Dennis Trillo strikes back
Only once did the actor let go his polite professional face to let his guard down.
As the photographer and the art director discussed the last few shots, the teleserye star turned to a wall in the bar at the Makati Shangri-La and let go of what must have been suppressed energy from an admittedly redundant but necessary chore of giving press interviews.
Turning around to face the wall, Trillo stepped back, raised his arms to his chest, curled his fingers and hunched. Then, POW! The first punch is tentative, but the strikes continued, increasing in speed with each jab. Back and forth, forward and back, he moved sprightly on his feet as he sparred with an invisible foe.
The stunt didn’t go unnoticed. “Can you do that again?” the photographer asked, and the shift to perfect professional gentleman was instantaneous. “Okay,” Trillo responded, raising his fists to reprise his earlier pose. It was back to work, apparently.
Ordinary viewers might recognize Trillo as the gay lover of protagonist Vincent Soriano in the controversial GMA-7 teleserye, “My Husband’s Lover,” while older fans would remember him as the brave warrior on the TV series, “Mulawin.”
But critics might instead choose to focus on his award-winning role as a transgender who bewitches a Japanese general in the period film “Aishite Imasu 1941: Mahal Kita.”
Whatever role he is recognized in, Trillo believes that he has proven himself up to the challenge in his 13 years in the country’s entertainment industry. If anything, taking on unusual roles has taught him that “if there is no risk, there is no reward.”
His three roles as a gay man have been the most challenging and riskiest in his relatively short career so far, he acknowledges. His first was as Ignacio Basa in the 2004 film “Aishite Imasu 1941.” The second was as Agnes in the 2007 Lenten special “Unico Hijo,” where he plays the gay son of a powerful politician who had AIDS. The third is his current role as Eric del Mundo in “My Husband’s Lover,” as a sexually-conflicted man having a secret affair with a married man.
After the first two roles, Trillo says he thought that was that, he was through with gay roles. But when GMA-7 came knocking with a compelling story for a teleserye that has never been told before in mainstream entertainment—the story of a man, his wife and his gay lover—he took time to reconsider.
But Trillo was not satisfied with simply being involved in the now-controversial series. He wanted another challenge.
“They thought of me for both roles: the husband and the lover,” he recounts. “But (the TV series) ‘Temptation of Wife’ had just finished, so if I chose the role of the husband, it’s really the same role. I would still have had a lover, except the lover is gay.”
In the 2012 series “Temptation of Wife,” Trillo plays the self-centered male lead who cheats on wife Marian Rivera with the latter’s best friend.
“So, why don’t I play the role of the lover so I will be challenged?” he says of his current role.
He’s always on the lookout for offbeat roles, adds Trillo. After his current teleserye, he’d like a role as either an alcoholic or drug addict, “or even as a serial rapist or a psycho, like Jared Leto’s role in ‘Requiem for a Dream.’”
Despite having had gay roles in other projects, his role in “My Husband’s Lover” would prove both difficult and thrilling for the 31-year-old actor, who admits it wasn’t as easy as it looks onscreen.
“When I was starting, there was this awkwardness and discomfort,” he says.
But compared to his two previous gay roles, he says his latest series gave him more room to experiment with his portrayal of a gay, metrosexual man in a more modern environment.
Had either Eric or Vincent been a woman, their romantic scenes would have called for more traditional intimacy: more physical and sensual, with stolen kisses and passionate touching.
“But you don’t need the sensual scenes, and the effect would still be the same. Kinikilig pa rin yung mga tao (viewers would still swoon). So, I think what we’re doing is enough. There’s no need to get naked or kiss [onscreen] to feel the chemistry between two actors pretending to be gay.”
In lieu of that, Trillos says he uses his hands and eyes to play up the intimacy with his “ka-love team,” actor Tom Rodriguez. Every handshake and longing stare is highlighted by the show’s production team, with the theme song making for a fitting background: “One More Try,” by co-star Kuh Ledesma.
“[Director Dominic Zapata] told me that I should be the type of gay character whom girls would still like and want,” he adds.
This delicate line he had to walk was initially daunting, but intense acting workshops with his co-stars Tom and Carla Abellana helped.
He added in jest: “Besides, I seem to be lucky when I play gays.”
Indeed. For his transgender role in “Aishite Imasu 1941,” Trillo won as best supporting actor in the 30th Metro Manila Film Festival, along with best actor accolades from the Film Academy of the Philippines, the PMPC Star Awards For Movies and the Young Critics Circle.
“Unico Hijo” earned him a nomination for best drama performance by an actor in the 2007 Asian Television Awards.
But while award-giving bodies had been quick to recognize and appreciate the work that goes into playing such offbeat characters, some groups are less forgiving and earned the actor a mixed bag of supporters and detractors.
In fact, he says, his parents were potential detractors at one point, they being devout Catholics. Initially, he was hesitant to tell them the plot of “My Husband’s Lover” until the series was in production.
“I couldn’t tell them about it because I didn’t know what their reaction would be. I just told them it was a drama,” Trillo recalls.
When they prodded him about his new project, he simply said it would be a “heavy drama,” all the while mulling the strategy he would use to tell them the truth.
When he finally told them, he was elated at their reaction. “They’re happy because their friends are happy and they saw how it makes other people happy. If only for that, they’re proud (of me).”
The wide fan base of the series Trillo credits to its core premise: the story of a man torn between family or duty, and his personal happiness that however comes with a steep price.
“People’s reactions have been very positive,” he says. “And that’s also because the show is positive. There’s no antagonist and there are no traditional scenes you’ve watched before.”
The audience, Trillo says, can sympathize with any of the characters and their respective struggles, and that was key to the series’ success.
Expectedly, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), a bastion of conservatism, regarded the series with strong disapproval.
During the series’ initial episodes, Fr. Conegondo Garganta, executive secretary of the CBCP Episcopal Commission on the Youth, called on GMA-7 to rethink its airing in deference to younger viewers.
In a Radio Veritas report, the CBCP official raised the need for “careful scrutiny” of shows—“My Husband’s Lover” being his prime example—and urged the TV network to “keep in mind that our culture values morality.”
In its response to Garganta, GMA-7 released a statement saying that they “welcomed the scrutiny…” but that it believes that the program “while tackling sensitive real-life situations is produced with utmost prudence and in good taste.”
In an interview with Yahoo! Philippines in June, GMA-7 program manager Helen Rose Sese said the series was more than just a drama about homosexual couples in the Philippines.
“This show is not all about the gayness of the characters but more of a love story and a family drama. Our intention is not to promote gay and lesbian relationships, but more of [a reflection] that this is happening now,” Sese said.
Whatever the intention was, however, there is no doubting the show’s influence. It has not only reached across rival networks—with ABS-CBN’s Kris Aquino texting Trillo for a job well done—but has also inspired a bill on extramarital relations.
On August 8, Albay Representative Grex Lagman filed what he described as the “My Husband’s Lover” bill that seeks to expand the definition of adultery under Article 333 of the Revised Penal Code. Lagman’s bill seeks to add same-sex relations to the description of the ban on extramarital affairs.
Despite the controversies that hound the series, Trillo remains thankful for the support of his fans who, he says, are still shocked at how different he is during promotional tours from his TV role, starting with his sexuality.
For all his gay roles, the actor proudly states that he is straight and “secure in (his) masculinity” but is determined to give life to and differentiate his gay characters from one another.
But Trillo is the first to admit that playing gay roles can be tiresome as well.
“I’ve been doing the same role over and over. And it’s challenging because it’s tiring. It’s tiring to act gay. When you get home, you feel drained from pretending to be a different person, not only in your acting but in your actions and manner of speaking,” he says.
“You have to do what you normally do, else you imbibe your character too much,” he adds.
And if there is one thing that has remained constant in Trillo’s career, it is that acting, no matter how rewarding, is still just a job.
Abelardo Dennis Florencio Trillo Ho was born on May 12, 1981, the eldest of three children born to Abelardo Leslie Ho and Florita Florencio Trillo Ho.
He recalls growing up shy and turning to art to express himself at an early age. First there was music. If he had not been invited by a talent scout in a mall to an audition and became a star more than a decade ago, he would have become a drummer instead, he adds.
Trillo also reveals that he used to dabble in rap metal, classic rock and jazz. Before he became an actor, his band in college performed reggae ska punk.
“But as you mature, your preference in music expands,” says Trillo. “Your understanding of music and art deepens.” And like his journey as an actor, his taste in music and art has evolved as well.
Today, Trillo listens to Stephen Marley, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Portishead and Massive Attack. “A little reggae, a little rock and punk,” he says.
His appreciation of art has also found a new canvas: his own body.
“I love art,” says Trillo. “And sometimes, I’m not content with just creating it. I want it on my body.”
He has at least 10 tattoos, he says, more if you count those he’s had removed. On his left arm alone are tattoos of an angry sun, a marijuana plant and his son Calix’s name.
“The feeling of a new tattoo is different. Sometimes, it’s also my reward whenever I achieve something good in life,” he says.
All in all, Trillo says he’s very lucky: He’s had a good regular childhood and a close-knit family—an important part of his life that he prefers to keep private as much as possible.
“I’ve always been a private person. I don’t like broadcasting what I’m doing when I’m not acting,” he says. “And I’m happy I’ve maintained that, because for me, [acting] is still just a job… You have to separate your personal life from your work.”
But showbiz being a national pastime, Trillo’s love life has become gossip fodder.
Considered a ladies’ man, Trillo has been romantically linked to several women, from former beauty queen Carlene Aguilar to, most recently, TV host and celebrity Bianca King. He also admits to having dated TV-movie star Rufa Mae Quinto and actresses Cristine Reyes and Jennylyn Mercado.
In past interviews, the actor admits that he used to cheat on past girlfriends, but has since learned his lesson and vows to “never do it again.”
But he has remained friends with his exes, he maintains. And this is especially true in the case of Reyes, though he denies that they have rekindled their romance.
Without going into specifics,Trillo declares that he has matured from his past relationships. Between tapings for “My Husband’s Lover” and taking care of his son Calix, he jokes that he no longer has time for love and romance like he used to.
“I don’t want to be distracted. I feel I’m really focused [with work] right now. I’d like to think I excel in my work, so I don’t want the distraction,” he says, adding that the prospect of settling down definitely remains “in the far, far future.”
Still, Trillo confides, he’s not discounting the possibility of finding someone special again. “I’m not saying getting a girlfriend is a negative thing, but I guess I don’t want to… add to my plate what I can’t handle. This is what I’m able to handle right now,” he says.
What he definitely has time for these days is being dad to Calix Andreas Ho, who was born Sept. 22, 2007, five months after “Unico Hijo” aired.
In the months leading to his birth, Trillo and the baby’s mother, Carlene Aguilar, were not on good terms. But today, the actor describes his relationship with Aguilar as “normal,” though the road to normalcy took them a tumultuous two years.
“It worked out because we just needed time to forget the past,” he says of his ex.
The two now share custody of their son.
“Everything a normal family experiences, I’m letting him experience,” he says of his son.
Fatherhood has helped him a lot in terms of maturity, he says, adding that it helped him assume more responsibilities. “I’m ahead of (other guys) because I know how to take care of a child.”
Flexing his fingers as if to display the “Calix” tattooed on his left wrist, Trillo says:
“When you have an obligation [to your son], you’re able to set your priorities and know what’s more important. There’s now someone who looks up to you, sees you as a role model. So it’s important to set a good example.”
If there’s one thing he wants his son to learn, it’s the concept of karma, Trillo says. “If you don’t hurt anybody, there’s a bigger chance you won’t get hurt.” •
Photos by Alanah Torralba