MANILA -- Former heartthrob Jao Mapa undeniably had a blast when he joined showbiz in 1993. It was a good run for him up until the turn of the millennium, when he had to take a break after he got burned out.
“I think I was working 24/7 then,” Mapa told ABS-CBN News. “I was doing films, TV, shows. I was going around the country doing events.”
Even if his contemporaries made inroads in showbiz, Mapa did not feel he was lagging behind when he left the business. He finished his studies. He took up Fine Arts major in Advertising at the University of Sto. Tomas, where he graduated in 2003.
He met his wife Cecille while he was still in school. As soon as he got his diploma, Mapa opted to settle down. To date, he has three children.
Leaving showbiz was something Mapa doesn’t regret. “If I didn’t leave then, I guess I would not have a family now to complete me,” he maintained.
Yet, Mapa does not deny he missed being in the limelight. “I miss being a Gwaping,” he said, referring to his group with Mark Anthony Fernandez, Jomari Yllana and Eric Fructuoso. “One day, you got to mature being a teenybopper. You got to grow up. I am now looking for roles that will fit me or my age.”
The whole time was away from the cameras was a learning process for Mapa. It took him two decades to make a comeback. Hence, after a long hiatus from showbiz, Mapa is back in the acting arena.
Talent manager Aster Amoyo sought him out and asked if he wanted to be managed by her. “I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ Then, she told me I would be co-managed with Viva. When everything fell into place, I really have a great management team right now.”
Viva executive June Rufino offered Mapa the romantic film, “Paraluman,” where he plays leading man to young actress Rhen Escaño, with Yam Laranas at the helm.
“Tita June said I shouldn’t think of ‘Paraluman’ as a sexy or erotic film, but more as a comeback film for me,” Mapa said.
“I know acting ang nagdadala diyan. Even if they will give me a five-year-old character or 104 years, it doesn’t matter. As long as I’ll be able to portray the character given to me.”
Mapa was readily excited when he gave his nod to the film project. “Before, I was just like playing around,” he recalled. That was how I saw the moves then. Now, I could see the actors are very professional, passionate about their work and conscious about perfection in their craft. Mapapalaban ka talaga. I had to up my game.”
Mapa and Escaño underwent a workshop before they both started filming “Paraluman.” After that, Laranas needed to explain the story to them. Mapa plays the role of Peter, opposite Escaño’s character, Mia.
“I talked on the phone with my director who explained the project to me and the role that I would play,” Mapa said. “That never happened to me in the past, so I’m really grateful.
“Nag-evolve pa ang story and Direk Yam even made the characters gel with each actor. Nagpasanib ako sa character the entire shoot. Even off-camera, wala kang makikilalang Jao Mapa. The whole process, I was Peter all the way.
“My character really developed with Mia’s character. We were just enjoying the shoot. That was a great experience for us. With the kindness of Direk Yam, I think we were able to pull off our characters and give direk thought of his creations.”
Mapa commended Laranas for the beautiful script he wrote for the film. (The director was also the cinematographer.)
“Direk Yam brought filmmaking to a whole different level,” Mapa noted. “Topnotch. Every filmmaker will like to be influenced by Direk Yam’s directorial know-how. On the set, you would not hear a pin drop. Walang naghaharutan. Everyone was serious.
“When we encountered a problem, Direk Yam would say, ‘Cut’ and we would stop. The production would come in, fix the problem and then we would start filming again. I’m proud to be part of this production and to have worked in this film.”
“Paraluman” used the scenic backdrop of Tanay, Rizal, where the cast and crew wrapped up filming last July. Laranas successfully achieved the Fernando Amorsolo look in Barangay Cuyapu, the locale for the story. He wrote the script with Jonison Fontanos, who also co-wrote Roman Perez, Jr.’s “Adan” (2019).
With a romantic theme, “Paraluman” weaves a love story, with Laranas merging the erotic into the romance. The film starts showing on September 24.
“Rhen and I were able to gel while shooting and I know we pulled it off successfully,” Mapa said. “We loved what we did and we were very proud about this movie. We were really excited about this project.
The entire shoot was like a vacation for the stars. They filmed in Tanay, Rizal, where there is no record of COVID cases.
“The whole atmosphere was perfect,” Mapa said. “I spoke with some of the locals. They’re pretty much conservative and far different from Manileños.”
Mapa is wary though about how the public will react to his acting now that he is back on the scene. He is curious about the expectations of the viewers.
“I can say that I have gone through a lot of trials in life,” he admitted. “My acting skills have been sharpened through the years.
“I was able to get new strength, new material emotionally. A lot of experiences contributed to my performance right now. I’m very proud of this project and the support of the stellar cast. This is the new me coming back.”