Next Shark (by Benny Luo; Photography by Melly Lee)
As expected from a celebrity of Pacquiao’s caliber, his schedule was constantly filling up and changing. Our originally planned date to shoot was changed at the last minute to the day before. Not only that, but on the day of the interview, our time with him was cut from 30 minutes down to 20 minutes and then finally to less than 15 minutes — meaning we literally had less than 15 minutes to do a video and photoshoot with him. But none of us even flinched — we’ve had days where interviewees would cancel on us last minute when we were already literally in front of their door, because “something came up.” Here was a man who was getting interview requests from mainstream outlets left and right, and yet he still made time for small fry like us. That was the moment I got my first peek into Manny Pacquiao’s character.
From the outside, it seemed as if the logistics would be a production nightmare. Apart from the scheduling issues, however, everything fell into place that day. As I was arriving to the shoot location, I got a call from the person handling publicity for Pacquiao while in Los Angeles.
“He’s on the way, but he’ll be 20 minutes late.”
To make sure things were easy for him, we saved one spot for his car when he arrived. Little did we know he was actually rolling up in a giant Escalade — along with an entourage that took up two other Escalades. Suddenly, we had to figure out how to fit three large SUVs into a small garage.
We managed to fit the first car into the garage with no problems. Manny’s car arrived second. Once Manny and his crew got out of the car, I walked up to shake his hand and to introduce myself. He then gave me a monotone, “Nice to meet you.” I could tell he was drained.
Once inside, a near-empty studio with just a few people was suddenly packed with almost two dozen people. His entourage included people taking pictures of him on their iPhones and a cameraman that shot video while following him around.
His schedule was so tight that his publicist was already screaming that they had to leave the moment he set foot in the door. I usually like to meet everyone and try to warm up with the person I’m interviewing, but I knew that was nearly impossible. I simply looked at Manny, pointed to the chair and told him to sit and get ready.
We spent a total of less than 15 minutes doing both the interview and photoshoot. Manny and his crew quickly left afterward for their next meeting. I could hear the tires screech as they left. And suddenly, our studio was empty again just liked it had been 15 minutes before he arrived.
Manny was in Los Angeles to promote his new documentary film, eponymously titled “Manny.” It’s directed by first-time filmmaker Ryan Moore, a USC film student who got the opportunity to make the film after a casual meeting with Manny in 2008 at a charity event. He told Life + Times:
“I think he knew that I was genuinely passionate about his story. I lived in the Philippines for five years and knowing what my family’s struggle was like, my imagination started running wild as to what Manny’s childhood was like being amongst the poorest of the poor. One thing I always knew was that I wanted this to be a visceral experience and I didn’t want this to be your typical documentary. I felt that Manny’s story was ‘Rocky’ meets ‘Slumdog Millionaire.’ I wanted to make a movie that was more than boxing.”
The film is special not just because it shows what a badass Manny Pacquiao is in the ring, but because it shows how he’s a badass outside of it too. “Manny” highlights Pacquiao’s life growing up in a family that struggled to put food on the table everyday. At the age of 16, weighing in at only 98 pounds, Manny started his boxing career in order to earn money to take care of his family.
“Back then, we experienced [not] eating food, because we didn’t have money to buy food, so we just drinking water. That’s our experience and we survived. It’s not easy … even though I’m a successful person right now, I don’t want to change my attitude — always humble. Humility is always there because of my experience passing through this difficult life.”
The film features interviews with Manny himself, his wife Jinkee Pacquiao, coach Freddie Roach, Mark Wahlberg, Jeremy Piven, Alex Ariza, Jimmy Kimmel, Larry Merchant and Bert Sugar. It is also narrated by Liam Neeson, who was chosen because he was a boxer himself up until he was 19.
Today, Manny is far from just a world champion boxer. In the Philippines, his home country, he is also a politician, a singer with a hit single and an entrepreneur. He’s so influential that it is said the crime rate drops down to zero percent during his fights. Why? Because literally everyone rushes to their TV screens to cheer for their country’s hero.
On what it’s like being poor and now being rich, Pacquiao’s response was relatively simple.
“The changes in my life is of course, I have plenty of food and I can buy whatever I want. And the Lord provides me all the things that we want to do. The way I treat people I’m still the same.”
In addition to his riches and success as an adult, Pacquiao has had dark times as well. He’s admitted that he was a womanizer, degenerate gambler and drinker in the past. However, he left all of it behind after becoming a devout Christian. To this day, Pacquiao admits his biggest fear has to do with his faith:
“My fear is [losing] my relationship to the Lord, to my God. That’s the biggest fear. That’s why I’m always building up my relationship with the Lord.”
Whatever his venture, Pacquiao reveals what his biggest passion is.
“… I think I already started doing it: Helping people … My goal in life is to help them, where I came from, and the people who are in need also. Because I know what they’re feeling and I know they really need help.”
With everyone wondering whether the epic fight between him and Mayweather is going to happen, Pacquiao unfortunately has no new news.
“My promoter and I have agreed already to whatever terms and conditions he wants. We’re just waiting for the signed contract. If he signed the contract [the] fight will be on and we’ll announce it. I believe the fans deserve that fight.”
When asked what he wants his audience and fans to take from watching his new documentary movie, he said:
“This is a very good movie. It will inspire people, especially the fans of boxing. They will know more about me, about Manny, not only in boxing, but my life, before I become like this. I’m pretty sure they’ll be inspired after they watch this movie. The [release] date will be January 23 in select theaters.”