How Gerald Santos loses himself in roles he plays

Philstar
January 12, 2021

After playing the soldier Thuy in the UK 2016 tour of Miss Saigon, Gerald Santos appeared in Sweeney Todd (with Lea Salonga and Jett Pangan) before doing a “saintly” role in the restaging of the Pedro Calungsod musical at the Music Museum. That won him the Aliw Entertainer of the Year (2020) honor and led to his being cast in Borracho Films’ Mamasapano as PO2 Christopher Lalan, the lone survivor of the SAF44 in the 2015 Maguindanao tragedy, and the titular role in I WILL, The Musical based on the love story of Dr. Willie Ong and his wife Dr. Liza Ong.

“I am overwhelmed by the Aliw award,” said Gerald between mouthfuls of Bibimbap, his favorite item at the Unlimited Korean Barbeque restaurant (on Tomas Morato Ave., Quezon City; dial 0995-2704519 for delivery). “Imagine being lined up with the icons in the industry like Martin Nievera, Gary Valenciano and Lea Salonga who are all my idols. Nakakataba ng puso.”

It was his striking resemblance to Calungsod that made Gerald bag the role.

“I try to emulate Calungsod,” noted Gerald of the Catholic Filipino migrant, sacristan and missionary catechist who, along with Spanish Jesuit missionary Diego Luis de San Vitores, suffered religious persecution and martyrdom in Guam for their missionary work in 1672. “I remember when we were rehearsing, I couldn’t avoid adapting his characteristics, like his being maka-Diyos at madasalin. Calungsod has been a big influence in my life.”

Dr. Ong was impressed when he saw Gerald in the Calungsod musical at the Music Museum in February last year, a few weeks before the lockdown. 

“He is a friend of Reli de Leon, the chairman of the Philippine Racing Commission who was with me and my wife Liza at the Museum,” recalled Willie. “He was very good as Calungsod. I have also watched his Broadway plays abroad. His manager, Cocoy Ramelo, is also a doctor. He and Gerald are both mabait, talented and hardworking.” (Note: It was Cocoy who wrote the libretto and the songs in Calungsod and will do the same for the Doc Willie musical.)   

“I know Gerald from the Pedro Calungsod stage play and I was impressed by the intensity of his acting,” noted lawyer Ferdy Topacio, head of Borracho Films. “He could evoke that ‘lost’ look that was a perfect fit for the inner turmoil of Lalan as the sole survivor...misplaced guilt at not being able to save his compadres-in-arm and his inner turmoil at being blamed by the government for the death of several Muslim combatants when he was only fighting for his life.”

As always, Gerald strives to lose himself in any role he plays whether as a saint, a doctor or a soldier.

“I read the script and then I start to immerse myself in the character,” he shared. “I see to it that as soon as I am on stage or before the camera, you won’t see Gerald Santos but the character I am playing.”

During this interview, Gerald had yet to meet Lalan.

“But I already studied him on YouTube clips and newscasts,” he added. “I think Borracho is arranging in Baguio and I am excited na maka-usap ko siya. We will also train with SAF troopers. I want to observe how they move, kung paano sila gumalaw, paano humawak ng baril, ‘yung mga nuances nila.”

Both Thuy and Lalan were fighting for their respective countries, according to Gerald, but there is a slight difference.

“Thuy joined the Vietcong and fought for Vietnam nang sakupin ang kanilang bayan ng America. Lalan also fought for his country. The only difference is that Thuy was giving orders while Lalan was in the field lumalaban.”

This is Bibimbap, Gerald’s favorite item at the Unlimited Korean Barbeque restaurant on Tomas Morato where this interview was done

During the pandemic, Gerald went into selling dogs, specifically French Bulldogs. 

Meanwhile, he continues to hope that when the situation gets better, he can go back to the UK to audition for other musicals.

“I want to play Marius in Les Miserables or any role in Aladdin, Wicked and, why not, Phantom himself in Phantom of the Opera.”

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