Text by Henrylito D. Tacio
Photos courtesy of Benjohn H. Tamayo
Benjohn H. Tamayo, a fitness guru, became an actor only “because of the law of attraction and curiosity.” As he himself admitted, “It is common knowledge that we are always attracted to what we want and the universe is truly a wonder.”
It all started when his brother Ruzellini posted something on his Facebook wall that there was someone who needed an actor who could talk in Bisaya for an independent film entitled Gyud. He was interested, and so he told his brother, who arranged him for a meeting with the director, Francis L. J. Gacer.
The rest was history. It happened when the country was under lockdown due to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). He says he has three things to be thankful for becoming an actor: “my brother, director Francis for believing in me, and the pandemic for I had more time for other stuff like arts.”
In his website, findyourgym.ae, he described himself as “an artist by birth who became a physical therapist.” He wrote that “he has a vast knowledge on how the body works, as a fitness professional helping you to reach your fitness and skill goals.”
Tamayo can also teach martial arts like boxing, kickboxing, judo, and arnis. He was still in high school when he learned judo, courtesy of his sensei Mariano Baraguya, a Physical Education teacher who later on became a prefect of discipline at the Holy Cross of Davao City.
“I was always punched in the face and bullied,” he said on why he wanted to learn judo. Besides, judo was an option of not joining the Citizen Army Training (CAT).
“When you are in a judo team, you don’t undergo CAT,” he says. Later on, he learned different practical martial arts like boxing, kickboxing, Thai boxing, and combat arts.
“I am more interested in exploration and not sticking to one discipline, learning more on how martial arts can be used as a practical tool, how it can be enjoyed by all ages and how it can help the life of people,” he says now.
This must be one of the reasons why he took Physical Therapy as a course that was just introduced at the San Pedro College. There was a school policy that only a few students would be accepted, and those who would fail in the first semester could not proceed to the next level.
Tamayo failed, and so he took another course, Medical Technology. But he really wanted to become a physical therapist, and so after a semester of being a MedTech student, he transferred to Davao Doctors College as he wanted to finish his Physical Therapy degree.
He graduated in 1998. “I like science and fixing things or the reverse technology,” he explained on why he considered physical therapy as a course since he saw it as “a very promising career” and would give him a chance to work abroad. He also took some advice from his parents and other older people.
But after graduating from college, he ended up being a gym instructor, which became his lifetime career. He did other jobs, to name a few: cleaner, gym attendant, pool cleaner, e-load seller, driver, model, manager, networker, boxing judge, cutman in mixed martial arts, and musician. “There was also a point in time when I took nursing for a few months,” he recalls.
At one point in time, he also worked as a physical therapist. When asked what was the most challenging task he had done as a physical therapist, he replied: “Handling a burn patient knowing that anytime can be a disaster.”
As a fitness guru, among those that he has coached fitness exercises include former Miss Universe Margarita “Margie” Moran, film actress Dawn Zulueta, comedian Jon Santos, and actress Angelika De La Cruz. He has also coached the now-defunct basketball leagues: the Davao Eagles players like Peter June Simon and Donbel Belano, Manila Metrostars players such as Rommel Adducul and Alex Compton, and the Negros Slashers like John Ferriols. He did all these when he was still working in Fitness Advantage.
Tamayo likewise coached exercises for the former Pacman Basketball Team owned by Senator Manny Pacquiao. “This was the time when I was with i.Flex Fitness in Davao City,” he says.
Now going back to movies, he considered the short independent film Pasilyo Brutal, a comedy film about Filipino gangsters, as his first movie. “It was memorable in a sense that it was my first experience involving and learning into the process of creating a movie with a real director, cast and crew and a script,” he says. “There were no stars and we were all a bunch of independent artists but were all under the guidance of the now-multi awarded independent director Gacer.”
Although he considered himself still a neophyte in acting, he has already won two awards. The first one, for Best Actor, from the Halicarnassus Film Festival in Turkey and another Best Actor trophy from the Actors and Directors International Film Festival in Russia. Both awards were for the film Puti, which was named Best Horror Film in Port Blair International Film Festival and Reels International Film Festival also won Best Director as well.
“I did not expect to win as Best Actor during the Halicarnassus Film Festival,” he told GMA News Online. “I just always gave all the best of my capabilities and poured all my heart into what I always love doing, which is acting, music and helping people to be fit.”
One Filipino actor he really wanted to work with was the multi-awarded thespian, Eddie Garcia. “He would be great to work with just imagine the things you would learn from him and all his experiences,” he says.
Among foreign actors, he has several whom he wanted to emulate. “There are a lot of great actors, too many to mention but I will name who have always had a great impact on me.”
Not in order, he singles out Bruce Lee (“He revolutionized not only the martial arts films but also the martial arts world. He paved the way to mostly martial arts actors and action stars. His impact can still be felt until today”), Daniel Day-Lewis (“The way he embodies the role is awesome as he disappears in his characters and to the point that you do not recognize him”), Denzel Washington (“Not only a great actor but a body of learning both for life and the screen”) and Johnny Depp (“The most popular character actor I guess to date. He stays away from the pretty boy image proving that talent and skills will take you further and that makes him unique”).
Other actors in his favorite list also include Keanu Reeves (“Matrix is a revolutionary film as well as John Wick his discipline is amazing even at his age.”), Brad Pitt (“The works he made of the films like Twelve Monkeys, Fight Club and Troy created a great impact on me”), Marlon Brando (“The father of method acting for me, who paved way for the rest of new great actors”), Edward Norton (“The master of schizophrenia acting”), and Charlie Chaplin (“He shows that acting doesn’t mean it has to involve talking”).
Right now, Tamayo has no dream role. He says, “Honestly, I do not know yet but instinctively let us say a role that has not been done before that affects how cinema is made, something fresh and life changing because as humans we always all evolve.”
Perhaps not too many know that he created the theme song, “Marikit” for the film Puti and “Kubli” for another award-winning film, Apo. Some songs that are now in the works include “Salamin,” “Pikit,” and “Ba-lud.”
So far, he has written songs “more than an album already.” He says that some songs “are still in my head, some in the papers where I wrote them, some are lost in youtube and myspace.”
Some songs like Sunshade have already been recorded with his band Third Wave Experience (TWE), which was released in all online music stores. “The song remains to be my favorite although it’s not that popular but it gave us recognition because it was the No. 1 song for four weeks in Top 20 Indie by Monster Radio and won People’s Choice Award in Muzika Del Sur Awards.”
When asked how he gets inspirations when writing a song, Tamayo replies: “Life of people, own experiences and what is happening around us. I wanted my songs to be positive, can help people, and people can learn something from them.”
Tamayo is from Davao City, the son of Benjamin C. Tamayo Sr., a businessman, and Resti Hetalia Tamayo, a retired secretary. Aside from Ruzellini, he has another brother: Marco Antonio.
“It was a very typical childhood,” he says of his growing up years in Davao. “We lived in the GSIS community until I was 5 years old when we moved to Damaso Suazo, where we lived for some years until I had to stay with my grandma Adela. Sometimes, we visited Inawayan to see my Lolo Lucing and Nanay Tira and all my relatives on my mother’s side.”
Tamayo has managed to go to other countries like Singapore, Thailand, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, and the United Arab Emirates. However, he considers the Philippines and Dubai as the places that have made an impact on him.
“The Philippines, especially Davao City, as I made a bit of an impact in the fitness industry and recently Dubai not just in fitness but also as an artist,” he says.