EDDIE GARCIAManila, September 1, 2003  (MALAYA) EDDIE Garcia has had innumerable interviews before mostly routine and repetitive. He would even do the asking, jokefully, and rattle off standard questions ahead of the reporters. But his chat with a few editors and columnists Friday evening at Annabel's on Morato, Quezon City was rather intimate and substantial.

Though not too long, it covered a lot of ground, from Eddie's first movie in 1949, "Siete Infantes de Lara" directed by Manuel Conde ("I auditioned for the role and luckily, I was chosen," he says of his first movie role which was a title role). For his first pictures, he worked for different studios but he eventually became Sampaguita Pictures' top villain-the bad guy moviegoers hated because he made life miserable for Gloria Romero, Rita Gomez, and the other Sampaguita heroines, usually in cahoots with bad girl Bella Flores or Zeny Zabala.

In the '60s, he became a director as well (his movie debut was "Karugtong ng Kahapon" with Rita Gomez and Ric Rodrigo), and when the James Bond phenomenon was at its peak, he directed nine similar pictures starring Tony Ferrer as Agent Falcon including "Sabotage," which was a Manila film festival top-grosser.

In the next decades, he shifted from acting to directing with ease, though he often acted in several movies simultaneously ("lagare," in local movie parlance), but when he accepts a directorial assignment, he works full time-no acting assignments for the time being. He's one of the few male stars above 50 years of age who plays title roles (the phenomenal FPJ and Dolphy are the others).

Among his most memorable work as director are "Atsay" with Nora Aunor, "Imortal" with Vilma Santos and Christopher de Leon, and "Abakada... Ina" with Lorna Tolentino and Nida Blanca.

In all these years, he has worked for and with all the best talents in the industry, proud that he has acted in films directed by National Artists Gerry de Leon, Lamberto Avellana, Eddie Romero, Lino Brocka, and Ishmael Bernal, and the younger ones (he names Joel Lamangan as worthy of the National Artist title-"among other directors," he adds) including Raymond Red ("Anino," which is the only Filipino film to win a Cannes Film Festival award) and Gene Cajayon whose "The Debut" was released by Columbia Pictures here the other week ("we did that in 1957," he says).

He does not hesitate to give his age-84-which some people doubt because he's one octogenarian who looks like a sexagenarian. He's in the pink of health ("so far, so good," he says). If he remains fit and trim, it's thanks to regular workouts and a dozen or so vitamins. "And moderation, everything in moderation," Eddie himself hastens to add.

The age has only enhanced his reputation as a much-sought-after as actor, director, and product endorser. He has played every conceivable role on the big screen and television: dramatic, comic, off-beat, and even "bomba" in the '70s (wasn't he the lead in "Batuta ni Dracula"?). Hero or heel, law-enforcer or outlaw, holy man or the devil himself, Eddie's done them all.

"I have portrayed different levels of gay roles, from the serious husband of Lolita Rodriguez in Lino Brocka's "Tubog sa Ginto" to a flaming queer in George Rowe's "Star," he says. "In 'Kaming Mga Talyada' for Sampaguita Pictures, I played the drillmaster of sissy guys who have been sent to the army by their parents to turn them into he-men, including Juancho Gutierrez, Charlie Davao, Tony Marzan, Greg Martin... I succeeded. Naging lalake sila. Pero in the end, ako ang naging bading."

Having just appeared in the much-praised "The Debut," Eddie has a new movie, the comedy-action "Asboobs" (as in "asal bobo," a contraction of "asal bobo," literally "dumb behavior"), where he plays a drillmaster, training army recruits including Jeffrey Quizon, Paolo Contis, Long Mejia, Bearwin Meiley, and Vhong Navarro. Plus Nancy Castiglione and Jenny Miller. Shot in a military camp, "Asboobs" tested the actors' stamina and Eddie proved physically equal to his much-younger co-stars, including Bayani Casimiro Jr., Dencio Padilla Jr., King Gutierrez, Mike Nacua, Derick Rasalan and Rico J. Puno. "Asboobs" all who in the end become heroes, a turnaround like the metamorphosis of the "talyadas" in his old movie into straight men.

Danilo P. Cabreira produced and directed "Asboobs" under the NuArt Movies banner, using the facilities of DreamOn Studio. Danny marvels at Eddie's achievements, especially his having been elevated to the FAMAS Hall of Fame three times-in three categories namely best actor, best supporting actor, and best director. But more than Eddie's awards, Danny admires Eddie for being such a gentleman, a pleasure to work with. A humble and hardworking actor who doesn't even have an "alalay" (man friday) or a talent manager, and he doesn't ask for any special treatment despite his stature.

"Asboobs" marks Eddie's return to comedy after a number of dramatic roles among them "Deathrow," "Mano Po" and Bahid," all of which gave him acting awards including the coveted Urian best actor trophy for "Deathrow."

The Friday interview reaffirmed the writers' impression of this great star as a person and talent who's cool, practical, creative, considerate, generous, funny, serious, intelligent.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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