Thursday April 2, 2015

Ferdinand Ambo Mesias_actorIf you’ve been avidly surveying the movies at the Mindanao Film Festival for the past years, then it’s hard not to recognize him – yeah, that guy with the hard-to-miss burly built and full beard. You might not remember his real name but you won’t surely forget his reel persona – the quintessential villain.

Ferdinand Mesias is known as Ambo in the film industry. Born with character actor genes written all over him, he started stage acting when he was a kid. Belonging to a family of stage actors, his exposure to the thespian craft was inevitable.

“I have been in love with films ever since I was around four or five years old. My ninangs and my mom were all actresses from PETA [Philippine Educational Theater Association]” Ambo related.

“My mom was friends with one of the owners of the old movie theaters here in Davao City and that’s why I could watch movies for free,” he added. And that was the beginning of his fascination with cinema and the silver screen.

But his initiation to the jungle of independent cinema only started when he joined the Guerrilla Filmmaking Workshop, which is annually organized by the Mindanao Film and Television Development Foundation, Inc.

“Matagal ko nang gusto sumali ‘dun,” he explained referring to the said workshop. He has already heard about it since 2003 but he only got to join in 2008. He joined the Guerilla Filmmaking Workshop seminar under Peque Gallaga and exclaimed, “Wala na, on my first day pa lang I fell in love with it. I knew na it was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.” That was the official birth of Ambo, The Actor.

Ambo Mesias villainMenacing characters are his forte. He played the wife-beating husband of Carmen Smith in Arnel Barbarona’s “Kinder ton leader.” In Gary Bautista’s “Bantay”, he played a thief and a drug pusher which earned him the Best Actor trophy in the 8th Mindanao Film Festival. Ever since his first film, he has always been cast as the quintessential villain.

“I always get cast as a bad guy or somebody na medyo negative. Hopefully hindi naman ako ma-stereotype for that pero so far ganun ang mga roles na nakukuha ko,” he said.

His other movies are “Masaligan” by Gary Bautista, Arnel Barbarona’s “Life with a Knife”, which won an award in the Mindanao Film Festival in 2013, “Panywayan” directed by Raven Gatapia, and recently in Bagane Fiolas’s “Sonata Maria.”

In a fledgling industry, paid acting jobs are hard to come by but Ambo knows he cannot just accept any role for the sake of money. He concedes that “pa-cute” roles are more for the likes of Daniel Padilla and Sam Milby, claiming that what really suits him are those bad guy characters. “Hindi naman bad talaga… just characters that are a little bit more intense,” he explained.

Physical and emotional preparation are the keys in tackling a role. Ambo shares that these are important principles to make one’s acting more convincing to the audience.

He lends the following practical tips in acting. If you’re a dying patient then physically you have to look thin and weary. If you’re playing a teacher or a priest then it’s appropriate to get a haircut and shave. To internalize a reel life persona, Ambo suggests “Ask a lot of whys” while reading a script. He adds, “You try to make it as natural as possible. Yun hindi mo siya i-ACT out. Kumbaga you make the reaction normal para sa ‘yo. You put yourself in the character’s shoes and you react as normally as you can.”

Ambo Mesias_Carmen SmithAmbo chose to be a character actor rather than be a leading man because he believes that being a matinee idol has a shelf life. It has an expiry date.

“Good looks go with time but if you have talent it will stay with you habang buhay,” he exclaims. He adds that Hollywood actors like Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Cruise are a few examples of leading men who refuse to be pigeon-holed to be only good-looking. They also choose roles that allow themselves to transform.

He considers himself as an instrument to be used by the storyteller to tell his story. “I hope naman na a-achieve ko yun. I hope na that’s what I get to accomplish every time I step in front of a camera.”

Ambo has a huge trust on the directors he works with. He chooses projects that he knows will be award-winning like Gary Bautista’s “Masaligan” and “Bantay” and also Arnel Barbarona’s “Life with a Knife”. True enough these two directors emerged as grand slammers during the years they won at the Mindanao Film Fest.

According to him an award is a nice thing to have, but it should not be the defining factor for one to continue filmmaking. For Ambo, if he loves the role but the director says there’s no budget, he will still gladly do it for passion.

“Whether I win or not, I am just happy to be part of the industry; to be part of this movement,” he proclaimed, spoken in true Best Actor breath.

Aside from acting, his love for films extends to writing screenplays. He also wears the assistant director hat for full length films. Ambo also believes in advocating film literacy in schools. Together with his filmmaking buddies, he organized SineSkwela, a workshop for acting, directing and cinematography. They usually partner with colleges and conduct the workshop inside the school.

As he appears in more films every year, his face gets recognized in public more frequently now but still never his name. “Most of the time people don’t know my name but they’ll say Oh, yeah, there’s THAT guy! That guy in this so and so film… They’ll say oh you were in…” Ambo shrugs it off with a chuckle.

For Ambo, he may be fast becoming a celebrity but he’d rather remain anonymous — allowing him to blend more into the character he’s giving life on the silver screen.


The writer KC Coquilla is a Communication Arts graduate from the University of the Immaculate Conception. She’s also one of the founding staff members of FinD. 

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