The Hollywood dream is something that has long been pursued and consequently eluded many a Filipino artist. With several cracks and stabs, the dream is fast becoming a reality for actor Nacho Tambunting as he makes a name for himself amidst the well-reviewed and talented cast of the hit NBC TV show, Rise.
Ignacio “Nacho” Tambunting has always wanted to work on Pippin. “I identify with Pippin’s journey. I think it would be a lot of fun to explore the character and see where it takes me,” he says.
But how has his journey been and has he found his corner?
Early on, Nacho knew that he was not meant for the wings. For the young thespian, he knew he was meant to be on stage.
“I always knew I wanted to perform. My mom says that from the age of one, I was already singing and dancing on top of tables, performing for family and friends. Whenever I had friends over, I would force them to make a play.”
When he turned 10, he started doing professional theater with Repertory Philippines. For the next eight years, he would balance math equations, history lessons, and memorizing lines for a production. “It wasn’t until I moved to New York for college that I began to doubt whether or not I wanted to continue performing,” says the senior at the New Studio on Broadway at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
On several occasions, he questioned why and what he was doing. “The intensity of the program I was in made theater feel more like work than fun. I began to hate it,” he verbalizes.
“Student life at Tisch is crazy! Aside from all the hours spent in class and in rehearsals, the environment can feel rather competitive. Everyone at Tisch is pretty driven and eager to succeed. So, most of the pressure actually comes from ourselves, though it creates a very tense and stressful environment for all of us. Our teachers always remind us to ‘stay in your lane’ and focus on your path instead of continuously comparing yourself to others.”
It took him a few semesters before he found his passion again. “I would just try and think of my younger self who loved performing so much and that would keep me going.”
For Nacho, while the program “breaks you emotionally, physically, and mentally,” the training is incredible. At Tisch, despite his experience here in Philippines, “you start from zero and work your way up, relearning the basics, and eventually, finding your way. One of the most important things I’ve learned here is to focus on the work and not the final product.”
An audition for Hamilton would change the course of Nacho’s career as an actor.
Since his freshman year, he would audition for Broadway shows, mostly through open calls. “I often did well so the casting agencies would call me in to audition for other things.” In May 2017, because of his Hamilton audition, he was asked to audition for a TV show for NBC called Rise.
He was back in Manila when he first received an e-mail for an audition appointment the following day. He knew that he couldn’t possibly make it, but he also couldn’t throwaway his shot. Armed with an iPhone and the help of his sister, he recorded a tape in his bathroom and sent it over. A week and half later, after numerous back and forths, Nacho landed a recurring role as Francis Russo on the US TV show.
Despite having a semester left in school, he knew what he had to do—and that meant a sacrifice on his part. “The next day I made the arrangements to take a semester off of School to shoot Season 1 of Rise. Thankfully, NYU was very gracious and allowed me this experience. I was very lucky things worked out for me and fell into place at the right time.” By September 2017, he would spend much of his time working on the show at a sound stage in Brooklyn.
“My co-stars were wonderful to work with, very professional and fun,” he shares. “We often shot for 12 hours or even 16 hours. I always enjoyed spending time with the team. I learned a lot and the show gave me so much happiness and drive to wake up early in the morning.” But as with any new venture, one had to learn the ropes while he was thrust into the proverbial lion’s den. With his theater background, Nacho had to do some adjusting. But given the story of the show, he didn’t have to adjust for TV—that much.
“It was actually interesting because Rise is about a school that is putting on a musical. So our set was an auditorium that they had built on a sound stage in Brooklyn. Many of the scenes were us in rehearsal, so in a way it did feel like we were putting on a stage play,” he reveals. “It was a learning experience and I’m glad I was able to get some exposure in TV after years in the theater.”
“I’m excited to see what happens next and how the audiences react to what we have been working on,” he says, anticipating the continuous reaction from the audience of Rise, which airs Tuesday at 9/8 c on NBC. Judging by the initial feedback, the show is on the right track as it has been certified a touching hit by Forbes and Variety.
With the show currently on the air, life goes on beyond the klieg lights, as Nacho Tambunting is set to graduate from Tisch in May. What does he plan to do once he dips the tassle to the other side of the cap? “I will stay in New York, hopefully continuing on with Rise. We’ll see what else comes my way. I hope to be able to audition for other projects and continue a career in theater, TV, and hopefully, one day, movies.”
Evidently, Nacho Tambunting has found his corner in the sky. But even as early as now, it seems that his star is already on the rise. Up to what extent will we see him soar? Well, we will have to wait and see.
Watch Nacho Tambunting on NBC’s Rise every Tuesday 9/8c: