Kicking his old habit leads him to his first lead role in ‘To The North’
We first encountered Soliman “Sol” Cruz in grade school. He was the theater consultant at St. Scholastica’s College for the school play, Ora et Labora, where all seventh-graders were required to participate in myriad roles, from stage management to acting. At that time, he was passionate about theater, even performing at CCP’s Tanghalang Pilipino. Afterward, we would bump into each other at the old Penguin Café in Malate, Manila. At that time, it was the peak of the Cinemalaya filmfest, where he had a groundbreaking role in Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (2005) and he was not yet sober that time. He would ask me, “Where do you get your high?” and I would reply, “Just by making films.”
We felt happy when we learned that Sol was filming in Romania with director Mihai Mincan casting him in To The North as a Filipino seaman who kept a stowaway inside a shipping vessel. If discovered, the crew would all lose their jobs.
Having discovered him in Lav Diaz’s Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan (2013), Mincan was impressed with his performance that the negotiations took four years long to cast Sol!
The work ethic that the 58-year-old actor brought to the set was his Pinoy humor. “Ang ginagawa ko sa shoot, nagpapatawa muna ako para maging magaan ((When shooting, I make them laugh to make the atmosphere on the set light),” muses the former General Quirante in the Ang Probinsyano TV series. “Sa mga sandali ng kahirapan, nakakahanap ka ng katatawanan (When it’s tiring and challenging, I use humor to cope).”
Sol goes to the set two hours before call time so his body can adjust to the cold temperature on the ship. “There are a lot of rituals dressing up, layering of clothes,” he informs us. “Para hindi ako magmadali (I do not want to hurry).”
His acting method centers on the “now.” In every role, he always asks himself, “Where do I weave from here? Hindi ako lalabas sa material (I don’t deviate from the material),” he says.
In a video call interview, Sol reminisces on his early childhood. “I was the son of a soldier, from the military,” says the 2010 Urian Best Supporting Actor for Himpapawid (2009). Every summer, art workshops were offered at the camp and Sol studied drama where he met the great Onofre Pagsanghan of Ateneo.
“Tapos nung nagbukas ang Philippine High School for the Arts, pinahanap niya (Pagsanghan) ako at nirecommenda na mag-aral (When PHSA opened, he looked for me and recommended me to study there),” he says.
His darkest moment in life was kicking his old habit. “Alam naman ng lahat na nagkaroon ako ng sakit na addiction. Mahirap (We all know I got a disease called addiction. It was hard),” he laments.
We would hear stories about Sol being holed up in a police precinct or walking around Baywalk as a “homeless.” “Ang addiction ay impyerno. Impyerno sa mga taong nakapaligid sa ‘kin. Impyerno sa utak (Addiction is hell. It is hell to the people close to me. It is hell to one’s mind),” he says.
As an actor, Sol has successfully crossed over from stage to television and film. “I wouldn’t sustain this career if not for my friends and family who never gave up on me,” recalls the 2020 FAP Awards Best Supporting Actor. “I am still here because of them.”
Having spent close to two months in Bucharest and nearby Romanian towns, Sol fights homesickness through social media. “Isa sa ligaya sa ‘kin Facebook (Connecting on Facebook gives me joy),” he says. He has stopped eating rice. “Their rice is different here. Lumiit ang tiyan ko (My waistline got smaller),” he laughs.
His manager, Ferdy Lapuz, warns him against losing too much weight. “He told me, ‘We have a lot of inquiries na mataba ka (that you’re fat),” says Sol. His dad bod “represents” the “tatay na malaki ang tiyan, mangagawa ng malaki ang tiyan (Fathers on the heavy side and workers on the heavy side).”
His advice for aspiring actors is to finish their studies. “If you want to have an acting career, give yourself five years. If you go unnoticed, then better change your career,” he says.
To the North is a co-production of France (sound & distribution), Bulgaria (camera),
Romania (script and director), Greece (ship), and Czechoslovakia (computer generated images). They hope that the Philippines provide help in granting royalty fees for the local songs needed in the film. Also in the cast are Bart Guingona and Noel Sto. Domingo.
Photos by Bart Guingona