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MMFF 2023 Best Actor Cedrick Juan on speaking up as an artist and telling stories of the world

By Susan Claire Agbayani Published Jan 07, 2024 2:17 pm

Actor Cedrick Juan has just been awarded Best Actor in this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) for his performance as Padre Jose Burgos in GomBurZa. While he has been acting since college—or some 14 years now—it’s the first time he’s been given a lead role, that big a break, and on the silver screen.

Although Cedrick won over seasoned actors Christopher de Leon, Piolo Pascual, as well as renowned actors Dingdong Dantes, Derek Ramsay, and Alden Richards, the road to becoming Best Actor was not necessarily an easy one.

There was a lot of pressure from his family to get a “decent, full-time job,” being the second child in a brood of eight siblings. But he really wanted to be an actor, so sometime in the mid-2010s, he begged his father to please, please support his choice to pursue art.

At that time, he was earning only P400 per performance, and didn’t receive anything for rehearsals. He also used to travel all the way from his residence in Sta. Maria, Bulacan, to Dulaang UP’s base in the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines.

Cedrick during his interview with PhilSTAR L!fe (left) | Cedrick with GomBurZa director Pepe Diokno during the film's screening at Cinema 76 (right)

His acting journey

Cedrick started doing plays as a junior Mass Communications major at Far Eastern University.

His experience as a “techno modern” dancer in high school served him well on his first role as a partner to cancan girls in Moulin Rouge.

One day, Joey Ting, one of his mentors in theater and film, asked him: “Ced, gusto mo bang umarte? Gusto mo bang mag-theater? I would like to cast you for a certain role.”

From there, there was no stopping him. He appeared in Life is a Dream and Piyong.

After having done commercials in 2012, he “dove deeper,” and learned the basics of theater at Dulaang UP. At 23, he probably was the eldest in a class of predominantly 16-year-olds and a 10-year-old.

He was part of a series of Dulaang UP theater productions: Adarna, Teatro Porvenir, and Hakbang sa Hakbang. He also did a series of plays with director Jose Estrella such as Bilanggo ng Pag-ibig and Hari ng Wala.

One of the reasons why Jose is a favorite director of his is because she “will help you discover your character. You can dissect a lot.” The actor is encouraged to go beyond the script, a tool he learned in theater that serves him in good stead on the silver screen.

Cedrick was supposed to perform the role of Barbie in Die Beautiful, but his earlier commitment to do Ang Sugilanon ng Kabiguan ni Epefania for Virgin Labfest that year meant that he would miss one crucial shooting day of this movie. He was eventually given the character of Erika, a supporting role to Paolo Ballesteros and Christian Bables. This stint was followed by a role as Bong, a trigger-happy killer in Oro.

Cedrick plays the role of Bong in Oro 

In 2016, he entered the teleserye scene and became the love interest of Kim Molina in Till I Met You starring Nadine Lustre, James Reid, and JC Santos.

A year later, Cedrick returned to theater–his first love–and to his first acting mentor, Joey Ting. Art Theater Manila mounted Sakuntala: Ang Singsing ng Kapalaran, where he got his first recognition as Best Actor for a Non-Musical Play from Aliw Awards.

Cedrick as Dusyanta in Sakuntala: Ang Singsing ng Kapalaran 

Cedrick eventually became one of the pioneer artists managed by Idea First Company. He took a break from theater for five years.

In late 2022, he underwent a workshop for voice, and took on the role of Maximo in Mula sa Buwan’s rerun for the year. However interested he was, he missed the initial call for auditions for the film GomBurZa.

Cedrick as Maximo in the 2022 rerun of Mula sa Buwan 

On playing Padre Burgos in GomBurZa 

Cedrick had initially auditioned with casting director Danna Simbre for the role of Cavite Mutiny leader Fernando La Madrid (which eventually went to Arnold Reyes) in GomBurZa.

He always wanted to understand the character arc of his roles, so he asked the film producer for the entire script co-written by Rody Vera, Pepe Diokno, with additional dialog by Ian Victoriano.

“Binasa ko s’ya. Naging emotional (ako) after reading it. Maganda ang pagkakasulat,” Cedrick told PhilSTAR L!fe, adding that reading it “re-ignited” the fire of nationalism in him.

Back then, he simply was so thrilled that he “will be part of this historical film.”

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A post shared by Cedrick Juan (@cedrickgjuan)

He then hoped that he would be allowed to audition for the role of Padre Burgos, which was undoubtedly every actor’s dream: very challenging, and one that would require an actor to invest much time and effort into depicting the role.

The series of auditions that Cedrick had to go through wasn’t smooth, and was fraught with technical glitches. In the first week of January last year, Cedrick was invited for a “final casting.”

Cedrick did a series of readings with acting coach Bombi Plata. During the prison cell scene, “Binabasa ako ni Direk Bombi sa mata. Sabi niya, ‘Nakikita ko ang empathy mo. I think you want to do more. I think you can do more?’”

Pepe asked him “Would you like to do Padre Burgos?” It was a no-brainer for Cedrick. “Yes talaga!” he said.

That was when he learned that they’d been looking for an actor to do Padre Burgos “for the longest time.” Pepe put his photo side by side with THE Padre Burgos. “Grabe ang resemblance mo,” Pepe told him.

Cedrick portrays Padre Burgos in GomBurZa 

“We have a lot of wonderful and skillful artists in the Philippines. We just need time. Although I had a month and a half of preparation, there really is not that much luxury and privilege in filming. In theater, you’d have a month or two months of preparation,” Cedrick said, adding that this gives you sufficient time to “really get to know your character, more than the given emotions, nuance”—largely because “you can rehearse it a couple of times.”

He’s hoping that the preparation for theater could also be done in the TV and film industries. GomBurZa was done in just 17 days, according to its director.

“When I got the role, I read the script plenty of times. I really want(ed) to understand the context,” Cedrick said. He didn’t memorize the script yet. “The biggest challenge to me was the language barrier. I had to work on that first, or it will be a burden.” Since he felt that not hurdling this would ruin his composure and acting, he asked for a language coach from Jesuit Communications.

Cedrick's notes on his GomBurZa script

First, he had Julio Perillian, who had previously depicted Padre Sanchez in Ignacio de Loyola for JesCom. Julio sent him chunks of recordings via email that would show the proper way of pronunciation, and sent him recordings with emotions, then with gaps between lines, later.

He had face-to-face conversations in Spanish with Mr. Chaco at JesCom. In these conversations with him, they adjusted some lines, depending on the context of the situation.

The cast, however, had Roven Alejandro as the main language coach on the set who, according to Pepe, “taught Spanish and Latin to the cast.” He helped Cedrick “stylize conversations” in Latin with Burgos’ students. Roven had a cameo role in the pub scenes.

‘Artists must speak up, be storytellers’

Cedrick dedicated his Best Actor award from the 49th MMFF to Filipinos who are fighting for justice. “Inaalay ko po ito, itong parangal na ito, para sa lahat ng Pilipinong hindi nakakakuha ng tamang hustisya dahil 152 years ago, ganun po ‘yung nangyari sa atin at ‘yun po ang kwento ng tatlong paring martir,” he said during the 2023 MMFF Gabi ng Parangal on Dec. 27. “Sana ay matuto tayo sa ating history—hindi para baguhin ito kundi para matuto.”

Cedrick's Best Actor trophy from the 2023 Metro Manila Film Festival

“Anywhere you are in the world, it seems, justice is expensive for anyone to achieve,” he told L!fe as he talked about his acceptance speech. “You can attain it if you’re rich, privileged, and powerful. It is difficult to achieve if you are poor.”

He said that there are people who fight to have a caring, loving, and inclusive government. But some are afraid to go against the powerful because they receive death threats, get red-tagged, or worse, become victims of extrajudicial killings.

“A hundred and fifty two years ago, that’s what happened to the three priest martyrs. They were falsely accused, so that there’d be fall guys. They were forced by the Spanish government. It still happens today,” he said.

“We need to have a collective consciousness and effort so that it doesn’t happen again and again. Even if you are not directly affected, you need to fight the oppressors for the oppressed,” he added.

As someone who grew up in theater, which he described as a place “where you don’t work for awards and fame,” he strongly believes that if you see something, you shouldn’t just keep quiet about it. “You are an artist. You tell the stories of the world. One of the roles of artists is to speak up. We are tools of storytelling,” he said.

“This is not about you, Cedrick,” he recalled telling himself, adding that it is “[his] investment and contribution to nation-building.” And his resolve is so much stronger because GomBurZa is about nationalism.

Look test for Cedrick in GomBurZa 

“‘Yung hustisya, magpapagising siya ng mga diwa nating Pilipino. Equality ang ipinaglaban ng mga martir dati,” he said.

Cedrick is pleased that the “political leanings” of his father Pablo “Eboy” Juan—sanitary and civil engineer, and now vice mayor of Sta. Maria, Bulacan—and his are aligned.

“As an artist, as an actor, hindi ako magpapadala sa pera,” he stressed. “Gusto ko gamitin ang craft ko to help our community. To help educate our people.”