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It was a bright and sunny December morning – which was strange, since we don’t normally associate those adjectives with December. But for Mark Neumann, it was just another day in his increasingly hectic calendar. Nevertheless, the atypical warm weather echoed his mood, and with good reason.

More than a year since Artista Academy, the Eurasian heartthrob swore he had never felt busier. Just the previous week, he guested in Killer Karaoke, where he survived a face-to-face (or should we say, face-to-thorax?) encounter with hissing cockroaches. Then, there he was in Project Pie, Blue Wave, Pasay taping for Philip, Lifestyle Guy, his first out of two scheduled appearances in Philip Abadicio’s lifestyle show.

When the cameras finished rolling, Mark cordially accommodated photo-op requests. He posed for a few shots for social media sharing. After which, he talked about how he altered the way he smiles in photos. “I realized that I look more mature when I don’t show my teeth”, he said in justification of his smirk.

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When the Philip crew started pack-up, Mark sat down for a quick chat. His Tagalog has improved, albeit still with a German twang. That was when we spoke about Studio 5’s original TV movie offering The Lady Next Door, the first of Studio 5’s original TV movies where the story of a troubled teen involved with an older woman. Needless to say, it’s his most provocative role to date.

He revealed he had initial “mixed feelings” during the screening. “[Noong una] nahihiya ako. Hindi ko pinapansin iyong mga reaction ng mga tao. First time ko mapanood sarili ko sa big screen. It’s also weird to see myself. And around me, so many people watching me and at the same time, I’m right there. Medyo weird yung feeling”, he explained.

 His excitement, however, still prevailed over the butterflies in his stomach. “Siyempre, I want to make everyone enjoy the movie. Kaya nga I had a lot of expectations. I was so excited. I just wanted to make everyone happy with my performance”, he assured.

When the conversation shifted towards his leading lady, he became visibly smitten. “You can say it was amazing”, he said with a sheepish grin. “Noong unang-una kasi, sobrang mabait siya, maalaga, atsaka maalalahanin siya. So, tuwing may eksena kami, pati siya nagbigay sa akin ng tips. I feel comfortable working with her.”

When asked if Alice gave him pointers during the intimate scenes, Mark couldn’t contain his chuckles. “[Yes], she was giving me sometimes pointers. She said, look for someone to practice for the kissing scene. But I didn’t really practice. If you prepare too much for it, there will be a lot of fussing around, so I let it come at me [naturally].”

 Mark admitted that he still felt antsy during filming: “It’s my first time doing it onscreen. It’s different in front of the camera.” Of course, having a beauty icon as his onscreen partner added a substantial amount of pressure. “Napakaganda niya”, he said.

Didn’t you have kissing scenes with Shaira Mae (his original love team partner)?”, I asked. “Sort of. But that was only for photo shoot for one of the Artista Academy live exams. Pero smack lang”, he answered.

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Philip joined the table at some point and the conversation was temporarily sidetracked to Mark’s other projects. Mark spoke about his recent guestings, from Killer Karaoke, where he survived a face-to-face (or should I say, face-to-thorax) encounter with hissing cockroaches, to Madam Chairman, which revived his tandem with Shaira. “Since nakilala ko siya sa AA, naging kumportable ako working with her. So sa akin po, walang problema”, he said when asked if his solo stints took any toll on the Shark (Shaira-Mark) tandem.

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The discourse eventually shifted back to The Lady Next Door. Mark recounted his experiences on set, where he discovered the caring side of the infamously stringent Direk Joel Lamangan. “Yes, I can certainly say he is [strict] when it comes to work”, he confirmed. “Pero, he’s a really sweet person during breaks, kapag kumakain kami.”

That caring side was later affirmed during the preview screening, when Direk Joel singled out Mark during his introductory speech. “Ito ang sinasabi kong bata na may future. At may pupuntahan iyan. At ang napakahusay na batang ‘yan ay si Mark Neumann”. His elation increased tenfold: “Noong narinig ko ‘yun, sobrang heartwarming, napakasarap pakinggan. Nagpa-salamat ako. Kasi siya iyong nagbigay sa akin ng advice, tips kung paano ko ihaharap iyong eksena, kung ano yung feeling ko”. At that point, Mark felt truly ready to soar new heights.

Soon, we wrapped up and Mark prepared to leave for his next Philip taping. In closing, I asked if he received constructive comments after the screening.

Yes, and it was from Sir Perci [Intalan]”, Mark replied.

Sabi niya, Mark, Tagalog na lang, OK ka na.”

But he assured, “Nagpa-practice naman ako.”

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