For almost four decades, Jose “Nonong” Clemente de Andres was a suki of directors and casters who needed someone to play either a villain in a sexy film or a scary character in a horror picture. With his tall and scrawny figure, bony facial features, his long hair simultaneously thinning, curly and unkempt, de Andres’s look not only earned him a spot in the pantheon of Philippine cinema’s most remembered villains but he has become, for what it’s worth, its staple visual of the undead. His one-of-a-kind appearance, beastly laughter, and spot-on timing earned for him plenty of acting assignments. “Puwede siyang goon. Pwede siyang multo,” nephew Paolo de Andres Capino said of his Uncle Nonong.
But the actor’s biggest break was playing a more endearing character in a TV drama series. In 2014, at the age of 67, de Andres was cast by blockbuster director Cathy Garcia-Molina to be part of the Enrique Gil-Liza Soberano primetime teleserye Forevermore. In the romantic drama shot mostly in Benguet province, De Andres played Bangki, a wise old man who would become friend and adviser to Xander, Gil’s character. “He is funny in his own right,” Garcia-Molina said in a Rated K feature on the actor, describing what in de Andres appealed to her initially. “Nakatulong na wala siyang ngipin. So n’ung nakita ko na ‘pag ngumanga siya ay nakakatawa, parang tinuluy-tuloy na namin.”
From someone people run away from to someone people run to—that’s the kind of transformation Garcia-Molina gave de Andres. In Forevermore, the character actor exuded a charismatic presence. The Benguet light suited him, brought him out of the shadows, softened what were once hard features—essentially turning him into a lolo whose shoulders a beleaguered apo wouldn’t mind resting her head on. His co-star Gil, in the same Rated K segment, said he was genuinely impressed with the veteran actor’s talent and had found it hard to believe that de Andres had to wait 30 years to get a role as major as Bangki. “Sabi ko (sa kanya), ‘Seryoso? Thirty years?’ Eh, ang galing-galing niya!”
From 1979 to 2018, de Andres appeared in more than 130 movies and TV shows. By his own estimate, as he once told his nephew Capino, he probably did more movies than the average Fiilipino actor. His long career and body of work are notable for someone who never had a manager or purposely sought out projects. Even before Forevermore gave a fresh new spin to his career, giving it the important primetime privilege of daily nationwide exposure, de Andres already had a cult following. “Minsan pumunta kami sa SM, pinagkaguluhan siya ng crowd,” said Capino proudly.
Filmmakers who grew up watching the man regarded him as an icon. Writer-director Jade Castro (My Big Love, Endo), after the actor’s death, tweeted: “My favorite Nonong de Andres roles were as lolo or uncle in sexy films. I was a fan of that and not familiar with the nickname Bangkay before I got to work with him. His combo of mystery plus humility was super cool to me.”
Nonong in real life
Born Jose Clemente de Andres in Masbate, Nonong was the youngest of four children. His parents were Amelia, a schoolteacher, and Jose Bernardo, a soldier who fought during the second World War. He got his height and mestizo features from his mother who was of Hispanic descent, according to Capino. “’Yung Clemente family, mga migrants from either Spain or Mexico. Talagang matatangkad at mapuputi.”
De Andres spent his elementary and high school years in Masbate before moving to Manila to study Civil Engineering at National University in Sampaloc, Manila. According to his sister, Eva de Andres Capino, the family only occasionally saw him after that. Nonong took on jobs to sustain his studies but eventually dropped out of school to work fulltime.
De Andres became a painter of movie billboards, which was a thriving industry from the 1970s to the early 1990s. Unlike today’s gigantic computer-printed ads, the old movie billboards were hand-painted on canvas. They were then displayed on theater marquees as well as on ad spaces along the country’s major thoroughfares. De Andres served as an in-house painter of outdoor ads. He was good at it, too, Capino recalls, and exhibited a deft hand in painting faces. He would also paint some of the floats for the yearly parade of the Metro Manila Film Festival.
De Andres was never in one place for a long time. Sometimes he lived with his employers; sometimes he stayed with his family and relatives for weeks, maybe a month, until it was time to move on again. Work at one point was so busy—there were years in the 80s when local cinema was churning out more than a hundred movies a year—that he ended up living in the offices of his employers, among whom were the Arambulos, the Liwanags and the Sagmits who were pioneers in the outdoor advertising business. It is to de Andres’ credit that he endeared himself to his bosses. “Lahat ng pinagtrabahuhan ni Nonong, doon siya tumira. Mabait siya. Hindi demanding. Hindi nag-i-impose,” recalls his sister Eva. “The more accurate term is inaampon siya ng bosses niya. Mabait naman kasi siya at isa siyang gifted artist.”
One of those whom de Andres endeared himself to was Dolphy. Remember those old posters of the Comedy King’s movies? The ones that had caricatures of the lead stars? De Andres designed a number of those. According to one story, Mang Dolphy liked de Andres’ work so much that he told a producer at a major studio once to junk the slick and modern poster layout and instead hire de Andres to craft his playful caricature design.
In 1976, while working for RVQ Productions—RVQ stood for Dolphy’s real name Rodolfo Vera Quizon— the producer-comedian gave De Andres his first break in the movies: he cast the poster artist as a crazy character in the film Kisame Street. From then on, the spindly young man would juggle work as an in-house artist/painter and a bit player on the silverscreen and television.
Over the years, De Andres would lend his unique presence and talents to movies and TV programs of different genres, from youth oriented projects (Wansapanataym) to sexy films (Itlog); from action biopics (Mayor Cesar Climaco) to horror flicks (Shake Rattle and Roll V); and the occasional critic-pleaser, like Mario O’ Hara’s The Fatima Buen Story, and Babae sa Breakwater. Needless to say, the bulk of his filmography was composed of comedies; many of which were the movies of his champion, Dolphy, and those with the comic trio of Tito Sotto, Vic Sotto and Joey de Leon.
In the 2015 interview for Rated K, host Korina Sanchez asked de Andres which was his most memorable role. “Iyong sa Huwag Mong Buhayin ang Bangkay,” the actor replied. “Talagang natakot sa akin ang mga tao n’un. ‘Pag naglakad ako sa isang kalsada, ‘yung mga naglalarong bata, tumatakbo lahat ‘yon! Pati mga matatanda…. ‘Yung mga taxi driver, hindi ako pinaparahan kapag wala akong kasama.” In short, he became the fabled babae sa Balete Drive, except male and alive.
In spite of the opportunities he received and the connections he made, de Andres remained low-key in and out of show business. And it wasn’t for lack of ambition. “Yun ba ang pangarap mo? Mag-extra-extra?” Sanchez would ask him on TV. The man’s reply was honest and simple: “’(‘Yung gusto ko) ‘yung huwag mawalan ng pelikula (kahit) mag-extra-extra lang,” he said.
Unknown to many, as a bit player, de Andres took home a measly Php 300 per day. “Pagmasama-sama pa eh, ‘di ka pa mababayaran,” he disclosed. “Magbibigay ng tseke pero talbog.”
It was the unstable income, a harsh reality in the movie business especially for bit players, that convinced de Andres to remain a bachelor. “Hindi na rin ako nag-asawa,” he told Sanchez. “Parang natatakot ako sa mga nangyayari sa mga kasamahan ko. Mga bit player, minsan nakikita ko na kapag nawalan ng pelikula, nagbebenta ng dugo…”
As far as his family knows, their Nonong also never sired a child. “We (the family) were wishing merong batang pumunta n’ung wake pero walang nag-show up,” said Capino. The likelihood, anyway, wasn’t high. “Tito Nonong was not the type to flirt,” Capino added.
Not that he did not fancy the idea of romance. Perhaps the most pilyo thing that de Andres ever did was send a photo of his good-looking brother Rene to a female pen pal and passing it off as his own. “Para siguro tuluy-tuloy ang correspondence niya sa ka-pen pal niya,” assumed Capino. Had the pen pal gotten to know the real de Andres, she would have found a very gentle spirit. Beyond the mean-looking façade, the actor was an interesting man with a caring nature. He had a knack for playing darts, and played competitively, joining tourneys in and around Metro Manila. “He was very good at it,” said Capino. “Siya ang nagturo sa akin mag-darts; kung anong dapat gawin, kung anong magagandang feathers.” And of course another pogi point is easily that he worked in the movies, certainly one of the most colorful workplaces one can end up in.
“Bakit siya palipat-lipat?” asked Capino. “Siguro desire niya. Kasi artist siya.”
The actor’s wanderlust in his later years brought him to Plaridel, Quezon, where he became friends with the Tumagays who owned a beach resort. De Andres would serve as manager of the said resort.
When the head of the family was going to migrate to another country, De Andres was entrusted with the care of one of the Tumagay children. As the actor related in the Rated K interview, “Meron siyang anak na Grade Four. No’ng dumating ang petition niya, wala siyang mapag-iwanang iba kundi ako lang na pinagkakatiwalaan niya. Hanggang makatapos ng college ‘yon. Pagkatapos ng college, ayun, nakuha na. Pumunta na rin ng Amerika. Parang anak ko na rin (ang batang ‘yon).”
When the Tumagay Beach Resort closed, de Andres continued to stay in the resort. “Part pa rin siyang family ng mga Tumagay,” said Capino. For about a decade, De Andres shuttled from Quezon—where he was a permanent resident—to Manila where he worked. He still visited relatives and stayed with them for no longer than a few weeks, before he packed his bag again and took off for his next destination.
In his 71 years, de Andres did away with what most would consider the trappings of success. He did not acquire property. He did not own a car. And he preferred to wear old, baggy clothes. “Minsan, hinihingi niya ‘yung lumang damit ko,” Capino recalls. “Sasabihin niya, ‘Powee (Capino’s nickname), ‘Akin na lang ito.’” Whenever de Andres traveled, he took with him a medium-sized sling bag that contained a few clothes, a notebook, medical prescriptions and an iPhone—a gift from the Capino family.
While he did not have what most would consider necessary luxuries, what De Andres certainly had was the admiration and respect of common people. As his nephew relates, “Minsan sumakay raw siya ng Uber, niyaya siya ng driver na mag-lunch. Nilibre siya… Magta-taxi siya, hindi siya pababayarin ng driver… Gan’on siyang klase ng tao.” Nonong de Andres lived a life free from want—expect maybe for one thing: that there will always be a movie or TV project to show up for. “He never needed so much because someone always welcomed him,” said Capino. “Someone always loved him.”
Most of us can only dream of being as lucky.