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Photography: Stephen Capuchino

An aura of strength and charisma—it seems to come easily for tenured actor Raymond Bagatsing, who obliged StarStudio.ph for an exclusive photoshoot one Saturday afternoon.

From his professional demeanor alone, one can tell as to why he befits the role of a powerful historical figure like Philippine president Manuel L. Quezon in Quezon’s Game, the period piece currently racking up all kinds of awards in the international movie scene.

 

StarStudio.ph then took the opportunity to ask him about the indelible influences that shaped him—from the once timid child to the respected actor he is today.

 

Looking for a home in multiple houses

Raymond is lively as he talks about his childhood, describing it as a very interesting milieu.

 

His grandfather was then a mayor of Manila, while the country was in the fringes of Martial Law in the 1970s.  He was raised at the Bagatsing compound in Manila as Ramon San Diego Bagatsing Jr. III, to Ramon "Boy" Bagatsing Jr. and his mother Marilou San Diego.

 

He then lived in Nueva Ecija when he turned five, got used to the provincial life, only to return to Manila once more. At ten years old, he lived for a few months in the US, until his mother decided to bring him over to Melbourne, Australia.

 

Raymond's family
Photo from Instagram (bagatsingrk)

Moving from place to place can be overwhelming, especially when you’re too young to grasp the unfamiliarity of it all.

 

“It confused me for a long time,” Raymond says. “I was far away from my family, you know. It was only me and my mother that were in Australia. During that time kasi, naghiwalay sila.”

 

Despite the enviable advancements and standard of living of The Land Down Under, Raymond would find himself often longing for his family back home.

 

  

“I wasn’t totally a loner,” he explains. “Pero...it was just me and my mom. Nasa work siya all day. She’s a working mom.”

 

Despite the difficult set-up, he was the type of kid who didn’t resort to any trouble. Instead, he would do what we learned as one of the things Raymond does best—overcoming challenges by taking action for himself.

 

He would go to school alone, and would learn to cook on his own. “A lot of eggs and steaks and fried chicken. Ayun lang, paikot-ikot lang doon,” he says, chuckling as he reminisces with fondness, and explains that his mother would also cook for him when she can.

Raymond also found a way to wield these feelings from this period in his lifetime. “Parang pinrepare niya ako maging actor, e, kasi, medyo dramatic ‘yun! So nagamit ko ‘yun, kapag kinakailangan nila ko mag-emote.”

Raymond's brother RK posted a family picture

Photo from Instagram (bagatsingrk)

As the eldest of eight siblings, Raymond maintains a close relationship with them, and recalls a time when they got together after his four years in Melbourne. When he was a teenager, he went back to the Philippines for a year to simply be with his family.  

 

Dilemmas in school

In school, Raymond was quite shy, and only mingled with his close friends. “I didn’t know insecurities then, but I guess broken families do that to you. At saka minsan, pa-iba-iba ng lugar, then you start comparing yourself. Kapag ‘di ka at home, ‘di ka comfortable, you start feeling weird things growing up.”

 

It didn’t help that he was a minority in his school. “Ako lang ang Filipino sa school actually. I was friends with whoever, it doesn’t matter kung anong nationality nila. But may mga nagiging bully kasi, especially sa mga Asian kids sa mga panahon na ‘yon, kasi hindi pa nila alam ang Asian kids, e. Iba ang kulay namin.”

 

Photo from Fan Pix

It’s worth noting that Raymond Bagatsing isn’t pure Filipino—he’s of Indian-Persian-Spanish descent, and he also notes that his mother has distinct Chinese features. While he wasn’t bullied badly, he was concerned for his other friends who were also made fun of for the color of their skin.

 

Raymond resorts to striving to understand the motivations of those bullies. “I love Australia, it’s just that ganoon talaga, pag ‘di pa sanay.”

 

Eventually, Raymond found a way to cope with the situation. This was when he found his love for martial arts, which will prove to be instrumental in improving his self-reliance and his ability to stand up for himself.

 

He was even able to defend one of his friends at school—who was bullied for being nerdy. He remembers going up against one of the bullies. “There was also prejudice sa nerd-looking kids, e. I remember standing up for him, saying ‘Don’t do that again. Don’t push him, or else.’”

 

Raymond explains that he didn’t intend to find himself at the thick of it.

 

“I don’t know what I [was] gonna do, but ‘di ko sinasadya. Naawa lang ako sa kanya. Siguro they could’ve also beaten me up!”

 

A turning point

While he took martial arts seriously, he was already drawn to film as well. It was as if the stars were aligning, since Raymond was eventually granted the opportunity to combine his two passions—through ‘action’-oriented roles.

 

At first, he was simply scouted around malls for commercial offers, as Raymond seemed to have a face fit for television. He even laughingly recalls a time students surrounded their family car, mistaking him for a Menudo band member (a Latin boyband popular during the 80s) with his long locks of hair.

 

However, his dabbling into showbiz truly began during that year in the Philippines, when he was a teenager taking a vacation, and his father noticed him not doing anything much. “One year, bakasyon, parang lay low lang ako, understanding the culture that I missed. Biglang sabi niya, ‘Wala ka namang ginagawa, you’re always out, lakwatsa.’ Then he goes, ‘Mag-artista ka nalang!’”

 

Photo from US Asian Post

It wasn’t a random suggestion, since his father had a close affinity with showbiz. “My father had his own business. He was into politics. He had a lot of showbiz friends—sina Dolphy, FPJ…”

 

His dad Boy then introduced him to a director he knew. Raymond says, “Binigyan niya ‘ko ng role, pinatay niya agad ako the same day! A few scenes pa lang, patay na ‘ko. I was a bad boy, long hair pa ako noon, pony tail.  From Australia, you know.”

 

He said his first acting stint was in Kahit Singko ay Di Ko Babayaran ang Buhay Mo, which was written and directed by Lito Lapid, who he also looked up to at the time.

 

Photo from YouTube

Falling for acting

“Taga-Australia ka naman, e. Dapat parang foreigner pangalan mo. Raymond nalang!” his father then told his son, which is the reason behind his on-screen name. (His father, incidentally, was one of the people he looked up to—alongside Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, and other actors involved with  martial arts films.)

 

“I enjoyed [acting]. I didn’t know I was gonna be an actor. Hanggang ‘yong opportunity, nan’don. Hanggang sabi ng directors I worked with, kasi konting may fight scenes, ‘yung mga guesting, pinagma-martial arts nila ako. Then they said, ‘Okay pala ‘tong batang ‘to ah, okay magmartial arts, parang Karate Kid!”

 

“As a kid, oo ka nalang ng oo e,” he says with regard to taking projects at the time. It was also when he would still alternately go to Australia, where he also spent his formative years to study—and then accept projects whenever he goes back to the Philippines.

 

After a while, his father shifted his focus on his own business and was no longer offered much roles.

 

Realizing he wants to do more in the industry and aiming to start somewhere, the young Raymond once again sought opportunities on his own. He looked at newspapers, and called up one particular ad, and proclaimed that he wanted to be an actor or a model. They then invited him over, and this agency turned out to be Backroom Inc., a talent management company founded by Boy Abunda, which earned him some commercial gigs. This is when he met Tito Boy—whom he’s friends with up to now.

 

After seeking for more than just action roles, Raymond went back to Melbourne, but the showbiz bug remained with him, until he gave in. He sent postcards to friends he made back home, and wrote to them asking if there were any roles available for him. “And from then on, tuloy-tuloy na.”

 

A winding road

Raymond Bagatsing built a name for himself throughout his years in showbiz, from taking part in beloved teleseryes like Mula sa Puso (1997) to starring on hit dramas like Pusong Ligaw (2017).

 

Photo from Star Cinema

Throughout his career, he delved into other things as well—notably, being an acting teacher and a certified yoga instructor.

 

In 2004, Raymond became an acting teacher. “Dito muna sa Philippines ‘yon. I would hold free acting classes before sa bahay ko,” he says.

 

His brother RK Bagatsing, who we would also see on TV today, was greatly inspired by his older brother.  Becoming his acting mentor at around ten years old, Raymond would hold one-on-one acting workshops with him, even working with him on ‘how to cry’. Raymond remains proud of RK, who also managed to forge his own path in the world of showbiz.

 

Photo from Instagram (bagatsingrk)

“Ang tagal niyang pinaghirapan to get in. Everyday, it’s auditions, commercials, marami siyang rejections, but he didn’t stop. He kept at it for years and years to the point na low na low na yung energy niya, and he would come to me and say, kuys, tulungan mo ako. And I introduced him to some people, but it’s his journey. He had to prove to people that he’s deserving and capable...and he’s there now. I’m very proud of him.”

 

Photo from Instagram (bagatsingrk)

After his ten years in the industry, Raymond began craving something else, something higher. As a child he didn’t know what meditation was back then, but he supposed that he had always been searching for it, mimicking the contemplative gestures of his heroes in martial arts. Playing a lot of different roles and going through life challenges, Raymond had a spiritual yearning, like the priests he had known growing up (he at some point even considered being a seminarian).

 

At the very least, meditation was also of great use to him in his acting. “Nakakalma ka, narerelax ka, mas lumalalim yung intensity ng understanding mo, kasi mas tahimik ‘yung mind mo.”

 

“The hardest part is your insecurity. Kasi, lagi ka kino-compare sa iba. So lagi mo kinu-question sarili mo,” he says. When asked how he deals with the feeling, he says, “Well, I’m just human, [pero] hindi ko naman pinapakinggan. That’s what I learned from meditation. That’s just a voice, a voice of temptation, a voice of insecurity. If it’s not good, ‘wag mo nalang pakinggan.”

 

At the crux of things, Raymond carries important rules to live by as he continues to be a part of the industry. “Just be grateful. Respect everyone, apppreciate everyone. Before, naging intense ako as an actor. Sobrang focused ko [...] Then I realized it’s not about me lang. It’s not about my acting. It’s about the set. [The] family. Magpasalamat ka for every opportunity that you’re given.”

 

Into the game

And then, the opportunity to portray a Philippine president character came.

 

Photo from Instagram (raymondbagatsing)

The audition had some funny and conflicting incidents for Raymond. He had just finished a tiring set in Pusong Ligaw, when he received a text saying that he is being offered a role of Manuel Quezon.

 

Thinking it was already a done deal, he forced himself to come despite his lack of sleep. When he got there, he was asked, “Are you ready for the audition?”

 

Dawning on him that he still had to audition to get the role, Raymond rushed to pull himself together, and attempted to memorize a long script, racked his brain and reached for cups of coffee.

 

Photo from Instagram (raymondbagatsing)

With Lady Luck shining down on him, and his sheer talent, Raymond pulled it off.  The audition team applauded him after his line delivery—except for one person in the panel.

“Pagtingin ko sa director, hindi siya naka-smile. I was happy that I did well. [Pero] pagdating ko sa kanya he said, ‘Thank you, we’ll just get back to you.’ Yikes! Hindi ko ‘ata nakuha, he was not happy. My fellow Filipinos were supportive, pero iba ‘ata standard niya.”

Thinking it didn’t go well, Raymond remarks that he regretted even going and wished he slept instead. He didn’t hear anything for two months, until he received a message again, with the crew asking for a final audition. Also lacking sleep at the time, Raymond found a way to deal with the situation, like he always does. He replied to the message, saying something along the lines of, “Can you give me a guarantee na kapag punta ko diyan, ibibigay mo sa akin ‘yung role? Kung hindi naman, can you let me know now?” Raymond says, respectful but firm. He was also telling to himself, “Kung hindi naman, itutulog ko nalang.”

 

It evidently went well—since Raymond was then told that he got the role, and that they simply needed the formality of an audition. When he got there, there were still many people wanting to get the role.  He tried his best anyway, and put on his best suit.

 

The director, Jewish filmmaker Matthew Rosen, then apologized that he wasn’t able to keep in touch. He then revealed that his wife was a big fan of Raymond’s, who urged him that the actor was simply right to play the Commonwealth president.  He also said that he fought for Raymond to get the role—which was surprising for Raymond. When he told him about his unenthusiastic look during the auditions, the director went, “Oh really? Was that my expression?”

 

Director and writer on the set of Quezon's Game
Photo from Instagram (raymondbagatsing)

With his background of having political science as a college course, Raymond was also fascinated with history. He had done historical roles before such as Jose Rizal, and would burn eyebrows when preparing for the role by reading a lot. When given the Manuel Quezon role, he initially found the character daunting, which is why he tried his best to stay focused.

 

“Actually hindi naman serious [‘yung set], but I was a serious actor. Hindi ako pwede magtawanan nang masyadong matagal, tapos magulo ang isip ko.”

 

While he had fun with the cast and crew once in a while, Raymond kept to himself, immersing into his role. He can be called a method actor, but Raymond adds that he utilizes a lot of methods for his performances.

 

Photo from Instagram (raymondbagatsing)

His skill set as an actor definitely sounds befitting for a heavy period piece. The Star Cinema-Kinetek co-produced film follows events in 1938, when then president Manuel Quezon and other important figures set out to provide refuge for Jews from Germany and Austria during the horrors of the Nazi regime. The plot in itself focuses on an important moment in history, showcasing the capacity of humans to be selfless—in particular, the Filipinos. And yet, this was a lesser-known fact, a story that had yet to be told.

 

This reason is perhaps what drove the filmmakers and actors to do their best to contribute to the film.

 

“Genius comes with a price,” Raymond says, when recalling the making of the film. The director wanted things to be perfect. At one point they had around 30 takes, going up and down a long staircase in order to perfect their scene and deliver convincing dialogue.

 

Photo from Instagram (raymondbagatsing)

It was during the first VIP screening of the film when Raymond realized the extent of the passion put behind this project. “Actually I was dumbfounded. I was awestruck. I was crying, although I tried not to cry too much, especially when I had to shake hands after (the screening)...Napipiyok na ako. I was so moved by the Filipinos. I was moved by this president...Ibang tao na ang nakikita doon. I wasn’t just watching myself, I was watching someone in history who looks like me.”

 

Photo from Instagram (raymondbagatsing)

What he admired the most was the ‘magnanimous’ hearts of the Filipino. On his similarities with the late president, he says, “First and foremost, I’m a full-blooded Filipino by heart. Whatever may run in my blood, my ancestry, I’m a proud Filipino, and I have a big heart like President Quezon. I will do whatever I can, kahit mahirap, kapag may nangangailangan as much as I can.”

 

While Quezon’s Game has reaped 23 international awards so far, Raymond generally doesn’t think too much about recognition. He fears it will only distract him. He doesn’t aim for awards—he believes it would only breed insecurity and disappointment. What matters is that he gives it all, every time.  He cares very much for the film being well-received by audiences, since he also hopes that hard work will pay off for the filmmakers and producers who worked so hard to get the beautiful story out there.

 

“At the end of the day,” he muses, “it’s always about love. Life is about love. And how you love and appreciate others, in turn, is [how] you get to love yourself more.”

 

He then shares his own personal takeaway from the film. “How can one live a life of unselfishness? The greatest challenge is how to love beyond yourself. Beyond the call of duty, but the call of the needs of times as a human being….[Quezon was] fighting in helping the Jews. I won’t tell too much [about the movie], but at the end of the day what matters is love, and the journey.”

 

Raymond’s very own stories of personal triumphs, as well as his latest film, might also resonate with the most ordinary true Filipino—who would easily open his doors, and his heart, to those in need.  

 

Art Direction: Alfred Amado

Hair and Make-Up: Adora Regala

Stylist: Perry Tabora assisted by Kris De Leon

Photographer's Associate: Jobo Antonio Nacpil