Dennis Trillo’s evolution: Various roles, one balanced life

The actor talks about an unforgettable Venice and memorable roles, from gay lover to beleaguered cop

Dennis Trillo with fiancee Jennylyn Mercado at their engagement (From Jennylyn Mercado's IG)

At Venice Film Festival dinner, Trillo with ‘Parasite’ director Bong Joon-ho and Philippine film industry supporter and businessman Ernest Escaler

On his 40th year, actor Dennis Trillo is all set to start life all over again.

He was recently engaged to fellow actor Jennylyn Mercado, with whom he has a three-month-old baby. A civil wedding will follow shortly.

After his return from the 78th Venice Film Festival in September, he had to wrap up scenes in the teleserye Legal Wives, where he plays husband to three wives. “Having three leading ladies as wives is ridiculous!” he said. “It’s difficult for audiences to follow each story. You have to do something to make it interesting. Creating chemistry is, I think, the key.”

In previous roles, Dennis is famous for making his characters doubly memorable. He was Eric del Mundo in the hit soap opera My Husband’s Lover, where he was gay lover to a married man played by Tom Rodriguez. He was the beleaguered policeman trying to cope with corruption in the police ranks in The Janitor.

For contrast, he was the religious leader in Felix Manalo, and the crossdresser in the Joel Lamangan film, Aishite Imasu 1941- Mahal Kita.

Dennis Trillo as island surfer in ‘Mina-Anud’

He was an island surfer in Mina-Anud. “It is a vastly different role, and I gave it what I have. It is about islanders tempted by the lure of drugs in an attempt to improve their lives. I had to look hard into myself to become the islander in the film.”

Talk of stories as timely as today’s headlines. We told him about the floating blocks of cocaine actually found in Catanduanes, Siargao, Boracay, and other island destinations. “Really, this happened in your island province?” he asked in our last meeting. “True, Mina-Anud, where I play an island surfer tempted by drugs, is actually based on the same incident that happened in Samar.”

The film is about islanders gone wrong. Once upon a time, an island was a virtual paradise, until some strangers turned it into a living hell for peace-loving islanders. We told the actor that not only were floating blocks of cocaine found, but a shabu laboratory was also discovered three years earlier, and it was one of the highlights of the controversial videos that made the rounds in the last elections.

For this role, Dennis had to blend with the island folk. ‘I had to stay long under the sun to get the required look of a native’

For this role, Dennis had to blend with the island folk, probably in the same way Christian Bables prepared for his role as another islander in Signal Rock. “I had to stay long under the sun to get the required look of a native, and I had to mix with them to get a dose of island life. It was not an easy role because for one, I am not an islander. But preparing for the part, I rediscovered a hidden paradise.”

The sight of the beach and the isolation from the big city somehow taught him how to appreciate life away from the big city. “You realize you can have a peaceful, comfortable life without Wi-fi and without the internet and without the expensive gadgets. I learned to adjust to the place and the people, and liking their quiet way of life. After many years in showbiz, you begin to yearn for some kind of isolation where you can be yourself. Back there, where I prepared for my role as islander, I also enjoyed the quiet life and just feeling the wind and the sea and the beach. It’s a tranquil life I’ve learned to appreciate as one becomes more mature. Nevertheless, this role is something I’ve waited for, for a long, long time. It is a big contrast to my life in the city.”

Trillo (far right) with Best Actor John Arcilla next to him, and producer Dondon Monteverde and director Erik Matti

But the role he will cherish for now is that of Roman Rubio, the hired killer in the national penitentiary in his latest acclaimed film, On the Job: The Missing 8 directed by Erik Matti.

It received a standing ovation during its premiere screening in Venice, and it received accolades from no less than the members of the jury headed by the director of Parasite, Bong Joon-ho. Parasite is the first Korean film to win the Oscar for Best Picture.

While the Best Actor went to John Arcilla for the same film,  Dennis had his share of personal acclaim from distinguished filmmakers in the jury. Recalled Dennis, “My Venice trip was awesome. It was every actor’s dream. It somehow ignited my passion for doing more world-class projects.”

After the first screening of OJT: TM8, Dennis was surprised the jury members were talking about him.

From the members themselves, he learned they actually wanted to award the Best Actor to both Arcilla and him, but that would have gone against festival rules.

In Venice, Parasite director Bong Joon Ho told Dennis he was great, and he loved the movie

There were Venice highlights Dennis will not forget. “When I met the jurors, they were saying how awesome the movie was. I will not forget how Bong Joon Ho signed my book and how another distinguished filmmaker, Chloe Zhao (Nomadland), told me I also should’ve won, but there could only be one.”

For him, it was like a dream to meet the director of Parasite. “I never expected to meet him and hear him put in a good word about my acting.  I never expected any of that to happen. He told me I was great, and he loved the movie.”

He cannot forget the festival finale, the awards night. “It was surreal being inside the historic Sala Grande. This is the historic theater where the main screenings and award ceremonies are held. I never thought I would have the chance to step in there. I was just a movie fan seeing and interacting with the people I look up to. They made me feel complete and deeply gratified. It was an unforgettable experience.”

How he fleshed out his roll is nothing earthshaking. “I played the part as naturally as I could. I made sure I got the director’s instructions right. What was tough was the whole process of preparing the look for my character.”

Dennis Trillo with an altered face for his role in ‘On the Job: The Missing 8’ (HBO photo)

Moreover, director Matti thought Dennis was just too good-looking to play a hired killer. He decided to “deface” the actor by applying prosthetics on his face. He sported a crooked nose in the film. Said Dennis, “It took at least two hours to put on the prosthetics, and it had to be re-applied every six hours. That’s what safe for the skin.”

In The Janitor, he played a conscience-stricken cop. We thought he deserved the Best Actor more than his co-actor who played another cop. “I also loved that movie. A movie is always a collaborative project. It doesn’t matter to me who won the trophy. A co-actor’s award also means a win for me and for everyone who worked hard for the movie; I’m always happy for people who get recognition.”

Looking back, he has been in showbiz for 20 years now. It is a good a time as any to reflect on his evolution as an actor.

He recalled: “I believe you should set your goals as an actor. It pays not to stop learning new things. That would improve your craft. True, experience is the best teacher not just for an actor, but for everyone. You have to undergo the process, you have to be a witness and go through it. It is the best way to learn. On the other hand, I strive to keep a well-balanced life in and out of showbiz. It is the only way to keep sane.”

At Venice Film Festival, Trillo (far left) with producer Dondon Monteverde, ‘Parasite’ director Bong Joon-ho, ‘On the Job: The Missing 8’ director Erik Matti, businessman Ernest Escaler and director Quark Henares

About author


He’s a freelance journalist who loves the opera, classical music and concerts, and who has had the privilege of meeting many of these artists of the performing arts and forging enviable friendships with them. Recently he’s been drawing readers to his poems in Facebook, getting known as the ‘Bard of Facebook.’

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