Tom Rodriguez—a Filipino-American born in Subic Naval Base who grew up in Samar and lived in Yuma, Arizona, where his family migrated—was once a shy young man. A self-confessed introvert, Tom admitted he was reluctant to join showbusiness at first but once he was in, he realized the myriad of opportunities that opened up for him.
He was in New York City recently after an Independence Day event in Toronto and he used the opportunity to meet up with the local media to chat about anything. Yes, anything. And everything.
“I couldn’t help but be emotional since I remember when I was still back in Yuma, and the community would come together to celebrate Philippine Independence Day,” Tom said. “Seeing all the Filipinos there was a beautiful thing. It reminded me of home.”
He and his manager decided to cut their trip short to return to Manila so he could start preparing for a new show, another teleserye from his home network GMA. This is Tom’s fourth teleserye with the network after starring in the controversial and groundbreaking series “My Husband’s Lover” along with Dennis Trillo and Carla Abellana, “My Destiny” also with Abellana and the remake of Marimar with Miss World Megan Young.
For the new show, Tom said he will be playing a role of a married man who will suffer from an early onset of Alzheimer’s, a degenerative disease. He is thankful and excited to be given another opportunity to tackle a challenging role which he said he will prepare for by reading up on the topic as much as he could.
A few months ago, the actor also starred in an indie film called “Magtanggol,” where he played the role of Sen. Juancho Magtanggol who comes from an ideal patriotic family. He described the film as one that was crafted with love and heart for the Filipinos.
“I’ve met Filipinos all over the world and you always see happy, smiling faces and when you see them—the overseas Filipinos specifically, akala mo yung pinagdadaanan nila, yung being away from their families—which is already hard as it is,” he explained.
All around man
Not many people know that Tom is an artist. He is also an aspiring app designer. He codes, too. He reads a lot and his memory is sharp.
How many actors do you know who can recite the distance of the earth from the sun? Or the sun from the moon? His curiosity about these things reached fever pitch and at one point, he bought a telescope and studied learning about parallax and visual perception.
“We have too much down time when we’re shooting whether it’s a movie or a teleserye,” he revealed.
Instead of catching up on sleep, he reads stuff that interest him or plays with his phones and doodle on his phone writing apps for kids.
And whenever he’s not at work, he’s studying—anything he can get his hands on. From mathematics to physics to chemistry to quantum mechanics and politics, his range of interests is varied. Add cryptography and programming and you get an idea how diverse his arsenal is.
In our interview, he also talked about the Kardashev Scale, a method of measuring a civilization’s level of technological advancement, based on the amount of energy a civilization is able to use for communication. We’re currently at Type Zero, he said, which means that our civilization harnesses the energy of its home planet, but not to its full potential just yet.
Then, there’s the Multiplication Table Tool Kit, a fun and engaging app that he is developing for kids so they can appreciate mathematics and patterns more.
Not bad for someone who “only” studied digital animation at the University of Advancing Technology in Tempe.
Tom was interning in Hong Kong for an art firm since he wanted to be a conceptual artist. When he went back to the States in 2008 to return to the company that initially sent him to Hong Kong, he saw an American economy that was in a slump.
“I couldn’t afford to be an unpaid intern, it wasn’t feasible. I was thinking of going to the military but my sister knew it wasn’t what I wanted. She told me she saw a plug on TV about a reality show in the Philippines,” he recalled.
He auditioned and got in and one thing led to another. He appeared on the Philippine version of Big Brother and did a few shows with ABS-CBN, including the network’s daytime hit “Please Be Careful With My Heart”.
Then another turning point happened and an opportunity presented itself. His manager told him to audition for a new GMA show, and luckily, he got the part. That show was “My Husband’s Lover”.
Doing MHL was a defining moment for the actor’s career as he took on a role many of his contemporaries would either kill for or avoid like a plague. During the show’s duration, Tom was known as Vincent, the gay, titular husband.
“It was the first drama I ever did and when I auditioned, I didn’t feel that I was qualified enough,” Tom revealed, adding that he did not want to make the role into a caricature. “I did not want to offend a group of people that’s why I questioned if I could carry the role or if I could show the depth of the character.”
This was also when he realized that what they were doing was beyond entertainment.
“There were implications pala, may social responsibility that came with it. There’s so much more and I give credit to GMA for coming up with that project,” he added. “I wish there were more projects like this, so they can bridge these gaps that make us all disjointed because in essence, we’re all the same.”
Falling in love with the craft
“I never imagined in a million years that I’d be in this position now. I love it. I have fallen in love with it,” Tom shared. “The medium is so powerful. Any type of creative medium that could incite emotions and open yourself up to a different point of view, that’s such a powerful thing. It’s a beautiful art form.”
For young Filipino-Americans thinking of exploring a career in showbusiness in the Philippines, Tom has a few thoughts.
“Whatever it is that you want to do in your life, it has to be from the heart. There’s no type of work that you can do easily or in a breeze. That’s not the right way to approach it,” he said. “I’m nowhere near where I want to be now but having the chance to work with brilliant and amazing people who I have learned from throughout my career so far, it gave me a glimpse of what’s possible.”
He is excited to grow and learn more. He has only been in the business for six years now—he has done drama and comedy, he has been in a musical (Aladdin) and he sings on the side as well—and he knows that there is so much more to learn in the industry.
“Overall I’m just thankful that I was given this opportunity and I feel so blessed to be able to work with brilliant and talented people in the industry,” Tom said, relishing the fact that he has a long way to go and he intends to stay and learn from the upcoming projects that will come his way.