Alden Richards is at the top of his game.
Coming off the massive success of his hit movie, a string of lucrative endorsements, and a renewal of his contract with his home network, he has all the trappings of an A-list star.
GMANetwork.com catches Alden fresh from receiving an award at the 14th Seoul Seoul International Drama Awards held at a prestigious university in South Korea.
He was the recipient of the Asian Star Prize, an award he shared with top Japanese actor Miura Haruma. He is the third Filipino after Gabby Concepcion and Dennis Trillo to receive such recognition.
"It's always an honor talaga when you get recognized abroad. You get to share the stage with all the artists that you share the same passion with,” Alden shares in an exclusive interview.
“Iba kasi 'yung feeling abroad when you learn that other cultures, different races and different nationalities celebrate a common victory when it comes to acting. Ang sarap lang ng pakiramdan to be with them, to be part of the same stage that they're in.”
Alden admits that since the award was from a non-competitive category, he initially thought it was more of a token being bestowed upon him for his visibility in the worldwide stage.
"At first, sabi ko talaga 'yung award na binigay was just a recognition. Hindi ganoon kalaki 'yung feeling ko towards the award.
"But when I came to the venue, I saw the red carpet, I saw the stage, I saw that everyone who attended was the biggest star of their country.
“Sabi ko, 'Teka lang, parang hindi yata 'to token.' All along akala ko token lang because I went there," he recounts.
Aside from the award itself, Alden says that his overall experience of attending the ceremony left him feeling inspired.
"Right after I delivered the speech, I saw all the awards being given to these people. Ang dami pang pwedeng gawin. You can always do something more than what you're doing now. Ang dami mo pang pwedeng i-offer.
“These people, they gave their all for these projects that they did and they're being well-appreciated. Ganoon naman kapag pinaghirapan mo talaga. Magma- manifest 'yun sa project and people will get to appreciate it, even abroad," Alden says.
After interacting with beautiful and talented people, he's now armed with a brand new determination to do more.
"I saw clips of the movies and projects that they did, especially 'yung mga nag-Best Actor and Best Actress. Sinasabi ko sa sarili ko na sana ako din.
"Sana at one point, 'yung mga ginagawa ko ding projects magkaroon din ng slot, kahit ma- nominate lang sa international scene such as that," he shares.
After the awards ceremony, Alden was also able to squeeze in a bit of vacation time since it was his first trip to South Korea.
"Pinilit ko talaga kasi ayokong masayang 'yung stay. Kailan naman kami makakabalik sa Korea? Noong nagkaroon talaga ng window time, sabi ko gawin na natin. Sayang nandito na tayo.
“I ended up wearing a hanbok [traditional Korean garb]. Tapos nagpunta sa konting sceneries. We went to this museum, sa Trick Eye Museum. My favorite picture of all time siguro for now, 'yung moon shot," he narrates.
He really appreciates that his job gives him small pockets of opportunities like this.
"That's what I love about my job. When I do my work, it feels like I'm not working kasi I love what I do. I'm happy with what I do. I get to squeeze in a short vacation. I get to meet people. I get to be inspired by people who share the same passion as me in this field that I'm in.
"Sarap maging aktor!" he explains with a flourish.
It seems that this is also the case when he decided to do a movie with Star Cinema and Kathryn Bernardo. Their movie Hello, Love, Goodbye enjoyed unprecedented success after pairing actors already associated with popular love teams and from rival networks, no less.
The movie has now raked in more than PHP800 million at the box office.
Doing a project outside of his home network gave him new perspectives on things.
"Ang daming discoveries in terms of how a project can be more beautiful and be more sensible.
“The idea of collaboration, parang mas nagkakaroon ng deeper meaning sa akin. Kasi ngayon parang mas masarap, mas masaya kapag we set aside our differences and work on a project.
“Lahat naman tayo, our common goal is really to tell good stories, great stories to people. Being here in this industry, it's always to inspire. That's always the main priority dapat ng actors, directors, writers, and everyone in between," Alden muses.
Coming from that experience, he has become more keen on doing collaborations.
"After doing Hello, Love, Goodbye, after being in Korea, after meeting different people of different cultures in different countries, sana mas maraming open doon sa word na collaboration—being able to unite two different worlds to be able to produce something different and interesting.
“'Pag gawa sa ABS-CBN, alam nating gawa sa ABS-CBN. 'Pag gawa sa GMA, alam nating GMA. Pero with 'Hello, Love, Goodbye,' mas maganda pala 'yung pwede nating ibigay if we work together," he says.
Alden’s appreciation for and openness to do collaborations extended beyond the silver screen.
It was plain serendipity that he was also set to play a blind person in the upcoming GMA Telebabad series The Gift.
"Nagulat nga kami.
"GMA Creatives, they create stories then pine-present lang sa amin. Nagulat ako na I will be playing a blind person here. Sabi ko sobrang swak, sobrang timing kasi this collaboration is about blind kids," he excitedly recounts.
In his immersion to prepare for the role, he was able to gain more empathy for the kids they will be helping.
"I was able to immerse sa isang institute dito sa Quezon City on how blind people are, what blind people go through every day.
“Iba kasi 'yung you're born blind than you're sighted then became blind. That's a different story. Mas mahirap 'yung sighted ka tapos nabulag ka. Parang mas meron lang depression on the side ng dating nakikita mo 'yung paligid mo, now it's all black. Iba 'yung depression noon. Iba 'yung journey noon kasi parang may nawala sa sarili mo.
“But what I really like about what I did during my immersion there in the institute for the blind is nakita ko kung gaano sila ka-hopeful sa buhay. Parang 'Kahit nabulag ako, I can still do something. May maiaambag pa rin ako sa society,'" he explains.
This kind of hopeful mindset is what he will be carrying as he takes on the lead role in The Gift.
"Si Sep or Joseph, nahiwalay siya sa tunay niyang nanay noong bata siya dahil namatay 'yung tatay niya sa isang aksidente. Madadampot siya ni Strawberry, tapos papalakihin siya sa Divisoria.
“Lumaki si Sep na tumutulong sa nanay- nanayan niya. Kargador siya sa Divisoria. Makulit, presko sa chicks at saka wala rin pake sa buhay basta laban lang nang laban. May malasakit pero street smart siya, madiskarte siya sa buhay," he says of his character.
An unfortunate riot in Divisoria will lead to Sep losing his eyesight.
It is Alden's first time to play a blind person.
"During the immersion, mas lalo akong na-excite na gawin 'to kasi marami na din naman nakapag-portray ng mga role na bulag. It's my first time to do it. I've never played any role na may disability sa vision.
“This is my first time. Na- excite ako kasi I want to showcase their life through my role. Gusto kong makita ng mga Kapuso natin 'yung purpose noong role ko as part of society," Alden says.
He hopes his turn as Sep will raise awareness and inspire people.
"We live in a world talaga na there are people with disability, especially the blind people. We want to raise awareness as well. Gusto rin naming ipakita kung paano 'yung tamang handling 'pag first time naka-meet ng bulag.
“If you are with a relative or someone who's close to you na may vision and then nawala due to sickness or due to an accident, meron din tayong mapapakita na mga tamang ways on how to handle that," he promises.
Alden is also glad that the story's setting is so timely. Divisoria is among the places getting an overhaul via the efforts of Manila Mayor Francisco "Isko Moreno" Domagoso.
"Gusto din natin i-showcase kung gaano na kaganda 'yung Divisoria ngayon and kung gaano na kaganda 'yung Maynila. Nakakatuwa kasi in a way, nagpapakita din tayo ng current development na nangyayari sa mga siyudad sa Pilipinas particularly sa Maynila," he says, adding that he, together with some cast members, paid the mayor a courtesy call.
He was able to do an immersion in Divisoria as well.
Alden will also be working with two female stars in the series as well. Mikee Quintos wil play the bubbly Amor, Sep's childhood friend who sells kitchenware in Divisoria. Beauty queen-turned-actress Thia Thomalla will play Faith, the daughter of a wealthy fabric shop owner.
"'Yung character ko mai-involve sa character ni Thia and at the same time si Mikee naman goes the same way. Ang excited akong makita doon is, magiging sagabal ba 'yung disability ko? Magiging ganoon pa rin ba 'yung treatment nila sa akin bilang kaibigan or more than friends?" he says of the characters of his co-stars in the series.
The story of The Gift is about community and Alden hopes that many people can relate to its many colorful characters, including the everyday problems they face.
"The highlight is really the social relevance of the story. I guess that's what we need now—'yung mga istorya na nakaka-relate ang mga tao, 'yung makikita nila 'yung sarili nila doon. Doon ako naniniwala eh.
“A great material is something that's relatable. Saan ako dito makaka-relate? Ano 'yung nangyayari ngayon dito sa story na nangyayari sa akin in real life? Doon ako kakapit.
"In a way, parang hinahawakan noong story 'yung kamay mo all throughout that journey you're having. Feeling ko, 'yun 'yung naramdaman ko when the story was presented to me. Minsan you're down, naghahanap ka ng kakapitan eh. Pwede silang kumapit sa show na 'to," he says.
Alden’s character Sep will be granted the power to see the past and the future. While Sep himself will use the power to do small interventions for his community, there will be people who plan to exploit him. Sep will then have to find the real purpose of the gift that he was given.
This newfound self-love extends even to the way he lives his life.
He eats right and exercises regularly, not just to preserve his good looks but also to enjoy a better quality life.
"Lifestyle na siya eh. I don't look at it as deprivation anymore. I'm not getting any younger. Ayoko siyang simulan kapag kailangan na siyang simulan. Bago pa siya kailanganin, gawin mo na siya.
“I really want our craft and us Filipinos na makilala around the world as passionate actors. We're not just doing this for the fame. We're not just doing this for the money. We're doing this because we love acting and because we inspire people through our passion.
“There's a line from a speech I remember. 'Acting is a universal language for actors.' Regardless of who you are, what you are, where you're from, when we act on screen, our main goal is to deliver a role, to deliver a message to people who are watching you. That's so deep.
“For me, ang sarap makarinig ng ganoon from another actor. That happens to be the same reason why I'm staying in this industry, why I choose to stay as an actor," Alden muses.
Aside from headlining The Gift, Alden says that there's a lot to expect from him this year. Plans for movies, a 10th anniversary concert, and more international events are in the works.
No surprise there. After all, he is Asia's Multimedia Star.
The world is definitely watching.