'Gameboys': Actors Kokoy De Santos and Elijah Canlas On Making The BL Movie
In our previous interview with Raymund Isaac and Perci Intalan, we talked about the recent promotional posters of the upcoming Gameboys film sequel and their insights on the BL show's lead stars Kokoy De Santos and Elijah Canlas. One topic that arose in the conversation was the actors' patience and humility in being part of a project shot at the height of the health crisis. Like other businesses, The Ideafirst Company had to be creative in producing a show, hence doing it remotely and online. They could have done it with a story set in a perfect world where COVID-19 never happened but Intalan and the team behind the show were adamant about using it as one of the series' main storylines.
"There was a school of thought that we were going against," Intalan said, sharing that some producers and television executives advised them that no one would watch a show about the pandemic while we are in one. "We felt it's important to be an educational platform as well about the situation. We have people who don't know about the importance of wearing protective face masks, of how real the danger is for a member of your family to fall sick and pass away. And then there's also the psychological impact of being isolated from your friends, what more for those who really are clinically diagnosed with anxiety or depression? We thought that there's not enough content that sheds light on it."
Despite the pandemic being intentionally written as an important part of Gameboys’ arc, Intalan said that they still started the story with two boys who meet online and gradually form a deep bond. Slowly, reality creeps into them and affect their lives every day. "In the face of all this, you can still find love," Intalan said. And truly, Cairo and Gavreel did.
More From Tatler: A Deep Dive Into The Development Of The Movement In The Philippines
The upcoming sequel picks up on where the show left off: Cairo and Gavreel are now living together temporarily, a setup their families agreed to. But there's that catch again: the realities of life.
"Sometimes it does not mean that you're physically next to each other, there's no distance anymore," Intalan said, hinting at new conflicts to look forward to in the film and its series counterpart. "It comes with its own dynamics and challenges."
Isaac, during the interview, also shared his inkling as to where the show is going. He said that they are at that point in a relationship where there are personal boundaries to be set. "This discovery of being in one's space, it's different from season one because they were in cyberspace," he said.
Another element of the show Intalan emphasised is the fact that in season one, Cairo and Gavreel were in a bubble. Only their closest friends and family know of their relationship. But now as they come out to the world, we encounter a new character, Tita Susan, who we see in the trailer passing judgment towards the two while they are temporarily living together in what seemed like a house resort near the beach.
We kicked off a separate conversation with De Santos and Canlas by looking back at the pictorial they did with the acclaimed photographer. Both of them shared that they had so much fun doing the shoot, which was inspired by some of the much-loved Hollywood blockbusters such as The Notebook, Ghost, and Top Gun, to name a few.
"I'm excited with the others which are about to be released later this month," said De Santos. "I am not sure if the people are ready for those," he said then making a quick comic punchline, "even you," pointing at Canlas, "were not ready for that shoot." The latter quickly blushed, and the two laughed while recalling the kilig takes they had to pull off.
"We were excited when we received the posters via Dropbox before the shoot," Canlas shared. "Having watched those films and knew how iconic they were, plus with Raymund Isaac as the photographer..."
You were the voice of that time when the pandemic left us hanging in the balance, when the people were stuck in their homes, when parents didn't know what to do with their kids, when you don't know where love would come from, and yet, you projected that hopeful message: everything is possible.— Raymund Isaac
"—yes! Having Raymund Isaac to work with us is such an honour," De Santos quickly finished Canlas' sentence. "His mastery on photography is so impressive," he said. Canlas seconded, "He knows everything! He'll just point to his lighting assistants and I would be lost in the moment. He's such an expert," he recalled.
"The Notebook, maybe, was the most difficult because there was rain effect, it's so wet," Canlas recalled. De Santos quickly bantered, "It's so cold, kailangan kitang painitin [I had to titillate you]".
Canlas thought that all layouts were actually difficult to do because they had to do the shoot with just what they have. Like in the Top Gun layout, they needed aviator shades and luckily Isaac had a pair in his home. "All were challenging as we all wanted to be as close to those iconic posters," Canlas said. "We also did not just try to replicate it but add our 'feels' in it as Cairo and Gavreel," De Santos added.
Commenting on what Isaac said in his interview about the two actors' chemistry on and offscreen, De Santos said that it just really started on them being friends. "We've already known each other since before this project but not as solid as we are now," he said. "Maybe because we became more open and accepting, to the point that we almost don't hide anything from one another. Maybe that's why it effectively registers, not just on the camera but also when we're together."
Canlas re-emphasised De Santos' point, saying that "it all starts with making a choice of being open to one another and making the partnership work." He then quickly remembered that the first time they spoke to one another was when they accidentally met at Vertis Tent in Quezon City during the 2019 Cinemalaya season. Canlas was looking for the way to the parking space and De Santos was passing by the sidewalk. The two suddenly recalled the incident, where Canlas asked De Santos which is the way to the parking and the latter segued into congratulating the former for his performance at the Cinemalaya entry Edward, which he just finished watching. Canlas shared that in his mind during that time, he was reminding himself that he had to watch F#*@bois, of which De Santos was one of the main actors.
"We've been together for so long this time of the pandemic and you never told me that story, now I just remembered," De Santos said, bewildered at the memory. "We've come a long way since then," Canlas said, amazed and nostalgic.
Being homegrown talents of The Ideafirst Company, De Santos and Canlas were offered the roles of Gavreel and Cairo, respectively. They recalled that when the pandemic hit the country, the producers wanted to make a show set at this time and were looking for actors who would be up for the challenge of doing the show remotely. That was just a month after the imposition of Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) and they said that everything has already been cancelled. The two quickly bantered on each other, sharing their feelings of uncertainty at the time especially for the entertainment industry. Fortunately, everybody in the team said yes without hesitations, they said.
"That was initially the reason until the project/story became important to us, personally, knowing how many people it inspires and entertains despite the lockdown," Canlas said.
Read Also: Top LGBTQ+ Supporters That Inspire Us
"I truly appreciate that the people close to my heart are being more open about LGBTQ+ representation and the fight for equal rights," De Santos said. He added that it really takes time for the general public to accept the BL sub-genre, especially in the Philippines, and most importantly the cause that the community is fighting for. Fortunately, the GenZs and Millennials are more socially aware especially on this matter, they said. "I never had hesitances to do these roles or accept these LGBTQ+ relevant materials because this is where I see the beauty and meaning of the craft of acting," De Santos emphasised.
Canlas shared the same sentiments. "As actors, the first thing that comes to our minds when we are offered projects is the question of 'is the story important and relevant?'. We wanted to know if we would be challenged and be able to learn new things," he said.
Both shared that with The Ideafirst Company at the helm of the project, they undoubtedly and wholeheartedly trusted, because of the company's portfolio of quality works, most especially those relevant to the LGBTQ+ community. "We know that we are in good hands," Canlas said, followed by lauding the team behind the show such as their director Ivan Andrew Payawal, their writer Ash Malanum, and everybody else for their unwavering passion for each of their own craft.
Canlas further said that they are just privileged to be part of such a relevant project and was given the opportunity to challenge themselves in portraying these complex roles.
"I also think that we came in such perfect timing," he continued. "People are being more open-minded and socially aware, 'woke' if you may. More and more people are standing up for their principles and morals," Canlas explained. "I honestly think that it's already late that we are hitting this level of appreciation towards this kind of stories just now but at least we're getting there. As storytellers, I think it's an exciting time to be alive."
Meanwhile, De Santos pointed out how social media played a huge role in the promotion of this kind of show. He said that when these contents went viral, "it made us realise that it is important to tell these stories and there are people out there who would give their support," he said.
The support Gameboys received both locally and internationally was deeply felt and appreciated by the stars. It surprises them that their BL fandom supports their works even beyond Gameboys, of which they are truly humbled and grateful. "Because of the success of this show, I was given a sense of purpose with my work and it strengthened my goal of using my voice and platform to do good and fight for the right thing," Canlas shared. "Even though I had other projects after the first season of this show, I still go back to this experience, which has been my core," De Santos said. "We gave everything to this project, not realising at the time how massive the reception would be. Timing, I think, is one of the magic of Gameboys. You really can't force something when it is not yet ripe," he added.
The boys quickly reminisced the buwis-buhay (life-on-the-line) trials they faced whilst shooting the series, most especially when they had to learn and do production setups all by themselves, and also create "VidGram" stories outside of their houses like in the grocery stores or while driving a car. De Santos also shares similarity with his character who lives outside Metro Manila. As it was almost impossible for Gavreel to see Cairo in Quezon City during ECQ, the same goes for him in real life as he live also outside the city and at the time had to have quarantine and travel passes to cross borders. "When in episode 10 of the first season Cairo and Gavreel finally met in person, it was such a cathartic moment for us," Canlas recollected.
Cairo having trust issues and being hard on himself at the beginning of the series are some of the character's traits Canlas admitted to relate to the most. "All it takes is just one person," then points at De Santos, "to show me that I am loved, I am trusted, and I am cared for," he said. He added that Cairo being family-oriented is also not far from who he is in real life. Just like the character, he is also passionate but his skepticism hampers him from giving away his heart. Towards the end of the first season, he admires the character's choice of finally getting over that 'fear' and doing the grand gestures to Gavreel. "I hope I could do that someday," Canlas said.
With Gavreel, De Santos said, they share the same naughtiness but only in the right place and time. Both of them are sincere and loving towards their families and friends. "When Gav and Kokoy love a person, that's the only one and they will both do everything to just being noticed," De Santos said, proclaiming they are both 'loverboys'.
De Santos said that the character of Gavreel widened his understanding and motivated him to be more open in doing unfamiliar things and accept other kinds of persons, without prejudices. "This series, in general, taught me that there's nothing wrong about love as long as you're on the right side of things. I know that even from before but Gavreel taught me that when you actually do so, you would be able to do things you thought you couldn't," De Santos shared.
Canlas shared the same answer, emphasising that nothing actually changed about their perception and beliefs toward the LGBTQ+ community. "But maybe because of Gameboys, we wanted to be part of that fight for equal rights and opportunities even more. We want to become stronger allies," he said.
With their series being aired now on national television and the so-called #EliKoy love team vying over awards against KathNiel and other similar couples, the actors feel that these achievements speak volumes. Eventually, more BL shows like Gameboys would be recognised as mainstream love stories and not controversial themes, they shared.
"It's hard to claim that Gameboys changed the game in the industry when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation," Intalan chimed in. "But when the people started to become 'colour blind' as to how they see Kokoy and Elijah—officially shipping them as a love team—that was a big step in the right direction."
The end of the road is uncertain for Gameboys as of now. As proven in the first season, the progression of the story depended on the audience's reception every episode. The production team admitted that the pressure is high for the film sequel and its series counterpart but they are assured that they have given their best. If the people clamour for the continuity of the show, we'll find out.
Going back to one of the first season's highlights, in the conflict scene of Cairo and Gavreel at the park, De Santos explained that his character loved too much that it became toxic for him and had to unburden himself and feel loved by Cairo of the same extent in return. De Santos said that the answer to resolving that conflict was communication, which is opening up to your partner before you become bottled up with emotions. Canlas seconded it and added that empathy, openness, and understanding as other important keys to a healthy relationship. De Santos added that sensing your partner's feelings has its fallbacks sometimes, as it is easier to be open with one another when sharing your thoughts and feelings about some important matters and discuss them with your partner.
There are many things to expect in the upcoming film and new season, the actors said, most especially the changes in Cairo and Gavreel's maturity level and relationship dynamics that sprung out of temporarily living together. The reality of the pandemic would still be present in the show and though the trailer appeared dramatic, people should still expect their dose of laughter as always has been with the first season. The audiences should also watch out, they said, on the stories of Pearl, Achilles, Terrence, Wesley, and the new character, Tita Susan.
It's hard to claim that 'Gameboys' changed the game in the industry when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation. But when the people started to become 'colour blind' as to how they see Kokoy and Elijah—officially shipping them as a love team—that was a big step in the right direction.— Perci Intalan
"We have a universe of characters that people have already fell in love with," Intalan said, sharing his thoughts about the series' end-stage in, hopefully, decades to come. "I really hope that we come to a point where a reunion episode is not needed because we still know what is happening to these characters. They can still be in love, they can have a family, there are so many things that could happen to them."
Isaac also shared his final thoughts about the series: "What Gameboys is actually leaving is not just the story we saw onscreen. But the story of everybody who made it happen: the actors, producers, the staff—how you guys came together at a time when you needed each other," Isaac said. "You were the voice of that time when the pandemic left us hanging in the balance, when the people were stuck in their homes, when parents didn't know what to do with their kids, when you don't know where love would come from, and yet, you projected that hopeful message: everything is possible."
For Canlas and De Santos, all they want for their characters to attain is happiness. "You can never get what you want fully but at least you have a choice," Canlas said, talking about Cairo. De Santos reiterated that Gameboys and the pandemic together changed a lot of his perspectives in life, and because of that, he thinks Gavreel deserves happiness, too.
"With everything they've been through?" Canlas exclaimed.
"They should watch out for the challenges they would face in this new season," De Santos said. "All those pains... of course after every pain, there would also be pleasure," he quipped.
"Baby?" Canlas said in a warned tone, and we all cracked into laughter.