My Filipino Connection: The Philippines in Hollywood

TITLE:  My Filipino Connection: The Philippines in Hollywoood

AUTHOR:  Ruben V. Nepales



REVIEW PUBLISHED IN Philippine News June 2012, Journalist casts expert eyes on Filipinos in Hollywood by Lorenzo Paran III

If you wondered, while watching the animated film “Finding Nemo,” what a bahay kubo was doing in the fish tank, the answer is simple. Filipinos played a crucial role in the creation of the film.

That tidbit on Filipinos who work in U.S. animated film studios is just one of many that readers will discover in My Filipino Collection: The Philippines in Hollywood by Ruben Nepales. The book, published by Anvil, gathers Nepales’ pieces in “Only in Hollywood,” his popular entertainment column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Nepales, based in Los Angeles, has taken it upon himself to be the go-to reporter for Hollywood’s Filipino newsmakers—from actors and actresses to singers to film professionals—and, true enough, over the years his column has provided his readers with a Hollywood insider’s perspective with a focus on, and from the angle of, the Pinoy.

This, along with Nepales’ fine journalism skills, makes The Philippines in Hollywood a source of solid reportage that Filipino readers, whether in the Philippines, the U.S. or other parts of the world, will not find anywhere else.

There are many stars in the book. Readers perhaps will be drawn first to the interviews with well-known names such as “Sucker Punch” star Vanessa Hudgens, singing sensation Charice, and “True Grit” star Hailee Steinfeld, who all have a connection to the Philippines. (Hudgens’ mom, Gina Guangco, was born and raised in the Philippines, while Steinfeld’s mother is descended from a Filipino from Bohol).

But other pieces stand out for their subjects’ candor, intelligence and wit.

A good example is Nepales’ interview with actor Bernardo Bernardo, who when he was based in Manila was known for his compelling performances in dramatic and comedic roles in film and on TV. Philippine readers will perhaps best remember him as Dolphy’s nemesis in the hit sitcom “Home Along Da Riles.” These days, Bernardo makes a living as marketing director for a medical transport company in L.A., although he still wears his actor’s hat from time to time.

Nepales asks him if he has any regrets after giving up his career in the Philippines and starting over in the U.S.

“No regrets,” Bernardo says. “I took a closer look at wazzup in my life and I decided, in a manner of speaking, that I’d done there, been that. And it was time to do a Matilda. You know, ‘Take the money and run Venezuela!’”

Later Bernardo says, “Struggle is nothing new. I choose to face life smiling, but I’ve struggled most of my life, so hard work is just another stage. It’s like somewhere in the back of my mind, running gaily in a perpetual loop, is that Gloria Gaynor anthem, ‘I will survive!’”

Another piece that would leave an impression on readers is Nepales’ interview with Darren Criss, the Filipino-American actor-singer who starred in “Glee.” Born to a Cebuana mom and an Irish-American father, Criss comes off as a bright and articulate speaker as Nepales talks to him about his artistic training and many projects.

Talking about acting, he says, “It’s a celebration of strangers. It’s giving people a reason to believe in something for a short period of time.” Later the actor, who recently added Broadway to his already extensive artistic resume, says, “All this wonderful stuff that happens as a byproduct of ‘Glee’—that isn’t what success embodies. It’s about working hard, being happy, staying grounded.”

These interviews also point out Nepales’ strength as a journalist. He asks the questions and provides the prompts, but otherwise his subjects do the talking, thus providing countless insights into their professional lives. That’s the greatest pleasure this reader finds in The Philippines in Hollywood.

Nepales’ subjects include both Filipinos who were born in the Philippines and moved to the U.S., either when they were very young or as adults, as well as those who were born in the U.S. They include actors and actresses, singers and musicians and also feature DC Comics illustrator Tony DeZuniga (whose interview with Nepales was one of his last; DeZuniga died in May 2012), a visual effects producer, production supervisor, an Oscar-nominated cinematographer, and artists who work for Hollywood’s animated film studios. The last includes a group that’s taken to calling themselves “Pixnoys”—short for “Pinoys who work for Pixar Animation Studios.” One of them, Nelson Bohol, who was a set designer for the film “Finding Nemo,” is to be credited for putting a bahay kubo in Nemo’s fish tank.

Also featured in The Philippines in Hollywood are Luisa Mendez-Marshall, a Tina Turner tribute artist based in Canada; YouTube sensation Mikey Bustos, whose Filipino “tutorial” videos have become a hit; and Cristeta Pasia Comerford, executive chef of the White House, who was born and bred in Sampaloc, Manila. All have interesting stories to tell, and they do—thanks not only to Nepales the insider, but also to Nepales the dedicated and skillful journalist.

The world of Filipino Americans is a rich, vibrant and diverse one, and good reporting that does justice to it is not always easy to come by. But when it comes to the field of entertainment, asThe Philippines in Hollywood proves, Filipinos have their man.


Lorenzo Paran III writes about the Filipino-American life on his blog,