Alfred Vargas and his multiverse

The new movie Pieta is a dream project for the actor-producer (and politician and father and doctorate student), who courted National Artist for Film Nora Aunor to star in it.

Alfred Vargas and Nora Aunor in ‘Pieta.’ | photograph courtesy of IG/Alfred Vargas

Alfred Vargas glides into the room in his tropical polo shirt for an interview with a small group of press people. At 43, the Encantadia heartthrob still exudes youthful exuberance. He has that movie-star quality, handsome and affable.

But Vargas is visibly more trimmed nowadays. He worked hard to lose 12 pounds for his role in a new film called Pieta, where he stars alongside big names — National Artist for Film Nora Aunor, Gina Alajar, Jaclyn Jose and Bembol Roco. It is directed by prolific director Adolfo Alix, Jr., with a screenplay by Jerry Gracio, from Alix’s story.

“I’m currently on an intermittent fast,” Vargas said, ordering just coffee for lunch. He explained he needed to look gaunt for the mystery-drama. His character, Isaac, is an ex-convict who goes home to his mother (Aunor) after spending years in the slammer for parricide.

Alfred Vargas | photograph by Steph Mayo for the Daily Tribune

Alfred Vargas is a busy man these days. He recently finished filming all episodes of AraBella, his new afternoon primetime teleserye with GMA 7, with Camille Prats and Wendell Ramos. The pilot episode premiered 6 March and is receiving generally positive feedback.

While currently filming Pieta, he is also pursuing a diploma and a doctorate degree in urban and regional planning in U.P. Diliman — while still serving as the councilor of Quezon City from the 5th district since 2022.

In between his public service, showbiz career and endless learning, he is also a family man — a father to three children. He reads every day, he writes (up to four drafts), watches a lot of movies, rides the bike, goes to the gym.

How does he manage to do all these things? Is he operating in a multiverse?

“I schedule everything,” Vargas said. He explained that he schedules time for every single activity for the day through an app: prayer, biking, family time, and everything else. A routine man that wastes no time.

If Vargas were a superhero, he should be called Renaissance Man. He is everything and everywhere all at once — a former congressman, a model, singer, actor, a forever student, producer (he has produced five feature films, including Pieta), and, at one time, was even mistaken for a macho dancer, given his too-convincing moves in his breakthrough film, 2007’s Bridal Shower.

Time is definitely not Vargas’ enemy. If it is, he keeps beating it. He wakes up every single day at 5 in the morning, right on the clock, and follows his carefully plotted schedule — compartmentalized so as not to waste a single minute and so he could devote himself to all his commitments one hundred percent.

In fact, time is so precious to Vargas that he confessed to whittling down his contacts list to the bare essentials during the pandemic.

Aunor magic

Currently, in his multiverse of passion projects, professional and personal pursuits, public service and family life, Vargas is most infatuated with his universe that involves Pieta. It’s a dream project for the actor and producer who courted Aunor to star in it — because he believes that without her, the project will not push through at all.

He talked about his long-time idol and now co-star Aunor like a giddy schoolboy who still cannot believe his luck to be in the same space as the Ate Guy. He described his experience on the set with her on their first three days of filming as magical.

“Grabe, ‘yun ang Aunor magic (My God, that is the Aunor magic). The Ate Guy magic,” he gushed. “Kapag ginagawa mo yung eksena (when you’re doing the scene), parang 100 percent. Pero kapag pinanood mo sa screen, nagiging 150 percent (but when you watch it on screen, it becomes 150 percent).”

He shared that Aunor on the set is not only a talent to behold, but, to the ultra-fan’s delight, is also a person of great humor.

“Ang hilig pala niyang magbiro (she loves to joke around),” Vargas said. “Palabiro pala talaga siya, kaya hindi ka magugulat na sa set ng isang drama movie, nagtatawanan ‘yung director, actors (She’s a really jolly person, hence even in a drama movie, the director and actors are always laughing).”

Apart from his physical transformation to achieve that emaciated ex-con look, Vargas is intensely serious in this role. He read the script 10 times and never stopped perfecting his role.

Could Vargas be transforming into a method actor? If he is, it is no surprise. He said his favorite foreign actors are Benicio del Toro, Edward Norton and Cate Blanchett — all famously known for method acting.

“Aral ako nang aral (I continue to learn),” he said. “Basa lang ako nang basa, tapos nakipag-usap ako kay Direk Adolf (I read a lot and talk with Direk Adolf). Siya yung parang nag-workshop sa akin para sa role (He gave me a workshop for the role).”

He also watches movies given to him by Alix to review. He dreams to be the next Eddie Garcia — forever relevant.

“As an actor, I want to grow. Balak ko na balang araw ay maging Eddie Garcia or Albert Matinez — mahuhusay na actors na iniidolo ko (I want to be like Eddie Garcia or Albert Martinez — excellent actors that I look up to),” he said. “Sana magawa ko ito hanggang tumanda ako, hanggang senior citizen na’ko, na dito na ako tatanda as producer or actor, or both (I hope I can do this until I’m old, until I’m a senior citizen).”

‘I wanted to do more’

Vargas said he might retire from public service once he feels he has contributed to the welfare of the Filipino people. As a congressman, he is known for advocating the rights of persons with disabilities and cancer patients, and most of the laws he has passed speak of that sense of compassion for the vulnerable. As a producer, he is also serving the people through art and entertainment.

The Ateneo graduate’s passion for drama and public office began way back in school, as a grade-school classroom officer, up until his involvement in many school theater productions in later years. It is in his DNA — to serve, either through art or government. That’s why at the peak of his showbiz career, he suddenly quit and joined politics.

“Parang may kulang, parang I wanted to do more (I felt there was something lacking, and I wanted to do more),” he said about running for city councilor in 2010. “For me, It’s one of the best decisions of my life, so far. Kasi sobrang fulfilling ‘yung trabaho. Nasa puso ko na talaga ito before (The work is extra-fulfilling; it’s been in my heart all along).”

But showbiz is still in his DNA. In fact, while in Congress, he still guests in various top-rated TV shows. He even produced Tagpuan, the 3rd Best Picture at the 2020 Metro Manila Film Festival.

As a councilor, he has a bit more time in his hands, so from only accepting guest roles in top-rated shows, now he’s back to producing and acting full-time.

“Mas marami akong awards as producer (I have more awards as producer) — best picture — so baka ito talaga ang linya ko (maybe this is really my calling),” he said, adding: “I’m happy producing films.”

In Vargas’ multiverse, there is one that’s closest to his heart: showbusiness. In it, he is that ever-burning comet, never out of our horizon, always shooting for the moon. And his Pieta, anchored on Aunor’s superstardom and its powerhouse ensemble, could be the catalyst for bigger and brighter things to come.

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