Direk Romm Burlat: Filipino Award-Winning Actor and Director
Award-winning Direk Romm Burlat has directed more than twenty films and several commercials. He is listed among the Outstanding Men and Women of the Philippines and is currently the Film Ambassador representing the Development Council of the Philippines. We caught up with the Filipino actor to learn more about his work, his faith and how he got to the level of success he is enjoying now.
Interviewed Exclusively for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: Were you the child in the school plays in the musicals or how did your passion for the arts start?
Direk Romm Burlat: My passion for art started when I was six years old. I was with the musical, The Sound of Music. In the real The Sound of Music, the Von Trapp family, the youngest kid is a girl, but they couldn’t find one. So they changed the role to a boy. So it was me doing the youngest part.
When I was young, I really wanted to do it. So school plays, school competitions and also competitions in the community were what I did. But the thing is because of distance, because of Mindanao is too far from Manila so there are not much opportunity for me, and my parents are strict. We cannot move from place to place. So the thing is, I did it when I finished my college. I went to Manila and supposed to start in show business. In college is where it developed again and I was given a chance to audition in some musicals and stage plays.
But I also had my dream of wanting to see the world. So I said, I’m not too old to do this now. So I have to tour the world first and after I’m done, then I’ll go back to the Philippines to do my childhood dream of becoming a movie director and an actor.
So I worked jobs in the corporate – I was a director, I was a manager, I used to work in a six-star hotel casino. I was earning very well, but the thing is, I was not happy with what I’m doing because I just move around. I said, God has given me talents to direct, to act, to sing, to dance and everything. So I need to develop this before I reached my senior age. People didn’t even agree with me, didn’t believe in me, because I have to start from zero in 2006 to start movie directing. I pursued my dreams and I proved to them that they’re wrong because the first movie that I did, I already won best director.
Now, I feel so achieved. It’s not a question of how much do you earn, it’s a question of how much do you achieve in your craft. For other people, the first consideration is money. Like how lucrative could it be? How much do they pay you for a certain job being a director and actor? But for me, I’m more into making myself more popular, more known than earning money. It may be weird, but I want people to know me.
RM: You wear so many hats, you’re an actor, you’re a director, you’re a producer, you’re a host. How do you decide which projects to take?
DRB: My priority is movies. A movie director and movie acting, but I don’t actually base my projects on how lucrative the offer is. It’s more on the project, how will it make me grow as an artist. Even at times when I was starting, when I was acting, sometimes I worked for free because a film was being produced by a friend, but I always make sure that the role is really worth it. Because even if you’re not paid so well, you can win awards.
RM: For our audience that might not be as familiar with some of your work. What are some of the types of films that you’ve directed or roles that you’ve taken that have excited you?
DRB: Right now, the top on my list is a Covered Candor, the equivalent Filipino title is Tutop. I’m so excited because it was my first time to produce and it was on a very tight budget. And now it has been winning awards, like almost 40 international awards from film festivals. It’s a horror, drama, suspense thriller film where I am the lead. I have already won six international best actor awards for my performance.
RM: When you do a horror or one where you have to kind of get into character like that, how does your preparation process look like?
DRB: My preparation process – because the role is quite similar to the role being played by Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — so I watched his movies several times, not to copy his acting skills, but just for encouragement on how to attack the role.
Another film that really impressed me is Mammangi. It’s a heritage kind of film. It’s a family and it’s a tradition, like bringing to the fore the tradition of a certain city, which a lot of people don’t really know. It’s some sort of a re-education on some people. Like, Oh, this thing happened, which some of the millennials now don’t even know that it happened before. So it’s just telling people who don’t know what happened in a certain society that this has happened long time ago. And you should know, because this was part of history. I won about seven best director awards for it.
For Agaw Pansin and Sindi, two of my films, I won twice in a row, both the best actor and best director awards.
But if you win a best director award, it doesn’t mean that you’re the best among the best, it means that you’re just hardworking. Because there are plenty of directors in the Philippines who are really good or are really excellent, but sometimes they just rest on their laurels. Like, Oh, this is enough for me. It’s enough for us. For me, even if I still win awards, I’ll keep on sending my films to competitions, because, I just want to win and win and win. Because, I should say, everybody loves a winner.
RM: So where did your work ethic come from? Where did you learn it is important to keep working regardless of success?
DRB: My best friend who encouraged me to start, who encourage me to do movie directing was a blockbuster director in the Philippines, who’s already [passed] now. So he was the one who really encouraged me to do this. So I owe a lot to him.
I don’t believe in opportunity knocking at your doorstep, you have to look for opportunity. Because there are plenty of people out there who wants to succeed in a certain level, in a certain part of their career, but you don’t have to wait for it to come. You have to work for it.
I have to tour the world first and after I’m done, then I’ll go back to the Philippines to do my childhood dream of becoming a movie director and an actor.
RM: Now, we’re still on lockdown and quarantines here in the United States. How has COVID affected your life in the Philippines?
DRB: Well, it has affected a lot of people, especially in the showbiz industry, because we don’t get projects because of COVID, so it’s the ninth month. It started in March and it’s still going on now, but it’s getting better though. But for that period of time, I only have one film project because some producers don’t want to gamble on a film, which they think won’t make money because of the reasons like theaters not being opening? Asking, when can we get our return on investment when the COVID is still within us? So it has affected us financially so much. And then I’m trying to accept projects on television, hosting, and directing, even if it’s just little to make ends meet.
RM: I was looking at some of your work hosting and interviewing other people, or even your travel show that you had. For you, what do you enjoy most when it comes to interviewing others?
DRB: It gives me enjoyment in interviewing a lot of different types of people from celebrities to successful educators, to politicians and stuff. I find it more challenge interviewing Hollywood actors, and people from outside of our country. When I was still working on cruise ships, I was able to do some [high profile] interviews.
RM: Working on cruise ships probably gave you the opportunity to see a lot of the world. What was that experience like?
DRB: Oh, it’s a great experience. When I was still young, one of my ambitions was to tour the world. And when I quit working on cruise ships, I already had visited 90, nine-zero countries and principalities. I have gone to seven continents of the world, including Antarctica.
RM: So outside of your home country, what are a couple of your favorites that you visited?
DRB: Well, number one for me is always Spain. Because it’s similar to the Philippines. They’re very religious. They’re very Catholic. And then in the evening, there are also parties and stuff. So it gives you balance on your religious beliefs at the same time, you can attend social functions and stuff.
RM: Speaking on the religious side of things then, what role does your faith play within your work?
DRB: I’m a Christian. I’m a very religious person. I always do prayer before I do something for my job, and then do prayer after. So basically, we Filipinos are very Roman Catholic. Most of us, like 75% of us. So I always put my faith in God in everything that I do.
RM: What is your involvement with the Noble Queen of the Universe pageant?
DRB: I’m one of the five judges of the competition. Actually, Patricia Javier is an actress here in the Philippines. She won Noble Queen of the Universe last year. So it was her. After my interview with her, she was the one who invited me to be one of the judges.
RM: What advice would you give to people that want to be in the movie industry?
DRB: For them, they should go on with their dreams. It’s inevitable that there will be bashers. There will be people giving you negative comments. But for me, I use them as inspiration because the more I get hurt or be affected with their comments, the more I honed my skills to make myself excellent in what I do.
I always put my faith in God in everything that I do.
RM: What do you have coming up that you can’t wait to work on?
DRB: I will be doing a sitcom. It’s a situational comedy on television, which I’ve not done before, and my main cast are dancers. They’re not actually actors. So this will serve as a challenge to me, turning dancers into actors. So far they’re doing well. I already have taped three episodes. So far so good.
RM: When it comes to finding time, do you compartmentalize your day or what does you schedule look like?
DRB: I believe that a busy person always has time for everything. I take down notes. I have my board, list priorities…
RM: So you’re the king of multi-tasking?
DRB: That is funny. I should say the word king is an understatement. I’m so busy, but I balance it very well because I don’t have anything else to do. I’m living alone with my dog. My family is in the United States and some are in Cebu. So every day I can hone my craft as a director, actor, host, and everything that I can think of to develop my talents. That’s it.
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