Decades before Paolo Ballesteros rendered the Internet in awe of his makeup transformations, duplicating the look of the world’s most famous women, comedy idol Joey de Leon was way ahead of the trend when he assumed the role of Barbi on the big screen.
Obviously inspired by the all-American fashion doll Barbie by Mattel, de Leon’s would-be trio of movies debuted in 1989 with a clever storyline. He portrayed the very masculine Bartolome del Rosario who was forced to create a female alter ego when he was wrongly accused of a crime. Thus, Barbi was born to become the blockbuster “Barbi: Maid in the Philippines,” with two more installations in “Barbi 2: For President” in 1991, and “Run Barbi Run in 1995.”
A memorable character in Philippine comedy, its creators—comprised of director Tony Reyes, Orly Ilacad of OctoArts Films and, of course, de Leon among other talented individuals—found the inspiration to resurrect Barbi with the multi-awarded performance of Ballesteros as the tragic transgender in 2016’s “Die Beautiful.”
In the most casual of terms, the decision was practically a brainer.
Nevertheless, the remake of Barbi after 22 years is a tall order for Ballesteros, and the actor knows it.
“Nothing feels real to me,” he declared incredulously at the upcoming movie’s grand press conference at Limbaga 77 Restaurant in Quezon City.
In playing the role of Trisha in Die Beautiful, Ballesteros amassed a slew of Best Actor awards from prestigious award-giving bodies such as 29th Tokyo International Film Festival, the 40th Gawad Urian Awards and the 1st Entertainment Editor’s Choice Awards for Movies or “The Eddys.”
“When I was on my way here, I was reminiscing the time I would traverse Edsa to go to auditions and VTRs. But today, I was driving not for those auditions but to attend a press conference for my second film. I have yet to believe that I did Die Beautiful and now, here comes Barbi,” the 34-year-old actor said gratefully.
But de Leon, who threw his full support for the project by being present at the press con, sincerely told Ballesteros he deserves to be where he is today.
“Besides being more beautiful than me when he transforms into ‘Barbi’,” the veteran comedian admitted, “Paolo is really good at what he does. Magaling siya—actually silang tatlo nina Jose Manalo and Wally Bayola [better known as JoWaPao in their noontime show "Eat Bulaga”], and we always look forward to be entertained by this trio during the segment ‘Juan for All.’ They don’t outdo one another but they work together while still showing their respective brands of comedy.”
As such, to witness Ballesteros’ development as a host and actor in the noontime made it easy for de Leon “relinquish” Barbi’s crown to the younger comedian, and to co-star in the movie as well.
“It’s not like they had to have my ‘yes’ before moving on with the project but when they told me they thought of Paolo to do this long time ago, I was so happy for him,” the original Barbi continued. “In fact, I immediately agreed to be part of the new movie when they offered me to be part of it. Parang complete transition di’ba?”
De Leon frankly added, “If it wasn’t my dabarkads Paolo who’d be starring in the movie, I don’t think I’d even do it. I’m semi-retired already and making a movie can tire you out. But like I said, it’s Paolo, it’s Tony, it’s Boss Orly, who are all like brothers to me—how could I say no?”
Meanwhile, the production team imparted that Ballesteros’ Barbi will undergo an update from de Leon’s original in order to fit in with the millennial age.
This time, her alter ego will be Billy Bayagan, a closeted gay, who tries hard to fit in and live up to the expectations of his family. The Bayagans are family of police officers, be they men or women.
In his efforts to be like them, albeit in a different field, Billy agrees to be a security guard only to be accused of killing his employer. And so, with Bartolome del Rosario’s guidance, Billy turns himself into Barbi to escape the authorities.
For Ballesteros, the challenge now is to ensure his Barbi looks different from the now beloved look of Die Beautiful’s Trisha.
“Since this is a visual medium, I’ve had to think hard about what Barbi should look like. I started creating her given the role. I made my eyebrows longer, my eyes bigger and so on and so forth…” he shared.
Thankfully, the Barbi Ballesteros envisioned quickly received de Leon’s stamp of approval, which can only mean the public should be in for a worthy remake.