“Why am I doing this? Why am I still here?”
These are the questions that Jake Cuenca, the star of the upcoming drug-war film Kontradiksyon, sometimes asks himself. It’s a natural for the kind of self-examination to cross over his mind. The guy has been in mainstream showbiz for 17 years, anyway. But if one looks at his career trajectory, always evolving, rarely losing momentum, it’s easy enough to answer those questions.
An Undying Passion
Jake Cuenca, who was born in the United States, started modeling when he was nine years old. Since then, he has booked TV and print commercial gigs here and there. He also went on to appear in TV shows and movies, mostly for small roles, such as a cameo appearance in the fantasy weekly series Wansapantayam.
In 2002, he was cast in the second batch of the hit GMA-7 youth-oriented TV show, Click (2002-2003), which proved to be the beginning of a colorful career. He dabbled in drama, and worked alongside some of the acting giants in the country. Hanggang Kailan (2004), for instance, was a memorable project for Jake. It was the TV show—which starred Christopher de Leon, Lorna Tolentino, and Alice Dixson, to name a few—that made him realize how much care is needed to work on his talent.
“These people are not worried about what everyone else is worried about: fame, popularity,” he tells pikapika about his experience working on Hanggang Kailan. “They really show up to work. They’re not doing this for the things that come with it. They’re doing it for acting. I took it from there. I was very fortunate. The show didn’t do well, but I was fortunate. I was very, very lucky to have worked with them and seeing them in action. And then from that point on, that’s what I realized: I need to focus on the craft.”
The goal, to just “focus on the craft,” did not come easy—not when you’re a good-looking celebrity who was slowly becoming a limelight favorite.
In 2006, Jake transferred to ABS-CBN and signed with the network’s talent management arm, Star Magic. A year later, he was cast in the hit TV series, Sana Maulit Muli, his first primetime drama series for ABS-CBN. Then, in 2009, he starred alongside the much-sought-after love-team tandem of Kim Chiu and Gerald Anderson, in the widely popular series Tayong Dalawa. For his role as the third person in a love triangle, he provided a contrast to the Gerald Anderson’s too-goo-for-his-own-good protagonist. Critics took notice. Showbiz followers stayed glued on their screens. The endorsements started coming, and then, he was everywhere.
He doesn’t deny that the perks that came with his celebrity status can be blinding: “Well, of course, when you’re young the attention is amazing. The attention of being famous, being known, the lifestyle, that’s amazing. But, at the end of the day, they don’t matter. They’re just a bonus.”
This awareness became much more intense when, in 2014, he starred in another hit TV series, Ikaw Lamang, with Coco Martin, Julia Montes, and Kim Chiu. The project earned Jake a Best Drama Supporting Actor nomination from the 28th PMPC Star Awards for TV. It also won the Best Primetime Drama Series Award from the same award-giving body.
In the same year, he and his fellow Star Magic stars went through an acting workshop with international acting coach Ivana Chubbuck. The experience took Jake much deeper into his craft that he decided to take three months off from show business to go back to school. He enrolled in a Master Class at the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute in New York City. The school’s list of alumni include Al Pacino, Robert de Niro, Sean Penn, Jane Fonda, and Angelina Jolie.
“When you’re young the attention is amazing. The attention of being famous, being known, the lifestyle, that’s amazing. But, at the end of the day, they don’t matter. They’re just a bonus.”
He says of his decision, “It would be smart to just accept projects, pero feeling ko parang in the long run, I wanna just become even better. So I decided to go to school. It was the best decision of my life.”
He’d like to go back to school again, when he has free time. That may not come soon, though. After Kontradiksyon premieres on June 26, he will be working behind the scenes as a producer. In 2017, he co-produced the Cinemalaya film festival entry Requited. Now, he and his partners at Indigo Kid production house, will be working on a film—with a story created by Jake himself. He is also currently taping for the hit TV series, Precious Hearts Romances Presents: Los Bastardos, which is entering its fifth season.
Jake, who has become increasingly passionate about acting, is actually career-hopping, a sign of his versatility. In 2018, he made another career leap when he had his theater debut via the one-act play, Lungs, by Olivier Award-nominated British writer Duncan Macmillan. He says, “I did theater because it was one of the things that I haven’t done yet. For me, as an actor, you can’t exactly call yourself an actor’s actor if you haven’t done theater. When they gave me the script of Lungs, I really wanted to do it. I was going to make time for it. I didn’t care how much I was going to get paid. I did not even think about that. I’m fortunate enough to be in a position in life where I don’t have to worry about that.”
His determination to be better than his previous project is palpable in the way he describes his career goal. He tells us, “You know, the attention, the fame, being a celebrity, that fades. That fades after a while. What’s making me stay is my love for the craft. It’s my eagerness to learn, eagerness to listen always, to always be a student of the craft. People repackage themselves, rebrand, retool themselves in the industry. I told myself a long time ago, ‘I won’t rebrand or change Jake Cuenca as a person. But what I’ll repackage are my characters. That’s all I need to change. That will make me last: versatility as an actor. To take risks. To take risks in terms of not being afraid to accept roles that people are afraid of accepting, being brave, and then at the same time showing them something different every time you accept a character.”
His Other Love
Jake Cuenca, now 31, hates the feeling of getting stuck, in life, and even in his artistic endeavors. Always, he wants to feel free, and only then does he feel right about what he’s doing.
He explains his thoughts, “When you’re doing a scene, any scene, and you feel stuck, like when you’re thinking about it, and you only have one way to do the scene, that’s when you’re doing it wrong. You have to feel free.”
He takes this advice with him when dealing with real-life situations. Always, he needs to feel free. He says, “I live everyday like it’s my last, and I take it one day at a time, too. So when I’m at work, I do it like it’s my last take. When I’m with my girlfriend, I live life with her like it’s my last day. I have to make her happy, I have to show her that I love her. When I’m with my family, I give myself to them, all my undivided attention. So I just do it like that.”
And speaking of girlfriend, “I’m not confirming anything yet,” he laughs as he cuts us off. He is currently being linked to Los Bastardos co-star and Miss International 2016, Kylie Versoza. “I just said, ‘If I’m like, let’s say, I’m with my girlfriend.’ I’m not exactly confirming that but when I’m with the person that I love, in general…I’ve evolved.
“I’m 31 now, and this is the first time that I really feel that I’m well put-together right now. I’m not easily distracted anymore. I know the quality of life that I want, like genuine happiness. I know what that is. If I see a distraction, I don’t even pay attention to that anymore. Parang gano’n. Dati kasi parang, ‘Medyo friends, na hindi.’ Nagtatalo ka pa with yourself. But now, it’s so easy to know what’s happening. I have a one track mind: it’s the people that I love, my goals, my religion, that’s that.”
“I live everyday like it’s my last, and I take it one day at a time, too. So when I’m at work, I do it like it’s my last take. When I’m with my girlfriend, I live life with her like it’s my last day. I have to make her happy, I have to show her that I love her. When I’m with my family, I give myself to them, all my undivided attention. So I just do it like that.”
And for those existential questions he sometimes asks himself—“Why am I doing this? Why am I still here?”—he often finds his answers in his craft, one that keeps embracing him after all these years.
Of all the uncertainties in his industry, he is sure of one thing: “I want to be an actor for the rest of my life. I look forward to being older because in acting, you get better with time. I look forward to seeing what kind of acting that might still come out of me. My passion will never die. I love acting. I thank the Lord for this destiny that is given to me. This is what I’m meant to do.”
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