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The notoriously introverted actor sat down for a rare one-on-one interview.

"Isa sa pinakamalaking regrets ko is hindi ako naging matapang."

Carlo Aquino—former child star, '90s teen heartthrob, award-winning actor, and now, indie movie darling—still can't quite believe he's going to be in Cosmo.

"Sinabi nila sa akin na may Cosmo feature daw ako," he quips. "Ilang beses kong tinanong 'Sigurado ba sila?'"

It's a sweltering mid-summer afternoon, and the weather report says it'll be 35 degrees out today, but it feels hotter. Still, despite the mind-numbing temperature, the 32-year-old star is a trooper, cheerfully getting styled and groomed, and even slipping into a sweater despite the rising temperatures, if only to get the perfect shot. The notoriously introverted actor even willingly, with no machinations from our end, set aside time to sit down for a rare one-on-one interview to discuss everything from his days as a young commercial model to his years off-screen; from his new projects to, of course, his much-talked-about love life.

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The latter topic we choose not to delve into too much, although it can't really be avoided. After all, it's been a decade and a half since he and ex-girlfriend Angelica Panganiban called it quits. The public, though, still can't seem to get enough of the pair that helped teach a whole generation of kids what being kilig meant. (On a side note, it's safe to say that Carlo hasn't lost any of his charms, reducing members of the team—including those who weren't around circa G-mik, Ang TV, or JCS—to giggling, blushing puddles.)

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To this day the media still beg the question of are they or aren't they, and we ask Carlo if he ever gets sick of the inquiries, especially now that he's officially single again. "Sa akin, okay lang, kasi may hype talaga 'yon e," he says with a shrug. "Natutuwa ako kasi dahil sa hype, gagawa kami [ni Angelica] ng movie."

"May ibang press na nampre-pressure na ligawan ko na, or nagtatanong kung kami na ulit, pero sa ngayon, coming from a seven-year relationship that didn't work, ayokong tumalon sa ganoon," he adds.

"Baka maging rebound siya, baka masaktan ko siya, so lahat ng sinasabi nila parang white noise na lang. Basta ang alam ko is special siya sa akin."

Cue the fanbase's kilig

But public concern over his love life is far from the only reason why Carlo's found himself back in the spotlight. Although he's proven his acting chops for playing complex, emotional roles in films like 1998's Bata, bata... paano ka ginawa?, for which he won three out of four major awards he was nominated for, 2001's Minsan May Isang Puso, 2005's Sa Aking Pagkagising Mula Sa Kamulatan, and 2008's Carnivore, he's once again making waves with indie dramedy Meet Me In St. Gallen and sci-fi comedy Throwback Today.

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It would be easy to think that a veteran with such a filmography under his belt would be used to the success his most recent projects garnered in both the indie and mainstream markets, but Carlo doesn't seem to take any high in his career for granted. "Hindi ko ine-expect [yung success], pero sobrang nagpapasalamat ako kasi naniniwala ako doon sa project," he says. "Sobrang ganda, sobrang sakit, sobrang realistic: nangyayari talaga 'yon sa totoong tao. Appreciative ako, kasi ang tapang nung pelikula."

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"Iniisip ko nga, sana matagal nang ginawa ng industry 'to, kasi yung mga viewers naman kung ano yung ife-feed mo sa kanila, tatanggapin nila. Sila yung maga-adjust," he says, his face lighting up while talking about the industry he so clearly loves. "Kung bigyan mo ang tao ng junk food, 'yon ang kakainin niya, 'di ba? So, bigyan mo sila ng maganda so 'yon ang mae-expect nila na kalidad ng movies natin. Yung mga movies nga natin na-appreciate ng ibang bansa, tapos 'pag dito mo ipapalabas, hindi pinapanood ng tao. I-feed mo lang nang i-feed, kasi tatanggapin nila 'yan eventually."

It's a brave thing for someone who makes a living in an industry long associated with calculated answers and diplomatic statements to say, but Carlo's unstudied demeanor is refreshing. He's even open enough to talk about what is typically termed a quarter-life crisis, which at the time prompted a lull in his already then successful career.

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"Hindi talaga kasi ako confident. Nagkaroon ako ng doubt sa sarili ko. Inisip ko kung kaya ko ba talaga, kung para ba talaga ako sa industry na 'to, kasi hindi ako sociable," he explains.

"Nagkaroon ako ng doubts, so marami akong nahindian na projects. Tinatanong nga ako kahapon sa presscon, 'Kung may babalikan ka, ano yung gusto mong balikan?' Sabi ko sa kanila na isa sa pinakamalaking regrets ko is hindi ako naging matapang."

He contrasts that period in his early 20s with his days as a child and teen actor, and it becomes understandable what sort of pressure and self-doubt the peaks and valleys of showbiz can trigger. "Nung early days, hindi ko nakitang work siya," he explains. "Nung nagkakaroon na ako ng edad, naisip ko 'Ito na yung profession ko.' Alam ko naman na gusto ko yung ginagawa ko, kasi hindi rin naman ako tatagal nang ganoon kung ayaw ko yung trabaho, pero yung naulanan ka ng praise, ng parangal, tapos ito ka na sa awkward stage na hindi na nila alam kung saan ka ilalagay? Napaisip ako kung bakit ako nawalan ng projects, e sabi nila magaling daw ako."  

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Still, at the end of the day, artistry wins. "I love creating kasi e. I draw, I sketch, nagsusulat ako ng kanta. Ito talaga yung alam kong gawin," he says of why and how he came to embrace that this is the industry where he belongs. "Isa na rin yung sa industriya na to ako lumaki. Hindi siya boring. Every character may iba kang mabibigay, tapos yung pagkasalimuha sa mga inspired na tao. At a very young age, kasama ko na sila, so iniisip ko ngayon na sana makatrabaho ko ulit sila, kasi iba yung pasok ng ideas nila noong bata ako sa ngayon."

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Music is also, again, in the cards for Carlo, who just signed on with Ivory Records. He says he intends to release a digital album soon. "Natutuwa rin ako kasi for a while, yung OPM kasi parang nawawala—ganoon talaga siguro yung ebb and flow—and ngayon parang bumabalik na yung appreciation para sa kanya. Natutuwa ako kasi importante talaga sa akin ang music, lalo na kasi hindi ako masalita, so lahat ng nararamdaman ko binubuhos ko na lang doon," he says.

He's definitely back, at full speed, and although transcending the doubts of his early 20s is a triumph, he isn't the only one who's better for it, because audiences once again have the benefit of seeing a genuine artist at work, telling real, complex stories that actually resonate.  

"Balak kong magtrabaho hanggang maging Eddie Garcia na ako," he says with a smile, sharing how he'd love to make psychological, action-packed thrillers "na parang Fight Club, ganoon, para maiba naman." His career has also made the shift from playing supporting albeit nuanced, roles to full-on leading man status. "Hindi ko ine-expect na mapunta yung career ko sa ganitong path. Hindi ko nakita ang sarili ko as a leading man. Yung mga leading man kasi iniisip mo mga Jericho [Rosales], mga Piolo [Pascual]—pero siguro nadala ko sa acting. Sa confidence. Pwede pala. Saka iba yung trust na binigay sa akin. Malaking bagay na nag-boost ng confidence ko yung trust. Sabi ko nga, yung mga taong 'to nabibigyan ako ng tiwala, yung sarili ko hindi?"

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He goes back to his regrets, of how he let his self-doubt and his fear keep him from doing what he loved. With what he's done so far, it's clear that this period is a rebirth of sorts for Carlo Aquino, and he's wisely, letting it all happen.

"Hangga't maaari, kung kaya kong gawin, gagawin ko. Lahat ng kinakatakot ko noon, gagawin ko ngayon. In order for you to be successful, you have to be able to cope with rejection and failure. Kung masasaktan ako, tatanggapin ko. Kung magiging successful, tatanggapin ko. I'm just allowing everything [to happen]."

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PRODUCED BY: Jacinda A. Lopez


STYLING:  AJ Alberto


VIDEO SHOT BY:  Sam Navalta, Jean Saturnino, and Dennise Salvador


Shot on location at Hummingbird.