Whether it’s onstage, television or motion pictures, Rafa Siguion-Reyna takes every opportunity that comes his way.
In recent years, the New York-educated actor and scion of the famous showbiz clan has played all kinds of characters including memorable supporting turns in the theater musicals, Grease, Saturday Night Fever, Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag and La Cage aux Folles where he had a surprise cameo as a drag queen.
Rafa is currently alternating with Jon Santos as the closeted Anthony in the ongoing second run of Ang Huling El Bimbo based on the music of the Eraserheads. The acclaimed jukebox musical will run at Resort World Manila’s Newport Performing Arts Theater until April 14.
But it was his turn as Julian, the hotheaded brother of national hero Gregorio del Pilar in Jerrold Tarog’s Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral where he has made his biggest onscreen impact to date.
Released late last year and now streaming on Netflix (retitled Goyo: The Boy General), the historical biopic continues to find its audience in the relatively new online platform.
In an interview with this writer, Rafa recalls the time when he was invited to audition for the role of Julian.
“I was actually shooting another film when I got a text at around 3 a.m., asking me to audition. Having come from theater, I did not mind at all that I had to audition. I feel like in order to stay sharp, actors do need to audition,” he recalled
“That same week, I auditioned for four other parts that I did not get. So, I was like, ‘fine, whatever,’ I was more relaxed than nervous during the Goyo audition and I just went in to do my best. Thankfully, I got the part.”
Winning the part of Julian was only half the battle. How to portray him was an altogether different challenge. See, unlike Goyo himself or Gregorio del Pilar, not much is really known about the national hero’s brother.
“Based on the literature and material given to me by director Jerrold Tarog, there’s not a lot of information about Julian so in terms of how to approach the character. I had a long discussion with Jerrold on how he wanted me to portray him. Jerrold wanted Julian to be an outward expression of Goyo’s vanities. Unlike Goyo whose vanity is more reserved, Julian is more flamboyant. He feels like a rock star, he’s hot-tempered and, I guess you could say he’s a bit of a bad boy,” Rafa pointed out.
In short, somewhat like Antonio Luna himself. Yes, Tarog was very clear in stressing that although it is still set in the same universe, Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral is a more subdued film or as he calls it, “water and introspection” compared to the intense Heneral Luna which was more “fire and anger.”
Still, the creative decision of making Julian the yang to Goyo’s yin has indeed paid off in spades. Audiences have responded favorably to Rafa’s breakout performance as he provided Goyo with a good number of, yes, Heneral Luna moments.
Paulo Avelino may have delivered the performance of his career as the enigmatic Goyo, but Rafa’s scene-stealing portrayal of Julian is just as likely to be remembered by audiences.
But although Julian is depicted as having a mean streak, Rafa adds dimension to the character by showing a tender, brotherly side to him.
“I feel that Julian wanted to be held by the people in the same high regard as Goyo. But he has so much love and respect for his brother that he just wants to be there for him. Even though he’s a kind of a braggadocio, he’s the emotional anchor of Goyo, the one who is always there for his brother whenever he needs someone to talk to. And I think that’s important for the character,” he noted.
Of course, it also helped that Rafa considers the likes of Goyo co-star, Mon Confiado and the legendary Eddie Garcia as his acting heroes. Later last year, he realized his dream of acting alongside Garcia in Benedict Mique’s acclaimed Cinemalaya thriller, ML.
“I understand that this is a marathon, not a sprint. I take pride in showing the industry that I can play a range of different characters and not just the ‘guwapo’ roles. I want to keep taking all the good and meaty roles that these actors have portrayed in their careers. And I think doing that will allow me to be around in this industry for a long time.”
As for being a Siguion-Reyna, Rafa acknowledges it certainly does not hurt being one.
“I feel like when I was starting out, there was pressure in carrying the name and the achievements of people that came before me. But I get a lot of great advice from my family so the longer I worked in this industry, the more I realized that being a Siguion-Reyna is such a good resource. It’s such a privilege,” he concluded.