For someone who is known to be one of Philippine cinema's most daring male stars, actor Ernie Garcia is actually a reserved person in real life.
"It's like being in the wrong business," he said with a laugh during an interview with PEP (Philippine Entertainment Portal) at his modest yet comfortable abode, which doubles as an art studio, inside an exclusive subdivision.
But showbiz is not entirely the wrong industry for the former University of Santo Tomas Architecture student, given that most of his life, he has dedicated himself to arts and performing.
FROM TV TO THE MOVIES. Ernie started his showbiz career on television in the ‘70s before trying his hand at the movies.
Prior to acting, the then 16-year-old neophyte was more known as a singer whose repertoire would range from popular ballads to upbeat numbers.
He had his first taste of real acting when he filled in for Eddie Peregrina in the soap opera Aliw ng Buhay, and was paired with fellow young upstart, Gina Alajar.
Ernie's TV drama stint caught the producers' attention and eventually paved the way for his entry into the movies.
"I was asked to play important roles in three Vilma Santos films—Takbo, Vilma, Dali; Hatinggabi na Vilma; and Lipad, Darna, Lipad," said Ernie.
He was soon paired with Chanda Romero in Uhaw na Bulaklak, which became a big hit, especially to the "Bisaya" audience. The success of the team-up resulted in three more movies—Alma Bonita, Ikaduhang Bathala, and Sabrina. All these films raked in huge box office sales, which gave Ernie the title King of Visayan Movies.
Subsequently, the public also started seeing Ernie as a serious-sexy actor, an image he perfectly carried out in the movies Hubad sa Mundo, Araw-Araw, Gabi-gabi, Beer House, Sumigaw Ka Hanggang Ibig Mo, Amor Seko, Ingat Kayo, Playboy Ako, Pagmamahal Mo, Buhay Ko, Eva Fonda, 16, Bukas Sisikat Din Ang Araw, among many others. He also starred in a Hong Kong-Korean-Philippines joint project titled Ang Mahiwagang Kris.
But of all his films, Ernie was particularly proud of the 1982 Celso Ad Castillo obra, Virgin People. When the movie premiered at the Manila Film Center, the sizeable crowd applauded Ernie's acting—which still gives him chills to this day, every time he recalls the event.
Not minding the instant fame and public attention, Ernie admitted that the “sexy actor” tag has its drawbacks.
"People tend to typecast you and think of you solely as a sexy actor. It's hard to achieve artistic growth and variety when it comes to roles. Alam mo kasi ang promotion sa mga sexy films tulad ng mga ginagawa ko is sobra yong hype, kaya iba ang dating sa ibang tao na hindi nakakapanood. Pero hindi naman grabe or garapal 'yong mga commercial sexy films noon and may quality," he explained.
To give himself some space and temporarily shed his sexy image, Ernie decided to take a short hiatus in the ‘80s. He resumed his love for singing and performed in the U.S. and Japan.
When Ernie came back, he was happy to find people, as well as showbiz insiders, treating him with respect and remembering him for the depth of his acting. To slowly depart from the old Ernie, he revived his career in the movies and television, and also entered the worlds of theater and painting.
PAINTING FOR ACTING. At the height of his interest in stage production, Ernie rekindled his love for the visual arts and started taking painting seriously. He first experimented on the canvas, and eventually explored taxing mediums like tiles and fiberglass.
Nowadays, his dedication for his art is so intense that the former actor's residence has become more of an art studio than a house. He has already mounted two exhibits. And presently, he is busy putting the finishing touches on a painting commissioned by a restaurant.
Unlike some of his peers, Ernie still gets offers from TV networks to star in their telenovelas and projects from the indie film circuit.
"I have to like the story and the role," he answered when asked about his considerations in accepting projects. "Minsan hindi naman talaga ‘yong role since nasubukan ko na yata lahat ng roles. Mahalaga 'yong story and concept, especially ‘pag medyo kakaiba ang atake ng istorya."
Aside from acting, Ernie is also good at separating showbiz from his private life. Even when he was just a newbie, he was already cautious about letting the industry consume him. Developing his other talents enabled him to treat his celebrity status more objectively, and it’s a fact he clearly explained:
"I want to be respected by my colleagues and the public. And I've always known that I have other things to offer aside from acting."