It is perhaps the most anticipated showbiz comeback in recent memory.
John Lloyd Cruz—one of the industry’s most popular yet enigmatic stars—is returning to the big screen via the movie, Servando Magdamag.
The film is based on the Palanca Award-winning short story written in 1970 by renowned screenwriter Ricky Lee.
Directing the project for Black Sheep, a subsidiary of ABS-CBN’s film production outfit Star Cinema, is award-winning director Lav Diaz.
John Lloyd plays the lead character in the film, which revolves around a family of Spanish hacienderos dealing with the death of their patriarch.
PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) had an exclusive interview with Ricky when he was honored as one of three recipients of the Camera Obscura Award on February 10, 2020. This was the highest recognition given during the 4th Film Ambassadors' Night of the Film Development Council of the Philippines held at the Maybank Performing Arts Theater, BGC, Taguig City.
Ricky recalled writing the story back in college as an AB English student at the University of the Philippines.
“That time akti-aktibista na 'ko sa U.P., so marami akong nalalamang kuwento-kuwento tungkol sa agrarian unrest, and I wanted to write a short story. Pero masaya ako sa istorya na yon kasi, bukod sa nanalo siya ng Palanca, ginagamit siya sa klase nung ilang mga teachers sa U.P., sa Ateneo.”
The Palanca Awards honors literary works, including essays, short stories, plays, novels.
For his part, it was while studying at the Ateneo de Manila University that Lav Diaz would discover Ricky's short story.
“Nag workshop siya [Lav] sa akin and pag nagkakausap kami, lagi niyang sinasabi na gusto niyang gawin [na movie],” said Ricky, who gave Lav the freedom to steer the film’s narrative according to the director's vision.
Even back then, Lav had only John Lloyd Cruz firmly in mind to do the lead role of Servando Sais.
Ricky agreed with Lav.
"Bagay si John Lloyd dahil sa itsura...haciendero. Then age niya, at mahusay si John Lloyd. Kaya niyang maging big star and yet being a big star does not stand in the way of his being a character and doing good acting. Hindi nakaharang ang image na big star.”
Servando Magdamag will serve as John Lloyd’s comeback project after two years of inactivity from show business.
Ricky, who visited the film’s set only once, had this to say about the enigmatic actor: “Very comfortable siya. Nagkukuwentuhan kami nang nagkukuwentuhan tungkol sa pagsusulat, tungkol sa directing, okay naman. Parang hindi naman [siya nanibago].”
John Lloyd Espidol Cruz was born on June 24, 1983 to Aida Espidol and Luisito Llora Cruz.
He attended grade school at the Marikina Catholic School, and was discovered by a talent scout while in a mall with friends.
John Lloyd’s foray into show business was prodded by the desire to help his family cope with the financial worries brought about by the family's failing business.
“Gusto ko lang talagang makatulong financially sa parents ko," John Lloyd said in an interview with Jeepney TV. "Yong daddy ko marble industry ang pinagkukuhaan ng pangtustos sa amin, kaya lang yong transition from marble to tiles, naapektuhan talaga kami, and I wanted to help out.”
John Lloyd, for most of his career, has kept his family life private.
But he did grant a revealing interview several years ago with actress and showbiz batchmate Jodi Sta. Maria for Cinema One.
“When I was a child graduating from kindergarten I wanted to be a soldier. Gusto ko mapunta sa navy, and I wanted to be a pilot,” admitted John Lloyd.
“Mahiyain ako nung bata ako pero may mga times sa gathering sa bahay ng lola ko na medyo nagpapasikat na rin ako. Siguro bata pa lang ako, siguro parang may ganun na, siguro nga gusto ko maging artista.”
He also revealed: “Sa family, we don’t really talk. Hindi ako lumaki na sinasabi ko yong dreams ko sa mommy ko or sa daddy ko, or tinatanong nila ako about my dreams— hindi kami ganun ka-expressive.”
“So, sa family kanino ka close?” Jodi asked.
“Wala,” John Lloyd replied simply.
“As a son, I think okay naman ako na anak," he said. Then he added, candidly, "I must admit na hindi naman ako naging ganun na ka-perfect na son.
“Marami rin akong naging problema, marami rin silang naging problema sa akin. Naging matigas din yong ulo ko, marami rin akong mga dreams nila na hindi ko sinunod. Parang ordinaryong anak pa rin, lahat naman tayo ganun.”
JOHN LLOYD THE MATINEE IDOL
John Lloyd—Lloydie, as he is called in showbiz; Idan, as he is called at home—appeared in several shows as a young aspiring actor.
His biggest break came when he became a member of Batch 5 of ABS-CBN’s talent-management arm, Star Magic.
Lloydie—with Baron Geisler and Marc Solis—would form the teen trio Koolits, charming the public with their boyish looks and uncoordinated dance moves.
“Parang wala kaming nabuo na sayaw na sabay-sabay kami,” John Lloyd recalled to Cinema One, chuckling.
But it was the teen drama series, Tabing Ilog, which turned John Lloyd Cruz into a certified household name.
“Dun na nagbago lahat. Mas na-appreciate ko na yong tinatawag nilang craft. Napunta talaga sa amin yong drama ni Kaye Abad, e," he said, adding, "Kaya dun talaga lumalim yong eye bags ko.”
“Pero totoo dun nagsimula. Medyo heavy nga talaga dun kasi we were tackling yong real issues noon ng kabataan.”
He spoke of the blessed chance given him to work with talented actors.
“Sa tingin ko, it was quite inevitable because I was working alongside Daria Ramirez, Pen Medina, Caridad Sanchez, Angel Aquino. Talagang wala kang choice kundi matuto.
“Si Rovic [John Lloyd’s character in the show] din, kasi karamihan ng learnings ko in the business parang siya yong ginagawa kong character, e. Kasi Tabing Ilog ran for five years, so matagal-tagal. Ang dami mong natutunan, ang dami mong napulot sa mga kasama mo. And yong mga tina-tackle naming issues, nabuksan din yong diwa ko. So, it’s quite memorable.”
The young John Lloyd—under Star Magic, which was run by Johnny Manahan and Mariole Alberto—would take on more TV roles that showcased his growing depth as an actor.
He played Yuri in Kay Tagal Kang Hinintay (2002), top-billed It Might Be You (2004) with love team partner Bea Alonzo, portrayed Oliver in Ikaw Ang Lahat Sa Akin (2005), and assumed the role of Eli in Maging Sino Ka Man (2006).
The rising popularity of the John Lloyd-Bea tandem prompted Star Cinema, the film arm of the Kapamilya network, to cast the pair in the 2003 romance film, My First Romance, alongside Heart Evangelista and John Prats.
In 2004, John Lloyd and Bea starred in Now That I Have You. The movie’s success would solidify the love team’s commercial appeal in the eyes of ABS-CBN bigwigs.
While the 2006 movies Close to You and All About Love both did well in theaters, it was One More Chance in 2007 that would immortalize the John Lloyd-Bea love team as among the most memorable in modern Philippine cinema.
The film saw John Lloyd and Bea portray the characters of Popoy and Basha—longtime college sweethearts who separate because of Basha’s goals for self-growth.
Directed by Cathy Garcia-Molina, the film was a superior film, but was also memorable for other reasons.
One, the acting of John Lloyd and Bea, individually and together, was superb.
Two, the movie, written by Carmi Raymundo and Vanessa Valdez, spawned many unforgettable lines.
“P**ang ina naman Bash, ganyan ka ba katigas?” fumed an angry and heartbroken Popoy in a confrontation with his ex-sweetheart.
A distraught Basha begging for a second chance: “Ako na lang, ako na lang ulit.”
Popoy’s reply to a crying Basha: “She loved me at my worst, you had me at my best.”
More than the awards and box-office earnings, One More Chance would become a Pinoy pop culture gem, with Popoy and Basha taking their place among some of Philippine showbiz’s most beloved film lovers.
The John Lloyd-Bea tandem would appear in more films, all of which made money: Miss You Like Crazy (2010), The Mistress and 24/7 in Love (2012), and A Second Chance (2015), which is a sequel to One More Chance.
Incidentally, the onscreen chemistry between the two stars never translated into a real-life romance—at least as far as the public knows—to the utter dismay of Bea-Lloydie diehards.
“We never had to resort to gimmicks, we never had to pretend to be a couple para tangkilikin ng tao,” Bea once said about their pairing.
“Nung time na binubuo yong love team namin, yon yung panahon na uso na kapag love team kayo, dapat kayong dalawa sa totoong buhay. Kami lang yong hindi."
Paying John Lloyd the highest compliment, Bea also said, “Siguro siya pa rin yong pinakapaborito kong ka-eksena. He knows me. He knows kapag naaabot ko yong emosyon na gusto kong maabot. He knows kung hindi ko masyadong naibigay. He keeps me on my toes all the time. It’s a great working relationship.”
While Bea will always be considered John Lloyd’s perennial screen partner, the actor’s tandem with pop singer-actress Sarah Geronimo also left its mark in the hearts of viewers.
Together, John Lloyd and Sarah—assuming the characters of Miggy Montenegro and Laida Magtalas—would star in the romantic-comedy trilogy A Very Special Love (2008), You Changed My Life (2009), and It Takes a Man and a Woman (2013).
The two also top-billed the blockbuster rom-com hit, Finally Found Someone, in 2017.
“The kind of movies that we do, kami ni Sarah, it’s so unique that pakiramdam ko, siya lang yong puwede kong makasama sa paggawa ng ganung klase,” John Lloyd said about the ability of the Popstar Princess to do comedy and drama.
John Lloyd’s resumé, however, goes beyond the romance genre which he has mastered.
He has appeared, to lesser commercial success, in the legal drama film The Trial (2014), the crime drama Honor Thy Father (2015), and the historical fantasy drama Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis (2016).
JOHN LLOYD AND HIS LADY LOVES
Like most celebrities, John Lloyd’s romantic liaisons are always of interest to the crowd.
His known girlfriends from showbiz include Kaye Abad, Krista Ranillo, Ciara Sotto, the stylist Liz Uy, Ruffa Gutierrez, Shaina Magdayao, and Angelica Panganiban.
On January 3, 2018, sexy actress Ellen Adarna revealed via Instagram that she and John Lloyd were in a relationship, putting an end to months of speculation about the real score between them.
Her Instagram post showed a photo of John Lloyd hanging out with Ellen’s family in Cebu.
“Di ba??? Hahaha kinsay nag too na ma kami diay lol. (Di ba? Hahaha sinong mag-aakala na magiging kami lol.),” replied Ellen to a non-showbiz friend in the comments’ thread of the post.
The two met were thrust together on the set of ABS-CBN’s comedy sitcom, Home Sweetie Home, which John Lloyd top-billed with actress Toni Gonzaga.
Rumors about the romance were already making headlines even before Ellen's revelation.
But John Lloyd and Ellen chose to stay mum about their romance, leaving their candid photos circulating online to do the talking instead.
Then John Lloyd posted this on September 24, 2017: “Sobrang baduy neto pero this girl really did something good to my soul. i'll always be grateful.”
With the Instagram post also came a photograph of the two of them lying comfortably in bed.
On October 6, 2017, ABS-CBN issued a statement saying that both the network management and the actor have agreed that John Lloyd would “take an indefinite leave of absence to attend to personal matters.”
It was in November when PEP reported that Ellen was pregnant with John Lloyd’s child.
Unfortunately, this year PEP also carried the report that the two have already broken up and are now in a co-parenting set-up for the sake of their son.
A SABBATICAL FROM SHOWBIZ
For John Lloyd, the two-year sabbatical from showbiz has apparently allowed him to experience normal life, far from the celebrity bubble that came with his fame.
The actor basked in this post-showbiz life. He was seen in public riding a jeepney, buying fruits at a wet market, eating street food, riding a bike, watching a cockfight from inside a public cockpit, and joining an art exhibition with works signed Idan Cruz, his name when with family.
John Lloyd seemed to abandon even his matinee-idol looks during this period. He grew his hair long and grew a beard, seemingly unaware, or uncaring, that he sometimes looked unkempt in public.
“Wala naman ako dito para i-please sila, e,” he once said in an interview, referring to naysayers.
“Gagawin ko lang yong sa tingin kong tama, yong gusto ko gagawing ko, yong tingin kong di naman makakaagrabyado o makakatapak sa iba.
"Kumbaga, gagawin ko lang yong trip ko. Hindi ko alam kung magugustuhan nila, hindi ko alam kung okay ba sa kanila. Kasi pag inisip ko pa yon, baka wala na kong magawa.”
He mused about how he was expected to look "perfect" all the time.
“Naweweirduhan ako sa mga tao na, although naiintindihan ko, dahil sabi nila artista kami, dapat laging maayos yong hitsura… Yong konsepto ng perfect, you have to act a certain way, you need to look a certain way, doon ako naweweirduhan.
"Parang, uy, may ibang bagay pa bukod sa hitsura.”
Ricky Lee shared his thoughts on the talented actor’s need to free himself from the public’s expectations of him as a celebrity.
“Matagal na niyang gustong makalabas dun sa kahon na pinaglagyan natin sa kanya e," Ricky told PEP.ph in a February 2020 interview, "expecting na lagi siyang magiging ganitong character, lagi siyang magiging ganitong persona.
"A romantic lead, which is not really bad and which he was doing really, really well. Kaya lang, siyempre, kung minsan bigla kang nagugutom, napupunta sa ibang direksyon.
"[And kelangan] mong mag-risk na gumawa ng mga bagay na maybe mahusay mong magagawa, maybe hindi masyadong mahusay na magagawa, pero mag a-allow sa iyo ng growth.
“I think matagal siyang nagutom dun, e. Ngayon, if you see him, dahil in a way nakalayo muna siya dun, he’s more cool and relaxed.
“I think he is doing what he wants to do right now both in his life and his career, pero wala naman akong authority na magsalita ng ganun kasi hindi naman kami ganun ka-close.
“Pero sa nase-sense ko, now he is in a good place.”
So, now we await the return of John Lloyd Cruz—an actor who has made a name for himself as matinee idol, but aspires to be more than that; a man who is one of our very best actors, but is trying to be, more than a good actor, a good man.
Welcome back, John Lloyd.
The original cast of Tabing Ilog: (L-R, top row) Baron Geisler, Paolo Contis, John Lloyd Cruz, Patrick Garcia. (L-R, bottom row) Jodi Sta. Maria, Desiree del Valle, Kaye Abad, Paula Peralejo.