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Dec 19, 2016
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Don’t tell anyone but John Arcilla, a professional actor for more than 20 years, is really actually a chameleon. He does his roles so completely and convincingly that seeing him wear a stud earring prompts one to ask (silently), “Heneral Luna has an earring?!” It’s the same reaction when Arcilla—whose film portrayal of Heneral Antonio Luna in 2015 earned accolades—laughs heartily in conversation. “I didn’t know the Heneral could laugh like that, like he could sound happy.”

It was only when he donned a handlebar moustache for the Heneral role did Arcilla’s popularity soar to heights and breadths previously not reached. Suddenly, everyone was abuzz about his portrayal of the bad-tempered, ill-fated hero of the Filipino-American war.

But it was another Luna that he was actually interested to do.

“I was dreaming of playing Juan Luna because for me, his life was more colorful and controversial. Imagine: how can an artist of his magnitude, who expressed his turmoil and anxiety through his art have that kind of crisis [that would lead him] to kill [the] person that he loves?” Arcilla, a descendant of former president Manuel Quezon, says of how Juan Luna murdered his wife.

Ang daming nangyari sa kanya, di lang anger, di lang madness. If Antonio’s temper was like fire, [Juan’s] was a liquid-like temper. Remember, water can become a tidal wave.” But Antonio was the character he was asked to play, and after doing research, Arcilla found out that Juan’s younger brother was also a complex character.

Last month, Arcilla portrayed yet another man in uniform in Birdshot, directed by Mikhail Red (son of filmmaker Raymond Red). It premiered at the Tokyo International Film Festival, where another film in which Arcilla starred and this time directed by Raymond Red, Manila Skies, also premiered a few years ago.

“Mik [Red] said he dreamed of having me in [one of his films] since he was a kid,” says Arcilla. “Ang mga first movies ko were produced and directed by Raymond, his father. Kaya bata pa lang siya, nakikita na niya ko sa mga pelikula ng tatay niya.”

Arcilla isn’t new to international film festivals—or winning in them. He was one among an all-Filipino cast in the British-produced Metro Manila that was selected as the UK’s official entry for Best Foreign Language Film in the 86th Academy Awards. He earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role at the 16th British Independent Film Awards.


Yet Arcilla, unintentionally echoing his most famous character’s patriotism, chooses to remain in his homeland. “My parents are here, my siblings are here. This is still my country,” he says.

You now play Hagorn, the antagonist with the modulated voice, on Encantadia. Did you lift his anger from the same place that helped you portray Heneral Luna?

Well, I think a lot of people in the industry have already experienced my work, and they know that I can play a wide variety of characters. I’ve been a good guy, bad guy, good father turned bad, bad father turned good. I have received a lot of invitations to do many different movie roles—from action, horror, comedy. There are also requests to do re-runs of our original Filipino musical: DOM (Dirty Old Musical)—maybe by the end of the year.

Your product endorsement deal came at the heels of Heneral Luna.

Yes, for Colt 45. [But you’ll notice that I do it as John Arcilla]. We tried to do something to avoid the controversy over a national hero promoting an alcoholic beverage.

But there’s something about that moustache that makes people pay attention.

Yes, the moustache can really do something. I have received a lot of invitations from different organizations and for corporate events to speak regarding work ethics, about commitment as employees, wearing the moustache and as Heneral Luna. They want a figure who will impose discipline. I have also been invited to sing the National Anthem with the moustache. When I wear that moustache, it [conjures] the image of someone strict and very tough.

Have you had enough of being recognized as Heneral Luna, though?

No. I would feel bad if they just treat me like a mascot. I’d rather see people excited to take pictures with me because they are reminded about their love for country. There should be a deeper appreciation every time they see the moustache, that their sense of nationalism is rekindled. If I need to wear it from time to time just to remind the Filipino people about the experience they had watching the film—the standing ovations because they felt proud of themselves, clapping for themselves as they suddenly realized our weaknesses as Filipinos and ready to change our ways—if I need to do that again and again to remind them, I would love to. I don’t want it to be confined just to the four walls of the cinema. That would be sad.


So you don’t mind if people ask you to say “punyeta” for them on video?

Not at all. Sometimes, a man would ask me, “Tell my wife to be a good wife, then say punyeta.” Or a woman would request, “Tell my husband, magpakabait na siya, wag na siyang uminom, punyeta.” In other cases, adults would ask me to record a video of me telling their kids to behave.

Despite all your projects, you still have time to run your foundation, the Capable Foundation.

It actually stands for: Care And Protect All life on Earth. It started with me giving acting workshops to communities in need in the Paranaque area. Then it came to my attention that some participants had difficulty paying the fees and I decided not to charge them anymore.

What do you teach there?

We want people to understand that there is a cancer eating up our world and there should be a sense of urgency. We are all connected to the environment, so we all have to contribute to save the earth.

One of your films is currently making the rounds of film festivals abroad.

Right. There is an award-winning short film that I was part of in the US, Pamanhikan . The writer-director is Angelo Santos and [won Best Screenplay-Short at the Vail Film Festival in 2013].

You’ve been in some big-time American and British films, Bourne Legacy and Metro Manila. Are you also poised for an international career?

If I can get a mainstream project, why not? I am also very choosy about the projects I take on. As it is, when I am in the US and Europe, I perform for the Filipino communities there. But my schedule of work commitments in the Philippines keeps me from seriously pursuing an acting career abroad.

This feature originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of FHM Philippines.

Some edits were made by the FHM.com.ph editors.