How musician and theater stalwart became primetime TV’s favorite comic
When he was in third grade, young Pepe Herrera’s teacher asked him and the other boys in his class to lineup in front of the room. One by one, the teacher asked them to sing a line from Florante’s “Ako’y Isang Pinoy.”
Not knowing what it was actually for, Herrera—Jose Nicolas Emmanuel Herrera in real life—sang to his heart’s content until his teacher told him, “OK. You got it.”
“At that moment, I thought, ‘Uy, it seems like I have something beautiful to share that’s why I was chosen.’ As it turned out, I would be singing that song for a play. As far as I could remember, I was the only child, among adult performers, in that production.” Herrera recalled in an interview with The Manila Times.
He loved the experience so much that auditions for his school’s choir and other school productions ensued.
“It took off from there and I eventually fell in love with music,” Herrera continued, reminiscing the time he realized he wanted to pursue the art.
Currently a staple talent on primetime TV as Coco Martin’s reliable confidant and asset Benny in ABS-CBN’s FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano, not too many know how deeply rooted the 29-year old is in music.
For one, his innocent and pure love for the art led him to obtain a degree in Music Education from University of Santo Tomas’ Conservatory of Music. He was also part of the university’s prestigious choral ensemble Coro Tomasino until he graduated in 2011.
Moreover, the musically inclined Herrera took a job as a grade school music teacher for a multiple intelligence international school while teaching drums and voice at Music Garden Manila.
FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano’s regular viewers might also find it hard to connect the sometimes timid but extremely funny guy Benny with the high note-hitting opera singer in one persona. But truth be told, the musician turned primetime TV actor was indeed part of such operas as the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Die Fledermaus (2009) and Lyropera’s Carmen (2012). From there, he went on to do plays inlcuding KAPI’s Hua Mulan and Peta Theater’s Pamana.
To be sure, theater fans will best remember the pre-Probinsyano Herrera as Tolits in the hit original jukebox musical and one of the longest-running local productions, Rak of Aegis. Herrera essayed the role of the comic lover boy in 2014, and like his co-stars—Jerald Napoles, Kim Molina and Benj Manalo, among others—found himself in a different medium due to the musical’s popularity.
“I still consider it as my biggest theater break. It was a very nice gateway. The play itself, opened a lot of doors not for the cast but for the entertainment and more so in the theater world. I think after Rak, a lot of production companies were inspired to do original jukebox musical,” Herrera explained, citing Chuvachoo and Ako si Josephine as examples. The two musicals used Vehnee Saturno and Yeng Constantino’s songs respectively.
While his role as Tolits—and his natural comic side—might have prepared him to breathe life into another funny character, Benny, Herrera admitted that he had to adjust his theater style when he crossed over to television.
“It took me some time to adjust to the angles of the camera because in theater, as long as you are favoring the audience, you are on the right path. But in television, several cameras are in your front, back and side angles. You can’t really go amiss with the blocking,” Herrera detailed.
“Also, one of the reasons why I love Coco Martin is that he taught me how to pace my acting. He particularly taught me how to level my energy in scenes as I had the tendency, most especially in comic ones, to maintain high emotion—like how I used to do in theater. I was delivering my lines as if I was always on the edge. He taught me to divide my lines in two parts, I can go really high on the first, and be subtle in delivering the second half,” the actor continued.
From his new found fame, it looks like his adjustments paid off.
Today, Herrera enjoys recognition wherever he goes and people would call him by his character.
But more than the popularity, Herrera said he is thankful for the bond that the cast has formed on the set of Probinsyano. He also divulged that they are now gunning to bring almost the same cast on the big screen.
While he cannot reveal the title just yet, Herrera said they are halfway done shooting the movie with Martin and Probinsyano child stars Onyok and Aura, among others. The Star Cinema production will be submitted for consideration to the 2016 Metro Manila Film Festival this month,
Having experienced the different facets of singing and acting, The Manila Times finally asked what medium Herrera—recognized as CineFilipino 2016’s Best Actor for his portrayal in the movie Sakaling Hindi Makarating—is most comfortable with.
“Theater, TV or film, live performances and engagements—I am OK doing whichever just as long as I perform,” Herrera intimated in ending.