MANILA, December 5, 2003  (STAR) By Mario E. Bautista - The passing year is definitely a memorable one for Jay Manalo. In May, he won the Urian Best Actor award for his role as Nonoy Laki, a pimp in love with Aubrey Miles in Prosti. In June, he was again named Best Actor in the Manila Filmfest for his role as the fake priest who is transformed by an apparition of the Blessed Virgin in Huling Birhen sa Lupa. Both films were exhibited at the Toronto International Filmfest last September. How come he didnít join the local delegation to Toronto when he was in the cast of both films?

"I was told Iíd have to spend for my own airfare and accommodations so I said, huwag na lang," Jay replies. "Also, I was already shooting a new movie that time and I decided to just stay here and work."

Jay remains one of the busiest actors in local tinseltown. Last year, he did four films. Aside from Prosti, he did Kapalit with Alma Moreno, Masikip, Mainit, Paraisong Parisukat with Joyce Jimenez and Regal Filmsí 2002 Metro Manila Filmfest entry, Mano Po, where he played Maricel Sorianoís ill-fated boyfriend.

This year, he is also in four films. Aside from Huling Birhen, he played a deaf-mute hired killer in Bayaran with Maricar de Mesa and is now in two entries in the 2003 Metro Manila Filmfest, MAQ Filmsí Gagamboy and Regalís Mano Po 2, My Home.

"I guess I really have a lot to be thankful for," says Jay. "But before last year, for two years, halos bakante ako. I figured in a freak accident that broke my kneecap while I was playing basketball and I could not do anything strenuous so I went back to school. I took up Criminology because Iíve always dreamed of being a cop. But after I got busy with so many showbiz assignments, ayan, napabayaan ko ulit ang studies ko. I intend to go back, though, since Iím already a senior."

It was his current manager, Manny Valera, who offered to help him and cast him as Assunta de Rossiís abusive lover in the 2001 Metro Manila Filmfest entry, Hubog. His performance was widely praised and gave him a number of Best Supporting Actor nominations. Thatís when people took a second look at Jay and realized he can be a serious actor.

"I didnít win any award for Hubog but I was still grateful because it helped revive my career," he says. " Direk Manny Valera has shown me the right direction on how to chart it better. I was more into sexy roles then, like Totoy Mola, which made me a perennial centerfold for sexy magazines, and also action films like Wang-Bu, but no one really noticed me for my acting."

He feels honored to have not just one but two entries in the forthcoming Metro Filmfest.

Heís excited with his role in Gagamboy as Ipisman, the chief adversary of title-roler Vhong Navarro. "Both of us gained our superpowers when he swallowed a spider and I accidentally ate a cockroach that went inside a sandwich that I was eating. Both the spider and the cockroach were earlier exposed to toxic waste. Vhong used his powers as Gagamboy to be a crimebuster. In my case, I used my powers for evil purposes. Earlier, Iím shown to be a neighborhood tough guy who bullies Vhong all the time. I am fond of impersonating Elvis Presley kaya pormang Elvis ako rito. But as Ipisman, I wear a heavy rubberized costume designed by Benny Batoctoy with huge wings that allow me to fly. Thatís my advantage over Gagamboy because he can only jump around. Putting on the costume took three hours. It was hot when we were shooting the movie and when I had the costume on, itís like being tortured inside a furnace sa sobrang init. I perspire so much so they have to cover my body with protective powder to prevent skin rashes. I also drink a lot of water so I wonít get dehydrated. The flying scenes are even more taxing because they put a harness around me then Iím lifted by a crane and it feels like Iím being strangled because the cables wrapped around my body are so tight. Itís a big sacrifice to do this movie but I am happy I did it because itís my first time to appear in a fantasy film that even my kids can watch."

In Mano Po 2, Jay plays another bad guy. "My name is Johnson and Iím the cousin of Lorna Tolentino who marries Carmina Villaroel even if sheís a cripple confined to a wheelchair all her life because I have this evil scheme to steal their familyís wealth. Itís only Lorna who knows my secret plans. Itís great to be a part of the cast dahil puro sila magagaling. It also gave me a chance to go to Shanghai in Mainland China where we shot some scenes and had a pictorial."

On which float would he ride come the annual filmfest parade on Christmas Eve? "If they ask me to put on the Ipisman costume in Gagamboy, then Iíll just join the Mano Po 2 float because the costume comes with a mask, so they can just ask a stuntman to wear and people wonít know it that itís not me inside. But if I wonít be made to wear the bulky costume, then Iíd join the Gagamboy float kasi kaunti lang kami sa cast noon, unlike Mano Po 2 which has so many stars."

Now that he is an award-winning actor, he also has a new career as an endorser for the energy drink, Mola, which had a grand launch recently. "They chose me not only because I did Totoy Mola but because I really drink Mola to help pep me up when I shoot overnight. It has more taurine content than other energy drinks and taking it helps a lot when youíre feeling down."

It is true someone is also claiming to be his real father? "Thatís true. His name is Jose Manalo and he is based in Los Angeles, where my mom, a Vietnamese, also lives with her American husband. But I know my real father. His name is Eustaquio Manalo, Jr., a musician who used to be a member of a band. He is married to a Korean woman he met abroad and they have a son, Julius, whoís 17. Iím the one whoís sending my half-brother to school. He wants to be a seaman so he can travel abroad. Iíve talked to the man who claims heís my dad via long distance and Iím sorry to say that I cannot believe the details of his story. I really donít know why he suddenly came up sa edad kong ito and not when I was younger. Iím also not that close to my real dad because I grew up with him working abroad, pero siya na ang kinamulatan kong ama ko and I can feel heís really my father."

So what are his plans for 2004? "Thereís an offer for me to do a new soap opera after Kung Mawawala Ka, but I donít know the details yet. From the movies, after doing two in a row, Iíd like to rest for a while."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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