Coco Martin on Isko Moreno vlog

Even while busy with his upcoming series “FPJ’s Batang Quiapo,” which started taping just last week, Coco Martin took a break and chatted with Isko Moreno in the latter’s vlog episode on YouTube. 

In the positivity-filled interview, Coco recalled his roots and rise to stardom – from growing up on the streets of Novaliches and Tondo to conquering indie films, working in Canada, and going full blast with mainstream acting and directing.  

As many have noticed, Coco is one to work hard and sleep less. We saw him hustle non-stop for 7 years in “FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano,” then, he immediately went on a “Pasasalamat Tour” with the cast abroad. This work ethic, he says, comes from living a life of poverty. Growing up with less privilege, he maximizes every opportunity that comes.

“Alam naman natin na lahat ‘to matatapos. Para sa akin kasi gusto ko ‘pag wala na, tapos na lahat, masasabi ko sa sarili ko balang-araw pagtanda, ‘No’ng panahon ko, wala akong inaksayang panahon at oras.’”

After his parents’ separation, he stayed with his grandmother in Novaliches and sometimes he would visit his mom’s side of the family in Tondo. He endured hardship as a kid, but which also shaped him into a persevering man, “Kung hindi ko pinagdaanan lahat ng ‘yun, kung nagkaroon ako ng perfect family, hindi ako ganito mag-isip at hindi ako ganito dumiskarte.”

“Bata pa lang ako, medyo mulat na ako sa kalakaran sa kalye,” said Coco, who witnessed his Lola Matilde get into all sorts of rakets. She was a takilyera and an occasional cook in a cockfighting arena. When Lola Matilde started her small pautangan or lending business, the young Coco was tasked to go around the market and collect payments. 

Typical of a laking-lola, Coco, or Rodel Nacianceno in real life, was brought up conservative and with strong religiosity. It was Lola Matilde who influenced his devotion to the Black Nazarene. He remembers going to Quiapo Church to pray for a job, any kind, to support his family. He wanted to work abroad, specifically as a cook on a cruise ship. That’s why he finished a course in HRM. He said that in a poverty-stricken place like where they lived, back in the day, most guys dreamed of working as a seaman; while the females, as an entertainer in Japan. “’Yun ang pamantayan noon eh” he smiled. 

But, what he got was an offer to star in the independent film “Masahista.” Admittedly, Coco didn’t know the film has a sexy theme. At first, he thought that he was going to portray an ordinary hilot, yet he willingly did it to augment the family’s income. 

Another memorable film he did during his indie era was “Tirador” that required him to join the traditional Traslacion and touch the icon of the Black Nazarene for a scene. “Paghagis sa akin, para akong lumalangoy sa dagat ng mga tao… Hindi ko namalayan sa sobrang layo narating ko siya.” The catch is, “’Pag preview namin, nasapawan ako.” Director Brillante Mendoza asked for a second take but Coco wasn’t able to do it again. 

Indie films brought him to places, literally, as he would attend film festivals abroad. Once he’s there, he would save his allowance per diem and take advantage of the hotel’s free breakfast instead of buying his food. At the time, when he held the title “Prince of Indie Films,” Coco would join international screenings and award ceremonies for this specific reason: “Ang target ko no’n, makahanap ako ng tao na magpapatira sa akin para makatalon ako [sa Canada].” 

He did. With just a tourist visa, Coco took odd jobs in Canada. Filipino workers abroad, he tells Isko, are beloved for their hard work and malasakit . But it seemed he is destined elsewhere. Coco wasn’t able to get a working visa and decided to fly back home. 

Isko butted in, asking why Coco didn’t get married, let alone had a girlfriend in Canada. Coco jestingly replied, “Hindi ako makapag-communicate.” Besides, he was often mistaken for being much younger than his age. It must be the height, he said. From there, he went on to share a funny anecdote about his clothes shrinking in the laundry. “’Di ba meron silang dryer? ‘Yung mainit? Nagliitan ‘yung mga damit ko tapos nag-hanging. Galit na galit ako no’n kasi iilan lang damit ko.”

From making indie films, he ventured into mainstream teleseryes. “Ligaw Na Bulaklak” was his first ABS-CBN program. But it was in the Kim Chiu and Gerald Anderson-starrer “Tayong Dalawa” that he caught the attention of the mass audience and ABS-CBN executives. He gives credit to his charming tandem with Gina Pareño, who would become known as Lola Gets to the show’s avid viewers. 

While he was given a slew of anti-hero roles, the audience seems loving him even more. “Nakita siguro ng management na, ‘Kontrabida siya pero bakit siya kinakapitan ng mga tao?’” From there, ABS-CBN took a chance on him, assigning him with a dual role in “Minsan Lang Kita Iibigin”where he played leading man to Maja Salvador. 

Based on his résumé, Coco, now dubbed as “Primetime King,” was more drawn to drama than action. However, he listens to his audience and bosses. FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano was a risk that turned out to be a success. He also did his first directorial job in the series.

He took a bigger leap and directed his first mainstream movie, “Ang Panday,” as part of the 2017 Metro Manila Film Festival, although he was reluctant and scared he couldn’t do it. “Kasi magkakaibang mundo ‘yan. Hindi porke’t okay ka sa TV at okay ka sa indie, okay ka na sa mainstream. Magkakaibang mundo ‘yan.”

Then again, it takes just a small seed of faith to jumpstart a dream. “Sabi ko, susugalan ko na sarili ko. So, ako na nag-produce. Dahil ako na nag-produce, kahit sumablay ‘to, ako na magdi-direk. Tapos first day, hindi ko alam gagawin ko. Hindi ko alam tawag sa mga lente. Pero parang magic. ‘Yung first day ko, parang hindi ko first time.”

Through his directorial jobs, Coco has learned the pros of collaboration. He listens to his actors and staff, and that’s what he is going to apply in his next assignment “FPJ’s Batang Quiapo.” He said it has been his vision to present Pinoy culture to the world with his projects, “Gusto ko tayo naman ang mag-share.”

Before the interview ends, Coco and Isko played a trivia game about childhood things and a tongue twister challenge.