Cover Story

What’s in a name?

In the fickle, competitive industry of show business, to be a household name is the dream. To have a phalanx of supporters calling out your name in adulation signals, and, is oftentimes, commensurate to success.

However, to some extent, to be recognized for characters portrayed on screen separates a “celebrity” from an effective actor. Such is the case with this issue’s subject—a young actor who is now treading on the fast lane for consecutive roles that slowly cemented his place as one of the next big things to emerge in the industry in recent years—ready to conquer, and ready to take over.

Marco Gumabao was sitting quietly in his car for a good five minutes, tinkering with his smartphone, when we caught up with him for his Rank cover shoot. He looked up and flashed a schoolboy smile before he extended his arm out of the car’s window to exchange pleasantries.

“No, it’s okay. You can go ahead. I’ll wait for Aimee (referring to one of his regular grooming artists, Aimee Grey). She bought something from the store, daw, then we will just park,” the 25-year-old actor said, before gesturing that everything’s fine and he could just catch up and find the location—no celebrity “babying” needed.

By the time he reached the building’s penthouse, inside the day’s location in Work/With PH, he glided through the hallways and let out small smiles and “hello’s” to those who walked by and gushed at the sight of him.

“Do you ever get used to it?” I asked, talking about the attention he gets for looking the way he does. Towering at 6’1”, chiseled,  not a muscle too hulking, and dreamy—the stuff that undeniably gets fan girls squeal in excitement by his mere presence. He lets out a chuckle, responding, rather matter-of-factly, “I don’t think of it that way naman eh. I am just glad that when they recognize me, that means they appreciate what I do.”

This response, though, does not seem to stem from feigned modesty, like any PR-machine trained celebrities do. Gumabao, in every sense, is very self-aware—unapologetically secure of himself. While he is very aware of the effect of his effortless allure on people, he still manages to be sincere and grounded—like the university’s most famous jock who also happens to be everyone’s best friend, never standoffish or aloof.

He exchanges banters with everyone on the set, albeit exhausted from a trip and a gig that came just hours before reaching the day’s venue. He makes teasing jokes with the day’s videographer, Joe, who admittedly can’t help but blush at his every move and candidly toys with him knowing of this small crush. A few hours with him and it is easy to spot that it’s this very geniality that allows him to easily relate with people, making his first eight years in the business a smooth, steady run.

 “Sorry talaga, out of shape ako ngayon. Bakasyon.” He incessantly apologized, looking at the insane amount of clothes lined up for him to wear each layout. To his road manager, he is normally “game”—considering how little to no clothes he was recently seen in his previous covers and print and digital ads that came before the day’s shoot. Days prior the schedule, he sent out a warning to his Ate Ca (Viva Artist’s Agency’s Caryl Paraico), playfully describing his physical condition as “fluffy”, having gone to a bit of a vacation. For this reason alone, knowing that, one way or another, he would somehow be asked to rid of his clothes for this photo shoot, he was deeply apologetic.

His skin was evidently darkened and sunburnt, with portions actually peeling off, as an aftermath of what to him was a well-deserved break with good friends in Siargao. Still, he was all smiles to get through the day’s shoot and exchange stories from everyone in the room.

Two weeks before his Rank cover shoot, the afternoon drama, Precious Hearts Romances: Los Bastardos, came to a close. For almost a year, he played the character of Matteo in the intense telenovela-inspired series on betrayal and revenge opposite other brawny “eye candies” Jake Cuenca, Albie Casino, Joseph Marco, and Joshua Colet.

For most of the show’s promotional rounds, Gumabao, along with his fellow cast members, often found themselves showing off their physique—easily and ultimately capturing a largely female and gay demographic. This, of course, came after his thrust to the next phase of his career, shedding off his youthful, boy-next-door appeal and replacing it with that of a mature, male sex symbol, which, to him, is a step to the right direction.

In social media, through his regularly maintained Instagram account, his uploads often receive raves from his growing fan base (Right now, his follower list reads 1 Million-strong). From gym photos, magazine spreads, to casual, random selfies, Gumabao’s photos are often the subject of online thirst, prompting fans and IG onlookers to praise his evident good looks, some more carried away than the other.

“It was never just about the looks, to me. Yes, it was a conscious decision and an effort for me to be more fit and become better, physically. But for me, it’s beyond that. It’s all about improving myself and stepping out of my comfort zone and preparing me for bigger things,” he shared.

Even before the brawn-fest of a show concluded, the young actor bravely took on the role of the love interest of one of today’s biggest superstars, Anne Curtis, in a breakthrough film that is a long time coming for him. Just a Stranger, a film that navigated tropes of an illicit love affair between a young man and a married woman twice his age, garnered raves from fans, further propelling him atop the heap of today’s young actors.

The nuanced portrayal allowed many to fall in love with Jericho or, fondly to many, Jekjek, a 19-year-old young man who meets a forlorn wife trapped in an unhappy marriage. In a chance meeting in Portugal, the two yearning spirits meet and get caught up in a tangled web of lies and deceit only to end rather, heartbreakingly.

As a film, Jason Paul Laxaman’s Just a Stranger managed to detach itself from the string of films that followed what could easily be perceived as a now-overwrought “trend” of portraying “May-December” love affairs in films—triumphing in exploring not just the relative novelty of the subject matter, but in dissecting the deeper layers of its narrative. This was largely because of the fully-realized characters that the film introduced—with the leads coming out victorious among critics and the box office.

Amidst the film’s erotic undertones, the skin fare, and titillation it offered from its trailer to the film’s most provocative scenes, viewers marveled at the level of maturity that Gumabao has effectively showcased. In the film, he may have been constantly seen taking his shirt off, gyrating, and teasing in suggestive scenes to the surprise and delight of viewers, but it’s his organic performance, evoking the complexities of the contrast between the young man’s childlike innocence and his endless struggle for validation that had people intoxicated.

“I knew that it was going to be a make or break movie for me. There’s a lot at stake. Of course, there’s Anne Curtis, who does not necessarily need the movie the way I do. Of course, there’s constant pressure pero di ko hinayaan for it to get the best of me. For me kasi, the more you entertain the pressure, the more na di mo magagawa nang tama yung kailangan mong gawin. Instead, I used that pressure to do what is expected of me. To be the best version of myself and to give it all,” he shared on his now-iconic role.

Until now, months after the film’s P 100-million gross at the box office, Gumabao still enjoys being called by his character’s name—be it on his IG’s comment section or on his personal outings. This, to him, is a good sign of his growth from a celebrity to an actor.

“I don’t mind it. I think it’s better than just being remembered as ‘the guy with Anne Curtis’, or even just ‘Marco’. When they call me Jekjek, it means na tumatak yung ginawa ko sa movie. That makes it even more rewarding,” a pretty impressive, evolved sentiment for a guy who’s unafraid to admit that his entry in the industry was just one that sprung out of “curiosity” and “boredom.”

“My mom has a friend who is a director who asked us if I would want to audition for this show he was directing. This was in 2011, when I was still in high school. My mom initially didn’t want me to do it, because she wants me to finish school first, but my father did. The rest is history,” he said of his first jab at acting.

“I can’t really say that I liked it right away. Ang awkward pala ng ginagawa ng mga artista na umaarte in front of the camera and in front of so many people. At first, it was more like, I was doing it because bored ako and wala lang akong magawa. The shoot was once a week, so it was not much of a hassle in terms of scheduling. So, I was able to do my school and then work. Sino ba naman ang ayaw na kumikita ka habang nasa high school ka pa lang.”

Born Marco Imperial Gumabao to a former ‘it girl’ mom Loli Imperial-Gumabao and actor-turned-politician father, Dennis Roldan, living a life in the spotlight may not be all-too-disorienting for him, pointing out that it’s his natural willingness to understand people’s behaviors, that allowed him to get through his day-to-day celebrity life manageable.

“I am just naturally outgoing naman. Palalabas ako nun pa lang eh. And I think magaling akong makihalubilo sa mga tao, so dealing with different people everyday was not that hard for me. And yun din ang inaaral namin back in college (He took up Psychology in college), so yun talaga ang nagamit ko when I joined showbiz,” he noted.

From his first few roles taking the newcomer route of teeny, bubble gum roles, he slowly ventured into support cast roles for television and movies opposite big-named personalities. It was in 2017, however, when he sought to take his journey up a notch with a decision to leave ABS-CBN’s Star Magic and join Viva Entertainment.

He recalled, “It was definitely a hard decision to make, a big leap of faith, even. Being with Star Magic for five years, ang hirap umalis sa lugar kung san ka na lumaki. It was a group na nakasanayan mo na, but it was still all part of stepping out of your comfort zone.”

This decision came with a lot of assessment for the young actor, along with a back and forth on which path he should tread and conquer. “It was not an easy choice to make. I had to choose my career path—kung gusto ko ba yung may love team, or kung gusto ko yung solo character actor path. It’s really all about planning and being conscious on what will help your career,” he noted.

Following the runaway success that was Just A Strangers, Gumabao is still excited to find out how far his career trajectory would bring him and which route would be instrumental in his continuing education as an actor raring to leave a mark in the industry he has come to love. After his quick break, he reported a lineup of film projects he is set to take on, one involving Tony Labrusca and Lovi Poe and another one that is still in the works.

“Going solo for me was a decision I had to stand by with kasi it’s different. It’s scary but it’s equally thrilling. You get to learn from a whole lot of other people. Di ka naba-box lang. At the same time, it all falls on you on how to grow and improve, it’s all you to pull you up.”

It’s learning about this bold and evolved perspective about his craft that we are introduced to Marco Gumabao, beyond the man, who, for a long time, has been synonymous with physical perfection, but now, an exceptional actor with grit and a solid game plan to build a name for everyone to know.

Produced, creative direction, and styling by Leo Balante
Styling assistant: 
Bhernn Saenz
Photography and art direction by 
Rxandy Capinpin
Grooming by Aimee Grey
Hair styling by Chino Maniquiz
Videography and editing by 
Joe Andy
Additional clips by 
Niko PGonzales
Shot on location at 
Work/With PH
Special thanks to Caryl Paraico at 
Viva Artists Agency and Thea Dahiroc