It takes some time to figure Ping Medina out.
It’s probably a game genius actors like to play, the willful inaccessibility. Sure, the Internet calls him the “Indie film prince” because of his career in film and TV. But aside from that, and the fact that he sometimes ends his text messages with the flying kiss emoji, Medina largely remains an enigma.
“If I weren’t an actor, I’d probably be drinking less and would have less issues,” he jokes. Good, he has a sense of humor. “I’m never happy with what I have now. If I get a good review on my last film, I say, ‘Okay, great.’ And then I move on and look for something better, bigger; something that will make me get up excited in the morning.”
That something would most probably be writing. “I like a lot of things, but writing will always be my first love,” Medina says. “Acting [on the other hand] is my bread and butter. I don’t think I can [ever] quit doing those two. Maybe when I hit my 40s, I can try directing. But that’s a long way off.”
For now, Medina can stay in front of the camera, and audiences are grateful for that. After all, he has as his unofficial acting coach the ubiquitous and equally good character actor Pen Medina.
“My dad taught me that acting is truth. You can’t act sadness; you have to feel it. Hindi mo puwedeng sabihing sad ka na dahil naka-kunot yung kilay mo at may puppy dog eyes ka,” Medina says, inadvertently dashing the hopes of many wannabe actors. “People will know if you’re being truthful or not.”
With just a bit of prodding, Medina shows how honest he can be and talks about an unexpected detail in his life: that he is single and has been for the past six years. It’s his shyness and being a hopeless romantic, he explains, that make it difficult.
“When I was 15 or 16, my dad brought me to a taping of Tabing Ilog because I had this huge crush on Jodi [Sta. Maria, a member of the main cast],” says Medina. “I was a painfully quiet and shy kid when I met her on the set. When she had to leave the room to do a scene, she left her sweater behind. So I took a whiff of it. Smelled like flowers in early morning dew. Creeper mode.”
Of course, there was also the matter of the elephant in the room: the controversy involving himself and Baron Geisler. “I don’t want to talk about that incident,” Medina warns. Sure thing. But because this is journalism, digging deeper into Medina’s character is required.
You obviously treasure your privacy. How do you stay private as an actor in a fishbowl, especially with what happened two months ago?
I stay away from controversy. When our film Transit was chosen to be the 2013 Philippine entry to the Oscars, Erik Matti criticized the decision. I was asked by TV shows for interviews but I declined. I don’t [deal with that] unless I really have to. As for the case with Baron Geisler, someone had to put that guy in his place.
Being that vulnerable to other people because of your work must be difficult.
It depends. There’s strength in being vulnerable. But if you’re too vulnerable, you become weak. When is the right time to become vulnerable and when should you go beast mode? When should you defend yourself?
So where do you draw the line?
Depends on your state that day. Being an actor is a complicated job. There are days when you have to act confident but you’re not feeling 100 percent that day. It’s an artform, sabi nga ni Drake, “Zero to 100.” Usually, bipolar people are the best actors. They can go from sad to happy just like that; change gears at will.
A perk of your job, though, is being able to watch films ahead of everyone else. How was it being a first-time MMFF judge last December?
Of course, masaya yung part na yun. I also had fun working with the rest of the selection committee. Krip Yuson was there, Nick Tiongson, Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte, who was very hands-on and active during the selection process. It was also the first time in a long time that anyone could [send entries] as long as they had the finished product. Dati, script lang ang pinagpipilian ng judges. This time, [participants] had to submit a complete film. Which makes sense kasi you can’t tell how good a film can be just from the script.
Did you set out to make a statement by picking mostly indie films for the film fest?
The ones that made it were simply the best eight films that the panel chose. I don’t agree with all the choices, but it’s a democracy. We watched 27 films and half of them were shit. Most of the commercial films, though, maganda naman kasi [the people that made them] already knew the basics of filmmaking. As for me, I had to keep in mind that the MMFF audience is made up of families with kids. They don’t want to watch a depressing poverty-porn movie on Christmas day. So I looked for films that had entertainment value with substance.
Do you think the Pinoy audience is ready for no Vice Ganda and Vic Sotto movies on Christmas Day every year?
The MMFF audience won’t change overnight for sure. It’s going to take a long time [for them to change]. There’s been a clamor for alternative cinema, anyway, since the indie movement—the first Cinemalaya—started in 2004. Twelve years nang nakikita ng tao na puwede pala na may alternative cinema.
Speaking of alternative cinema, do you feel any pressure to stand out, having Pen Medina for a father and your brothers being actors as well?
I don’t really try to think about being different from my family of actors. I just do my thing. Before I became an actor, I really wanted to be a scriptwriter. I self-studied screenwriting. I’ve been writing since I was in high school, but a lot of it were just essays for homework. I always knew I was good at it since I was in high school.
How do kids who come from a family of actors start out in the business?
For me, the whole acting thing just happened by accident. I was out of college, painting, acting in students’ short films, writing. And then my mom [sent me this email for an audition]. I went to the audition and I got the part. It turned out to be for Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros. That was my break into the industry. I landed TV roles and more film roles after that.
One of those film roles, as Moises in Transit, brought you to shoot in Israel. How was that like?
It was fun. I worked during the day and then went out at night to explore. It was super safe since we were in Tel Aviv. The atmosphere was very similar to Manila, except that Israel has a more first-world vibe. Instead of neighborhood sari-sari stores, they have mom and pop stores where they sell clothes, food, etc. There was no traffic at all. And there was just one mall, the size of Ali Mall. Isrealites are very warm, emotional, family-oriented people, like Filipinos. But the main difference is, if you cross them, or do something wrong, they’re very confrontational. Tayo, we avoid conflict. Sila, they tell you what they think.
What can we expect from you in 2017?
More projects. I’m working on one now—entitled Roygbiv, a cross between Y Tu Mama Tambien and Trainspotting—with my good friend Alan [Chanliongco]. I’m writing; he’s directing. It explores how relationships are magically formed in Manila’s underground party scene. The story is about the ignition, combustion, and wildfire spread of Manila’s drug underworld; a precursor to President Duterte’s drug war. Hopefully, we can get funding this year to be able to send it to the Berlin International Film Festival in 2018. We want to show [the international film community] that people here also know how to have a good time; that Manila isn’t just about people eating their own shit.
Will it just be all work for you this year, then?
Plano ko magpapayat at mag-Muay Thai even with a fractured hand. Dating? If it happens, then go. How does that saying go? “It’s not about finding the one; it’s about being the one.” Go Internet!
For more of Ping Medina and other must-read features, please grab a copy of the January 2017 issue of FHM.