When we met award-winning actor Jake Cuenca last Saturday, it was hard to believe he barely has a rest day with his jam-packed schedule. Sporting a rugged look that reminds us of his fierce character Eros in the hit ABS-CBN primetime series The Iron Heart, he personified grit, passion, and gratitude.
Our almost an hour-long conversation was free-flowing and filled with nuggets of wisdom.
Here are a few insights from Jake:
Pursue your passion
There is no question that Jake is pursuing his passion. His eyes lit up when the subject is his acting chops. The character actor shared that it was a long journey before reaching this point in his career. “Before all of these projects, there were a lot of struggles. The pandemic was the biggest teacher of them all for me,” Jake opened up.
”It taught me things about myself. It taught me about how I really do love acting.” At one point, he shared having made a self-assessment. “You know, once the audiences are gone, the money is gone, the fame is gone, do you still love it? I certainly know I do.” Jake shared with conviction.
Roll with momentum
Jake is currently juggling projects, constantly shifting from one character to another. He seems unstoppable these days.
“Coming out of the pandemic, I feel so reinvigorated. Even in my spare time, I want to stay at it. I want a continuation of things,” Jake enthused.
He talked about his work like a young boy would about his favorite toy. “I’ve come to a point in my life that I know my talent a lot better now, I can spread it around. I can do The Iron Heart (action drama) and be Eros and do Jack En Jill and be a comedian. But then I can also be a theater actor here and a singer in ASAP and do a mall show. I have come to embrace the industry and the multiple facets that come with it.”
With years of hard and heavy work that entails physical and emotional investment, it would be easy to assume Jake is craving for a break. I was surprised to know that he enjoys work so much that he is willing to skip having a vacation. Jake related how his manager was so excited to tell him that he was finally free to go on a getaway soon. He laughingly shared his reply, “You go on vacation. I’m not tired.”
The actor said he believes he has to be very honest with himself about what he truly needs. Jake shared his realization,” I don’t want to go on vacation. That was like a three-year vacation during the pandemic, I want to continue on.”
“The three years was enough of a break,” Jake explained. “That was enough of watching things and resting.” He seems to believe in striking while the iron is hot and that time is fleeting.
“This moment will never happen again. I will never be this young again. I will never look like this again,” Jake told the press matter-of-factly. “I’ll be acting ‘til the day I die but the attention will not always be there. You will not always be full of life. I should not feel burnt out now. This is the best moment for me to show everything.”
For Jake, the entertainment industry demands not only hard work but also a lot of patience and willingness to power through trying times. “Not a lot of people get fired in the industry,” he began as he talked about newcomers already giving up early in the acting game when difficult moments crop up.
“You realize you have to endure so much, have really thick skin, and incredible belief in yourself,” he said.
“Don’t quit. This is the best time for the Philippine entertainment industry,” Jake shared what he tells younger showbiz aspirants he gets to interact with. “For TV, for series, this is the best content we have ever come up with. Just for me, Cattleya Killer and The Iron Heart are the best projects I’ve ever done,” he beamed.
“We don’t have to joke about things being Hollywood, we’re there. Kathryn and Dolly’s movie [A Very Good Girl] is in Hollywood right now. It’s not a joke. It’s real.”
Cattleya Killer is a psychological drama thriller that premiered on Prime Video last June.
Meet your mentors
In his pursuit of mastering his craft, Jake took time to assess his career path and choices. Staying at home during the pandemic gave him time to think and process the things happening in his life.
“I went back to my heroes, people that I really look up to and enjoyed working with, people who touched my career and my life,” Jake related. “They are Tito Eddie Garcia and Kuya Albert Martinez.”
He added that the best piece of advice he has gotten is from the late character actress and Philippine entertainment icon Cherie Gil. “She told me to go to school. I went to Lee Strasberg. I went to drama school. It is one of the best decisions of my life. All my insecurities got melted away, Jake shared. These days, he takes pride in getting different scripts and feels equipped with different ways of tackling them.
One thing Jake’s mentor Cherie taught him by example is showing kindness and consideration in times of making mistakes. According to him, the well-respected actress never got mad or showed annoyance when he made acting mistakes. Instead, she showed encouragement.
Go with the flow but trust your gut
With cheerleaders and reliable mentors gearing him up to be the passionate and learned actor he is now, Jake is proud that he trusted the process in an industry full of possibilities and uncertainties.
“I marched to the beat of my own drum,” he said.
The Star Magic artist is proud that during the time he was supposed to be branded with a cookie-cutter image in showbiz, he opted to be more experimental and go out of the box. With this risk, he was given opportunities to explore various characters. More doors open when a person makes the bold move of knocking on them.
Practice makes progress
“There’s no actor who’s good right away. Even if you have a natural sense for acting, it is different in front of the camera [and live]. The most important thing is to just be willing to do it. And you’re not afraid to look stupid. And you do not have any reluctance,” Jake opened the topic of learning to be good at what you do.
“I worked with some directors who are very collaborative. Some aren’t. Actually, I like that. Like, ‘Direk, here’s the PlayStation controller, control me.’”
For the passionate artist, he believes it’s good that way. Trusting an expert allows you to be transformed into someone you have never seen before. Relying on your own strengths gives you the tendency to have rinse-and-repeat performances.
For Jake, success is not linear. He said, “Sometimes, you’re down on the ground. Other times, you’re on top of a mountain. Like in the pandemic, I certainly was down on the ground. I just believed in myself and things were going to change. I’m just more in love with the process.”
The main process of achieving his goals includes a technique Jake personally developed to get better at crafting his roles. “When I put myself in a project, I really put my whole life,” he revealed.
“For me to memorize my script, I do so many repetitions. I read it at least a hundred times.”
Aside from mastering his script, Jake also recalled his personal process of imbibing the persona of a politician for his 2022 series Viral Scandal. He read books by US presidents George Bush, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden. Sometimes, Jake turns to audiobooks while in the gym.
“No need to memorize. You just frame your mind into the mind of a politician,” he said, emphasizing the seemingly small but really big difference his technique makes. “You read all these books, you put in your 10,000 hours before you get to the set,” he explained further. Jake is referring to the concept of the 10,000-hour rule popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Outliers. It states that it takes 10,000 hours of hard practice to develop mastery of skills.
Pick your priorities
While Jake refuses to go on a break before Christmas, he plans to take his family to Taiwan in December. He smilingly said, “I just want to take my mom to Taiwan. She really wants to see it. That’s my vacation for the year. Four days!” It is evident that Jake puts a premium on family and love.
Jake’s admission of dating and getting to know fellow Star Magic artist Chie Filomeno is swoon-worthy. Even without a relationship label yet, he has been open about what he appreciates about Chie and going to the ABS-CBN Ball 2023. At one point during the interview, Jake referred to Chie as his TOTGA or The One That Got Away. He recalled how they briefly dated in the past when he was still finding his place in the industry.
With his overwhelming lineup of work that includes producing a movie, possibly going abroad for a shoot, and juggling light and heavy TV roles, a reporter jokingly asked, “What if I were your girlfriend, Jake, and I ask you, ‘Where do I come in given your tight sched?’” Jake quickly replied, “I’ll make time for you! Kapag gusto, maraming paraan! [If there’s a will, there’s a way!].” He punctuated his statement with a smile.