COVER: Dennis takes the throne
MANILA, Philippines - The third lead is not to be underestimated. In an industry still ruled by matinee idols and love teams – even for actors finding a second wind at love well into their thirties and forties – the token third lead is the true catalyst in a story, often led by two people who can’t make up their minds about each other. The third lead heats things up, gives a story tension, texture, takes it places. Clocking in 17 years, Dennis Trillo is as prolific as they come but the third lead role has been typecast upon him and his most notable works. In his breakthrough role in Mulawin in 2005 as Gabriel, he was the third lead to Richard Gutierrez and Angel Locsin. But that launched him into mainstream stardom.
He changed the course of his career when he took on the role of a transgender woman in World War II Philippines in Joel Lamangan’s Aishite Imasu 1941: Mahal Kita, which not only earned him an award so early and so young as an actor but changed the way his home network regarded him as one of their leading talents. Still, he was third lead to Raymart Santiago and Judy Ann Santos. In 2015, he got the break he deserved when he portrayed Iglesia ni Cristo founder Felix Manalo in a namesake biopic, for which he won big at the 64th FAMAS.
There’s no denying the commercial and critical success of GMA’s My Husband’s Lover. He is the third lead to Tom Rodriguez and Carla Abellana, but it was with this role that he became the first Filipino actor to be honoured with the Asian Star Prize at the Seoul International Awards 2016.
In Dennis’ home network, however, it is incomparable to the greatness of scale of its fantaseryes, influencing Pinoy pop culture in their own way and distinguishing the network from its competitors, notably Engkantadia and Mulawin. This time, as Gabriel picks up where things left off in Mulawin vs Ravena, Dennis’ story moves forward; his time has come. Supreme caught up with Dennis, this time without Gabriel’s feathers and wings, for a look into his career so far in bird’s eye view.
SUPREME: How does it feel revisiting Mulawin, from being the third lead on your TV breakthrough role and now as the lead?
I feel so honored and proud to be a part of it again. I was in my twenties when I first did Mulawin and I didn't expect na ganun magiging kalakas yung magnitude ng show sa television ng time na yun. I was in a love triangle. Now, I'm the king of the villains. It’s a huge transformation. Dati totoy pa yung character but even then he has always been multi-faceted, very grey. After 13 years, he evolved into a king of Halconia, lair of the Ravenas, mga kalaban ng Mulawin. Ganon parin siya hanggang ngayon pero ruler na. Nag mature ako kasama niya.
How did you prepare for Gabriel’s return?
Kinailangan ibahin yung look. But I see to it that every character I do, I do a makeover. I transform myself physically. My hairstyle, my figure. For Mulawin nagsisipag ako mag gym ng kaunti because I am portraying a warrior. Acting-wise, I research and read the script over and over, find something between the lines. I am the observant type. Madami ako nakukuka na aralin para sa character just by observing different people. Very helpful yun. Binabagay ko sa iba kasi minsan malayo yung character sa kung sino ako. Dahil doon, makakabuo ako ng character kasi mas nagiging totoo siya.
As GMA’s “Drama King,” the heavier dramas have been your domain but it's really the fantasy dramas like Mulawin that get the most fanfare in the network. Everyone is saying that your time has come.
I just feel so proud nakasali ako dito sa project. Sobrang laki ng project na ito. Kailangan alagaan yung reputation. Pressure din kasi pinapanood eto ng mga bata. Tingin nila sa characters ay role models.
With the range of your acting and awards to prove it, for a while, you were a third lead and you received acclaim for them, too. Did you find yourself thinking you deserved better?
It was never an issue with me sino bida, ano ang pwesto ng billing sa movie poster. Never naging issue sa akin. Importante sa akin essence ng character, ano role na ginagampanan ko at gaano siya ka essential sa pagbuo ng story.
You always go for the challenging roles. Was that a deliberate choice?
Yes. Pero eto tatawag lang sasabihin na may remake ang Mulawin the casting mo is Gabriel ulit. Kaya minsan naiisip ko mas maganda mag produce to fulfill your needs as an artist. Gustong gusto ko ang ginagawa ko pero minsan hindi mo makukuha ang project na gusto mo. Nilalagyan ko nalang ng depth para maiba naman. I make it an effort na ibahin lahat ng roles ko para hindi masasawa ang nanonood sa lagi nila nakikita na boy next door, matinee idol. Kailangan bigyan ng depth ang bawat character.
You are one of the few who didn’t have to sell out. It came to your advantage that you worked on risky projects independently.
Yes! Usually yung nakukuka ko dati yung boy next door. One of my first movies ever, Aishite Imasu 1941: Mahal Kita where I played a transgender. It was my first movie and wala pa ako masyadong experience, napasabak ako sa makeup and clothes tapos yung acting, ang hirap maging convincing. Pero na-establish ko ano gusto ko. Ngayon, yung network na ang na-challenge na bigyan ako ng roles kasi alam na nila ano gusto ko, yung medyo iba. May Netflix na ngayon, madami nang choices kaya kailangan namin gumawa ng extra effort maging kakaiba.
Do you think mainstream media needs a wider representation in the kinds of characters it puts out?
Yes, kasi iba-iba ang tao. Sa Mulawin, na fulfill yung isa sa gusto ko kasi he's a villain, pero gusto ko sana mas masama pa. Yung kaiinisan ng mga tao. Not sure kung magagawa ko dito sa GMA. Gabriel, even though siya yung evil king ng Ravena, he has a soft spot. He has a heart because he's a reluctant king. He doesn't want to be evil. Mapagmahal siya na tao bago siya nag transform maging Ravena king. Gusto yung may darkness, pero may depth. Kaya kailangan ko mag produce.
May script ako na binabasa ngayon title niya Hubog ng Langit. Indie siya. Kwento niya priest na may dark secret – hindi siya bading. His secret is really dark which makes the role interesting. Pero hindi ko pa tapos. Mulawin consumes my schedule and I don't want to disrupt my tapings.
Why do people need to see darkness, something different?
Because it's the reality. Gusto lang naman ng filmmakers ipakita kung ano talaga ang nangyayari sa totoong buhay. Kailangan mapakita ang reflection ng life and at the same time inspire people na bigyan ng moral story.
You have been in the industry for 17 years. What has been the most challenging aspect of your career?
Sustaining it, thinking of longevity. Pagiisip ng bago na pwede na gawin para hjndi pag-sawaan. Mahirap na palagi ako nagre-reinvent ng sarili ko. Maswerte ako na wala na ako sa stage na kailangan ko mag love team. Matanda na ko kaya kailangan ko maglabas ng bagong idea para i-challenge din ang viewers.
Is producing the next step for you? What kind of films do you want to produce?
In the coming years, para makita ng mga tao ang iniisip ko. Madami ako gusto pero kailangan ko pa ng time para buohin siya. I personally like experimental films like Trainspotting and Requiem of a Dream by Darren Aronofsky and the works of Mark Romanek. I like things a bit dark.
What came first, your maturity as an actor or being a father?
Nakatulong sa akin being a father. Naisip ko na mas may importanteng bagay na kailangan unahin. Noong nangyari yun nagkaroon ako ng new set of principles and priorities. Nakatulong sa akin sa career at personality ko.
Does the thought of your son Calix – whose name you have tattooed on your left wrist – watching your work affect how you pick and portray roles?
Of course, namimili na ako ng projects kasi alam ko magtatanong siya. Kinabahan ako sa My Husbands Lover. He saw teaser and he asked what is it like to do those kinds of scenes? I tell him it's a bit of awkward but because it's my job and that I have to deal with it.
Before you got into acting completely by chance, being scouted in the mall. Ater all the things that have happened, looking back, would you change a thing?
Wala naman, although namimiss ko mag-jamming. Pagtugtog sa banda. Pero wala akong future doon eh. Na realize ako na swerte ako napunta ako sa industryang eto. Na maximize ko siya ng husto at maganda ang nangyari. Hanggang ngayon yung music is still my passion. I still think about it.
How are you feeling about where you are now in your personal life and career?
At peace. I enjoy the blessings more. Mas masaya pag may kasama ka.