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The Brilliance of Coco Martin as Juan de la Cruz

I am finally beginning to understand what all the fuss has been about the actor Coco Martin as I continue to follow his adventures as Juan de la Cruz in the primetime teleserye of the same title.

I knew who he was even before Juan de la Cruz, naturally. Knowing about him and being interested in him are two different things, however; and truth be told, I had not seen any of his work prior to Juan de la Cruz.

In fact, while the entire nation talked about DNA test results in his previous teleserye Walang Hanggan – which I read about on Facebook, where else – I was hopelessly ignorant because Walang Hanggan was so not my genre.

That I am still watching Juan de la Cruz at all has nothing to do with Martin whatsoever. It was the charming interaction between Jaime Fabregas as Fr. Cito and Izzy Canillo as the young Juan that convinced me to follow the series.

Silly lad! The modesty was admirable; but he just described the secret to what has made Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino and Robert de Niro the great character actors that they are.
But now, well… Coco Martin, this guy can act.

First of all, the transition last week from the Canillo to Martin, that was neatly done! I suppose most who were watching the series were expecting Canillo to hang around a bit longer and that the story would dwell some more on Juan growing up.

Instead, Juan got into a bust-up with some street urchins and as the melee was going on, the director in the middle of the scene managed to insert Juan already grown up. In other words, Martin’s grand entrance was so low-key and so devoid of fanfare that it came most unexpectedly.

I rather thought that transition was inspired and simply brilliant.

So thus, I was formally introduced to Coco Martin, the actor. The story of Juan de la Cruz is based on folklore and is very much of the fantasy genre; yet Martin gives his character so much depth that the fantasy gets real believability.

If one is discriminate, one will always discern that an actor is struggling to act. Quite the opposite, Martin goes through his craft effortlessly, acting without acting because he becomes Juan de la Cruz and behaves as a Juan de la Cruz would in the real world.

The brilliance of actors is always if, in their acting, there is nothing contrived. In this regard, Martin is masterful. The facial expressions, even in dramatic scenes, are always as one would expect of a normal person in similar circumstances, never overboard.

Even the way he times and delivers his lines are natural and with the correct conversational inflections. It is like he is right there in the living room with you carrying on an after dinner conversation.

It is a skill that even many veteran actors have not fully mastered; yet to Martin it appears effortless.

No disrespect meant, but sometimes I feel that Erich Gonzales as Rosario and Neil Coleta as Juan’s sidekick Asiong struggle to keep up with the brilliance of Martin’s timing and delivery.

In fact, the only one who I think manages to be in the same level as Martin is the veteran actress Gina Pareño.

I loved Pareño when she was a young goddess. She is still lovely in old age; but her acting has become top of the line. Her exchanges with Martin are often seamless and like the work of two skilled artisans.

If I am being honest, I rather thought that Martin’s good looks were a little too good for the character. His chiselled face is almost feminine; and I would have thought that somebody a bit rougher around the edges would have been perfect for an action hero role.

But Martin is managing to pull it off, offsetting the pretty face with a kanto boy demeanour as one would find in the slums of the big city. In fact, he even uses the good looks to his advantage.

This evening, for instance, after a member of the Kapatiran doused him with holy water, Martin scoffed at him and said, “Mas pogi pa nga ako sa ‘yo eh!”

Interviewed on the afternoon weekend show The Buzz, Martin told host Boy Abunda that he does not even think of himself as a good actor. What he does, he explained, is that he immerses himself in the character so that – essentially – when the cameras start to roll, he becomes the character.

Silly lad! The modesty was admirable; but he just described the secret to what has made Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino and Robert de Niro the great character actors that they are.

They do not act. They are.

Just as Coco Martin is Juan de la Cruz every evening to millions of households across the country.

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