Coco Martin: They said I couldn’t act

Tiffany Jillian Go
Coco Martin: They said I couldn’t act


'Ang liit ko, bulol ako, hindi ako magaling mag-Ingles, may lisp problem ako... hindi daw ako marunong umarte, pero ang kagandahan nun, hindi ako sumuko.'

MANILA, Philippines – Before Coco Martin, he was Rodel Nacianceno, a struggling actor who wanted to enter show business to make money. The in-demand actor recently told Rappler about his rough journey in the entertainment industry, from the time people labeled him as a sexy star, to his worst audition, to being rejected for many roles. 

Here, this 2003 HRM graduate from the National College of Business and Arts shared some career advice for anyone at a crossroads in life: 

1. See everything as a stepping stone to the next stage of your life

Looking back, those years of moving between odd jobs to earn – even going as far as wanting just to move abroad for a better life – made him the man that he is: one of the most sought-out actors in mainstream film and television, an area he initially thought he could never make it in.

Coco auditioned for a lot of roles, from serving as an uncredited extra to a small supporting part. But he only wanted to do those jobs just to make ends meet. 

  “Minura ako ng direktor… Tapos nagkagulo sila kasi nagtanong sila na parang, ‘ano ba yan, ano yung kinuha mongtalent? Hindi naman marunong umarte.’”

  – Coco Martin on his worst audition

“Honestly, sabi ko nga, pagtingin ko lang kasi, gusto ko lang kumita. And then sabi ko may opportunity, may nag-aalok sa akin na parang, ‘Uy may raket, kung gusto mong kumita,” ‘Anong raket yun?’ Ah yun nga pag-acting muna is yung mga commercial – extra, extra. Minsan support, minsan lead.” he said.

He even shared with Rappler the worst audition he had for a commercial. 

Nung first time kong umarte, nakuha ako sa isang commercial na group lead. Ang eksena ko ay nagmomotor.[…] Nung nakunan ako ng full shot, okay.

(The first time I acted, I was chosen by one commercial to be part of a group of lead actors. The scene I was assigned to was to ride a motorcycle.[…]When a full shot of me was taken, it was okay.) 

“Nung nakalagay na sa harapan ko ng camera, at close-up na, hindi ako marunong umarte kasi nakita ko lang camera eh. Minura ako ng direktor. Tapos two frames ako, may isa pa sana akong eksena, ang ginawa tinanggal ako dun. Tapos nagkagulo sila kasi nagtanong sila na parang, ‘ano ba yan, ano yung kinuha mong talent? Hindi naman marunong umarte.'”

(But when the camera was placed in front of me for a close-up shot, I did not know how to act because I only saw the camera. The director cursed at me. I already shot two frames, and I had one more scene. What they did was they removed me from it. The crew was also arguing, and asking, “What is up with the talent you got? He doesn’t know how to act.)

But his active participation in those roles got him a big opportunity: to star in Brillante Mendoza’s indie film Masahista (or The Masseur).



May nag-yaya sa akin na parangMeron akong pelikula na bagay sa ‘yo na indie.’ Sabi niya, ‘Malaking potential ‘tong ilaban abroad.’”

(Someone invited me to join a film and said, ‘I have an indie film that is fit for you.’ He said, ‘This film has great potential to be screened abroad.’)

Coco saw this as an opportunity to go abroad, to seek jobs that could better his life, and so he participated and played the lead role of Iliac, a masseur who did sexual favors for some of his customers.

True enough, the movie made it to the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, and won big. Coco begged the director and producer for him to stay in the country, but they didn’t allow him to do so.

Photo by Rob Reyes

They instead wanted Coco to come home – but fame didn’t happen overnight for Coco. His dream for going abroad did not stop, and he instead went to Canada to become a janitor for 9 months.

He returned to the Philippines afterwards, and decided to make more indie films to better his career. His persistence had him return abroad again, where two of his indie films competed against each other for a trophy at another film festival, something he never saw coming. 

By then, he realized that he wanted to focus more on the impact his films made rather than the money he was earning. 

Naintidihan ko na yung lalim, and then after that naappreciate ko na. Hanggang dumating yung point na gumagawa na ako ng indie, hindi na pera ang tinitingnan ko, hindi na yung perang kinikitaan ko…Ano yung magiging impact?” 

(I understand the deeper meaning, and then I appreciated it after that. It went to the point that I continued making more indie movies, but I wasn’t looking at how much I was earning…What will be the impact?)


2. Go beyond the labels

His mature roles in his indie films got him a lot of attention in both the international and local showbiz scene, but at the same time had him struggle to properly land in the local mainstream category.

This was because a lot of the industry figures then saw him as just a “sexy” star, not someone who could pull off other roles.  

But he said that he saw going nude as both an art and a requirement, because in the end, he was just doing his job. 

Ilang beses ako nagtry, ilang beses din ako nireject kasi ang tingin nila sa akin that time sa TV sexy star. Kasi nga yung mga ibang pelikulang ginagawa ko ay medyo mature. 

(There were many times I tried out for roles, and there were many times I was rejected because members of television networks viewed me as a sexy star, because the movies I was doing were very mature.)

“Eh sabi ko nga, ang sakit nun, ang taas ng respeto ko sa trabaho ko pero ibang tao ang baba ng tingin sa trabaho ko at sa ginagawa ko. Sabi ko, ginagawa ko yun di dahil gusto kong maghubad, ginagawa ko yun kasi kailangan at requirement ‘yun sa pelikula at ‘yun yung character ko.” 

(And I said, it was very painful. I had such a high regard for my work, but other people looked down on my work and my roles. But I said, I did those roles not because I wanted to strip. I did those roles because it was needed and it was a requirement for the movie and my character.)

3. Know and accept your flaws, but don’t become them

For Coco, there are no excuses – and no reason to give up when things get hard. 

“Ah, nako, dapat hindi mo alam yung salitang ‘give up.’ Kasi ako nga, unang-una, ang liit ko, hindi naman ako artistahin, bulol ako, hindi ako magaling mag-Ingles, may lisp problem ako, andami kong kasiraanhindi ako marunong sumayaw, kumanta, hindi daw ako marunong umarte, pero ang kagandahan nun, hindi ako sumuko.” 

(They should not know the phrase ‘give up.’ I myself know that first, I’m short,  I don’t fit the celebrity type, my speech is garbled, I’m not good at speaking English, I have a lisp problem, and so many more flaws – I’m not good at dancing, singing, and I’m not good daw at acting. But the beauty is, despite that, I never gave up.)

4. Learn from the experts

Coco jokingly admitted that he wasn’t a very good student, but that the learning never stopped after he graduated. He admits that he always tries to improve himself as an actor, and at the same time figuring out what the market likes.

Pinanood ko yung actors ko. “Ah, ganun pala! Ganun pala yung ginagawa pag nasa TV. Ah, ganun pala pag nasa mainstream.” 

BEHIND THE SCENES. Coco is pictured here with 'You're My Boss' co-star Toni Gonzaga and director Antoinette Jadaone. Photo courtesy of Star Cinema

(I watch my co-stars work. ‘Ah, that’s the way to do it! That’s how they do it on television, that’s how they approach this if in mainstream movies and television.)

He also looks up to veteran actor Eddie Garcia, whom he has worked with in various movies and television shows, including in Yamashita’s Treasures.

Ang artistang hinahangaan ko at gusto ko maging balang araw, gusto ko maging sana kahit kalahati, kahit one-fourth, ni Eddie Garcia. Kahit para sa akin, or siya rin, lahat ng genre napuntahan niya, action, kontrabida, comedy, bakla – yung lahat, diba?”

(The actor I admire most and I want to be someday, even just a half, or a fourth, is Eddie Garcia. It’s because he’s done all kinds of roles – action, the antagonist, comedy, and even gay roles – just all of it, right?)

5. Always ask the question ‘What’s next?’

Aside from being an actor, he is also a producer and creative consultant for some movies and television shows. But Coco said that despite having all these achievements, he never became complacent.

Ako sa planning, nagtanong ako, ‘aside from ‘yung Cannes Film Festival, where lumaban ‘yung mga dalawang films ko, saan pa ba ako gustong mapupuntahan?'”

(When I plan, I ask, ‘Aside from having two of my films fighting to win at the Cannes Film Festival, where else can I go?)

He even talked a little bit about his latest project entitled Padre de Familia, which he will be starring in and producing. He will star alongside Nora Aunor and Julia Montes. 

6. Never forget where you came from 

Even if Coco is already an established mainstream actor, he says he’ll never forget where he started from: indie movies. 

He still cited Brillante Mendoza’s Kinatay and Serbis as favorites, and Noy, which he directed and produced.

COCO AT CANNES. L-R, Director Brillante Mendoza, actors Mercedes Cabral, Coco Martin, Maria Isabel Lopez and producers Ferdinand Lapuz and Didier Costet arrive for the gala screening of their film 'Kinatay' during the 62nd edition of the Cannes film festival in Cannes, France, 16 May 2009. Ian Langsdon/EPA

May times na binabatikos ako sa TV na, ‘Ay, si Coco, sell-out na,’ acting TV na siya. Yes, totoo, acting TV kasi nasa TV na ako. Pero pag nasa indie ako, alam ko ang core ng indie kasi kami yung nagsimula niyan, diba? Alam ko yung requirements niya, alam ko yung hinahanap diyan.

(There were times that I was criticized on TV, ‘Ay Coco is a sell-out, he acts on TV. Yes, it’s true I’m doing TV, because I am on TV. But if I am in indie flms, I know the core of indie well because that’s where I started right? I know the requirements, I know what they are looking for.) 

Ngayon nasa mainstream ako, sabihin na naman sa akin, ‘Wala, si Coco, sellout na sellout na! Talagang pang-TV na yan at saka mainstream.’ Yes, kasi nandun ako ngayon! And then kapag babalik ako at magproproduce ako ng pelikula ko na indie, alam ko yung ginagawa ko. Alam ko yung ginagawa ko.”

(Now that I am doing mainstream, they will tell me, ‘Coco is a sellout. He’s for TV and mainstream.’ Yes because I am there now. And then if I go back and produce indie films, I know what I am doing.) –

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