MANILA - Fame has many facets, and for Paolo Pingol, a man with special needs, his ticket to fame came by simply being himself.
Twenty-four year old Paolo was diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth. His grandmother, Linda, said they had difficulty in accepting this fact at first.
'Yung unang reaction ko, in denial ako, as in. Sabi ko, bakit magkakaganoon, baka nagkakamali. Kasi usually daw hereditary, eh sabi namin, saan manggagaling. Sabi ko hindi totoo 'yun, nagkamali," she said.
After praying and even doing the novena in Quiapo, Linda eventually accepted that her first grandson is special.
As a person with Down syndrome, Paolo has flat facial features and weak muscles. He also has learning difficulties, with his mental age behind his actual age. These are some of the lifelong challenges Linda had in mind before she finally told Paolo's parents of his condition.
"Papaano niya matatanggap? Nag-iisa 'yung anak ko eh, tapos unang apo ko. Paano ko kaya sasabihin sa kanya? At first, parang ano siya, hindi makapaniwala. Blessing 'yan, sabi ko," Linda said.
Paolo's family struggled raising him. Language was a huge barrier, but they persisted communicating with him in a language more universal than their mother tongue.
"Never kong pinakita sa kanya na hindi namin siya gusto, na ayaw namin siya. Never. Ang treatment namin sa kanya is normal na bata," Linda said.
"Bukod sa pasensiya, kailangan ng pagmamahal. Kaya ka nagpapasensiya kasi mahal mo siya," she added.
Growing up, young Paolo has been exposed to films and television shows. He grew fond of some of the characters on television that he would playfully imitate them.
Paolo remembers his first TV appearance as a teenager: a fast food commercial that catapulted him to relative fame.
After his breakthrough performance, several projects were offered to Paolo. He acted in drama anthologies, and played minor roles in other TV series.
"Talagang gusto niya maging action star. Magugulat ka na lang na, ayan, sila ng lolo niya, 'pag meron nang pelikula na, 'Lolo, action, action," Linda said.
Paolo kept a special interest in action movies, making him want to be an action star himself
Despite being diagnosed with Down syndrome, Paolo is able to relate with others much like any other person his age.
"'Pag nakita mo ang potential ng isang bata, huwag mong pabayaan, i-guide mo siya. Kasi kung kami hindi namin siya na-guide, eh hindi siya magiging ganun. Kasi lahat kami, supportive sa kami," Linda said.
Paolo was given a big breakwhen he played the lead role in "Star na si Van Damme Stallone," a film about people with Down syndrome.
With this break, Paolo was able to prove that disabilities can be taken as a special talent. He was even nominated in the best actor category in the 2016 CineFilipino Film Festival.
Despite not bagging the award, Paolo will go down in history as the first actor with Down syndrome in the Philippines to topbill a movie.
What's next for Paolo? If given a chance, he says he wants to star in another movie, hopefully in 2017.