MANILA -- Filipino fans will always fondly remember Romnick Sarmenta as the precocious Peping, the child actor in the popular soap, “Gulong ng Palad.”
In fact, up to this day, veteran actress Caridad Sanchez, who played Sarmenta’s mother in the primetime drama series, still refers to him as Peping, something that he doesn’t really mind.
Sarmenta’s boyish demeanor, notwithstanding the fact that he turned 50 last year, reminds many TV fans about his “Gulong ng Palad” days back in the ‘70s.
In his teens, Sarmenta worked with his loveteam partner, Sheryl Cruz, and they were undoubtedly adored by fans.
Sarmenta eventually transformed into a serious actor in his adult life. His latest big screen assignment is director Jun Lana’s “About Us But Not About Us,” an official entry to the first-ever Metro Manila Summer Film Festival (MMSFF).
Last October, “About Us But Not About Us” won best film in the Tallinn Film Festival in Estonia. The film was also well received when it was screened in Sydney, Australia as well as in Portugal.
His complex role as the gay professor Eric in the LGBTQ+ drama was not extensively discussed with Sarmenta. Yet, he didn’t have second thoughts about playing the character.
“They told me they wanted to do a project with two actors in a single location,” Sarmenta told ABS-CBN News. “Then I was advised, ‘Read the script.’ So I started reading.
“I finished the first read-through. I wanted to read it in a way that everything was fresh for me. I don’t preempt what the character would say. So I was going along for the ride while we were doing the first read.
“There were some parts there that I didn’t expect and I caught myself getting teary-eyed reading some of the lines. I realized how good the piece was.”
That’s one of the ways Sarmenta personally gauges scripts that are good.
“Maganda siyang sabayan. As I was reading it, in the first few pages, I get affected already. Maganda ang takbo ng story, ‘yung flow, ‘yung kwento, ‘yung batuhan ng lines.
“I was told that my character was a professor and he’s gay. He gets caught up in this weird situation. But they didn’t tell me how the story was going to progress. I guess that helped.
“The setting of the story is conversational. In a conversation, you usually don’t know what the person you’re talking to would say. Tatanggapin mo lang kung ano ang ibabato sa ‘yo, then try to react and respond.”
It helped that Sarmenta – and even his costar Elijah Canlas – both had good command of the English language and comfortable with speaking English, since a lot of their lines were delivered in English.
Had the material been given to actors who were not conversant in English, the material would perhaps fail. But Sarmenta and Canlas admirably delivered.
When Sarmenta read the script, he knew his character is wrestling with the truth. “The way I understood my character, sometimes you want to do the right thing,” Sarmenta said. “You want to be helpful.
“You want to be a human being, but you get taken advantaged of like what happened to Eric. You get caught up in situations that every human being will find themselves in.
“You are either unable to express yourself fully or you are able to express yourself fully but is misunderstood. You also have moments when you have an agenda, but you can’t admit it to yourself.”
Sarmenta has been in showbiz for 46 years. He was barely five when he started acting on TV.
“At that time, I thought all children were doing what I was doing,” he shared. “I thought it was part of my growing up. I was already a teenager when I realized I was working and earning money. That I am an actor.
“Acting was normal to me at that time. Everyone around me was very open and family-oriented. I didn’t have that kind of pressure then. I wasn’t thinking I was really working.
“I was already 18 years old when I bought my first Lego toy set. As sad as it may sound for other people, sa akin hindi naman. That was perhaps the right time for me to enjoy playing Lego.
“Kung may hugot man ako sa film, it was so easy to empathize what those two people are going through. At the same time, lahat tayo may relasyon. Whether it’s a romantic relationship or relationship with family, we get hurt.
“Sometimes, hindi nila sinasadya. Or sometimes, hindi natin sinasadya nasasaktan natin sila. For me, it’s easy to put myself in that situation where two people don’t know how to talk to each other and they both ended up hurting.”
When he was in his teens, Sarmenta became part of a popular loveteam with Sheryl Cruz and they were together in a number of youth-oriented flicks. Never once did Sarmenta feel, however, that he was deprived of his youth when he was working in showbiz,
“Objective and subjective ‘yan, it depends on you,” Sarmenta maintained. “If you want to think about it, this business can be very brutal. It takes away a lot of your time. It takes away your studies, if you allow it.
“It will even take away a lot of your happiness, if you allow it. At the same time, if you know the reason why you’re doing it, then if that reason is enough to make you happy, then you will really be happy.
“I can’t speak about other people’s experience. That’s different. That’s their personal experience. That personal process, thinking, tolerance, whatever you want to call it.
“There can be some things that I can be sour about in this business. But when I look at it from a different perspective, I just have to find the reason to be grateful. Whatever it is. I have to be grateful for everything.
“Some of them may not have been nice or some of them may have been painful. But I’m grateful about the lessons I learned afterwards.”