Op-Ed by Edwin A. Santos
Monday, September 5, 2016
Early in my career as an actor, I usually was the only Filipino-American on any given project. Many of my contemporaries felt the same way early in their careers — whether as an actor, a producer, an editor, a writer, or even as a background actor. I brought up this subject seven months ago, with editor friend, Dexter Adriano, who now works on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. He told me that early in his career, he felt a lot like he was the only one, not just in the company or on the project he was working on, but in the entire industry. Part of the reason I became an actor was to break through these barriers and make Filipino Americans a regular sighting.
Six years ago, acting took me to the Upright Citizens Brigade and in 2011, I was taking my UCB 301 class. One night, a bunch of us went to see Diamond Lion, a musical improv show at the UCB Theatre. And I will always remember that show, because that night I saw a Filipino guy support an initiation by starting a rap. It was hilarious to me, because his inflections were just like the mid-to-late-80’s KDAY 1580 AM hip hop I listened to. That was the first night I saw Eugene Cordero.
My initial reaction to him was: “Whoa, another Filipino!” I had just seen Rene Gube (now a writer on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) with his team, Hip Hop Penguin at Cagematch the year before, and he was the first Filipino performer I saw while at UCB. Was this the start of a trend? A year later, I just happened to see Eugene on East Hollywood’s Theatre Row while I was walking to my UCB 401 class. He was just standing outside with his notepad while on his phone. And a few months after that, I saw him again, as one of four teachers I had in my intensive advanced improv class.
Last year, when I was putting together the inaugural FAC Actors Panel, Eugene was my first choice — to represent not only as an actor, but also as a teacher. The panel was created to be a place for young Filipino American actors to see people who look like them successfully climbing that Hollywood ladder. And who better to show them than Eugene?
In Eugene’s pre-interview, he was asked: “What representation is out there for Filipino American talent to be improvisers?”
“To be improvisers, there’s plenty of room for us,” he said. “To find each other and create that group will take some time, but there is definitely a voice that needs to be heard as far as Filipino improvisers are concerned.”
Eugene’s momentum continued onto the big screen this summer with two movies, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and Ghostbusters: Answer The Call. And next year, we can look forward to seeing him in Kong: Skull Island. Could he be the Filipino American version of #StarringJohnCho?
Nico shared an interesting story about the origin of his character.
When asked how Filipinos and Asian Americans have reacted to his character, he said, “They’re super excited! I also didn’t realize how big a deal it was until I started getting a lot of messages on social media. Not only Filipino but like also seeing like a queer Filipino on television. When I was getting into the business, all I knew was Alec Mapa, the only ever queer Filipino I ever saw on television. When I saw him, I was like, ‘Oh! My God! Yes, there’s hope!’ It actually just made me think, wow there really isn’t a whole lot of us if we’re getting this type of response from everybody.”
At the same time, he pointed out that there’s still a long way for Filipino-Americans to go.
In 2011, my agent sent me out to a co-star audition for Raising Hope. In the breakdown, I saw the words “Filipino / Asian” used in the description for a guest-starring role. Specifically, Filipino / generally Asian. I was ecstatic. I’d never seen “Filipino” before on a television casting breakdown. I was also happy because it meant that writers were starting to create Filipino American characters!
In the end, talent should win, and more and more, that’s the change we’re starting to see. We’ve seen at both of our panels that Hollywood is starting to open up [link]. They will cast POC talent to roles originally written for Caucasian talent. In addition to Nico, Eugene mentioned that his role in Other Space was originally written for an African American character, and his role in House of Lies was originally written for a Caucasian character. And now I’m being brought in on auditions for characters written with Caucasian names such as the case in 2015 when I auditioned for a guest star role of a character named ‘Michael Patrick’ for The Real McCoys.
We’ve had some amazing guests on the first two years of the Actors Panel. It makes me excited to see who might join us next year and beyond. There’s a community of us out here, and it’s growing. The future can only get brighter.