ANH T. HOANG
Twenty-four year old Paolo Montalban is not on Fantasy Island. He is not related to Ricardo Montalban, the well-known host to all your televised tropical dreams, but the last few months have been a fairy tale come true--literally. Montalban just finished his first film, an updated version of the classic story, Cinderella, scheduled to air on November 2. Montalban's character, Prince Charming, wins over a Cinderella played by pop sensation, Brandy, with the help of Whitney Houston's bippity-boppity-boo fairy godmother. He is now on an ABC-driven publicity blitz.
Montalban strolled by the window of a coffee shop on the West Side of Manhattan and acknowledged me with a sparkling white smile and a tilt of his head, though we had never met.
I have since realized that Montalban greets everyone in this warm and familiar manner. He strode up and hugged me like an old friend. He was wearing a tank top, shorts and sandals as if he had just stepped off of a beach rather than the sticky asphalt during a humid New York City afternoon. "Hey, do you need another cup of coffee?" he greeted me with that perfect smile. So this was Prince Charming. I pulled out his agent's bio of him and he groaned about being reduced to one sheet of paper. "I was working so hard when they wanted the bios, so they just whipped up these and I was like-this isn't me!" Montalban laughed and then feigned disgust.
The new Cinderella movie, produced by Whitney Houston's production company in conjunction with Disney, is the most expensive made-for-television movie in history. "Every single person on that crew and cast made the project work," Montalban said adding: that 14 hour work days were not unusual. The movie was appropriately shot on the same sound stage chat that housed the production of The Wizard of Oz. The set designer even ringed the cobblestone road yellow in the wedding finale scene in homage to the classic film. Montalban thinks that by bringing the musical back to the screen, the world will come to appreciate this type of genre again. He believes that there is too much unrecognized talent in musical theater and that an increased popularity of musicals will directly increase the demand for these actors. He quotes one of his co-stars and said. "If we can make it okay for a 16-year-old boy to walk into a movie theater and watch a musical--have that be cool--how wonderful would that be? If we could bring that back, That'd be fantastic."
Bernadette Peters, Jason Alexander and Whoopi Goldberg rounded out Cinderella's multi-racial cast. When asked if his ethnicity affected or influenced his success, Montalban denied that his "Filipino-ness" had anything to do with his career as an actor. I suggested to him that an actor's body and appearance is their medium and he admitted that television and film were harder to cross over into as an ethnic actor compared to stage. "Which is what's so great about the Cinderella gig-because it's the first vehicle of television or film that I'm going to do and I'm being sent out as a non-racial, color-blind kind of prince." The goal, he said, was to reach every person out there on the same level and with the same impact. "Little black girls, little Filipino girls, little Irish girls...black, brown, green, white, all sorts of colors; and boys, you know boys saying if I could be the prince too.' You don't have to be a blonde hair. blue-eyed miniature version of Ken. I can be a difference and I can rise above myself." I doubt Barbie's boyfriend would stand a chance next to Montalban.