Nonie Buencamino: In character

PHOTO by Rob Gonzales

Just about time. It is safe to say that Nonie Buencamino deserves this much screentime.

The passionate character actor has retained the staying power and longevity on stage, TV, and the silver screen that we witnessed the unfolding of acting in a comprehensive and systematic way—until the groundbreaking crime thriller “Smaller and Smaller Circles.”about time.

It is safe to say that Nonie Buencamino deserves this much screentime.

The passionate character actor has retained the staying power and longevity on stage, TV, and the silver screen that we witnessed the unfolding of acting in a comprehensive and systematic way—until the groundbreaking crime thriller “Smaller and Smaller Circles.”

Directed by Raya Martin, the film features Nonie as a Jesuit priest who would do everything to help solve the mysterious murder of pubescent boys in a squalid area in Manila.

Based on the popular novel of F.H. Batacan, “Smaller and Smaller Circles” is considered the first Filipino crime novel, having won several awards, including the 1999 Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature.

One November afternoon, the Play! pool sat down with Nonie a few weeks before his film—produced by TBA Studios—hit theaters.

Ever keen and sharp-witted with his answers, Nonie gave us a glimpse of his respect and passion for his craft, on how he honors the industry not just by churning out one noteworthy performance after another but also by working hard and remaining thriving.

The man is just relishing his version of the perfect place and time. And he is owning that smile. (NRG)How did you prepare for this movie? Reading the book was important and identifying given circumstance of the character, making it relatable.

There were certain things in the book that were already a given, like Fr. Gus was very tall and lanky, with long hair, kind of hippie, and I am not, as I am kind of wide and short.

They made me look older in the film and I know that I can’t catch up with that because that’s something physical, hindi ko iyan mahahabol.

Pero I tried studying based on the author’s descriptions like his very nature, his sense of humor, his steadfastness, he has a very strong conviction to discover truths. Even if they are painful truths that need to be fixed within his institution.

Also memorizing my lines, trying to say my lines as based on the script or on the book as if they were my own lines, and also knowing my relationships with the other characters.

Part of my research was learning certain rituals of priests. Like definitely I would say priests are very prayerful and I would include that in a very subtle way. It is just very important to know the book.

What are the scenes or highlights that the audience should look forward to?

One of the highlights in the movie, which is not in the book—this was a scene between the serial killer and the priest.

This scene was a discussion on certain things that question on faith and on why all the evil is happening as well as on forgiveness. Pinag-usapan talaga namin ito and ang ma-ganda is we tried to make it our own.

Adding our own insight, it was a collaboration between the writers of the screenplay and the actors.

Also the laboratory scenes is very interesting for me. Our director Raya has a very good eye with our director of photography, JA Tadena.

Hindi sila pangkaraniwan na minsan masasabi ko,”Hoy, kanina pa kayo!” while they are setting up the ilaw. Ang tagal-tagal nila pero when you see the outcome, ay kaya pala. Iba ’yung accomplishment na ma-feel mo as an actor seeing the end result.

That’s when you get to appreciate those tiresome waiting moments.

PHOTO by Rob Gonzales

We heard that you were  handpicked for the role?

I was the best apple (laughter). Raya saw some characteristic in me. I remember I was handpicked February and we started shooting May of last year.

When they asked me hindi pa nga final ‘yung screenplay. They just sent me the book, had our first reading and a few couple of months we then started filming it.

How was the experience doing the film?

If the director is very relaxed, cool and not impatient or angry, it was just an easy feeling making the film kahit na mahirap ‘yung ginagawa namin.

It was a pleasant experience. Wala namang masyadong pressure and what is also good is that kaming magkaka-eksena, we knew each other already and my scene partner were very good.

I couldn’t ask for more. Sid Lucero is a great talent, Carla Humphries was good, and Bembol Roco —as we already know —is a legend. ‘Yun nga lang doing a movie like this you really have to be patient dahil grabe ‘yung mga hintayan, but then it comes with the job.

What’s it like that now finally you get to be the lead in a film?

It’s my first as a lead and masasabi ko na napaka-nostalgic kasi sa pinagkakatagal-tagal ko sa industry I have nothing to complain about my career kasi I play mostly supporting roles.

I feel lucky to have been given challenging roles, so it’s never my aspiration to be a star. Pero ang sarap din pala na maging bida.

How awesome is it?

Ganito ‘yun. On a professional level masarap ang maging bida kasi ikaw ‘yung central character, marami kang eksena na ibi-build mo. Parang ang sarap nung opportunity, nung working process na nung script, na i-develop mo ’yung character mo.

Would you say that it was a blessing that this was not included in this year’s MMFF roster?

From what I’ve heard marami ngang considerations ‘yan di ba.

Pero I think this was more of a business decision.

We always wanted this to be run outside of the festival circuit.

It’s not conventional and we know that it can be a challenge to urge the public to come and see this film.

Pero I think it stands a good chance considering the story and andun naman yung sangkap eh, huwag lang siyang ma-brand na ano … kasi walang sikat. It’s a very interesting film for the common Filipino.

Was there a peg in your portrayal of  Fr. Gus?

Wala naman akong mga pegs pero meron akong mga kakilala.

Last year kasi lumipat ako ng bahay, sa Bulacan na ako nakatira ngayon pero previously I lived eight years in the Valencia area.  I went to Mass in Mary the Queen, which is a Jesuit parish.

Marami akong mga nakikitang mga pari doon, mga nakakausap, tapos with the way they dress. I also went to school in Ateneo and they are like just like ordinary people.

You seem to portray a lot of dark characters. How do you shake them off?

There is still an effort but since I have been doing this for many years already, it’s easier to go back to who I really am.

Maybe because through the years, you have your family, you have other things to do, and mas sigurado ka na sa personality mo.

So I can now easily detach from these characters whenever I want. Let’s say before there would be a scene with  heavy crying I would still be crying hard when they say “Cut.”

Pero now, iba na pero it doesn’t mean na I didn’t put all of my all in there.

It’s just that meron na siyang switch off at switch on. And I think this is much more ideal for professionals to protect the self—na hindi ka masyadong na-i-immerse. I mean you immerse to prepare for the scene pero when the job is done, leave it there.

Was there ever a character or a role that you turned down?

Halos wala. Pero there was a time I had to turn down gay roles because my entry into film, parang my big role in a film when I was starting as an actor I got recognized for playing a gay role. And I won an award for that role.

Tapos for the next two years puro na lang gay roles ‘yung ibinibigay sa akin so for awhile I had to turn it down dahil parang napapako na ata ako dito.

But it was a career move so medyo nawalan ako ng trabaho for a few months kasi ang habol ko is there should be a variety of roles that I should play.

So far what is  your most challenging and favorite role?

With “Smaller and Smaller Circles,” kasi challenging siya dahil hindi siya ‘yung tipong todo buga na emotional. Mas mahirap ‘yung pagtimpla ng character ni Fr. Gus na may thought process siya na hindi spoken.

And sa film mga reactions lang. Fr. Gus is definitely one of my top favorite roles kaya lang I cannot really say na I have a one favorite character among all roles that I played.

Not to be diplomatic or anything though meron akong mga ayaw pero I will not discuss it.

What was the last film that struck you?

I really enjoyed Daniel Day Lewis in “There Will Be Blood.”

I barely remember the whole story of the movie pero I remember I was watching him and it was just—wow.

He changed his voice in that film and he had like three years to prepare for that role. I don’t have three years. Sa amin sa theatre we do have the time to prepare, two to three months and sa film, I try.

Pero even if I try very, very subtle lang dahil lilitaw masyado, unless nga if you’re like Daniel Day Lewis who has three years to prepare for a role. And during those three years he is paid for it.

Sa amin naman, sa film na ito, we try whatever it is that we have. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to do less work, it just means that ‘yung focus mo is doon sa analysis ng character. Pero ‘yung “There Will be Blood,” that was just wonderful. Also ‘yung “Philadelphia” ni Tom Hanks.

What’s the farthest thing you did for a role?

‘Yung most recent was sa theater, ‘yung “King and I.”

Back then I was kind of fat and dahil sa nerbiyos ko dahil I only had three weeks.

Pumayat ako ng 20 pounds.

Any dream role that you long aspire to play? 

Ang dami ko nang nagawa. I‘ve played a gay man na nag-aalaga ng kanyang lalake.

I’ve also played as a priest. I played the rapist, all sorts.

I don’t really long to do certain roles; parang I just wish that whatever role I get, it is a well written character.

TAGS: character, in, Nonie Buencamino, smaller and smaller circles
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