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One actor's journey from 'Bruno' to 'Altar Boyz'

July 23, 2009 | 10:00 am

Bruno_web Two weeks ago when he was on a break from the musical "Altar Boyz" at the Celebration Theatre in West Hollywood, actor Clifford Bañagale went to the movies with a group of friends to watch himself in "Brüno." It was the first time the actor had seen the movie with a paying audience.

"I think I covered my eyes through all of my scenes," said Bañagale, who acts alongside Sacha Baron Cohen in the movie. "It was a weird experience."

In the movie, Bañagale plays Brüno's boyfriend Diesel, a "pygmy" Asian flight attendant who, in one memorable scene, engages in physics-defying sex with Baron Cohen's Austrian fashion reporter.

"They do a lot of sexual acts, and the most memorable involves a champagne bottle," said Bañagale.

Baron Cohen requires his costars to sign confidentiality agreements in which they promise not to speak to the media about behind-the-scenes details of the movie. (They are only allowed to discuss what actually happens in the film.) The confidentiality has no expiration, except when Baron Cohen gives the all-clear, which he hasn't done yet, since the movie is still opening around the world.

"It's up to Sacha if and when we can talk," said Bañagale. "I really want to say everything, but I can't."

What the actor can talk about is his current role in "Altar Boyz," the cheeky musical satire that is playing at the Celebration. Bañagale plays Mark, a sexually ambiguous member of a Christian boy band. The musical, which opened off-Broadway in 2005, is playing at the Celebration through Aug. 23.

Cliffordbanagale Bañagale said had some difficulty deciding how effeminately he should play Mark.  

"I heard from previous cast members that he should be played super-gay, but I wanted to do it differently," he explained. "I thought he was more of the type of guy who is straight in public until he lets his guard down. It would have allowed me to have an arc rather than playing the gag from beginning to end."

But the show's director asked him to take a slightly different approach. "He told me that I needed to gay-up some parts of him," said Bañagale.

Born in the Philippines, Bañagale moved as a child with his family to West Covina. He studied opera, dance and acting and currently lives in L.A.

He said that since "Brüno" has been released, people have been recognizing him on the street. "I've been getting a lot of look-sees and double takes. It's all very strange -- I usually just keep walking faster."

-- David Ng

Top image credit: Universal Pictures. Bottom photo: Clifford Bañagale in "Altar Boyz" at the Celebration Theatre. Credit: Michael Joseph