MANILA -- “Walang luma o bagong bakla. Ang bakla ay bakla.”
The quote is surprisingly not from a real-life gay, but from Mother Joy, the interesting and colorful character portrayed by veteran and award-winning actor Joel Torre, in director Darryl Yap’s forthcoming comedy-action flick “Barumbadings.”
For a thespian like Torre, who has portrayed every challenging role there is in local cinema, having the jitters in doing a challenging gay role for the first time is quite surprising. Yet, he didn’t pass up the chance. In fact, he looked forward to doing the part.
“I had to talk with Direk Darryl,” Torre told ABS-CBN News. “Before we started to shoot, we did a one-on-one over the phone with [Viva Films executive] Tita June Rufino to explain to me how to do my role.
“I told Direk Darryl kinakabahan talaga ako, kasi ayokong maging fake ang kalalabasan ng character. But he was very welcoming. He’s known in these genre films, doing social satire. He explained it to me. He said, ‘Kung kinakabahan ka, that means I succeeded already’.”
As Mother Joy, Torre takes under his wings Jeric Raval, Mark Anthony Fernandez and Baron Geisler – who are playing roles as gay gangsters in the film. All of them underwent first-time sacrifices for their respective characters, like shaving hair in the armpit, hands, legs, even eyebrows.
“Tita June Rufino was the one who broke the news to me that I would play bading,” Torre said. “I was very excited with the novelty na ang gaganap na ‘Barumbadings’ are the action stars. Talagang mga lalaki. That was a plus bonus.”
Torre played gay roles in the past, but mostly closet characters. “This is the first time that I’m playing a very flamboyant gay,” he said. “Ang dami ng roles that I portrayed through the years. Seriously, playing gay was part of my bucket list, that’s why I didn’t hesitate.”
Back when Torre was still in prep, he recalls playing a can-can dancer in a school play, his first starring role. “I played a girl, dancer na may wig,” he shared. “So early on in my life, if I could do the role of a can-can dancer, with a skirt and all, as an actor, I should be able to do anything from then on.”
The actor, who was seen in such films as Mark Meily’s “Baler” (2008), Erik Matti’s “On the Job” (2013) and Nuel Naval’s “Miracle in Cell No. 7” (2019), dug deep into his preparation for his latest assignment.
Torre’s gay friends in the fashion world became his peg for portraying the character. “I didn’t want Mother Joy to be superficial or representational lang,” he maintained. “It was partly composite of a lot of my gay friends and even some who are iconic ones.
“The role being motherly, so I took up the challenge of trying to be our production designer, si Fiel Sabat, who’s really very motherly, napaka-lambing and very feminine.
“I have a lot of gay friends who were iconic in the fashion world, but they’re not with us now. Ruben Nazareth and Dennis Tan. They were the old-school gays. They were very motherly and very caring.”
Thankfully, Torre’s family is supportive of his acting decision. “My family was very supportive and appreciative,” he said. "I got the silhouette and peg for my character. They brought out my photos when I was younger, then na photoshop with long hair.
“Kamukhang kamukha ko pala talaga ang mga anak kong babae. So the role was very acceptable to them. They helped me how to act feminine, so part of my preparation actually helped the silhouette of my character for Mother Joy.”
As Mother Joy, Torre mentors the three other characters who are his protégés – Raval as the Japanese-looking and quiet Izzy, Fernandez as the gun-toting Jopay and Geisler as the mixed martial artist Rochelle.
“They are killer badings,” Torre described his co-stars. “That’s nothing to laugh about, but the situation makes it funny. The story of Direk Darryl is something to look forward to. It’s a social parody and a social satire. There’s a message for everyone.
“I won’t treat it lightly. In the gay world, may politics din. I told Direk Darryl the generation gap. Iba ang panahon ng bading nu’ng araw at iba ang bading in this generation.”
The script is satirical. “It’s really funny because the situation is very serious,” Torre explained. “So your approach is don’t play it comedy, but very, very serious.
“Nakakatawa siya because it holds through. Not just laughing for the sake of laughter. Comedy by recognition. Somehow bordering on a black comedy. Comedy of the gallows.”
The script, also written by Yap, is not just a presentation of the gay community that is often shallow. “Part of the story is that there is a betrayal by the protégé of her being a mentor, so makakahugot ka rin doon,” Torre said. “In fact, it’s very controversial because he tackled a lot of other issues.
“In my character, it’s about the conflict of the old school ng mga bading and the millennials. You will see the generation gap even in the sexual preferences. That’s part of the movie. It’s not just a fun action flick. The movie has a lot of things to talk about, apart from just being gay or lesbian.”
The whole “thesis” of the story is about gays fighting for their rights, respect and position. “The content in Direct Darryl’s story, the old school gays were very submissive about,” Torre explained.
“They were not accepted in society, so their tendency is to withdraw. Unlike the millennial gays, they always want to fight back. That’s very clear in the movie. That’s why accept na lang tayo. That’s Mother’s Joy litany. Para sa kanya, pantay pantay ang bakla.”
Torre noted, however, that Yap’s “Barumbadings” is not only comedy and action. “It’s silly, funny, but true,” the actor said. “It’s a comedy by recognition. What’s nice with Direk Darryl, he lets me be.
“Most of my scenes were take one. Even the accidents are part of the reality of the film. It’s always the director’s vision. So pag naintindihan ko na ang gusto niyang ipagawa, I just deliver.”
Filming “Barumbadings” with Yap took only eight working days. Still, doing all his scenes was a major challenge for Torre. The film starts streaming on Vivamax on November 5.
“First time ko sa buong buhay ko to wear a bra,” he shared. “I empathize with the women how uncomfortable it is. First time ko din to wear eyelashes. There was also a scene where Mother Joy has to make an ultimate sacrifice without the protégés knowing it. That was a very difficult scene for me.
“Alam mo naman si Direk Darryl, ang bilis niyang mag-trabaho. For the entire movie, we shot for seven or eight days. But that was a fun shoot. Nahirapan talaga ako sa mga emotional na eksena, but at the same time you have to deliver it in a very feminine way.
“Your feelings are very manly, pero kailangan ilabas mo in a very feminine way, with mascara smearing. You’re showing your deepest emotions in a very, not flamboyant, but malambing way. Pwede ka namang humagulgol, but you should taper the scene down. Dapat very womanly.”
Walking in a three-inch heels is likewise a difficult, first-time challenge for Torre. “That’s a pain, but I really enjoyed doing my scenes. Lahat sila were a challenge for me. It was fun. All the scenes I really enjoyed because it was my first time to do them.”
He remembers veteran Hollywood actor Terence Stamp, who became his idol when the latter brilliantly played a transgender in director Stephan Elliot’s “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (1994).
“Naging idol ko si Terence Stamp sa ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.’ He is a very respected British actor for ‘The Collector’ , but when he did “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, butch na butch siya. He is one of my idols.”
Through the years, Torre encountered many gay individuals who became his friends. He never received any indecent proposals even when he was younger, only friendship.
“Whoever made any advances somehow, I was able to say outrightly, ‘No’ in a very nice way. I was never bastos to them. I never entertained any advances. It’s only about respect. They respected me and I respected them.
“So relationship and friendship were up to that point. My gay friends, fashion icons Ruben Nazareth and Dennis Tan, who passed away already, became my pegs for my role. I saw how caring they were and motherly. Thank God, respect begets respect.”