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RJ Leyran: Scenes from an actor’s life
Date: 11/5/2003 10:27:17 AM
Source: The Manila Times
By: Gay Ace Domingo

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Some enter show business to make a name, to be known. Some to earn a lot of money and be a breadwinner for the family. Others go into it for the sheer love of acting.

Ramon Jose “RJ” Leyran belonged to the rare breed of actors who went into theater— and later on, film and TV— simply because he loved to act. When he was in Grade Six at Ateneo de Manila, he auditioned for the ACT (Ateneo Children’s Theater) musical Peter Pan and won the title role. Playing the Boy Who Never Grew Up, as Peter Pan was often called, RJ sang and...flew! His thin body was harnessed to special wires and then pulled up and down to mimic the motion of flying. For an eleven-year-old kid like RJ, it didn’t feel like make-believe.

He was a college student, taking AB Communication at Ateneo de Manila, when, in 1988, the Actors’ Workshop Foundation selected him to study Eric Morris’s Method Acting in the United States. RJ, however, was not comfortable about disclosing that part of his training as an actor. “There are those who don’t like acting to have a message...ang dating kasi mas marunong pa sa direktor,” he explained.

Upon completing his scholarship, RJ plunged into acting for stage. “Gusto ko lang maging masaya sa ginagawa ko, which is theater. I’m very much in love with theater,” said RJ. When theater projects were lean, he found work as an art director for movies, TV soaps and concerts. For RJ, creating sets was an extension of himself as an artist. In his spare time, RJ painted, sketched and made sculptures. He also loved gardening and taking care of bonsai plants.

RJ’s creativity may be further gleamed from his gift-giving style. Instead of the usual stuff that one could easily get at the mall, RJ preferred unique presents that he could make or fashion. Last year, for instance, he wanted to give a Christmas token to his co-workers at Bituin, a soap opera. But since they were so many and he was limited by a struggling actor’s talent fee, he thought of gifting each one with an ampaw envelope—and inside a lotto ticket! “Ipagtataya ko sila isa-isa!” RJ said excitedly.

As an adult, the exuberant RJ felt drawn to children. One could say that the former Peter Pan had a special way with kids. He taught acting to elementary students from exclusive schools, but seemed to enjoy himself more when he coached out-of-school youths. “Parang mas masayang turuan ang mga batang hindi kayang magbayad,” he said.

RJ also guided future artists when he became a teacher at the Makiling High School. Some of his students are now teachers there, while others have become full-fledged stage thespians. At one play where his student was the star, RJ applauded thunderously and couldn’t help but beam with pride.

All this time, RJ never forgot his love for acting. He truly wanted to make a go of his acting career. At several instances, he seriously considered getting a manager, but was once told by a well-known talent agent that he was just “too difficult to handle.” He got a bit discouraged but managed to find humor in his situation. “Napaisip-isip ako. Baka para akong hair ni Christopher Walken— unmanage­able!” he quipped.

You see RJ was in showbiz, but he wasn’t really “into showbiz.” He couldn’t understand, for example, why actors needed to maintain a certain image to the public. RJ believed in being open to change, to trying out different roles. “Dapat laging may bago. Dapat meron kang nararam­damang pagkakaiba dahil nan­doon ang drama ng buhay,” he said.

Through friends and his own efforts, RJ found roles—in TV soap operas, commercials, and movies. You might have seen him playing a gay radio announcer (Radyo), a friend of the leading man (Kapalit), taong-grasa (Ikaw Lamang Hanggang Ngayon), a politician’s doctor (Kung Mawawala Ka), or Nora Aunor’s lawyer (Bituin).

Last year, he auditioned for the Hollywood picture The Great Raid (not yet released) and got a role as a doctor. RJ spent over a month filming in Australia. RJ found it to be a very exciting and eventful stint, from start to finish. “They [producers] notified me Wed-nesday morning that I was flying down Thursday evening. Tapos derecho costume fit, tapos scene rehearsal... Hahahay! God! Life is good!” he recalled.

Yup, you could also say that RJ was everywhere, yet his own relatives were not aware of it. At a Christmas family reunion, cousins teased RJ by bestowing upon him the “Famous But Unknown” award. Ever a good sport, RJ kept the certificate.

One of the challenges that RJ had to face as an actor was finding work. The period between projects could sometimes be as short as a day or at most, a week, or it could be as long as months. The wait could make anyone very uneasy and restless. So, early this year, when no theater/TV/film projects were coming RJ’s way, he decided to leave Metro Manila for Tagaytay. There he tended a garden where he grew sitaw and phedodendrons. “Farmer effect,” RJ said of his life in Tagaytay. “Much better than sitting at home waiting for a call slip. I now wake up and watch my seedlings grow,” he added.

On weekends, RJ welcomed his brothers and sisters who had his little nephews and nieces in tow. RJ, single and the fifth among the eight children of Ramon Leyran and Marina Salazar Leyran, said proudly: “Nagtatakbuhan sa akin ang mga pamangkin ko!” RJ read books to the kids and entertained them. Even when he was not on stage or on a movie set, RJ was still very much an actor.

Life as an actor taught RJ that he couldn’t get everything that he wanted. At worst, it made him prone to brooding. At best, it made him fulfilled and happy. Even­tually, RJ learned to take life as it happened. “Kung ano ang dumating,” he managed to say with a chuckle.

RJ became more realistic and less idealistic, and it showed in the way he prayed. “I pray every night,” said RJ. “I say thank you to God but I don’t ask for anything … because if He doesn’t give it, nagtatampo lang ako.”

On October 4, 2003, RJ Leyran, 35 years old, re-ceived a very nice offer from God—a chance to perform for Him in the big theater in the sky. He was found lifeless in his car Carbon monoxide poison­ing was the cause of death.

RJ now wouldn’t need a manager to find work for him, wouldn’t need to follow up on his delayed talent fees, wouldn’t need to wait for hours for his scene to be taken. There, RJ could act to his heart’s content.

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