By Niki Yarte — More than a decade since his big break in Mel Chonglo’s Lagarista, Piolo Pascual is still making waves and headlines in Philippine entertainment. His latest film, Starting Over Again with Toni Gonzaga, was a certified box office hit, raking in around P400 million at the box office. Currently he can be seen opposite Nikki Gil and Iza Calzado on prime time soap opera Hawak Kamay. He also just recently signed on to do a romantic Valentine’s Day feature with pop star Sarah Geronimo. His face and persona is still used to launch new products or promote old ones – from vitamin supplements to financial plans – and he still attends to his recurring gig as host and performer on ASAP.
However, when his 2013 self-produced film On the Job opened to critical acclaim but struggled commercially, raking in only P11 million, doubts were raised about his continued credibility to fill theaters. The film was the latest in a string of projects that counted on his bankability but performed less stellarly than expected, including his team-ups with Angelica Panganiban (Every Breath U Take), Angel Locsin (Love Me Again), Regine Velazquez (Paano Kita Iibigin), and Bea Alonzo (Dream Boy).
Last year, the 37-year old actor opened up about feeling “used up”, empathizing with fellow actor John Lloyd Cruz, who had earlier expressed his own intentions for early retirement, citing “being married to the industry” for practically half his life as his primary reasoning. Piolo added that he wanted to commit more time to his US-based son Iñigo who would soon be turning 18 years old. With his ABS-CBN contract also soon to expire, many tabloids, blogs, and fans speculated that Piolo was approaching his final year in showbiz.
As the actor himself revealed earlier this year, Starting Over Again could just as easily have been his last film. During the film’s victory party, an emotional Piolo told a room full of reporters: “I was ready to settle down in the States. I was so at peace knowing that this [film] could be my swan song.”
Indeed, Starting Over Again would’ve capped off an illustrious career that saw Piolo’s star blaze brighter than his contemporaries Diether Ocampo and Marvin Agustin who were already shining when he was just starting as a bit player in the late 1990s. His stirring performance in 2002’s Dekada ‘70 earned him every possible accolade for that year and remains one of his most memorable to date. His onscreen chemistry with Judy Ann Santos produced one of the most well-received love teams in recent memory, yielding four movies that were among his most successful vehicles: Kahit Isang Saglit (2000), Bakit ‘Di Totohanin (2001), ‘Til There Was You (2003), and Don’t Give Up On Us (2006). Another critical and commercial success was 2004’s Milan with Claudine Barretto. Behind the scenes, he has an impressive array of films under his producer belt including the independent digital film Manila (2009), the successful Kimy Dora franchise, and, of course, OTJ.
His meteoric rise to superstardom, of course, didn’t come without its set of drawbacks. From hounding questions about his sexuality to his much-publicized relationship and eventual break-up with KC Concepcion and even Iñigo’s supposed disapproval of rumored fling and OTJ co-star Shaina Magdayao, much of his vaulted personal life had been forcibly pried open despite protest from the self-described “private person”. Piolo admitted that he would be more than happy to leave this part of his life behind.
However, ABS-CBN and even Iñigo had other plans. The network recently extended his contract for another couple of years, immediately giving him a new show and a movie to busy himself with. “[More than the contract] it was the support of my station and the support of the people around me. Headlining a show [and] a movie [is] a blessing,” he said about the change of heart.
Piolo also shares that this son dissuaded him from retiring and that the younger Pascual still wanted to see his father on TV. Iñigo is currently in the country promoting his first feature film, Relaks, It’s Just Pag-Ibig, which his father also produced. “I don’t want him to be in showbiz but it’s in the blood”, he once said about his son following in his footsteps. “I was hoping that he’ll make a name for himself in the States first, so he won’t have to be in my shadow.”
With a new contract and a son whose career he is certain to look after, it would be a while before we see the last of Piolo Pascual – even as younger actors like Coco Martin, who recently took over two of his most prolific endorsements, and Gerald Anderson, who he personally picked to star with in OTJ, ready themselves to fill the vacuum he would eventually leave. When that time comes, it’s hard to imagine that Piolo wouldn’t be ready or welcoming. Despite being advised against talking about retirement, Piolo openly admits: “I cannot wait for the time that I get my life back. I’m not getting any younger and I still want to take on other things.”