Will The Real Willie Nepomuceno Please Stand Up?

VN: How did you survive college?

WN: Surviving can be tough but it's not really a big deal as long as you know what you want to get out of college life. University of the Philippines is like a community and it is its own resource. Immediately, after high school, I got a summer job in UP as an illustrator and slowly got to know how it is to be in UP. So that when I got accepted I already knew my way around so I applied as a Student Assistant. Receiving P75 a month, I didn't have to ask my parents for baon. Eventually the office I worked in also served as my ''stock room'' when I later ventured as an ice cream vendor inside the campus. As early as five in the morning, I'd be queuing at the Magnolia Plant along Aurora Blvd. to buy my goods to sell for the day with the accompanying dry ice. And before office work begun, I would have packed the goods into my three vending boxes and distributed them to my boys, who are actually ambulant cigarette vendors. In between my classes, I'd be in the drawing board and the rest of my time attending to extracurricular activities as an officer of the Beta Sigma Fraternity, a councilor of the UP Student Council, an editorial board member of The Philippine Collegian, a managing editor of the College of Fine Arts student publication and my fraternity's publication, and the President of the Marikina UP Varsitarians and naturally participating in the activities of the nationalist movement and two campus singing groups on the side. In my senior years, I also became a part-time substitute art teacher and, much later, I got immersed into theater and artworks. I guess, it's the passion of my youth and a huge bit of pragmatism that pushed me to survive college life.

VN: Was there life after UP? What happened to you personally and professionally?

WN: The ties with UP never cease. You will always be smitten by the love for the institution that molded you into what you have become. In fact, after graduation I was jobless for the longest time (my choice anyway). My life then was an extension of my college lifestyle. I preferred doing theater work, conducting acting and stage workshops to interested students with my friend Joonee Gamboa and a few others. It's probably similar in nature to what is known today as NGO work. Or maybe that became my outlet to fulfill my desire to pursue an acting career. My very promising entertainment career was however nipped in the bud by Martial Law just exactly when it was about to take off. With my own radio program and my own television show in the pipelines of the ABS CBN executives, I would have begun learning the rudiments of radio work that Monday of September 1972. But the network's gates were taken over by the Marine forces as early as Saturday. I went into hiding and surfaced only when I got a call slip to guest in Nora Aunor's ''Superstar'' television show. Surprisingly, I was not arrested so I went legit again on mainstream entertainment on an off and on basis (because I never really liked the industry practices). Until one time in my ''off'' mode, I got into the Development Academy of the Philippines, doing organization development work with a particular focus on human relations training. I thoroughly enjoyed my job especially when I see people acquiring new knowledge, developing skills and displaying attitudinal changes in behavior. It more than equaled the high of a standing ovation. In the process, I even earned a management scholarship at the prestigious Asian Institute of Management. However, being a government agency, it could only afford a limited salary scale not enough for my growing family so I got back again to my on and off career as an entertainer. I was doing well doing stints around the world, corporate accounts, and headlining several television shows including a daily noontime television program as its mainstay host. For the second time, my career was again interrupted by history. People Power happened and therefore a change in players was inevitable. It felt like the '70s once more. I was back to square one. It was a series of not so funny things that happened on my way to the Forum, but let's leave that to my biographer.

VN: How did you end up as an impersonator? Who taught you the tricks of the trade? Who influenced you here and abroad?

WN: Doing voices and faces started as a game for me. I always had fun poking make believe sounds at my lolo's househelps, cousins, playmates, and eventually my teachers in school. I was fascinated by a comic book character named Alyas Palos, a Robin Hood-type robber, whose forte is disguising to avoid being caught by the pursuing officers. Later I saw a performer doing impressions of American actors on a television show and I was so amazed by his talent. His name was Frank Gorshin. Then I saw Sammy Davis, Jr. imitating popular singers. Immediately I became a fan and these two artists instantly were my source of inspiration and model in the art of impression.

VN: Who are the famous unknown you have imitated? What is your dream role?

WN: Willie Nep? At this point, I don't have a dream role. I just need a job that will prove my mettle and be recognized for it.


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