Const. Don Laurel catches thieves as a Toronto police officer, but he also steals the hearts of fans who recognize the former actor from his days as a soap opera star in the Philippines.

"We were patrolling an event in Earl Bales Park," Laurel told CBC Toronto as he described the day his fellow officers first learned about his past life in the limelight. "People kept coming up to talk to me and take pictures." 

Staff Sgt. Andy Sawyer said everyone in 32 Division was floored.  

"Out of curiosity, I actually Googled Don to see what all the fuss was about, and I saw one or two of his shows online and I thought it was very interesting," said Sawyer.

How Laurel, who moved to Canada with his family from the Philippines when he was 12, became a heartthrob in Filipino movies and TV shows is a story in itself. 

Laurel on screen

Laurel back in his days as a soap opera star in the Philippines. He compares the types of shows he starred in to Dawson's Creek (ABS-CBN News)

In the 1990s, when Laurel was 22 and living in Bradford, Ont., he won a talent competition where the winner got a chance to audition in the Philippines. 

He had continued to speak Tagalog at home after his family immigrated to Canada, so he had no trouble booking gigs almost immediately once he went back to the country of his birth.

His career took off thanks to his work on TV shows like Gimik and Sa Dulo ng Walang Hanggan.

Lauren and movie fan

Maria Cuaresma remembers Laurel from some of her favourite Filipino movies and was thrilled he became an officer, saying it is just as 'macho.' (Martin Trainor/CBC)

But Maria Cuaresma, who once ran into him in Toronto's Little Manila area near Bathurst Street and Wilson Avenue, remembers him from the movies. 

"He still looks cute!" she told CBC Toronto 

She thinks the career shift to police officer is a suitable choice, "He's still the macho man." 

Meet the Toronto police officer who is a former soap opera star2:30

From playing a cop to being a cop

After over a decade of stardom in South Asia, Laurel decided to move to Toronto for a change of pace and to raise his young family in Canada. 

"I always wanted to be a police officer," he said. "This is the best job in the world. What I play on TV is make-believe. When the camera stops, that's it. As an officer, this is a front-row seat to real life." 

Don Laurel

Laurel, the actor, became Don Laurel, the Toronto police officer, nine years ago. He was looking for a change of pace and wanted to raise his family in Canada. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

He was confronted with the often stressful and scary reality that comes with being a police officer when he responded to a call about a man in distress. 

"The male had barricaded himself inside his apartment with a huge knife up to his neck," he said. "As soon as I started engaging with this person in crisis, immediately he calmed down." 

That could be because the man was from the Philippines and recognized him from back home. 

"He looked at me and said, 'Hey! Aren't you so-and-so?,' and I said. 'Yeah,'" Laurel laughed, recalling the moment he realized his past life could be used for good.

People will call 32 Division in crisis or with tips and specifically ask for Laurel.

"They'll want to tell me something because I can speak the language and they're comfortable with me. It's good because it means they trust me." 

Community Involvement

Sawyer said he believes everyone brings an important history to the police force when they join, but recognized the advantage Laurel's past brings with him.

"It breaks that wall down for a lot of people when they approach him because of the show. It bridges that gap of communication in the community. It's great to have him on the team." 

When his fellow officers discovered Laurel was once a soap star, they had some fun with it. 

Doing some Googling of their own, his colleagues printed off publicity photos and headshots and put them around the detachment. 

"I always feel the love with these guys, but that was too much love," Laurel laughed. 

With files from Metro Morning