Evidently, I'm not so good about not commenting on anything to do with pop culture—even if no one's asking. So after a spirited response from Twitterverse—some appreciating my Maja standom, some accusing me of secretly being her PR—I decided to upload my unedited Maja Salvador profile for March 2011 Metro.
TRIUMPH OF WILL
By Raymond Ang
As she stands outside the holding room, looking out at cloudy skies and a motionless Manila Bay, the full weight of her deceptively young 22 years seems to dawn upon Maja Salvador and she lets out a sigh.
It's quarter to eleven, the second hour of a full day shoot, and she has a long way to go. She makes her way back to the holding room and dutifully sits on the make-up chair. As the make-up artist puts the finishing touches on her face and the hairstylist adjusts her hair extensions, Maja looks every bit a woman transformed. A few minutes ago, she was a lost little girl-next-door, looking small and a little bit winded from what I would later learn was marathon taping and very few hours of sleep. But now, that girl is gone, replaced by a confident 22-year-old woman admiring her now long wavy hair in the mirror, admiring her transformation.
And then the illusion shatters, "Ateee, in fair, pwede!"
Twenty-two years old and seven years into showbiz and Maja Salvador has a long way to go. While her looks, and styling for this shoot, may suggest a mix of Suzie Wong and San Tropez, her enunciation and word choice, the endearingly broken English, the respectful "kuya" or "ate" she calls everyone, and later, the kakanin she whips out from her basket ("Kain tayo!") betrays her. For all her worldly beauty, Maja Salvador is a little girl playing dress-up in big girl clothes.
She stands up from her chair and an editor leads her out of the holding room and into the same balcony she was looking out at Manila Bay on. Someone, jokingly or not so jokingly, asks if we're walking to the boat or if the boat is coming to us and is answered with walking feet and discussions about the first set-up. To get to the boat where her photos will be taken, Maja will have to walk from the balcony through the Manila Yacht Club through the docks and onto the boat.
Maja Salvador has a long way to go.
Earlier, Maja's Busted co-star and rumored boyfriend Matteo Guidicelli was telling me about Maja's irrepressible work ethic. "If I tell her, 'Hey, relax and hang out first.' She's always like, 'No, I gotta work. I gotta read my scripts,'" he says. "She's super focused. She's just super hard-working."
If she seems obsessed with her career, it's because she is. Maja is that rarest of local actresses, one who takes her craft very seriously and seems to have a good idea of where she wants to take her career. "Sa lahat ng artistang nakakasama ko, lagi akong nakikipagkwentuhan at humihingi ng advice," she admits.
As a dramatic actress on the cusp of award show consideration, she asked the legendary Vilma Santos how she makes herself cry in dramatic scenes. "Sabi niya, 'Hindi ko iniisip kung paano ako iiyak, kung hindi kung paano ko papaiyakin ang mga nanonood.'"
Then there's what her "Tito Tirso" Cruz said, about seeing herself as a product. All actors should see themselves as products, according to the legendary actor. They should always keep in mind how to sell themselves and why their audience will buy them. "Yearly or after six months, dapat daw may nakikitang pagbabago sa isang artista. Dapat ibang atake, ibang image… Kapag parang di tinatanggap ng mga nanonood, try ka ulit ng iba."
A few minutes into this interview though, this seeming obsession with making it to the top, and staying on top, begins to unsettle. Maja's willingness to bend over backwards to her audience's desires, to do whatever it takes to achieve what her idols have achieved paints a picture of a girl led astray, a girl eaten up by showbiz, a local Lindsay Lohan waiting to happen. When she tells me that she has no back-up plan, I can't help but worry. "Ewan ko kung kaya ko iwanan ang work na ito," she admits. "Hindi ko alam kung kaya ko mag-stop kasi sobrang mahal ko ito."
The thing is, fame and Maja's psyche are inherently linked. In surprising ways, fame is a big part of who Maja Salvador is. In her younger years, she found escapism following the careers of love teams like Angelu de Leon and Bobby Andrews, John Prats and Heart Evangelista, and even future co-star John Lloyd Cruz and Kaye Abad. In high school, she found social salvation by being a magazine cover girl.
Like all the great stars, Maja had a tough childhood. Growing up in the province, she and her family lived on luck and the kindness of relatives. In high school, she would escape by imagining herself as the cover girl of teen mag Candy. "Gusto ko lang maging nasa cover ng Candy nun," Maja confesses. "Nagpatulong ako sa pinsan ko mag-apply sa cover girl contest." As luck would have it, she landed the cover. "Nung nag-cover ako ng Candy magazine, sikat ako sa school," she says triumphantly.
In a modeling clinic, she met her manager Chit Ramos, who eventually found out that Maja was the long lost daughter of actor Ross Rival. After Maja confessed longing to see her father, the enterprising manager cooked up a reunion on The Buzz. With a pivotal moment in her personal life played out for public consumption, fame and Maja would forever be inseparable. It only makes sense, then, that this was also her moment of discovery. Network executive Charo Santos-Concio saw potential in that teary Buzz segment and helped Maja on her way to becoming a star.
Soon, she found herself on teleseryes and then later, movies, where she quietly stole scenes from the leads and picked up awards and nominations for her supporting turns. "Simula nung nakatanggap ako ng awards, naisip ko, marunong pala ako umarte. Pagkatapos nun, pinahalagahan ko talaga." The passing of Gilbert Perez in 2008 only pushed her harder. "Siya yung first director ko, sa teleseryeng It Might Be You. Sa kanya ako talaga natuto. Sabi ko, mag-aaral ako umarte, gagawin ko itong mabuti."
When I warn that I'm going to do more prying into her personal life, she laughs and says, "Nako baka tungkol kay Matteo yan ah!" For a moment, I'm confused. She seems to be dangling the prospect of a relationship above my head, waiting for the inquisitive journalist to take the bait so she can play coy, deny, and then keep us guessing.
The thing with these artista profiles is in the end, everybody is not your ordinary artista. There are unexpected layers, compelling back stories, and unforeseen quirks that eventually nudge the writer (including this one on many occasions) into concluding that that artista is special, somehow better than the others, even if his or her filmography never really lives up to that claim.
Well, let me tell you something: Maja Salvador is an artista through and through. During the shoot, she will act coy and call photographer Xander Angeles "kuya," and then do a 360 and vamp it up for the cameras, mouthing the words to a Keri Hilson song (sample lyrics: "Don't hate me 'cause I'm beautiful"). She is an old-fashioned star, the type who has no qualms about her fame, who actually seems to revel in it. While looking at the photos on Xander's camera's LCD screen, she'll call her own pictures "taray" and pat herself on the back with an "emotera." Maja is a throwback to the Hollywood stars of yore, with a Marilyn Monroe-ready backstory to fuel her growing, Joan Crawford-sized ambitions. It's what makes her such a compelling screen presence. This one likes the attention and frankly, there's nothing wrong with that--she more than deserves it. She seems to have willed herself to fame, with luck and destiny on her side, of course, but sheer force of will paving the way.
"Maraming utang sa kamag-anak, laging may utang at problema, laging hindi sigurado--takot ako bumalik sa dati naming buhay, kaya siguro grabe ang pagpapahalaga ko sa trabaho ko at grabe ako mag-trabaho," she says. "Takot ako bumalik sa dati at ayoko ma-experience ng brother ko yung mga na-experience ko nung childhood ko."
Today, she finds herself at the edge of her leading-lady breakthrough, with two indie movies under Star Cinema sister company Skylight slated for this year. Thelma, directed by Paul Soriano, is a movie about a runner on track for the nationals, while Busted is her co-starring rom-com with Matteo, playing a girl unable to stay in a relationship. When I ask about the curious decision to go independent instead of big-budget to launch herself into leading lady status, she says, "Kahit maliit ang project, hindi maliit ang acting."
"She is considered as one of the finest young actresses of her generation," according to her IMDB page. It is not clear whether that assertion came from a zealous fan or Maja's team. With a seven-year-old filmography, it is not clear whether that assertion will even hold water a decade from now, after the ravages of time have taken their toll on Maja's career.
Maja, if tomorrow, the offers stop coming in and you lose everything--your fame, your career, your money--what will you do?
"Change image," she says, without batting an eyelash. Hindi ko papabayaang mangyayari yun. Dapat handa ka sa kung anong pwedeng mangyari say. Kung may kailangan ka ibago, ibago mo." At twenty-two, she sounds like a grizzled veteran twice her age. "Madami nakong napagdaanan kahit bata pa lang ako," she says, as if it needed any saying.
Soon, she stands up and walks out into a golden Manila Bay with Matteo on her arm. This Maja Salvador is a professional, a smooth operator, an artista through and through. Are they together? Are they just friends? Are they a Star Cinema-concocted love team acting out a marketing strategy? She flashes one last smile at the team, waves goodbye, and, wittingly or unwittingly, keeps us guessing.
Maja Salvador has a long way to go.
Pancit sa bilao is the new kakanin.