Overcome with grief as he stood beside his dad’s coffin, the orphaned son vowed to follow his father’s footsteps. Perhaps, it was a desperate attempt by an eight-year-old boy to cling on to the memories of his beloved daddy. But the invisible bond between father and son was so strong, the child fulfilled his vow eleven years later when he decided to become an actor just like his famous dad.
Efren Reyes Jr. became a by-word during the early 80s when showbusiness geared to favor the sons and daughters of former superstars. Riding the bandwagon were Jay Ilagan, son of Corazon Noble & Angel Esmeralda, and Ace Vergel, son of Cesar Ramirez & Alicia Vergel.
At that time, Efren Jr., son of Efren Reyes Sr. and Virginia Montes was ripe for the picking— thanks to the innate gift of acting and an inherent good look that mimicked his dad’s brawn.
In 1979, he was introduced in “Pangkat Do or Die” and launched into full stardom in “Anak ng Maton”(1980), an offshoot of his father’s big hit “Ang Maton” (1959).
“Actually, my first movie exposure was in “Ang Tatay Kong Kalbo”, starring Teroy de Guzman. It was produced and directed by my dad. I was only about four or five then. Teroy was training for boxing. Biglang anggulo, ‘andon kami nung elder brother kong si Eric.
I was surprised when I saw the film on TV”, said Efren. “Tapos, nag- ring bearer pa ‘ko sa ‘Sakal o Kasal’, also directed by my dad, starring Rebecca Quintana.”
Efren entered showbiz at about the same age, when his father made it big. “Lahat ng kapatid n’ya, nagtapos, but my dad only finished high-school. Kasi, rebelde siguro. While they were well-off, nag-telonero s’ya because he loved the movies. When he became famous, he was maybe 19 or 20.
“I entered showbiz when I was 18. After attending high-schoool at Aquinas, I enrolled for college. But immediately after enrollment, I was told that I would do a movie to be shot in Pampanga. So, I dropped all my subjects, kasi mahilig ako talaga. When the project didn’t materialize, it was too late for me to go back to school, to the dismay of my mom.”
He continued, ”I started doing bit roles for Agrix Films, kasi, nanay ko saka si Tita Lillian (Laing), taga-Agrix. As extra, I did “Coed”, “Kampus”, and “Dodong Diamond”. My last movie as bit player was “Kadete.”
“I was in Baguio, training for fencing, when I was called to do “Pangkat Do or Die”. And then I did “Anak ng Maton” and “Siga” with Ace Vergel.”
Looking back, he said in jest, “In my launching movie, I was paid a sum that would buy you a second-hand car.” On a serious note, he said, “I knew that I have a future in showbiz, kasi doon nanggaling ang pinakain sa ‘kin ng nanay at tatay ko eh.”
Like my father, I’m also fond of comedy. I wrote and directed “Sa ‘Yo Ang Itaas, Sa Akin Ang Ibaba” with Rita Magdalena and Izza Ignacio. I did that for only fifteen days and it made fourteen million in two weeks, here in Metro Manila”, he said with pride.
When complimented on being a good story teller, he said, “Siguro lahi ko.” After all, Efren is a fourth-generation artist. His great grandfather was the acclaimed playwright behind Lola Basyang and “Walang Sugat”, Severino Reyes; his grandfather was Pedrito Reyes, author of Kulafu, the first colored adventure comic strip; and his dad was the first Asian Filmfest’s Best Actor awardee, not to mention his mother, who is also a good actress herself.
He said that he’s his own critic. “When I watch my own movies in the theaters, I would oftentimes scold myself for not making my acting better. ‘Naku, ba’t gano’n ang ginawa mo? I’m a perfectionist. So, if I want something right, I do it myself.”
Efren tries to celebrate the achievements of his father any way he could. In ”Sa ‘Yo Ang Itaas …”, where he appeared in cameo role. He was Kapitan Berong, in obvious reference to one of his dad’s celebrated film character “Kapitan Berong (1953).”
“Idolo ko s’ya, s’yempre. I took the time to learn his works. You have to learn the past, before you can learn the future,” he philosophized.
On growing up without a father, he said: “Sad. You look for a father figure anywhere you can. Fortunately, parang I have a better sense of myself. Naisip ko agad na lumalaki akong mag-isa.”
“My father left us some properties, and my mother tries to raise us the best way she could,” he said. “She loves me but ours is a love-hate relationship kasi matigas din ang ulo ko, just like my dad. Kaya naman nanggigigil yun.”
Funny, how a person’s gestures could be replicated even if they didn’t spend much time with each other. Perhaps, it’s one of those life’s happy miracles. “Madalas, nakikita ko yung sarili ko sa kanya, when I watch his movies”, said Efren. “May mga tirada s’yang, ‘Uy, galaw ko yun ah.’ Malikot din ang kamay nun eh.”
Just like his father, Efren Jr. is known as a macho actor, who later turned to directing. But more than that is their admirable dedication to the acting craft. To his credit, Efren has already been cited for his fine acting in “Tatak ng Isang Api”, “Delima Gang” and “Angel Molave”. But his finest performance to date, according to critics, is in “Ang Babae sa Bintana” where he essayed the role of Richard Gomez’ gay benefactor— an exact anti-thesis to his tough image.
Efren is a man of varied interests. “When I’m interested in something, I study it intensively, even if I have to buy books”, he said.
It is no surprise therefore that he is also into many things at present, like wine manufacturing, mining and running a school even.
“I’m the Administrator of Sacred Heart Institute in Muntinlupa City. It has a pre-school, elementary and high-school. We will soon be offering adult high-school. I’m also into manufacturing wine. I and a former school-mate are into turning exotic and endangered fruits into delectable wines. We have duhat, bignay, mango, guyabano and soon to come out, coconut and langka wines.”
For all his years in showbiz, Efren is particularly proud that he has his pride intact. “Hindi ako gumagawa ng kalokohan na ikakasira ng name ng tatay ko, nanay ko at ako. Yun ang iniingat-ingatan ko”, he said.
His only lament, as in all true artists, is the sad state of the local film industry. “That is my major heartbreak”, he admittted. “To see an industry that I truly love dies.”
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