One of the country's finest actors, Michael de Mesa is “frustrated”
THE BIGGEST NEWS at the recent presscon for Atlantis Productions’ upcoming staging of the Broadway musical “Hairspray” wasn’t that Michael de Mesa would wear a fat suit and play a character in drag.
It was that, by January next year, one of the country’s best actors is packing his bags and leaving local show biz for good. Or at least “for a very long time,” he said.
De Mesa, who is set to play Edna Turnblad in “Hairspray”--the heavyset matriarch originated by the drag queen Divine in John Waters’ 1988 movie, then performed by Harvey Fierstein on Broadway and reprised by John Travolta in the film version--wasn’t coy about his reasons for calling it quits with the industry he’s been part of since he was 13 (he’s now 48).
“I’m very frustrated with how things are going on with the country and with the industry. It’s something that you feel you can’t do anything about. I just feel I’m not growing as much as a person and as an actor.”
In particular, De Mesa is disappointed at the sparse opportunities available for actors of his age and skills in the current set-up. With movies on the wane and telenovelas the main employer of actors these days, De Mesa feels his chances for artistic growth are very limited.
“Mahirap mang tanggapin, the standard of excellence dito sa atin e mediocrity,” he explained. “You have to grab every opportunity for work kahit labag sa kalooban mo, and ayoko ng ganoon... I cannot live that way.
“It’s so different now. Masakit tanggapin na ganito ang nangyayari sa industriyang kinalakhan at minahal mo, only to become the way it is. Everything is too commercial now. Even the motivation of new actors--iba na ang mentality ng mga tao ngayon.”
For De Mesa, this major life decision was something long in coming. His dissatisfaction with his mainstream film career had led him to venture into theater and indie films—projects that invariably earned him warm critical reception but not the economic rewards for long-term stability and comfort.
“I almost did this in 2006,” said De Mesa. “I gave everything another chance, hoping na magbabago pa. Pero wala e, parang mas lalong lumabo. So I finally decided, habang kaya ko pa... I think this is the perfect time, and everything is falling into place.”
For a change, he’s looking forward to a non-show biz life in the US. Come January 2009, he’ll start work as a marketing executive for an ambulance company--a job he had tried, and enjoyed, some time back when he stayed for a month in America.
That brief stint stirred something in the actor. “I had a regular income, I was enjoying starting my day early and finishing early, I could make plans for the weekend. I had that sense of stability. Not like here, na ang hirap magplano kasi you don’t know when the next paycheck is coming.
“I have many dreams--to have my own house, to travel. I cannot do all those things if I rely on Philippine show biz. At this point in my life, I’m looking for something more regular, more stable. I just want to see what I’m capable of doing as a normal person--not as an actor. I have a five-year plan, which I’ve never had before.”
He’s open to coming back every now and then for worthy projects, “like in theater, but I’ll be based na in America. Kumbaga, I will not make show biz my bread and butter anymore. I will not wait for the next job, but take control of my own future.”
He added, “I want to choose my projects carefully. I don’t want to be in a position where I have to accept everything in order to survive.
“Even in the States, If there are opportunities to act there, I’ll do that also. I also have plans to go to auditions, casting calls. Pero hindi siya ang priority ko ... Kumbaga, kaya kong mabuhay kahit wala sa show biz.”
De Mesa’s advice for people who’d like to try show biz or theater? “Have the proper attitude. If you’re joining show business just for the financial side of it, you will only reach a certain level. But if want to become a really good actor, then you have to be serious with your craft. Acting is a never-ending process.”
With well-received performances in “Rent,” “The Rocky Horror Show,” “Tick, Tick ... Boom” and “Once On This Island,” De Mesa successfully reinvented himself from film actor to musical-theater star. “Hairspray,” which opens Nov. 14 at the Star Theater, CCP Complex, under Bobby Garcia’s direction, stands as his last hurrah--for now.
He will be missed.
Atlantis Productions’ “Hairspray” runs Nov. 14-Dec. 7. Call 8927078, 8401187 or 8919999.
PLUS: Parts 1 and 2 of the full-length video interview.