The Game Changer featuring Tony Labrusca

“I am awkward when it comes to photoshoots ha,” Tony Labrusca, a guy of 22, warned the minute he got into his first look for the day’s shoot.

It was a Sunday afternoon in a busy street in Pasig—a rare luxury of over two hours of free time before he gets into another appointment, the third for the day. This is what his daily calendar looks like now–only a year and a half after he packed his bags and flew back to the Philippines.

Born Anthony Jones Labrusca, Jr. in Houston, Texas, and raised in Los Angeles, California, before moving to Canada at the age of nine, Labrusca has no sob stories to tell. His recollection of his childhood was one that was heavily influenced by a support system that encouraged him to be a man of his own choices.

“I was just a normal kid. My parents wanted me to have a normal life. But my parents came from a band called Kulay so growing up, there was nothing really ‘normal’ about our structure. Everything was nurtured from an artistic side. We believed in going with the flow and because of that, I’ve always felt that I was in charge of creating my own path,” he shared.

But creating a map of where he wants to go wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. At an early age, he felt like he was at a crossroads between doing something big and significant, and getting lost trying to find what is written for him.

Suit, Avel Bacudio. Shoes, Traffic at SM Aura.

He said, “Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to do amazing, awesome, creative things. But I never knew when my time would come and I never knew when God would give me the opportunity. That is why I lived my life day to day waiting to see where life would lead me. Then at 20 years old, I had this dialogue with myself that I would like to make all mistakes possible so by the time I am 30, there’s no more room for mistakes. I just knew I had to have my hands on the steering wheel.”

Finding his rightful path was tricky but coming to the Philippines in search for answers was an easy decision. “I came here to discover myself, for a peace of mind. Every time I leave the Philippines, I feel like I leave my heart and soul here so, I told myself, why not go back to the place where I am happiest.”

While living a life in the limelight has always been at the back of his head, it hasn’t necessarily become part of his life’s itinerary. To him, his rise to fame was so improbable but all it took was a leap of faith to turn him from being a cashier and a shoe salesman, cutting people’s hair, and flipping burgers at McDonald’s into becoming a face to one of its latest offerings–ultimately turning into one of the freshest faces with the biggest future ahead.

“I realized I couldn’t probably make a living here cutting people’s hair and so the reasonable option would be to do commercials. At the time, I had really short hair. When I entered the room and saw some of the guys I am against with, I never thought I stood a chance.”

Boots, Dr. Martens.

Interestingly, calling him a “model” doesn’t really sit well with him. “I don’t know, whenever my friends or people I know would call me, ‘model’, I would tell them to stop. I always felt like other people are more deserving being called that, not someone like me who feels uncomfortable in a photoshoot,” he reasoned ending with a laugh.

“Reluctant model siya. He doesn’t feel like he is one pero bagay sa kanya,” Mario Colmenares, his manager interjected.

True, landing the male lead in the fast food giant commercial would serve as his first taste of fame leading to more opportunities that would make him the year’s most promising rookie. Following the “viral success” of the commercial, Labrusca went on to test his mettle as a performer with the ABS-CBN reality talent competition, Boyband PH.

Jacket, Don Sevilla. Neoprene jogger pants, Avel Bacudio. White shoes, Dr. Martens.

For someone who claims no experience in the art of performing, his venture into the world of song and dance was met with an overwhelming response of screaming fan girls, no small thanks to his boy-next-door DNA and unassuming persona.

He shared, “Performing has always been on the table because I have been exposed to music and the creative influences of my parents, but I never imagined it would get to this extent. I never even realized I would get that much attention because we were kept in a house. It feels like a big blessing to me to be able to perform and make a living out of it.”

While clinching one of the elusive five spots to complete the show’s band escaped him, leaving the show helped Labrusca to cast a wider net at the vast world of entertainment. He took his first jab at acting with only his love for watching Filipino teleseryes under his belt, specifically Walang Hanggan, that starred Coco Martin, Julia Montes, and Dawn Zulueta.

Not long after his first role as Damon in the TV5 show, Wattpad Presents: I’m Making Out With the Playboy at School, he nabbed the role of Jake, one of the biggest roles in the epic ABS-CBN fantasy series, La Luna Sangre opposite Kathryn Bernardo, Daniel Padilla, Richard Gutierrez, and Angel Locsin, all in the same year.

He shared about this turning point in his career, “People would recognize me where I go and they would call me by my character’s name and it never fails to excite me because for me that meant na tumatak sa kanila yung character.” The show would then give him the Best New Male TV Personality award at the 2017 PMPC Star Awards for TV.

With La Luna Sangre recently closing its chapters last March, Labrusca, is, now, more than ever, equipped with a stronger sense of self as he treads further in the world of entertainment. He said, “Before, my management and my mom would advise me to learn to wait, because I have been impatient in the past. But now, I have realized that no one can take away what’s destined to be yours.”

With his acting resume growing bigger and stronger, Labrusca is set to take on bigger roles on television and on the big screen, with a number of projects underway. His venture into hosting his own music channel with fellow newcomer Inigo Pascual is also a priority along with plans to beef up his musical inclinations. His first song, Tanging Ikaw has been streamed almost 800,000 times on Spotify.

“I really look up to my parents and on how hard they work. There are endless possibilities that I have yet to explore and I am really excited to see where life would take me. I want to continue to make music but I still have to figure out my sound and my genre. I’m not going to limit myself.”

Shirt (worn inside), Don Sevilla. Jacket, Regiment Store. Shoes, Dr. Martens.

On top of all of these, Labrusca is also an ardent supporter of different advocacies, continuing on his work to better lives of children with non-government organizations like Hope Worldwide and World Vision Philippines. He has also vowed to take on a more active role in Anti-Cyber Bullying movements, which hits close to home having experienced the lashing of naysayers after being mistaken for coming in between the six-year love pair of KathNiel.

“I think that’s one of the best parts of being in this industry. I have the ability to reach so many people. On Instagram alone, that’s almost 600,000 people who can hear what I have to say and I have to make the most out of it.”

If there’s anything he would tell his 20-year-old self before getting into this whirlwind romance with success, Labrusca highly values the importance of patience. “Always trust in God’s perfect timing. Be a chameleon. Adapt. There are lessons that you learn every single day that would help you to build yourself up. All you have to do is focus.”

Produced and styled by Leo Balante

Photographed by Advan Ramirez

Grooming by Jinx Aggabao

Video by Josh Ke

Shooter: Calvin Cardenas

Special thanks to Mario Colmenares