Joel Torre
Culture Spotlight

Joel Torre on the rite of passage that was Oro, Plata, Mata

The actor reflects on his first screen kiss, blasting brains for the camera, and the extraordinary experience of making the movie that made him.
Em | Sep 11 2018

I met director Peque Gallaga around 1969 when I was a little boy growing up in Bacolod. He saw me in a stage play in which his brother played my dad. Peque was going to stay in Bacolod to teach theater. He told me, "I want you to be in all my plays." And I did until my college days in the 1980s when Peque resumed his production design and directorial work in Manila.

But every summer during college, I apprenticed under Peque. I was part of the production design staff of Regal films like Pabling and Bilibid Boys. I did that to acclimatize myself to the showbiz culture, to know the business. After my graduation from college in 1982, I became a production assistant on the comedy show Champoy which was directed by Peque.

In April of that year, he got the news that the script of Oro, Plata, Mata that Joey Reyes wrote for him won in the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines (ECP) Scriptwriting Contest. Sabi ko, "Peqs, basta sali ako diyan." Peque had a role for me: si Lucio, yung batang katiwala ng hacienda.

I was already going through workshops to flesh out my character as Lucio. Albert Martinez was being eyed for the role of Miguel but he was too busy. Sabi nina Joey Reyes and (production designer) Don Escudero who both knew that I was a theater actor, 'Let's audition Joel.' I did and got the part. Gulat na gulat ako. I was dreaming of being an actor in films, but I didn't expect that I would get my wish so soon and that I would get 'introducing' billing in such a grand film.

The film is loosely based on real-life experiences of families in Negros during World War II. Peque knew all the stories. Gan'on talaga ang nangyari: the rich families had to leave their houses in the cities and go to the farms. When the Japanese started coming in, the people of Negros had to go to the mountains and hide. Before we went to Negros for the shoot, the cast and staff had workshops in Manila so we could all get a feel of the story to the point that it was second skin.