Stars are often christened with “titles,” created intentionally or randomly, which could stick over the years, almost as enduring as their careers and at times, defining or shaping how audiences view them.

Take Piolo Pascual, for example. ABS-CBN’s favorite leading man has been fondly called Papa P by almost everyone in the industry – from fans, colleagues to even the media – perhaps more than his actual name.

But the 45-year-old actor doesn’t mind, most especially now. What started out as a playful (and maybe accidental) tag has its “advantages,” after being in showbiz for more than 25 years.

“It started with Ms. Ai-Ai (delas Alas) in Magandang Tanghali Bayan (during the early 2000s). I was a guest one time and she called me Papa P, and I called her Mama Ai, and then it just stuck, you know, sa ABS, to the point that everyone, even the camera men would call me Papa P. At first, nakakatawa, di ba? But habang tumatanda ka, kaysa tawagin kang Tito, OK na yung Papa P hahaha,” Piolo told The STAR during a recent virtual presscon.

“‘Pag tinatawag kang Tito, nakakatanda. So, at least (naisip ko), OK rin pala yung Papa P. But it’s really overwhelming. I mean, you know, nakakatuwa lang because at least, it’s a term of endearment. May mga naiilang na tawagin ako sa aking pangalan, so yun nalang. OK na rin.”

Nevertheless, Piolo shared how initially “awkward” it was being called Papa P.

“At first, it was really awkward, you know. Kasi ‘pag mga babae tatawag sayo ng Papa P, especially ang mga bata, parang OK lang, di ba? Pero umabot kasi sa punto na pati cameraman tumatawag sa akin ng, ‘Papa P! Papa P!’ Tol, pati ba naman ikaw? Hahaha! So, napagtanto ko, na siguro out of respect na rin, ibigay nalang natin kaysa iba ang tawag sayo. So natanggap ko na rin naman at may show na nga tayong ganun,” he said.

True enough, Piolo’s brand-new sitcom directed by Cathy Garcia-Molina, capitalizes on this long-standing moniker, as it’s titled My Papa Pi.

Set in the fictional Mapag-Asa street, My Papa Pi tells the story of Pipoy (Piolo), a single dad who wants a better future for his daughter, his twin brother Popoy (Pepe Herrera), who is a popular tumbong maker and owner of “One More Tumbong,” and Tere (Pia Wurtzbach), a woman who happens to be Popoy’s one great love but has feelings for Pipoy.

Also dubbed as a “sweetcom” for its rom-com feels – direk Cathy’s box-office proven specialty – My Papa Pi is Piolo’s first ABS-CBN series since 2020. His last sitcom was via a recurring role in Home Sweetie Home. My Papa Pi starts airing on the Kapamilya Channel, Kapamilya Online Live, A2Z, iWantTFC and TFC on March 5.

“It’s a nice breather, you know. I even surprised myself in this show. It’s a great feeling to have a solid cast and director na alam mo talagang fun. I mean we all have the same intention,” he said about taking on the sitcom genre. “If you’re able to make people laugh and happy, it’s a nice feeling na babalik sayo.”

Even after many years in the business, according to Piolo, he still finds excitement in projects where he gets to step out of the box and push himself out of his comfort zone.

“It’s always nice to portray something that you haven’t done yet. It always excites me that I get to discover what I can do and how I can make myself better in execution and output. I guess this is really my passion. I just keep on growing and learning and getting better,” he added.

Besides this “sweetcom,” Piolo is simultaneously doing another TV project, the Philippine adaptation of the hit K-drama thriller Flower of Evil.

Asked how he’s been able to juggle both contrasting shows, he said: “Magkasunod ito na pinitch sa akin if I’m not mistaken. When this (My Papa Pi) was pitched the first time, I said yes right away. And even with Flower of Evil, when it was pitched, I said yes right away as well, not knowing ano yung papasukin ko.

“But getting into this project, nung nag-pitch na magiging kambal kami ni Pepe and meron mga switching of characters, sabi ko nga, it’s gonna be a walk in the park, sitcom ang (magiging) breaker mo.”

Piolo, however, confessed he was worried at first coming to the set of the sitcom. “Galing ka sa Flower of Evil na sobrang drama, I was scared. But after the first day, and now, parang mahirap na siya pakawalan because it’s something na ang sarap niya i-embrace because the things that you can’t do on normal days, especially sa drama, dito mo nalalabas — yung kakulitan mo, yung pagiging creative mo, yung just really thinking out of the box, and really growing still as a performer,” he said.

“I guess, I got too excited working on this because it’s been two years since my last TV gig na regular. So, talagang parang bata ulit, learning new things. It’s a welcome change, a break in your routine.”

If My Papa Pi allows Piolo to explore the lighter side of the acting job, it’s a different story for Flower of Evil. The series follows a man who changes his identity to hide his dark past, successfully keeping his disguise by building a happy family with his police-detective wife.

“Pini-prepare ko yung sarili ko sa Flower of Evil kasi iba yung character na pino-portray ko, may pagka-twisted. So, baka pagkatapos ng taon, pumasok na ako sa rehab, hahaha!” he said.

“But I guess, that’s the fun part of being an actor. We get to really portray different roles. Mahirap na masarap na masaya.”

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