Iza Calzado’s magic number is 88.
At the time of this interview, Maria Izadora Ussher Calzado, having just turned 39—with close to two decades of notoriety in the industry that has nurtured her since her formative years through a father who has worked in the business, long before she stepped in front of the camera as an onscreen talent—has already collected 88 acting credits both on television and movies.
On a cursory search on online repositories alone, the breadth of her body of work is carefully itemized, revealing a wealth of acting credits that range from memorable cameos, support casting, and some of her critically acclaimed and multi-awarded roles. But to her, even with her name already synonymous with top caliber acting from the time she broke into the scene to now as an industry mainstay, the sheer number of it remains a complete surprise.
“Wow,” she reacted, taking a brief pause, her eyes round as saucers with that familiar smile known of her that has long put her atop the pantheon of showbiz’ most beautiful. “Imagine having to walk into the shoes of all of those people?”
At the time of publishing, her acting credentials have, in fact, officially ballooned to 90, most recent of which was a role for pandemic-born series Ang Sa Iyo Ay Akin (international title: The Law of Revenge) and a well-publicized announcement of her role as Darna in a long fought-for production of a film-to-series adaptation of the Filipino super-heroine at the time she went on to do this shoot with collaborator Jerick Sanchez.
Calzado, to this day, remains as one of the most recognizable faces in the industry, with an inimitable body of work that has trodden the romance, drama, down to the more experimental route, what with her diverse number of roles in independent cinema. But even as the camera, and the industry, completely favors her and her acting gifts, Calzado’s stake and her understanding of her role and place in the industry continue to evolve.
As the pandemic has no doubt put everyone’s lives in a whirlwind of change, chaos, and uncertainty, where people from all walks of life suddenly found their personal and professional bubbles molded into unfamiliar and frightening shapes, forcing them to either adapt or succumb to the pressure. Treading uncharted waters and unknown wavelengths, it is up to us on whether this change will be met with resistance or with acceptance.
For Calzado, now standing as a veteran showbiz and entertainment mainstay, trials, obstacles, and hardships are no stranger to her life as a multi-faceted artist, more so as a now-empowered human being at her core. Since the start of the pandemic, Calzado talks about having to adjust and get used to the changes in her work brought about by the quarantine and the unprecedented restrictions that came with it.
From technology woes to confusing Zoom meetings, to facing a COVID-19 head-on as patient number 878, at the height of the global crisis, long before talks of a vaccine ever came to light, Calzado talks about experiencing and learning new things in this time of isolation and distance and how, at the end of it all, it is one’s grasp of his sense of purpose and being that matter the most.
With the changes brought about by the pandemic, highlighted by the emergence of remote set-ups and online meetings, her initial confusion with the new norm in the workplace resonates with the kind of displacement felt across industries and around the globe.
Expressing these apprehensions, she says that the first step in learning to adjust is to accept that you do have to saying, “This is where we’re at. Admittedly, may part talaga na ako, for the longest time, [there’s resistance]. But truth be told, we cannot. You have to adapt. We have to adapt.”
“You just gotta let go at some point and adapt and learn to, I guess, navigate your way through that new thing, ’cause there will always be something new. Change is the only constant thing in the world anyways,” she highlights.
If anything, she praises the younger generation on becoming so adept at social media, as if it is second nature to them, especially in a time when nothing was certain and a search for a “new normal” was more of a requirement than a suggestion. More than knowing how to navigate the digital space to pass time, it is the younger generation’s command of the medium that served as an inspiration to someone like her, whose presence online is more vital, now more than ever.
“Now, because of [this] digital age, you see more and more young kids creating at an early age, and also like for us, we can now take ownership of our brand.”
For the multi-awarded actress, the pandemic has brought on many lessons and realizations for herself that allowed her to evolve professionally, but more importantly, as a human being evolving to be a better person than she was before the great big pause we were abruptly thrust in, and are now trying to slowly recover and break out from. And with this evolution came the creation of new perspectives and shaping a new outlook as an artist and a human being.
She looks back on her twenty-year career and reflects on its tangled web of ups and downs, expressing that self-acceptance and knowing oneself is key for growth. Now more in touch with an awareness of herself, with proclivities to self-meditation, yoga, and mental health support, Calzado throws in, with ease, discussions on one’s ikigai, or the Japanese term for the “reason for being”.
“There’s a reason why things are happening to you at a certain time and I think that this process is the most important. Now, I understand myself better and I accept myself, you know, better. I can’t say that I have fully accepted myself but like everybody, I’m a work in progress.”
She continues, “I’m just at a better place, I guess in terms of acceptance and knowing myself and so, it’s easier for me to become this more fully-realized human being.”
Charting her beginnings as an artist, Calzado highlights how she was constantly into the arts and entertainment growing up, with the tutelage and impact of her father, choreographer, actor, and director, Lito Calzado, evidently playing a big role in influencing her to become an artist.
From fledgling auditions and gigs to beefing up her almost untouchable repertoire of roles, Calzado has come a long way since her days as a young dreamer plucked out of obscurity to becoming one of the biggest names in the industry of her generation.
To become who she is today was not an easy feat. In the beginning, taking her first steps in an industry as fickle and unpredictable as show business, she admits constantly worrying and doubting if she would ever make it or be good enough to be noticed especially going against the walls built by beauty standards long established by the industry at large.
She recalls, “I remember crying before saying how am I gonna make it in the industry where everybody looks perfect and I look like this, ganun eh, you know bata ako eh, ganun yung tingin ko sa kanya. But then, I remember, because of those things, I told myself, gagalingan ko.”
“It is what it is, it’s all part of my character arc, my journey,” she says.
But as is a common theme in her realizations as an artist and her person, it was in finding her purpose that allowed herself to push forward and brave the hurdles that have come her way, later on realizing that creating happiness by helping others is what her purpose in becoming an actress is, which served as fuel enough to buoy that dream into an impressive acting resume that no one can and will dare refute.
“What I think of my dharma, my purpose, ikigai or reason for being, I think is to make others happy and I really feel I’m living it almost. Maybe not the entire thing but, I know kapag alam mong masaya kang ginagawa mo yun, nakikita mong ‘it’s not just about me,’ I get to help others.”
In her almost two-decade career as an actress, stepping into the shoes of a character comes both as a boon and a bane. For Calzado, understanding a character, without any form of judgment and understanding is what makes a character whole, and this is a mark of a good actress.
She has experienced playing different characters and cast in varying tropes that allowed her to broaden the range of her capabilities, allowing herself to be a vessel of truth for characters written on paper and translated on the screen.
With the countless cast of characters in her acting catalog, what really stood out for Calzado was her career-defining role as Amihan in the GMA-7 fantasy epic, that ultimately became a cult classic Encantadia.
“I really resonated with her on so many levels, she had a heart, she stood her ground,” she says. With Amihan, it was this potent sense of empowerment from the character that resonated with her on multiple levels.
She also expressed the character’s impact on her career and how it helped her make her mark in the industry and put her name out there, then gaining her many fans and supporters, and becoming an integral part of pop culture.
“Totoo, iba ung impact. We didn’t even know the kind of impact that the show would have in society but it did. I’m very blessed that I got to play that role, I’m so blessed. I’m so happy like in the history and books I’m Amihan, I’m the first Amihan.”
Today, as she is set to play the role of Darna in the upcoming TV remake, she treats this huge honor as a chance to give justice to one of the most well-known and beloved characters in Philippine entertainment. She describes how the opportunity came at a perfect time for herself and her career.
With everyone still reeling from the effects of self-isolation and distance, Calzado says that the character of Darna could not have come at a better time. As a symbol of hope, she hopes that as Darna, who is set to pass the torch to a younger character who is bound to take on the super-heroine’s powers in the series, she can inspire people to continue on and not only hope for a better tomorrow, but become an active part of a machine that would bring about the dawn of change.
“Let’s be honest, it’s been a challenging [two years]. It’s almost you like you see the finish line, but you’re pulled back again . . . to get to play an iconic superhero, it comes to a point in my life also, and I was talking about this already that it’s also about my journey in recognizing that there’s a hero inside me. And, in recognizing that, it makes me recognize the hero in everyone else.”
With her almost two decade tenure in the industry playing a countless cast of characters, it is interesting to know how she manages to separate the celebrity. For the critically-acclaimed actress, the challenge lies in recognizing that separating personas comes from an awareness that as a public figure, one’s personal life should never interfere with the craft.
As the name Iza Calzado continues to make waves in showbiz, she talks about the challenge of leading the pack and pushing boundaries in the midst of having an already long and decorated career. For her, passion and gratitude are and will always be vital factors to stay on top.
She says, “I think gratitude will help people go a long way. Even when you see yourself already reaching your goals, you need to have that attitude of gratitude. It’s never just you who allowed you to get to where you are now.”
In the end, for Calzado, staying true to yourself, loving what you do, and having the heart to help others are key ideals she continues to inspire her legions of fans and followers with, especially in what feels like a dark time when one’s platform has to be used for good. In a number of instances, she has gone leaps and bounds from being a celebrated actress. She has since allowed herself to be a bearer of the message of positive body image, self-love, and empowerment, and that sense of purpose as a speaker in multiple avenues and platforms like in She Talks Asia.
“You know, people will not remember how well you did in that scene but they will remember how you touched their hearts.”
With additional text by Matthew Cruz
Photographed by Jerick Sanchez
Styled by Katrina Cruz
Makeup by Lala Flores
Hair by Jan Edrosolan
Cover design by Jericho Clemente
Special acknowledgments to Noel Ferrer and Jerick Sanchez