MANILA, Philippines – Gawad Urian’s Best Actor for 2020, Elijah Canlas is in the running again for the top plum in the forthcoming FAMAS Awards this year.
His iconic portrayal of the teenage son of a priest who discovers he has HIV in the film “Kalel, 15” has reaped critical reviews locally and abroad. Only 20 years old, Canlas has become a director’s actor, delivering pivotal scenes with depth, responsibility, and emotional nuance that earned the respect of his film industry peers for his talent and professionalism.
"Kalel, 15" is directed by multi-awarded director, writer, and producer Jun Robles Lana, who is also nominated for Best Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture in the FAMAS.
Canlas became a household name with the online series "Gameboys," the first of the boys’ love (BL) series in the country that has set Twitter ablaze with the deluge of stan tweets worldwide. At a time when the entertainment industry is facing many uncertainties over the future of the broadcast networks or when the resumption of TV and movie productions will ever be back to normal again or how performers can go back to live events to make a living, Canlas quietly emerged as a winner.
In a media conference for his first television series, actor Ricky Davao who directed some of the episodes of the Christmas series, only had glowing words to say about Canlas. “What I got is more than what I expected in his performance,” he said.
Caught off-guard, Canlas blushed then smiled coyly, equally flattered and embarrassed from the public praise which resonated among the thousands watching over the social media streaming of the event.
During a Zoom interview with this author, he called in from the ubiquitous bedroom used in the series; his actual residence in real life, now adorned with touches that were more Canlas than Cairo, the online gamer character he portrayed. A vinyl rack completed his background, giving a glimpse of his varied music taste from the Beastie Boys to Kendrick Lamar and to the soundtrack of the film, "Juno."
Unlike his contemporaries, he maintains a subdued social media presence but leverages his clout and following on social issues that matter. One such case is the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression (SOGIE) bill now pending in Congress. According to him, “I think they should pass it. It’s really just a matter of equal rights and should be passed as soon as possible. We have to get over that hump. We have to move forward instead of backwards.”
He stressed the need to address the global pandemic, adding, “What’s important to me apart from my HIV advocacy (because of 'Kalel, 15') and the SOGIE bill is to prioritize this pandemic first. I really want this over with. I’m paranoid about this virus because I don’t want myself and my family and friends to get it. Health is a priority. And I want everyone alive by the time this ends.”
He is often mentioned together with Kokoy De Santos, his partner in "Gameboys," as the breakout stars of the pandemic. While he has heard this remark many times over, he takes this with reluctance and humility which is not typical of today’s celebrities.
“I look up to Sir Eddie Garcia,” Canlas said when asked whose career he wanted to emulate. “I’ve never heard a bad thing about him. His work ethic, talent, and skill are well looked up on in the industry. He is really topnotch. His career is what I want to achieve one day.”
He shared that one of his dream roles is a cross of Dustin Hoffman’s character in "Rain Man or Daniel Day Lewis' in "My Left Foot" or Sean Penn’s in "I Am Sam."
“I’d like for future roles to challenge me physically and mentally. I also dream of being a part of a sci-fi movie. That’s possible, isn’t it? To have a sci-fi movie produced here?” he chuckled.
When prodded if he ever expects to win from all the awards he’s nominated in, he smiled diffidently and said, “I never have that much confidence to assume I’m going to win.”
Canlas represents a new breed of stars who are the antithesis to the usual idol formula of looks without much need for substance. His boyish demeanor have captured the hearts of young and old fans alike but his real charm lies in his awkwardness when cajoled by colleagues, his brevity in interviews, and the conviction on issues that matter -- truly putting a nail in the coffin of the apolitical celebrity.
His post-pandemic wish is simple: “I look forward to getting to hug everybody. I want to make films again without the fear of endangering other people. I miss those times when we can be free of that thought and I’m just so excited to see everyone again.”
As seen in the case of Canlas who tries to balance the weight of those who came before him like Garcia and the possibilities of the future ahead of him with varied projects lined up for 2021, surely the dark clouds of the pandemic have its silver linings.
"Kalel, 15" will be available on Netflix beginning Wednesday, December 9.