Thursday, June 17, 2010

Franco Guerrero interview 2007


Andrew: I believe it was through Leody M. Diaz that you got into movies?

Franco: Actually I was very lucky at the time. My first movie was a second lead role with Vilma Santos and Boboy – Edgar Mortiz. The movie is Dulce Corazon (1972) [in fact his first film was Edgar Loves Vilma, 1970]. Imagine, that's my first movie! Maybe I have the character already... That's the reason I got into the movies. Then later on I ask around, “Hey, am I really an actor?” Armando de Guzman, one of the premiere directors here – he's already dead – I asked him, “Hey Pop, am I supposed to continue this thing, as an actor?” “Yes! 'Cos when you work with me,” he told me, “I got you into my movie, that means you are an actor. If you are not an actor, I won't even give you a second look.” That's why I kept doing these movies. First Leody M. Diaz, and then Armando de Guzman. And then anyone who took me...

I was really making good with the local movies, Tagalog Ilang-Ilang, FPJ... somehow Leody Diaz brought me to Bobby Suarez.

And to a supporting role in Bionic Boy?

Yeah, he introduced me to Bobby. He was a very good friend, like a father to me. He was the one who convinced me to get into this movie business. I said, “If I'm an actor, then I'm an actor.” Although secretly I was already into martial arts. I didn't know then I was going to use this through filmmaking. Because I all I know was to be a little bit “Boy Next Door” look and nice lighting. Then I get into this contrabida thing, character roles. I play it very well. So I started with Bobby. Bionic Boy. You said I played the role of her sidekick?

I said you were her main squeeze!

Actually a part of the movie, and Bobby's not promising on one, his focus is on the Singaporean actors like Johnson Yap and Marrie Lee. I was only there because, maybe I was the only actor available any time you called, he's there. I'm not really the kind of guy who'll go from one production to another production looking for a job. I said I have a producer now, I don't have to go to Tagalog Ilang-Ilang or to so many other producers here, and then all of a sudden I realized I was already tied up with Bobby.

Whether you liked it or not?

Whether I liked it or not! (laughs) If somebody was going to ask for my services, they'd have this second thought, “He's contracted to Bobby Suarez, we don't want to get into trouble.” So, loyalty, I said to myself, maybe someday, somehow, and then One-Armed Executioner (1983) came. So I'm very happy with that. Because I was given the chance to – although maybe there was nobody else around, or no actors available at the time?

I don't believe that was the case!

Fortunately it made good. I know you already know the box office achievement of that film in Hollywood. But somehow I was always thinking, “How come there isn't a follow-up movie to that?” I was thinking, “There's something wrong with the movie or with me? But as far as I'm concerned there's nothing wrong with me!” It's up to my producer of course, or director. Most of these international movie productions here, they asked for my services. “But I can't do that – I'm tied up with my good friend Bobby Suarez!” So later on I heard there were plans for another movie [Hitman, later reworked as American Commandos]. I don't want to dwell on that subject anymore because that's already gone. Any way I was then thinking maybe it's better for me to venture out. Fortunately there's this guy, Ferde Grofe [Jr], “You are not really contracted to him?” “Of course not, no contract.” So I started working [on Hellraiders, 1986]. And then after that, Jo Mari Avellana contacted me because they needed a martial artist to play opposite Richard Norton [in The Fighter, 1986]. So it was Tony Maharaj's turn. “You are not under contract?” “Yes, of course...” “OK, you'll be making several movies with me.” Imagine, I was asked by Jo Mari, he took me to the gym, and they were actually shooting there! So when Anthony Maharaj told me, “Hey, that's my man! I saw his movie, the American Commandos guy. You were the guy who intimidated Chris Mitchum and John Phillip Law! You are like that, you intimidate people because you are a martial artist. You're oozing with confidence.” I didn't know that, but that's it. “That's whu you are now here to intimidate Richard Norton – you are working with ME!” Imagine that! At the very moment... “Did you bring your costume? Hey, no need for you to have a costume. Because he'll be fighting Richard Norton, he'll have to undress.” Ah, OK. So we finished the shooting, and after the shooting, “OK, we have several movies lined up for you.” So I made one movie after the other, making movies with Anthony Maharaj. That's why he's very good to me. But of course my loyalty lies with Bobby. because I owe so much to that guy.

Through Bobby you were in your first international productions?

No, even before Bobby I was in bit roles with Cirio and Eddie Romero.

Which Eddie Romero film?

Something about the Sea People...

You were in Beyond Atlantis?

Yeah (laugh). During those days I didn't have any name, so I was just looking after those chicks. There were lots of Caucasian girls, ooh!

In clamshells!

Oh yeah... Those were wonderful experiences in my life, I'll never forget them. Somehow after that not so many movies came. It's very sad because when I found myself, I've now really come to that state when I'm ready to do all these things – as an actor, as a fruit maybe I ripen – then all of a sudden there's no more movies! So I reverted to these local productions once again. But I'm very choosy about my roles. I'm always remembering what Bobby's always telling me all along. He somehow monitors my movements. He knows that I'm making some movies there - “Hey, what kind of rubbish are you doing?” I always choose my roles. If it's not a big role, of course I'm not going to accept it. It's not really my bread and butter, that I have to do something.

I couldn't believe it was the same actor in Bionic Boy and Devil's Angels (1979). It was amazing to see the complete transformation into “fancy boy”.

They told me that, according to Armando de Guzman, I was a natural. Well, naturally if I'm going to play a gay role, it's natural. If I'm going to play a macho role, I'm a natural macho guy. I don't know if the word 'versatility' is applicable to me, but with my acting, especially most of the time, during those days when I was making movies with Hollywood actors, they have this moment of trying to get into the emotion. They need about several minutes to get into the role. I told them, “Hey that's crazy – this is only make-believe, you're only acting here.” That happened when we were making Searchers Of The Voodoo Mountain and there's this German guy, Robert Marius. He's supposed to whack me with this bolo. They said, “Go on with it.” I was tied up there. I said, “I'm getting tired hanging here.” Then this German guy said he's getting into the mood. I said, “What? He's getting into the mood to cut my legs?”

I said to those guys, “Hey, untie my legs first because this guy's going to jump me!” I said come on! To me, my style of acting , the moment I hear the word “action”, I get into the character. I'm a different person, just like that. I don't have to motivate myself... I could easily adjust to that. If you think I'm very sad, if you want to see me cry, I'll cry – right now, I'm going to cry. At a moment's notice, I'll cry! If I'm going to rape somebody... I'm not going to divert from the real honest way of acting. The honest way is really doing this with all your heart. But that's me. I can go into that thing without those ceremonies, you know? Trying to waste so much time. “OK direk, I'm now getting ready...” To me that's not acting. because we're actors, we are in a world of make-believe. You can really adjust, switch on to that module. “I am Chito...Next time I am the police, or whatever...” So you transform yourself, just like that. In essence that is Franco Guerrero: simple, happy-go-lucky guy. I don't really ask much. Even to Bobby, I don't really ask so much. It's only the attention maybe. We've been together for so long. And as you said before, it's like a family. And he's supposed to be the father, and as a father you should give your love equally among your children. That's what I felt. I'm always loyal to the guy.

When he gave you the lead role in One-Armed Executioner you really got to use your martial arts skills, especially in the training sequences.

Actually, not much. I was a little bit tied up. Maybe because Bobby believed there was somebody else who's much better than me, that's Boy (aka Alex) Pecate. He's teaching karate. They never knew then that I'm at a much deeper level of martial arts. They didn't know I was into Aikido also. I kept it secret. Maybe sooner or later some producer would ask for it and I would give it. That was Tony Maharaj. “You know kickboxing?” “Yes.” I showed him that.

So really, Tony was the guy who let you off the leash?

Yeah, there was no reining in. But with Bobby, as far as acting is concerned, he'd just leave me there. “OK, that's your role, that's your line, do it.” He never asked me, “Can you do this?” Imagine during those days when we were filming The Destroyers (unfinished, 1978), he didn't know I used to jump buildings, although I wasn't a member of the SOS Daredevils. It was about three stories, it was a big building. And they said, “OK Franco, you'll be running that way, and then you shoot here, then somebody's going to shoot you from downstairs - you'll have to jump.” You know what I did? I somersaulted. I landed head first on the cardboard. They were surprised! I wasn't a stuntman, but I used to do that. They thought I'd just jump – I had an armalite with me, brrrrrrrow, this one guy's going to shoot me there, and at the edge of the roof I jump. I landed head-first. “Franco, what the hell...?” “You didn't ask. Actually if you'd only asked, I would deliver.” But the only thing that Bobby ever asked me, “You play a gay role.” (laughs) Watching Bobby, I enjoy him very much, I'm doing this gay role thing. Because I had this earlier training with Joe Sison and Charlie (surname unclear), we were the Three Red Roses of Escolta. Once we'd get together there, we'd be one of the Roses. “Charlie! Carlotta!” And I'm Chita. Because they called me Chito then.

Can you tell me a little bit about the ill-fated Malaysian film?

From my point of view it was all those Malaysian guys, they were trying to make a fast one over Bobby. Bobby was really very honest about everything. He brought all the actors, equipment, we even trained Cleo and everybody was ready for the action, even contacted Dante Varona because he was a very good acrobatic stuntman. So everything was there, all the ingredients for a good movie were there. Now the Malaysian side – from my point of view – those Malaysians in those days, they don't know about moviemaking. Even the use of guns, this is something new to them. You know Bobby's style, to some moviemakers, is a little bit advanced. Even the promotional aspect of this, somehow they know Bobby, they know so much about this thing, and they want to say something about it. Now maybe – I'm only speculating about this - because everything is already there, putting in their side, they have to... they didn't put up anything. We're using all of our connections, Bobby has connections with that lesbian girl (???). Even Bobby told me, “That's the girl! Maybe she could be a good help!” So I tried to flirt, in the end she was a tomboy! Anyway we were so hard-pressed money wise because the American guys, they don't put up their own money. And later on they tried to confiscate everything.

So there comes a point – that's my loyalty to Bobby, everybody's left us, but I didn't leave Bobby. Although he';s having some doubts about am I really there to protect him. See, he didn't know I am really prepared to do anything. Aside from my background in martial arts, he didn't know that. This karate guy [Alex “Boy” Pecate], he left, even Dante Varona left. Left we me, the cameraman, and Marrie Lee. So I said, “Let's see what I can do with these Malaysian guys. They're really proud of their martial arts, Silat thing – I got your number!” So that's the end of the thing. Somehow with Bobby's connections we were backed out, we got the plane tickets and went home.

Did they really turn that nasty?

They were up to something really bad there at the time.

Were there guns involved?

No, they didn't show any guns. But I'm sure they had SOMETHING. because they know that I'm a martial artist. I'm only laughing at the Silat players, they have their exhibitions there. I said, “That's nothing!” And I even looked at the Master, he's a little polio victim. “How come you are a Master, you can't even walk straight! And these are your disciples? That's nothing. You can try me.” These Malaysian guys won't bother you if they think you're really up there to fight back.

So that's the story there – they're really up to something really nasty. They said, “OK, what will happen to Bobby? He's so small.” You know Bobby, he's always sick. “We can sure take care of this guy.” I'm the only guy there who can really do something. So I stayed behind. And maybe Bobby knows this.

Why do you think Bobby inspires such loyalty? You stuck by him until after he stopped making movies.

Not everybody sticks by him. The only guys who really stick by him are Pepito [Diaz] and myself. Maybe Marrie Lee. Pepito knows that. Maybe we have some problems with Bobby. Bobby's really hard to work with if you don't know the guy. But Pepito and I, we know! Maybe we're quarrelling, Bobby used to say, “I'll eat your liver!” he used to say all those words, but Pepito and I would say, “That's Bobby, he's our brother.” But one reason I stuck it out with Bobby, he really believes you are part of his family. He'll never let you down. If you ask something, he won't let you down. That's my problem – I never asked for anything (laughs). Maybe somehow I spoilt Bobby? I like that guy, I like his kids, his wife. That's why I have that loyalty, not only to a friend, but like a part of the family. “If you don't pay me, that's OK! Maybe you have other reasons why you don't pay me.” Sometimes it's delayed, it's OK. I said before, it's not my bread and butter. To me it's a good thing that I was given a chance to be loyal to someone, maybe aside from my immediate family. To Bobby, it's another thing.

I love show business very much. Maybe during the time that I was with Bobby, maybe I wasted several years that I should be working with other outfits. But I don't have any regrets. Bobby's still around, I'm still around, and with God's help I'm still getting stronger and stronger. As an actor I think I'm improving! I'm still learning! That is the reason why some guys are expecting so much from me. I can give something more, if only they were going to ask. So many people don't know me. Hey, Bobby's very secretive about that. Imagine – I'm in several movies with Bobby, he didn't promote me. No write-ups.

Marrie, yes...

But me, no. Ask me why. I'm going to ask you the same question – why? That's a BIG question mark!

Maybe he wanted to keep an air of mystery about you! Tell me about your first international film without Bobby.

Financially it was a welcome relief. But somehow, something's really missing there. The years I've spent with Bobby, I somehow miss that. Maybe I'm earning so much {more) with other productions but I still feel somehow there's something lacking. The way Bobby treated me, somehow I missed that. With the other productions, I'm really extra special to them. If they aked me something I'd deliver. Bobby, on the other hand, didn't ask me. “Just do this, do this...” Maybe that's the reason why it's only a subtle kind of attachment. Maybe Bobby knew me, Bobby knows me very well. Because so many times we shared secrets. Bobby would say, “I know you, you know me, we understand each other.” But with the other productions I really earned a lot. Believe me – maybe one or two movies, I made more than I made with Bobby.

Maybe that's the difference between making films professionally, and making films with friends. The Bobby films, you were obviously doing it more for love than money.

Yes. I was enjoying the money anyway.

What can you tell me about Hellraiders (1986)?

They shot on a small 16mm camera they used during the war – they even cranked it by hand. Then after the movie they were going to transfer it to 35mm. This Ferde Grofe (Jr), he's one hell of a director. He's really good. because he's looking after me, saying, “Hey Franco, can you do this?” “Of course!” because he looked around, there are so many on the set. They all ask, “Who can do this?” Then they look at me. “Hey, Franco...” Maybe he's heard about me through some other director. If he wanted an actor who could do so much, you just ask that guy. The same thing happened with Anthony Maharaj. Looking for a kickboxer, somebody who could really work the ass off Richard Norton. That won't do, then he look at me... “Franco, can you wear a mask?” But in the corner I'm the one massaging Richard Norton – but I'm on the other side fighting too! They didn't notice that I was a different guy! [In The Fighter, the masked Franco actually appears in a separate scene to the one where he massages Norton's shoulders]

Now THAT's exploitation!

That's my life in the movies. And up til now I am still very happy. I worked with Tony Ferrer so many times, he's a buddy-buddy to me. During my days with Tony Ferrer, he offended so many people, especially Val Iglesia, Rey Sagum. Because one day we were at a little party, talking about some intellectual subject. It turned out during the Q&A, I was always saying the right answer. Then Tony Ferrer looked at Rey Sagum and Val Iglesia, he said “The two of you can go outside, you're in the company of Franco Guerrero, you're not supposed to be with him.” So I offended those two guys. Remember after, those two guys became directors but they never asked for my services. But they're my close friends! They never asked for me, never! Because of Tony Ferrer! He said, “He belongs to a different category.”

Tony Ferrer is Filipino film royalty. It seems to an outsider there's a strong pecking order, a kind of film aristocracy, and it's very long-established – divorced from Hollywood, but like a mini-Hollywood. It seems the reign of a film star can go for decades, like FPJ, Tony Ferrer... there's an intense loyalty from local audiences for their film stars.

Yeah I'd agree with that. Although those who were loyal to FPJ were never loyal to Tony Ferrer. Those are different sets of fans. But I'm going to add something to that. OK, we have these big stars, Ramon Revilla [Sr] during those days, Jun Aristorenas. They had strong followers during those days. But one thing I noticed - because this came from FPJ – it was during the wake of my uncle, he dropped by about 3 o'clock in the morning. “How's my kumpadre?” “He's having a nice rest.” Afterwards I went back to my seat, he sat beside me and said, “You know, Franco, I've been making movies, you know I'm the King. But do you know one thing? How come your movies got into Hollywood? That's why I never hired you. And I heard that from other superstars. WE were superstars. But all the movies that you have made, they penetrated those Hollywood theatres! How come we reach only those midnight shows? So you're different. You're lucky.”

Also, several actors said, “OK, once I got it big I'm going to get you a starring part or role or maybe contrabida in my movie.” But the moment they learn that I'm already making these international movies, they somehow shy away from you. Maybe they thought they're much better than that.

Jealousy, or reverse jealousy?

Maybe something like that. And also I heard that I was recommended so many times. “You want a really good contrabida? Franco!” “Oh no.” You know why they didn't want to hire me? “He's better than you are! You're not the lead star. Why hire this guy?” Jealousy, the Crab Mentality we have here. I even told them, “Why? OK, I'm the villain. I'm good, but at the end the lead star will only beat me! So the leading star's still there! We'll boost you. It's also good for your standing as a good actor, you must get a good billing...” They said, “Hey, he's much better than you are.” WE look like the lead star. See? That's the mentality here.

Big fish, small pond?


Do you think there was a similar resentment towards Bobby?

I think so.

Bobby's true genius is in sales and marketing, selling his crazy movies to the world. I'm sure there are a lot of producers who couldn't do that!

So what happened to Bobby happened to me. Maybe that's why I'm very loyal to Bobby. We're in the same predicament!

You're sympatico. Now, a guy who's no longer with us is Ken Metcalfe, whom you worked with a few times. What can you tell me about Ken?

A very nice guy, although somehow during ...The Voodoo Mountain he's a little bit jealous when it comes to billing and also the role that was given to him. Although my role is much different, because my role there is a warrior. because I'm the one who takes care of all these women, nobody can touch all these women. Bobby told me that, “OK, look after all these women.” I said OK, of course.

They were the daughters of ambassadors!

Imagine that? In fact one of those Brazilian guys with kinky hair, he grabbed the tits of one of these Swiss girls. She came to me crying “Franco, Franco...” The bastard! It was unfortunate for that guy because the Swiss girl was MY girl during that time! This guy was sitting back showing all these muscles to Miss Australia. I came up, “Hey buddy, what did you do to my Nicole? She approached me and she's crying.” “Oh I remember... Oh, THAT bitch! Those tits are not so good anyway.” I cracked his face. Miss Australia was so mad at me! “This guy did something wrong and he deserved that. And that goes to all of you guys as well. I've heard you people are talking – try me!” They clammed up. I was a killer during those days. Don't try me!

When it comes to women, Bobby trusts me so much. But really, even with your wife, she can sleep with me inside a room for a week, nothing would happen to her. And that was proven. Who did that? Marrie Lee. Imagine, we were left in Dakota Mansion, we stayed there for I think several weeks, I was watching over her. We shared one room. Oh my God! That girl Marrie tried to seduce me, maybe she was trying to put something in my head – nothing happened. And up to this day, you can bet any money left behind, put it inside that room, Marrie Lee, surely she'll do something. They asked Marrie Lee about Franco. That's why Marie Lee respects me. because I was given that authority, Bobby's told me to take care of Marrie Lee. I took care of her. That;s one thing I'm very proud of – even if Bobby doesn't know this – I'm still proud I have control of myself. I'm sure Bobby asked that. And I'm sure Marrie lee will attest to that.

You and Marrie were really good friends?

Yeah, she's like a little sister to me. A Singaporean, but she's very honest. One thing I love about her is she's very honest, told me everything. because every word she gave me during that time is in good hands. That's why I'm still trying to remember all those times we had together – those are wonderful days, I'll never forget them. You're working with somebody you respect, as an actress. I don't know if I'll ever be able to make another movie with the same kind of quality that I have with Marrie Lee. It's a very beautiful, wonderful movie.

I'm really fascinated by George Estregan, who's a big part of the original Cleopatra Wong.

During those days George was having problems with his kid. We were shooting up in Baguio and he's got this room at the Dominican Hotel, and he's got this girl who''s pregnant, or newly born – I think that kid's Gary Estrada? They were up there in Baguio and he was a lover boy, George Estregan, he's so nice with girls. Wrap a skirt around a pole and he's going to fuck it! He once challenged me, “Hey Franco, I know you're also batulis (sharp)? You can never beat me, I'm sharper.” George told me that. because he had so many girls. And one problem with George Estregan, he can't go down Baguio because his family's down there waiting for him somewhere. “It's George Estregan!” But that guy's terrific. I think he's so much better than the President (brother Joseph Estrada). As a person, I think so.

Estregan? Estrada?

Hirsit is the real name. George Hirsit.

Why Estregan?

It's only a screen name.

Why didn't they share the same screen surname?

He didn't want to be identified as “this is another Estrada”. You know, he has his own style of acting. That guy was a very good actor. One thing lacking when it comes to acing, this gay homosexual thing. He once said, “Hey Franco, show me if I'm a gay, what's supposed to be my movement?” I asked George, “Show me how you do it.” He poured some coffee, put some sugar, creamer... I said, “No, that's wrong. Cross your legs, get the sugar, look at the person you're talking with, the creamer, and don't get the underliner, get the coffee and do like this...” [daintily holds the cup] He said, “Oh yeah!” That's the one thing I gave George. He was a really nice guy.

Did he die of AIDS?

He said some kind of a liver illness, but somehow maybe... He packed so many. They fuck you and then, “Are you sick?” He should ask before.

I believe he did some pene [hard-core penetration] films.

Very many. I've seen so many, bought some! Some I threw away in reverence.

Do you actually SEE...

Yes! That's penetration! Close-up, and then pull out. Imagine the shooting of Cleopatra Wong, there's a bed scene there with an extra, a beautiful woman – I think she's connected with the producer. I know Bobby knows this. During the rehearsal George is already kissing, everything, the boobs, without the sheet so you can see the underwear of the woman's already wet. Now, during the take, you know what George did? He did IT right there! Penetration! Ooh, wow! “Break! Get out of the room!” And they continued. That's George. I love that George, he's very nice. Only thing, some of these stunt guys, they didn't like about George, they ask for some of the garments, wardrobe – he would not give away any of his wardrobe. Even if it has some blood or shots on it, he wouldn't give it away. He's rather buy something new for you than to give away his wardrobe. That's George.

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