Filipinas Magazine
January 1988
Cover Story
Actor Paolo Montalban

Hopeful Romantic
By Marites N. Sison

As a bespectacled teen, Paolo Montalban had auditioned for his school's 
production of "Oliver," His mother was incredulous when he later told 
her that he had gone for the lead role. "How can you be Oliver? You're 
brown, Ollvers white!" she said, hoping to cushion the impact of what 
she felt would be a sure rejection for her dreamer son, who had vied 
for the role alongside his white classmates.

Montalban not only got to play Oliver, but a decade later, he surprised 
his mother again by landing the role of the Prince in Disney's television 
adaptation of Rogers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella," released last Fall.

The bulky eyeglasses have long been replaced by contact lenses, and 
today, this Filipino American actor finds himself at the center of a 
growing frenzy. The chat rooms on the Internet are jammed with women 
(and men) gushing about his performance shortly after "Cinderella" was 
aired on prime time at ABC. His parents, Vivian and Paul Montalban, are 
barely recovering from the flurry of phone calls requesting for 
autographed pictures of their son. He gets stopped on the streets 
of New York and asked "Aren't you the Prince?" National Inquirer 
magazine is even busy speculating on whether or not he's dating Brandy, 
the African American actress who played Cinderella.
Filipinos are convinced: Paolo Montalban is the next best thing to 
happen to them since Lea Salonga. It's a compliment that he laughs off:
'I wouldn't put myself on the same scale. She's a star, I'm just a guy."
Not even the fact that Salonga herself called him up to congratulate 
him has made him think he's now an actor to watch.

It's easy to see why Montalban became Disney's choice for Prince 
Charming. At 6'1" he not only has the regal bearing and stature of the 
man you hope would sweep you off your mortal feet and well-chiseled 
features with skin the color of honey that makes him our post-modern 
Prince. On-screen, he projects intensity, intelligence and sensitivity.
Off-screen, he's the same and more. He touches your hand when he wants 
to emphasize a point, looks you in the eye, quotes Kahlil Gibran and 
apologizes for being a "space cadet" because he not only believes in 
God, but in the universe and the whole concept of karma. He's a New Age 
Prince who also wants to be the next Cary Grant.

Montalban had his eyes set on Broadway shortly after graduating from
a pre-med course at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. A 
dutiful son, he had acquiesced to his parents' wishes that he get a 
college degree. There was no stopping him, however, after he got his 

"My parents supported me in my decision primarily because I was 
fortunarte enough to have a New York agent during my last year in 
college, and shortly after I signed with him I got my first professional 
job which was to go on a national tour with 'Man of La Mancha' which 
paid." he says. "Not to say that there weren't long periods of time 
when I wasn't working, when I was on unemployment and my mother was 
pushing the real-estate and accounting courses on me."

Fortunately for him, the work did come. Last year, the 24-year-old 
actor became part of the Broadway production of "The King and I."
He played a minor role until early last year when he became the 
understudy for the lead role now played by Lou Diamond Phillips, 
another Filipino American actor. Months later, he walked into the 
grinding days of auditioning for the role of the Prince in "Cinderella."

People magazine said his was "a Cinderella story within 'Cinderella."' 
Disney had heard 700 or so aspirants and still hadn't found the Prince, 
until Montalban came in and sang, alone and then with Brandy. After a 
"nerve-wracking" week, Disney called to say he got the job.

Montalban says he would've been crushed if he hadn't gotten the part.
"I Fell in love with the character. I just understood him. I understood 
what he was looking for." he declares. "He's not your typical Prince 
who comes in the end to save Cinderella. He's looking for the life 
partner, the soul mate."

What made it more meaningful, he adds, was being a part of this seminal,
multicultural version of a fairy tale. "On all fronts, not only on 
Brandy's side or my side, everyone involved wanted to make this a 
Cinderella of the millennium. This was a Cinderella that would reach 
all races. I mean, black girls believing that they could be Cinderella,
or little African American, Asian or Hispanic boys thinking they can be 
the Prince," he says. "I didn't only represent the Filipino community, 
I represented the entire ethnic community. We all grew up with the 
standard versions of Cinderella, and it was always portrayed in an 
all-white aspect."

Of course, it helps also that in his first TV show he has worked with 
big-name acrors-Whoopie Goldberg, Victor Garber, Bernadette Peters, 
Jason Alexander and Brandy--and still managed to hold his own.

Born in the Philippines, Montalban moved to America with his family 
when he was one year old. Home was an apartment in Manhattan, and 
then New Jersey, where he grew up surrounded by many things Filipino.

"The great part about Jersey City is that whites are the minority. It's 
truly, more so than New York, a melting pot. It was nice to be able to 
juggle both worlds. I wouldn't be completely out of touch with my 
American world or out of touch with the Filipino community," he says. 
"We had our santacruzan and the novenas."

One of two children, Montalban grew up in a musical family: His father 
played the piano, two aunts studied the violin and piano at ]ulliard 
and his mother, who was involved in the theater while a student at 
St. Paul's College in Manila, sang Broadway tunes to put him to sleep.
At age six, Montalban and his sister (then seven) memorized the lyrics 
of "Jesus Christ, Superstar," singing them over and over again like a 
broken record on family trips. He learned to play the piano, violin 
and saxophone. Does he still play them! "No, sayang(what a waste)," he
laughs. His powerful singing voice, though, is au naturel--no voice
lessons there.

Montalban knows the pitfalls of being an Asian actor in Hollywood, where 
he's currently setting his sights. There's the danger of being 
pigeonholed as a stereotypical Asian who knows kung fu, who's a  
gangster boy or a member of the Yakuza. But he's determined to help
bring back glamor, music and romance to the screen. "I want to be the
other leading man, the interesting leading man. The guy that they 
would've gotten Brad Pitt for, but instead they got me," he says with
an embarrassed laugh. He has assembled what he calls his "dream team" 
to help him get to Hollywood. In the meantime, he's busy auditioning 
for other roles and relaxes by doing not-so-profound things: He plays
video games and watches the Cartoon Channel.

This Prince confesses to being a kid at heart. Sitting for the 
interview at The Coffee Pot on 49th and Ninth Avenue near the Manhattan 
theater district, Montalban is distracted. An African American woman 
with a British accent sees him, and they hug each other like long-lost 
friends. She's Lilith, and she conducts "spiritual psychic readings"
in the resraurant, which has long been Montalban's watering hole.

"She rocks. Liiith rocks," he beams. Three days before the Disney offer
came, she had told him to let go of stagnant energy, which was 
distracting his natural flow. His aura now, she says, has changed. "You
look different. You're happier," she tells him. He jokes that his skin
is just exfoliating because of a new moisturizer he has tried. Before 
they part he hugs Lilith again and gives her arm an affectionate squeeze.
She smiles and leaves me the same calling card she has given Monltalban.
On the card, it says: "Reach for the Moon and Have the Stars."

Marites N. Sison is a journalist in New York