in the boots of an accomplished young man, held by many with high esteem and then suddenly charged with a world of responsibility. And, considering the Boy General’s storied romances, Tarog also needed someone with boyish good looks.
He found all of this in Avelino, whom the director hails for both his seasoned acting chops and his dedication to a project of this scale. “There were little things here and there that made me go ‘Wow, that was good.’ But it was the bigger picture, the scope of what he contributed to the film's vision, even if there were other characters in the film that had more lines than him, that impressed me more.”
As part of that dedication, Avelino had to devour reading materials: several historical accounts of Gregorio del Pilar’s life that together helped the actor bring the Boy General to life. “Everything’s really internal for Goyo,” says Avelino, before pausing to consider the struggle that boils in his character’s core, between responsibility and impulse. “He knows what he needs to do, but he does what he wants to do.” Avelino attributes this struggle to the general’s youth, explaining that the film tells the story of a journey, “of someone who, I would say, was immature. Someone immature given so much power.”
Avelino also admits that he can relate to del Pilar in some ways, but is reluctant to articulate them himself: “Well, they say I’m introverted,” he offers bashfully. What he does say for sure is there will be traces of Paulo Avelino in the Gregorio del Pilar that we’ll be seeing on screen. “It’s a mix of my personality and how Goyo really was. So there’s still part of me there.”
Both actor and director say that Goyo will be nothing like Heneral Luna. “The film's tone is completely different by design,” says Tarog. Separately, his actor echoes those sentiments: “It’s completely different—Goyo is totally a different take. Luna was very external, Goyo is very internal. I think Jerrold chose what was more likely to happen, what was more human.”
Still, September will come, and there’s little doubt that Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral will take cinemas and moviegoers by storm, like its predecessor did in 2015. It may also mark a culmination in Avelino’s career—the crest of a wave he’d like to ride out smoothly to the shore. “I’m at this point where I’d like to rest and not be a slave to money and stardom,” he says, with an exasperated laugh. “I’m at this part of my career where, if it’s not worth it, I won’t do it.”
Fair enough. The guy will be charging into Tirad Pass—our very own Battle of Thermophylae, which makes him into something of a Filipino Leonidas—where he’ll be outlasted and blown to kingdom come by the American army. It’s a tough break, but Goyo is quite possibly the biggest local film ever, and Paulo Avelino is its star. With that on top of everything else he’s accomplished, the actor has nothing left to prove. He’ll probably take time off to enjoy more of what’s been keeping him relaxed lately: taking his bike down to Tanay or up to Tagaytay, chowing down on vegan ramen in Glasgow, or sipping Glenmorangie single malt while zoning out to BØRNS’ latest album. Someday, Avelino hopes to get behind the camera as a director, but for now, he’s happy where he is, content with having perfectly played the imperfect hero.