Actor Yul Servo recalled that at age 19, seasoned director Maryo delos Reyes told him he looked like a rat. Delos Reyes’ exact words were “mukha kang daga” when Servo’s uncle presented him to the moviemaker. He was a college student back then taking up BS Criminology, and rather than feel slighted by the director, he heeded every piece of advice the wise man gave him and for that he is eternally grateful.
Servo, as guided by delos Reyes, attended every workshop available, took on small roles for television until his hard work and patience paid off. In 2001, he bagged the lead role in the five-hour film “Batang West Side,” directed by Lav Diaz and produced by Tony Gloria of Unitel.
Shot in New Jersey, Servo won the Best Actor plum at the Cinemanila International Film Festival and Brussels (Belgium) International Film Festival for his role as teenager Hanzel Harana who was murdered on a sidewalk of Jersey City. Batang Westside also won Best Picture in the Gawad Urian Awards, Best Film at the Singapore International Film Festival and Best Film of the Decade (also known as the Dekada Award) in 2011 given by the Filipino movie critics circle.
Despite his success, Servo recalled to The Manila Times that he almost stayed behind in the US after filming Batang West Side. He said he felt at home somehow what with many Filipinos already living there and more importantly, he had a green card and a job ready for him had he decided to stay.
It was delos Reyes who changed his mind. His mentor told him he will not regret returning to Manila and that his career will surge within the next three years.
True enough, the noted director cast him as Noah, the cab driver-turned-lover of judge Nora Aunor as Dorinda in the film, “Naglalayag.” One of the most awarded films of 2004, it won nine major awards in the Manila Film Festival, Best Picture at the 53rd Famas Awards, and for Aunor, Servo and delos Reyes, the movie earned them Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director and Special Jury awards at the 2004 Brussels International Independent Film Festival.
His father’s son
Happy as he was in showbiz, however, politics eventually beckoned for John Marvin Nieto (Servo’s real name), son of a former city councilor in Manila’s Third District of Binondo, Sta. Cruz and Quiapo.
“My father urged me to run in his stead. He was councilor who was very dedicated in serving the people. I was hesitant because I already had a good career as an actor, but I still asked Direk Maryo for his blessing,” Servo recalled.
“He said no—I tried again two more times. Sa akin kasi, hanggang three times lang ako magpaalam at pag no pa rin, hindi ko na pipilitin.”
Just as a joke, he asked delos Reyes for his permission for the fourth time, and to his surprise his mentor said yes.
“But he gave me one condition—na hindi ako mangugurakot kahit piso o singkong duling. I promised I won’t. I saw how my father dedicated his time for the sake of the people and I promised to do the same.”
Long story short, Servo won by a landslide and shuffled between acting and public service until he had maximized his allowable term as councilor. Today, he is a hardworking congressman and feels blessed with the opportunity to continue his father’s good name in public service.
Despite his obligations as an elected official, Servo is still able to pursue his passion for acting every so often. Nowadays, he is busy with “Tukhang,” a four-part mini-series on Cignal TV that explores the social cost of the Duterte administration’s war against illegal drugs.
In Tukhang, Servo plays a hired hitman in a cast comprised of James Blanco, Karel Marquez and Mon Confiado. And in doing the show, as well as being in politics, he has formed his opinions on the government program, which has spawned the issue of extra-judicial killings or EJKs.
“In tokhang, they [the police]knock on doors to warn users and peddlers to change their ways. It’s a good program, but the implication has become bad because when one says ‘na-tokhang,’ it may suggest someone had been killed.
“But as I see [through tokhang]the government gives a chance to a person who wants to change. The problem is, many of our fellow citizens are hard headed—they’ve already been warned yet they still go back to their old ways affecting the lives of others around them.”
Servo admitted he once tried drugs while in high school and can tell anyone they can do no good for a person.
Despite persistent rumors lasting more than a decade that he and Piolo Pascual have a special friendship, Servo admitted he had been affected by the issue before, more than showbiz’ ultimate heartthrob.
But now that they are both 40 years old, they’ve learned to ignore the gossip around them and maintain their brotherhood. In fact, Pascual will stand as godfather anew to his newest son this new year.
“The intrigues, they’re nothing to me anymore. Piolo was never affected at all actually and I was the one who was more affected by the issue back then. All I can say is that he is a good person, that’s why ninong siya ng lahat ng anak ko.” Of Servo’s five children, Pascual is godfather to four.
Asked further if he thinks his friend should get married to end all the speculation about his sexual preference, Servo simply said Pascual told him the right girl still hasn’t come along.
“If I were in his position, it’s OK to be not married—no responsibilities. He can go out with as many women as he wants,” he laughed, but quickly added that his friend has stopped dating different girls, “kasi nag-Born Again siya.”
Asked for his message to people who keep fuelling the special friends issue with Pascual, Servo finally replied, “Just be happy!”