Monday, December 14, 2009

Nigel Hogge interview January 2008

NIGEL HOGGE Interview with Andrew Leavold, January 2008

Andrew: Welcome Nigel! Let's start with some background information.

Nigel: I have been in the Philippines for about 37 years, in Asia for about 44 years. I'm British, born on the Isle of Wight in England. I travelled a lot in my twenties and thirties, ended up here, and ever since I have been in the bar and restaurant business. As a sideline I appeared in a few movies, I think about 15 or 16, usually as a character actor or a bad guy, or “contrabida” as they call them here. And I enjoyed it - I had a lot of friends in the entertainment industry but I was never a serious-minded actor. I've done a lot of voice-overs for commercials over the years for a lot of products, Philippine Airlines, Toyota and sop forth. I live in Japan, I have a couple of pubs in Tokyo. I've worked in Saipan and Hong Kong. I've written and sold some scripts. I actually wrote four scripts and sold three of them. Writing is much more my hobby or my forte. I love writing. In fact I've written some books I'm trying to get published right now. Sexy Asian stories, tough guy adventure stuff. But that's really what I love doing. And I would say I'm a much better writer than I am an actor. That's not saying a lot... (rolls eyes) I'm still a bachelor, an “elderly” bachelor living in Manila. Whether I do any more movies, I don't know. I call myself the Cheapest Actor in the Philippines. That's why I think I got the jobs.

I guess your situation's unique as you didn't come to the Philippines to become an actor. Like Mike Cohen, you were a guy who ran a bar and secondered into the crazy filmmaking world.

Mostly the Cirio Santiago-Roger Corman connection, Bobby Suarez of BAS Film Productions, and a few others. I worked for Eddie Romero, I worked with Joe Zucchero a lot – he was closely associated with Cirio and Bobby – and through Joe, he used to get me into the movies.

What was your first introduction to filmmaking?

The first film I ever made...(scratches ear) was a Ramon Revilla, Gloria Diaz production, local Tagalog movie called Balakyot. And I played a bad guy with Ken Metcalfe and Joe Zucchero, and Dick Adair, who now lives in Hawaii, and we played four fugitives in the jungle, and I got killed by a snake. The hero, Ramon Revilla, threw a cobra at me, and it hit my chest and wrapped around my head and killed me. I think we worked for five days on that picture in Las Pinas, and that was 1973 I believe. I think it was Ramon Revilla who directed it, but I may be wrong. [Balakyot was released in 1975, and directed by Jose Yandoc] And I enjoyed the experience, I had a lot of fun, and the movie did quite well locally – Gloria Diaz at that time was a very big star, she had recently been the Miss Universe or something like that – and then I went on to make movies, mainly with the Cirio Santiago/Premiere Productions camp, mostly produced by Roger Corman and shot here. Mostly Vietnam War pictures, of which they always needed some white guys hanging around playing Ambassadors or Generals or whatever. And then Bobby Suarez came along with his BAS Productions, and we made One-Armed Executioner. I think that did quite well in the States.

Let's talk about working with Bobby. What was he like on the set?

He was a firebrand, he had a short fuse, but he was a good guy, very friendly. We all liked him and I still like Bobby. I haven't seen him for a while now. [We all had lunch together several days later] But Bobby's career was interesting - he got mixed up with the kung fu, martial arts thing in Hong Kong. And I hope he can get back in the business and I can work with him again.

Tell me about acting in the One-Armed Executioner.

We filmed that out in Bulacan and Cavite. I don't remember a lot about the other actors in it. I remember I was Edwards and I got killed in a speedboat. I remember a helicopter came down and shot me, in the speedboat.

...with a swastika on the side!

Really? (laughs) And I nearly got my head taken off while they filmed that. The helicopter came right over the speedboat and it was like that (crouching), and BAS Films only had the helicopter for two hours, and we had to get it on Take One. Big Pete Cooper was in that one, sis foot six, and he was my henchman. He got killed, too, in the mud.

How did Bobby cast the film?

There was a group of guys – Don Gordon Bell, Jim Gaines – all the time I was operating a pub in Makati, so I was gainfully employed, but a lot of those guys would drink in my pub, so that's how I got to meet them and got involved. And don't forget Joe Zucchero and Ken Metcalfe, who were quite big in the movie industry at that time here, writing scripts and production management. I remember in those days there were about ten of us. It was just a lot of fun in those days. We weren't paid any money in particular, about $100 a day at the rate of exchange at that time, which of course wasn't THAT bad money in those days, and I worked 4-8 days on a movie. So there were a few bucks in the bank, you'd meet some petty girls on the set – it was always a good come-on. But I remember Henry (Strzalkowski) was one of the better actors, Joe Zucchero, Ken Metcalfe, they were good actors. I never considered myself an actor – I never was, had no training – but I was available, and I had a car. So I'd drive them to the set! And I never complained about the conditions.

It's never been duplicated in the Philippines, that sheer volume of films.

Because of the peso-dollar exchange rate, and because it was so easy for them to come here and make what looked like a REAL B movie – possibly C movie – and with explosions and extras and so on, it was very convenient for them. And because the exchange rate, I think it was 50 or 40 to 1 at the time. Now it's more expensive of course, I don't think they're doing that many international movies here. I don't even remember the last movie made here, I think it was 5 years ago. Of course the Vietnam War had a lot to do with it, because to film Vietnam for the Philippines was very convenient for them. 'Cause it looks like Vietnam, and the Filipinos looked JUST enough like Vietnamese that they could use masses of extras and villages and so forth. Then Vietnam movies became passĂ©, so I guess it slowed down.

Bobby Suarez and Cirio Santiago were the guys I was involved with. There were other producers involved, but I can't remember who they were, but it was primarily Bobby and Cirio. And primarily Cirio, because of Cirio's partnership with Roger Corman, who was making movies all over the world at that time, and I think he was doing three or four a year out of the Philippines. So there were always plenty of white men needed. And white girls.

And stuntmen willing to risk their lives!

Correct. And one thing Cirio was good at was bombs. He had a guy who could make a huge explosion that in an American or British or European movie would probably cost $10,000 to stage – he could stage it for $500 in a morning. And I mean they were really massive. I got my hair singed on many occasions running away from such explosions. We all used to sit around the sets saying “We're crazy to risk our lives like this”, but these guys, they knew what they were doing. The Filipinos had a real flair for putting just the right amount of gasoline and kerosene and whatever else is used in these “bombs”. That's basically most of what I remember, sitting out in quarries getting bombed and shot at! They had a lot of weapons, old World War 2 weapons and trucks and stuff. It was interesting...

What's the difference between a Cirio set and a local movie set?

The food was better on a Cirio set. But not THAT much better. On a Bobby set? When Bobby made movies, guys were...I won't say scared of him...but because he was very volatile and he was a real taskmaster, people would really focus and concentrate, because he had a real forceful personality. But we all liked him and respected him. Cirio was very easy going, very relaxed. He had a crew that had done it countless times. They were both good guys, treated their people very well. Didn't PAY them anything, but looked after them.

But what about the level of professionalism on a local film set?

Cirio moved faster – six, seven, eight setups a day, and he wasn't that crazy about dialogue. He loved action. Tagalog movies – pretty unprofessional. It's not really for me to say, because I never tried to produce or direct a movie, I might have been as poor as they were. I think that with Tagalog movies, they were always a little nervous around “foreign” actors, of how to treat them and how far you could push them. Whereas Bobby and Cirio didn't give a shit. We were told to do something, we did it. Whereas the Tagalog movies were perhaps a little bit leery about asking a white actor to put his life on the lone for a scene.

What do Filipinos call Caucasians? Guapos?

In Japanese it's “gaijan”. Oh, you're thinking of Chinese, “gwaillo”, which is “foreign white devil”. But her we're called “pogi” which is “handsome”. (laughs) I was actually a fairly pretty child – hard to believe now, I'm 65 and I've been through the mill – but good memories. I can't remember any bad people involved, they were just decent people trying to make a buck. Trying to produce the best movie they could with very tight budgets – most of the budgets being $300-500,000, above or below the line, I don't know. And it brought real actors from Hollywood, the names of whom I've long forgotten. Guys who were on the periphery of Hollywood and were getting some TV work, and they brought them over as the stars. We would play the second-tier actors, the character actors.

So Christopher Mitchum, for instance, John Phillip Law...

Phillip Law of course was a big name at one stage. When I met him in the early Eighties, he was an ex-big star. And he was a nice guy too. Chris Mitchum I worked with at one time [on Bobby's American Commandos] – I'd always admired his dad. I remember with Chris Mitchum, all he really wanted to do was play chess. So whenever the director yelled “cut!”, Chris would run over to his chess set with whoever he was playing a game with. And he told me a couple of times that he really didn't like being an actor, and he was only really doing it 'cos they were paying him to do it with the Mitchum name. Then, “Everybody on set!” He'd look at his chess set, do his scene, run back to his chess set. And he's probably thinking about his next move during the scene. He obviously wasn't fully committed. But he was a handsome guy like his dad.

Sam Jones in Driving Force, I did a scene with. I think I played a cop. I was only in one scene. And on that movie, I have no idea what was going on with the movie. I have a feeling, and I may be speaking out of turn here, that they were trying to get rid of money. I remember I had one scene in the movie, or maybe two, out in Kalamba. I was wearing a policeman's uniform, I arrested Sam Jones, gave him a ticket, warned him, and THAT took eight days to shoot. They could have done it in one day. And we all felt like there was something going on, like they were trying to spend tax dollars, because that was ridiculous. There was something going on on the set but I was uninvolved. And they paid me every day, $100 a day, and I'd sit around the set doing NOTHING.

The Australian producer of Driving Force, Tony Ginnane, also produced A Case Of Honor with Timothy Bottoms.

I had a big scene with him. I played the Russian Colonel or Major in the Intelligence, and we had a group of American Vietnam War prisoners in front of us, and I had to drive up in a jeep, get out, and they were all sitting out on the grass, an I had to lecture them - that they will be released "only if you work for the future of the USSR" or something. That was Eddie Romero's direction. Also a very slow but delightful man - wonderful, sweet, charming person. I always regretted that, if there was any movie I'd ever made where I might have got some work because of a part and the performance I'd given, maybe it was that one. Because I was OK in that. I would remember my lines for some reason. I would never remember my lines in any other movie. In that one I had quite a large speech to make for almost a minute, and I got it right! I must've been drunk (laughs). And I'm sorry A Case Of Honor never went anywhere. I have no idea what happened to it.

I guess it got lost in the shuffle...

Pity, because it was done with some care by Eddie Romero. I never knew much about the movie industry itself, I never really got involved. It was all a bit complicated for me. I was just hired on as an actor.

You were also involved in a couple of movies from Bobby's twilight years.

I was involved in a movie called Obsessed, which I thought the working title was Angel or Angela, because that was the name of the leading actress, a very pretty 18 year old American girl - I think she was American - living in the Philippines. And I would go to Bobby's house in Bulacan where we filmed a lot of the interiors and some exteriors. At that time I had a Ford Mustang, and for the tiny price that Bobby paid me as an actor, that included my car. I was the Police Detective Lieutenant or Captain. And again it looked like it would go quite well - it was a kind of Exorcist type movie. And suddenly I did a scene in the Glorietta Mall here in Makati, and at the end of the shooting Bobby came up to me and said, "I don't think there'll be any more shooting. I've run out of money." I think he said something like that to me. "And I'll call you if I need you again." And it was in the middle of the movie. Pity, because I had quite a large part in that. (Shrugs) It wasn't to be. And I didn't see Bobby for a few years after that. But we'd talk on the phone sometimes.

Bobby did get an international sale on his previous film, Red Roses For A Call Girl.

I was in that! My God I've been in more movies than I thought... I played a bodyguard or a henchman, and I beat up the leading actress, threw her into a room, threw her onto a bed. I didn't rape her....But I had to guard a girl that was involved with the German mafia. Something about drug running. We shot that largely in Makati, and I know I played some kind of thug. The stars were two German actors. There was a long period of inactivity afterwards, Bobby got a little bit ill too. Heart attack, or a weak heart, and he had to have an operation. And he kind of disappeared.

Recently Cirio called you in to do a war film, When Eagles Strike.

I did, I think it was three years ago, which was the last picture I did, playing Senator Barnes, I think because of my thinning locks. I got kidnapped by the Abu Saiya, the guys from Mindanao, and I spent a lot of time running through the jungles escaping. And I acted with that very good actor who's Bert Avellana's son, Jo Mari - he was playing the Muslim chieftain who was going to cut my head off. I was kneeling in front of him pleading for my life. We shot that way out in Rizal province. And that was the last picture I did. Again, my connection was largely through Joe Zucchero, my American friend here, who was very much involved with Cirio. I was much more of a restaurateur - you're sitting in one of my restaurants now [Panama Jack Cafe on Makati Avenue]. Joe started off as a professional Hollywood editor and he came out here and made a TV series way back in '67, '68, and was here a long time working in the movie industry. And because of the money pool drying up, he left.

Inside Nigel's Panama Jack Cafe

I remember meeting Ken [Metcalfe] in the late Sixties when I visited Manila, and they were working with George Montgomery. He made about 8-10 pictures [in the Philippines]. I never met Montgomery, that was just before my time - I was in the Philippines in '71 from Vietnam. It was the late Sixties when they made the Montgomery pictures. Joe went on to work with Cirio. I remember Cirio telling me in '73 or '74 when I first worked with him, that he had already done about 70 Tagalog pictures. Of course his dad was the founder of Premiere Productions.

You did voice-overs on Ferde Grofé Jr's war documentaries?

Joe and I brought that film library here and Joe operated it for six or seven years, then we sold it and shipped it back to Seattle about two years ago. I was Joe's partner in that company. I was a financier - didn't make any money. Joe made a living off it for a number of years but then our orders didn't come fast enough to make it work. I lost a little bit of money - not a lot. I did the voice for Battle Of Manila and another documentary about Corregidor [Corregidor: The Rock].

There are still some of those guys who are still around - Henry Strzalkowski, Nick Nicholson...

I've lost touch with a lot of them. Ken died four or five years ago of brain cancer in the States.

And Robert Marius died a few years ago.

God, I haven't thought about Robert Marius in years!

Robert hung himself. Very sad.

I didn't know Robert had stayed in the Philippines. I thought he'd gone back to Germany. Pretty young guy, quite pleasant.

He was in American Commandos too.

There was a working group of us that Cirio or Bobby would just call, 'cause we were available, and we knew more or less what was expected of us. Whenever I acted in a Cirio movie, having done my scene I would turn to Cirio and go, "......?" And he'd go (hand on face) and he'd shake his head and walk away. Which is really good for my confidence. And he said, "The only reason I employ you, Nigel, is that you're cheap." Which I thought was nice...he was a great joker. But it was true! He said, "You're a friend of Joe's, THAT's why I hire you!"

I don't know too much about Dick Adair.

Delightful guy, wonderful artist, sketcher, has been living in Hawaii with his lovely Filipina wife Margot for the last 25 years. When we started Dick was also involved with Joe and Cirio and in the movies, but his wife didn't want to stay in the Philippines. She wanted to leave, so they emigrated to Hawaii. And Dick has been writing, sketching for the Honolulu Post, and Margot is a high school teacher. And I visited Dick in Honolulu about 12 years ago, he then had cancer of the throat, and they took out his thorax or whatever it is [tharynx?], so he has a voicebox. But he's fine. He sends me a Christmas card each year.

The impression I get is that the movie making caper was fun.

It WAS fun. It was our life, you know, and living in the Philippines in those days, you could live on $500-$800 a month, live a perfectly reasonable life as a foreigner here, as an expat, and those movies helped us. I was making money in a restaurant so at least I had some kind of income coming in, but a lot of those guys were full-time movie actors, and they got by. Joe got by making movies here for 25-30 years. And of course, poor Ken who was a very good actor...all gone now. Now you tell me Marius is gone too. Not surprised to hear it, 'cos it's been a lot of years. But I guess I'm one of the last ones still standing here in this country. No great shakes, but still willing to do movies, as long as the dialogue is not too much. I tell the directors, "Make my dialogue less than three lines, then I can remember it." Any more than three, I start to (slaps head), "Hello?" And I lack the confidence now, at my age, being able to give a decent performance physically.

You still have a very Shakespearian voice!

Well I do a lot of commercials, voiceovers. That's my talent, 'cos they don't have to see my face. I have the kind of face they say is "weather-beaten" or "well used by life".

A perfect face for radio?

There you go! Thank you! That is exactly what I've got. But I'm good for playing bad guys in local movies, 'cos they think that's what bad guys look like.

A white goon?

Yep, I'm a white goon. And I can play it well enough that it's halfway believable. I have a Roman nose - roman all over my face!

Life now is obviously a lot different than in the Seventies and Eighties.

It's a lot more expensive to live here. Manila's more polluted, tougher I think to get by. The Filipinos have a very hard time, there's a lot of poor people. It's a more brutal city I think than it was then, simply because of economics. And not being a young man now, obviously, the party's over to a large extent. Or the rather carefree life we used to live. But then again, a lot of guys in late middle age look back and it always looks like days were better in the past. But they forget the bad times.

Tell me about "the party". What was life like off the film set?

Being in the club business at one stage, me and a partner of mine were running seven or eight restaurants, bars, nightclubs. We had a lot of ladies working for us, big hostess clubs. My whole life was night time - I worked nights until 3-5 on the morning. I would sleep most of the day, so I'm a very experienced night crawler. But those days are over, I get to bed by midnight now and get up at 8 in the morning. That's what I mean by the party being over - I can't drink, I can't smoke, I can't chase girls quite like I was once able to. It's still a party town, but I'm completely out of the social scene now. I don't go to other people's bars or restaurants or parties, I just couldn't be bothered. There are so many functions going on inside the expat community - I don't even know the expats. I think some of them remember me from the Seventies and Eighties, even into the Nineties...

Then again I spend time in Tokyo, I have a couple of pubs up in Tokyo. So I spend about a third or a quarter of the year in Japan. Because I'm gone a lot from here, I just don't mix anymore. I don't have the interest to get out and drink and meet people like I used to. I'm sure if I was more social I would get parts in movies here. I don't even know what's being made anymore in the Philippines. If anything, they come so seldom. There was a movie made in Subic recently called Salty about a crocodile, I wasn't even invited for a part. I'm not even called anymore. And again, being in my mid sixties I can only play elderly guys, so that takes out a lot of the action movies. I can't be cast really as a soldier anymore, or as a bodyguard (laughs).

Club owner?

Club owner, I can play. I can play a saloon keeper, a Senator, a drug lord. I can play an uncle, an Ambassador, an elder brother, a father....a grandfather!

Manila seems like it was a Wild West town.

It was! Before Martial Law came in - I got here in '71, and Martial Law was declared at the end of '72 by Marcos - and even during the early days of Martial Law, it really was a really wild and woolly place. Most people carried guns. I almost got shot a few times, being in the bar business. When a guy didn't want to pay a bill he usually pulled a gun out instead. So I had to give away a lot of free food! 'Cos I'm a devout coward. I'd say, "It's on the house." It was a wild, wild city. But I don't think it was any more wild than a lot of other cities. I think every city has a Red Light District.

It's like those guys were living out a movie villain fantasy.

I think I did. I think I saw myself as a Hugh Hefner of the East for a while...that fantasy kept me going for a long time!

I think of Manila as a Dream City, where you're living a dream that's so far removed from...

...the reality of any other place! Absolutely, I agree with that. I spent a lot of time here, way too many years beside a swimming pool. And I swam every day, I lived like a ling. Like a little Lord. And much more that I deserved! I have a business partner who says, "Nigel, for a little boy from some little English country town, you've been laid more times than you should have been." And I agree!


  1. He and I aprted on bad terms as he fucked me in the keester on a dubbing project. Him and his pal Joe Z!

  2. I wonder if he is Nigel I knew before and the Pub owner in Greenbelt Makati. I would really appreciate
    for your kindness an reply.Thanks a lot