When celebrities walk into a room, they either stop people in their tracks in awe, or they can also make an audience feel at ease despite their commanding presence.
For this sit down interview with The Sunday Times Magazine, Trillo arrived at the GMA Network artist lounge without causing a commotion among the sizeable mix of talent handlers, communications staffers and our team.
In fact, he was able to quietly slip past the waiting entourage and had a moment to himself before going into the photo shoot and the Q&A. And when he did face the crowd, he looked genuinely pleased to meet everyone even if he was undoubtedly the most important person in the room.
“Yung pagiging actor, hindi lang yan yung pagpapa-cute o pagpapa-pogi. There’s a lot more to it,” Trillo shared with The Sunday Times Magazine as if sensing his effect on others. There is no doubt he is confident being in the industry for nearly two decades now, but impressively, he seems to have managed to stay true to who he is at his core.
It has to be said, however, that there was a time that Trillo, like all other young actors, went through an initial phase in his career where he relied on his looks to get ahead in show business.
Born Abelardo Dennis Florencio Ho to a Filipina mother and a Chinese-Filipino father, Trillo’s mestizo looks understandably became his ticket to modeling gigs at a young age. But when it came to bagging commercials where acting is required, the then-newcomer admitted he could not deliver.
“When I was doing commercials back then, lagi akong hindi natatanggap kasi hindi ko mabigay yung hinihingi sa akin. When there was acting involved, hindi ko alam kung bakit hindi ko magawa,” Trillo revealed.
Believing he had no skills for show business, the young Trillo focused on his studies instead and eventually obtained a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies degree from Miriam College. Following graduation, he worked for a telecommunications company until the bright lights lured him anew.
“After graduation, I asked myself, ‘What can I do?’ So I tried working for a corporation but then I began entertaining acting again. Saka ko lang talaga siya sineryoso,” Trillo recalled.
By serious, Trillo meant enrolling in acting workshops, which included his training with ABS-CBN’s talent arm Star Magic. In 2001, he was launched as part of Star Magic Batch 10 together with Bea Alonzo, TJ Trinidad and Alfred Vargas, among others.
“After the workshops, doon ko naintindihan na ganito pala ang acting. Nagkaroon na ako ng konting knowledge about showbiz,” the actor continued, adding that the experience made him realize the skills he had lacked during his commercial casting days.
He was finally able to bag a couple of supporting roles, specifically in ABS-CBN series “Pangako Sa ‘Yo” and “Sa Dulo Ng Walang Hanggan.” Small parts they may have been, yes, but these first few roles greatly helped Trillo break out of his shell. For to this day even, one can sense that the movie and television star is intrinsically shy by the way he talks in a low voice and short but direct sentences.
“I was exposed to so many movies growing up, but I never imagined back then that I’d be an actor kasi medyo mahiyain ako. Noon, ni hindi ko maisip na kaya kong mag-perform sa harap ng maraming tao,” he confirmed.
Developing a hunger for bigger acting opportunities, Trillo soon decided to test his fate when he decided to move to GMA Network in 2002. And like every other “transferee,” he was neither cast in a prime time series nor in any lead even for daytime but given a small part in Don Michael Perez’s weekly youth-oriented drama, “Kahit Kailan.”
Showing promise a year into his new network, Trillo finally landed his first prime time role in “Twin Hearts,” alongside established GMA actors Dingdong Dantes, Tanya Garcia and Karylle. It was there he was able to work with director Dominic Zapata for the first time. And while he did not know it yet, these opportunities with Perez and Zapata eventually paved the way to his meteoric rise in the industry.
During this period, however, Trillo still questioned himself if he was really meant to be in the cutthroat business of entertainment.
“Of course I had my moments of doubt. Pag nagsisimula ka, naturally, hindi mo alam, eh. Hindi mo alam kung ano talaga ang mangyayari sa iyo o kung magugustuhan ba ng tao yung gagawin mo. Hangga’t hindi mo nakukuha yung tamang project kung saan ka talaga mage-e-excel, feeling mo ligaw ka lang sa showbiz. I had that feeling for a long time,” the actor confessed.
But as the old adage goes, good things come to those who wait.
Thankfully, Trillo held on to his passion despite his uncertainties because it was in 2004 that Zapata and Perez created the original GMA Network series “Mulawin,” which successfully renewed the public’s interest in the fantasy genre. Having gained the confidence of both directors, impressing them immensely in his previous outings, Trillo was a shoo-in for the role of half-human, half-bird villain Gabriel, his biggest role to date at that time.
“Siguro nakita ni direk Dom and his team na bagay ako doon sa role kaya nabitbit niya ako hanggang sa
Mulawin,” Trillo offered when asked how he landed the pivotal part.
And for almost a year, Mulawin soared high above the ratings game and Trillo slowly gained recognition
alongside the hottest love team at the time of Richard Gutierrez and Angel Locsin.
Naturally, his television success paved the way for Trillo to make his debut on the big screen next. The same year Mulawin ran on prime time, Trillo starred in “Mano Po 3: My Love,” and “Aishite Imasu 1941: Mahal Kita.”
According to the actor, it was Aishite Imasu that finally convinced him he was meant to act.
Effectively playing the transgender Igna during World War 2, alongside movie leads Judy Ann Santos and Raymart Santiago, Trillo earned praises from the toughest critics and went on to sweep that year’s Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor nominations and awards. He earned the nod of the Metro Manila Film Festival, the Film Academy of the Philippines, the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS), the PMPC Star Awards for Movies, Golden Screen Awards, and the Young Critics Circle.
“I realized I am cut out for this when I won my first set of awards in Aishite Imasu. Naisip ko na, wow, pwede pala akong mag-excel sa ganitong field, na pwede pala ako ma-appreciate ng maraming tao na hindi ko akalaing magugustuhan yung gagawin ko,” Trillo expressed.
After a stellar performance in the movies, Trillo became more prominent on television. As his network earned prominence as the leader in fantaseryes, Trillo found himself starring in the genre one project after another.
He was one of the leading men in Angel Locsin’s “Darna”; a major player in the Kingdom of Encantadia in “Etheria” (an “Encatadia” sequel); as good brother and bad brother in “Super Twins”; a galactic enforcer in “Zaido”; and a crime-fighting super hero with his giant spider “Gagambino,” among many others.
This year, Trillo has gone full circle in the ongoing top-rater “Mulawin versus Ravena” as Gabriel anew.
“Hindi ko naisip na babalik siya pero pina-fantasize ko siya dati pa. Iniisip ko, ano kaya kung bumalik ito kasi parang, marami pang pwedeng ilaro yung istorya. Tapos nagkatotoo. This is a dream come true. I am very happy and the project is very close to my heart because it led me to where I am today,” Trillo shared.
With the advent of technology, Trillo said that doing Mulawin 13 years later has its advantages. For him, the use of drones for aerial shots and more secure harnesses have made the series all the more remarkable to watch.
Trillo also felt more confident reprising his role as Gabriel not only because he is now the lead in the show but also because he is more physically prepared to do the stunts.
And while his roles outside his many fantaseryes have proven his mettle as a dramatic actor, Trillo does not feel that costumes and special effects trivialize the skills he worked hard to develop.
“I think that depends on the role and the acting. Like, kasi ngayon, kahit fantasy yung role ko medyo gray yung character ko, may mga drama pa rin. For sure maghahanap pa rin ang creators ng mga eksena to maximize a talent’s capacity as an actor.
“So, even though you’re in heavy costume and you do out of this world stunts, but the output you give in terms of acting is in the same level as you do in a drama, it all remains very challenging,” Trillo analyzed.
Most notable characters
With the conversation shifting to the topic of challenges, The Sunday Times Magazine asked Trillo for the roles he believes tested him as an actor the most, outside the realm of the fantaserye.
“It has to be the biopic of Felix Manalo [Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) founder] in 2015,” Trillo quickly answered. He recalled memorizing pages of monologues the night before shooting day and adhering to every line, while INC ministers scrutinized each one of his scenes.
“Para kang nag-aral ulit,” he laughed.
He also cited his controversial role as gay man in the top-rating and provocative show “My Husband’s Lover” as one of his career’s biggest highlights. More than his acting, he is proud of the barriers the series with Tom Rodriguez had broken on television. Until then, a gay-themed drama was the last thing networks would put on television, but in fact, two years after My Husband’s Lover reached the peak of success on prime time, the series will also be shown in Thailand to eager anticipation.
But more than the characters he has had to take on thus far in his career, Trillo believes there is a far bigger challenge in being an actor in this day and age.
“The advent of social media has definitely brought a lot of challenges too. Noon, ang pinaka connection ko lang sa tao eh yung mag-subscribe sila sa Fanatxt [a text subscription in the mid-2000s where fans can get updates on their idols]. Yun siguro ang pinaka-social media noon—the closest thing para malaman mo kung ano yung ginagawa ng artista sa oras na ito. Pero ngayon sobrang connected na lahat,” Trillo said, admitting that he manages an Instagram account, which opens him up both to praise and criticism.
On the upside, Trillo believes this revolution has helped him and other stars to reach their audience and promote their work easily.
“But again on the flipside, pag meron ka rin hindi ginawa na maganda kalat din agad. Kailangan din na meron kang social responsibility kaya mas maging maingat ka sa gagawin mo not only in way you carry yourself in public but also in the projects that you take,” Trillo elaborated.
He cited the likes of pay-per-view and in-demand viewing and YouTube as one of his motivators in making sure he always gives his best performance.
“Lahat ng mga eksena mo, mapapanood na yan sa YouTube tapos nandun na yan forever, so kung meron kang hindi ginawa o meron kang eksena na nag-hesitate kang gawin, makikita. Kaya kailangan sa lahat ng eksena mo, sigurado ka at higit sa lahat confident ka,” Trillo shared.
Finally, fantaserye or not, with social media or none, Trillo knows that his role as an actor has deeper purpose.
“Para sa akin, being an actor also means being a role model dahil syempre pinapanood ka ng sobrang daming tao. Kailangan sa ilang beses ka nilang napanood at nakilala, yung pinapakita mo sa kanila ay yung qualities na pwede nilang pamarisan.
“Kailangan magbigay ka ng positive vibes sa mga tao para hindi lang sila mae-entertain but ma-i-inspire din sila. At the end of the day, gusto ko masabi ng audience ko, ‘Uy gusto ko itong taong ito kasi totoo siya. Hindi lang sa magaling siyang umarte o ano pa man,” Trillo ended.
And with this attitude to his art, his audience and his self-respect, no wonder Dennis Trillo continues to soar.