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The multicultural Prince
Charming comes to Manila
By Leah Salterio Gatdula

He was the dashing prince to Brandy's Cinderalla in the hit TV musical and People magazine's sexiest Asian-American. A tall, handsome and brainy Fil-Am, he has removed cultural barriers to Asian-Americans in highly protective Hollywood
HE'S GOT good looks, tons of sex appeal, lots of charm and, most important, brains. He also oozes with talent. So how can Fil-Am actor Paolo Montalban go wrong?

Since he gained fame on American TV two years ago -- by playing the Prince Charming to Brandy's Cinderella in the modern version of the 1957 classic TV musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein -- Paolo has been on the right track.

''Cinderella'' producer Whitney Houston had specified the qualifications that the Prince Charming ought to have.

''He had to be gorgeous but he also had to have a heart. He had to be a pinup type that girls would instinctively know their mothers would love and trust.''

Paolo turned out to be the perfect choice, what with his towering physique, (he stands 6'1"), well-chiseled features and sparkling smile.

His entry into TV acting was a fairy tale come true, literally. He was the last actor to try out on the last day of auditions that had failed to produce a single, promising candidate. Of course, after his audition, the production agreed it had found Prince Charming.


Sans any formidable show biz family background -- he's not related to ''Fantasy Island'' star Ricardo Montalban -- Paolo thinks his edge in getting the role was his theater and academic credentials.

In 1993, Paolo embarked on a national tour as the ''Man of La Mancha,'' which saw him perform all over the US -- in all 49 states -- for eight months. That stint subsequently led to his Broadway break in ''The King and I.''

He was a chorus member in ''The King and I,'' with Lou Diamond Phillips in the lead. On several occasions, Paolo also got to play the part of Luntha and sang the haunting love song, ''I Have Dreamed,'' with his lady love Tuptim.

He was inclined towards the arts at a very early age. At 4, he enrolled at the Lincoln Square Academy, which specializes in the arts. By prep, he had mastered the piano and violin and went on to learn the sax, bassoon, flute and piccolo.

He bagged his first lead role in third grade in a school production of ''Jesus Christ Superstar.'' He did other school plays like ''Gospel'' and ''Closer Than Ever.''

Paolo went to Rutgers on an academic scholarship at 15. As a bespectacled teen, he auditioned for the school production of ''Oliver,'' but his mom was skeptical if he would ever get the role since he's brown. But Paolo did not only get to play Oliver, he also went on to play Prince Charming opposite pop sensation Brandy Norwood.

The fairytale premiered on ABC in November 1997 and has since been released on video.

Paolo was thrilled not only to have been seen all over the US, but also to have worked with the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Bernadette Peters, Jason Alexander and Whitney Houston, who played the fairy godmother.

Sexiest Asian-American

''It's not daunting as what I initially thought it would be,'' Paolo tells INQUIRER in an exclusive interview Monday night. ''There's a task that you have to do and you can either waste the time thinking whether you can be good enough for the part or just do it. I was star-struck, but they all made me feel comfortable on the set.''

After ''Cinderella'' was shown, Paolo was swamped with a flurry phone calls at home. On the streets of Manhattan, where he used to live alone in an apartment in Hell's Kitchen, he got easily recognized by ladies who asked for his autograph.

The internet was also jammed with women raving and gushing about his performance. Not too long after that, People magazine in its famous annual list named him as one of the world's sexiest men.

An American magazine article dubbed him as the next best thing to happen to Filipinos since Lea Salonga. Still, Paolo has remained modest. ''I wouldn't put myself on the same scale as Lea,'' he says. ''She's a very big star.''

He saw Lea in London, where she originated the role of ''Miss Saigon.''

''My family had lunch with her family and we were able to get to know each other,'' he offers.

Paolo later appeared onscreen in ''Mortal Kombat: Conquest.'' He has done the rounds of entertainment talk shows of Rosie O'Donnell, Geraldo Rivera, E Channel and Entertainment Tonight.

Paolo moved to the States when he was just one year old. Like many other Filipinos, his family came to the US to seek greener pastures.

Major decision

He lives away from his parents who are based in New Jersey. He lives together with his elder sister Gloria, a dentist. A few months ago, Paolo moved to Los Angeles after living all his life in New York -- a major decision.

''It takes a long time to settle in a new place,'' Paolo says. ''My life is still in boxes, but I'm still a New York boy at heart. LA is accessible to the TV and film studios. It will be easier for my job if I have a house in LA.''

Paolo's interest in music was ignited by his family. Dad Paul, who is an applications programmer at IBM, is a concert pianist in his spare time.

Mom Vivian, a performance analyst with the Chase Manhattan Bank, also sings.

An aunt studied violin at the world-famous Julliard School of Music.

His paternal relatives play the piano, violin and flute.

Paolo's first visit in Manila since he left in 1974 was in 1993, but vaguely remembers it. This time, though, he is being given the attention he rightfully deserves. TV and print media sought him out for interviews. He also guested in the ABS-CBN sitcom, ''Richard Loves Lucy,'' starring show biz couple Richard Gomez and Lucy Torres.

Paolo came to Manila to test the waters for possible TV and film projects. ''I've been talking to people here to see if I can work in collaboration with them even if I'm based in LA,'' he says.

He was raised in a Filipino family so his values are very Filipino. However, since he lived in New York all his life, Paolo speaks very little Tagalog, but he can understand the dialect.

When he arrived here, a friend taught him how to say ''Maligayang pasko and manigong bagong taon.'' But he doesn't think it will be a big setback in getting TV and film roles in local show biz for him.

''I can always learn how to talk in Tagalog,'' he says.

He rattles off his favorite Filipino dishes-- ''sinigang, adobo, tapa, sinangag (with spam and garlic) and turon''--which his mom prepares for the family.


And here's good news to ladies: Paolo is unattached. A year ago, he had a brief relationship with a girl from New York who performed for the Hamburg Opera.

He is partial to pretty looks at first, but really prefers the intellectual type.

''Twenty seconds into the conversation if there's nothing between her ears, you just walk away,'' he says. ''There's not much in a pretty face that can enrich a relationship. She's got to have a good head on her shoulders.''

Paolo keeps fit by lifting weights, rollerblading and horseback-riding, something which he recently learned in Orlando.

But his passion is still acting. He gets a different kind of high performing before an audience or the cameras.

He cites a survey of the testosterone level of guys in different fields -- football player, doctor, accountant, actor, investor -- with the actor registering the highest.

''It might be the adulation and the high that he gets from performing,'' maintains Paolo, who counts Anthony Hopkins as his idol.

''There's an old story about an incredible actor who's about 60 years old who tells the newcomers that you're never really a master of acting unless you can act for 50 years.

''I believe there really isn't an end to what you can learn and what you can achieve. I'm still learning. I just want to work and gain better experience.''

Paolo likes to continue to make good roles and provide more opportunities for other Filipinos to make it internationally.

If somewhere along the way he finds the girl of his dreams, the 26-year-old actor will not mind settling down. ''But I'm still going to continue pursuing my career,'' he says. ''Being in love is not a bad thing. Being liked is not a bad thing either. It's rare to find people adoring you.'' December 16, 1999

The multicultural Prince
Charming comes to Manila