Cover Story

“Feeling ko dapat dati pa eh.”

(“I feel like it should have come sooner.”)

David Licauco, a man of 25, feigns conceit before breaking into a light chuckle as he describes his latest acting venture—arguably the biggest in his very young career in entertainment—in a Zoom call bridging the last time we had a conversation about the year that be after staying in quarantine.

Rewind to a year ago, the young multi-hyphenate was cooped up in his room, trying to juggle lessons in multiple online universities, admittedly catching up on lost time and opportunity on his education. A year later, things are different.

In the past few weeks, GTV, the reworked news and public affairs arm of GMA Network, GMA News TV, has shared news of an upcoming television series set to test the waters of Licauco’s onscreen charm in the company of acclaimed singer and host, Julie Anne San Jose, who is crossing over to primetime television acting via the romantic comedy, Heartful Café. Making things a tad more exciting for the first-time pair, the series has been green lit to be moved to the network’s main primetime roster, promising to cast a wider net of shares in terms of viewership—an opportunity that’s both exciting as it is intimidating.

Blazer and trousers, Edwin Tan.

Trousers, Edwin Tan.

He scratches his head, flashing that familiar smile that has since propelled him to be dubbed as the swoon-worthy “chinito heartthrob” to his squealing fan girls, and, with the intense popularity of Hallyu in the country, the resident “oppa” among peers and stans in his home network.

Sobrang nakakatuwa na mabigyan ng ganitong chance, pero siyempre nakakatakot at may kasamang pressure to deliver dahil alam mong lalo sa panahon ngayon, sugal ang gumawa ng kahit ano, lalo pa ng isang show. Of course, I hoped for it. It was an opportunity I’ve been waiting for, but honestly, I didn’t expect it would come at this time, especially with a lot of postponed plans na last year lang di ko alam kung matutuloy pa ba.”

(“It’s a good feeling to be given this kind of chance, but there’s fear and pressure to deliver because you know that at this time, doing anything is a gamble, much so a show. Of course, I hoped for it. It was an opportunity I’ve been waiting for, but honestly, I didn’t expect it would come at this time, especially with a lot of postponed plans that just last year had no certainty if they would even push through.”)

As the owner of several businesses and a promising young actor of his generation, Licauco continues to break ground as a man of newfound dedication to his craft—whatever it may be at the time. As we dive deep into his career and personal musings, one major thing stood out on top of all his macho exterior and witty bravado: this is a young, self-aware man who bolts towards goals with laser-sharp focus and a self-determined game plan.

But this hasn’t always been the case.

Double-breasted blazer and trousers, Edwin Tan.
Inner shirt, Bench Body.

Similar to most of us, the pandemic has brought out worries, sentiments, and desires from the young actor that were previously resting deep beneath the surface of his cool, happy-go-lucky youthfulness. As the eldest son of a Chinese-Filipino family with several franchise ventures of his own, he thrived in the stability of having two career paths, while having a safety net in-between in the form of the family business.

With this, he admitted to not having the same level of hunger in him as he does now, four steady years into his evolving career signed in his present network, which is a big departure from the first he set foot in the industry some seven years ago.

Then, as the pandemic struck, even Licauco’s laid-back personality was shaken out of his reverie. As someone who had been taught on the workings of investments and finance management throughout his life, even he felt the panic of frightening uncertainty during those first months when we were all still reeling from the lockdown’s effects.

In the absence of the fast-paced chaos of engagements and projects that then ruled his calendar as a young celebrity, his focus shifted to putting practical use of his time, energy, and knowledge, cultivating any form of normalcy and certainty in a time of many question marks. That’s when his business acumen was put to the test.

Button-down shirt and trousers, Edwin Tan.
Inner shirt, Bench Body.

In that period of confusion last year, the young actor-entrepreneur found himself more focused than ever to work hard and return to that state of security he once took for granted. With the uncertainty of show business and acting, he gravitated more towards things that he had more control over, and things that are somewhat familiar to him. In this case, he drowned himself in sharpening his knowledge on business operations, sales, marketing, and everything involving entrepreneurship.

“Most of my 2020, I was in a zone where all I thought about was sales and business. As in yun lang talaga yung nasa utak ko, na kahit kausap ko yung friends ko, yun lang yung nasa utak ko. And never ko na-imagine na maging studious ako [sa business]. Sobrang focused ko lang. Everyday, pinuproblema ko yung sales, iniisip ko kung paano ko aayusin lahat. I found myself very hands on and meticulous on everything from operations, logistics, marketing, et cetera.”

(Most of my 2020, I was in a zone where all I thought about was sales and business. As in that’s all I was thinking about. Even when I talk to my friends, that’s all that goes through my mind. And I never would have imagined that I’d be studious when it comes to business. I was just very focused. Everyday, I was thinking about sales, and dealing with everything. I found myself very hands on and meticulous on everything from operations, logistics, marketing, et cetera.)

Button-down shirt and trousers, Edwin Tan.
Inner shirt, Bench Body.

Double-breasted suit and trousers, Edwin Tan.
Inner shirt, Bench Body.

The business ventures started with the quarantine-launched brand As Nature Intended, an online one-stop shop for everything you need to live a healthy lifestyle: food, supplements, skincare, and everything in between. Then came his jab at doing business with food, with Sóbra Comfort Food, done in partnership with a couple of friends, stemming from a desire for comfort food while restricted in the confines of our own homes.

For a bulk of this lockdown period, these had been the main focus of Licauco’s busy schedule—almost scratching out acting from his resumé once and for all. But then again, the gamble is not without its struggles.

“Ang dami kong nilabas na pera, tapos halos walang pumapasok. [But], mas ginawa nya akong focused at grateful na may trabaho, to do what I realized now is something that I love, while sustaining my other passions.

(I was spending a lot of money, with almost zero earnings. But, it made me more focused and grateful of having a job to do what I realized now is something that I love, while sustaining my other passions.)

It is an opportune call from his network that brought him back to the industry, in the midst of the raging pandemic, armed with more than just a need to land a job but, more importantly, with a new sense of dedication for his craft.

A role in the long-running drama anthology, Magpakailanman, required the actor to take a few steps back from the businesses and put his focus on a deeper role that demanded him to reach a new depth with his emotions, especially playing a real-life charactera famous one at that, in the person of Richard Yapthat required him to research, immerse, internalize, and of course, deliver. In and of itself, this felt to the young, promising actor as a breakthrough of sorts.

“Working in an industry that values your ‘looks’ is, of course, a privilege. But it is also a trap that you could easily get lost in. Before, I am already happy to get jobs and be liked by fans as the ‘cute guy with abs’ and for a time, I worked around that very idea, that I just have to be ‘that’ guy and things will work out,” he talks about his growing self-awareness as an actor, nurtured even deeper by his exposure to acting coaches, Anne Villegas and more recently, PETA’s Norbs Portales.

Velvet trousers, Edwin Tan.

“But now at 25 (about to turn 26), there’s this growing urge for me to show people and even myself that there’s more to me than that and there’s so much more that I can do to the platform given to me. That makes me so excited now, more than ever, to really work hard on my craft.”

He recalls, “Before, just seeing a small box photo of myself in a magazine among a number of campus ‘cuties’ already made me happy. It is interesting how years of waiting and trying to make it happen can change your perspective. There’s no slowing down from here.”

This, in many ways, is a far cry from the guy he was in the early years of his career, trying his luck to make it happen in multiple go-sees as a model, a pageant contestant, to a bit player in movies as early as 2014. The first time he graced the Rank Magazine cover, he noted of his beginnings and his battle with resistance to putting in the work to make a dent in the industry, “I got more features in magazines and some small jobs on television and movies but I was still in college and more into playing basketball. I never felt like I was really into it. It felt more like a bragging right to me—it’s all about having a portfolio of myself that people can just see.”

Tank top, Bench Body.
Trousers, Edwin Tan.

Tank top, Bench Body.
Trousers, Edwin Tan.

Ultimately, the project would eventually lead him to his first leading role in a full-length series that follows a story that is very familiar to him—one revolving around the world of entrepreneurship and love.

Four years since his official launch into the entertainment industry as a GMA Network talent, all the while juggling his role as real-life entrepreneur, on top of his in-show role, Licauco actually felt that the coming teleserye got him to really fall in love with the craft of acting. This is in spite of all the hurdles of “bubble taping” in the new normal of production, waking up and acting everyday at 8AM, and his personal hardships in getting a good night’s sleep.

“With Heartful Café, ang dami kong mas natutunan pa about acting and my abilities. Kasi yung mga directors—piniga nila ako. I can’t say I’m already the best, pero akala ko okay na ako mag-act, until na meet ko sila. Mas naging relaxed rin ako sa acting, mas bumilis sa akin magbigay ng different emotions, mas naging comfortable sa set.”

(With Heartful Café, I learned so much more about acting and my abilities. The directors, they really got everything out of me. I can’t say I’m already the best, but I thought I already knew how to act, until I met them. I grew to be more relaxed in acting, it took me quicker to portray different emotions, and I felt more comfortable in the set.)

Overcoat, stylist’s own.

Trousers, Edwin Tan.

At the core of it, Licauco shares how he learned more about meditation while living within the bubble of the production team, expressing that it helped him be a lot more present in his scenes, and to react more naturally to his co-actors.

“I did a lot of reading and I think it’s Kobe Bryant who said that there’s a huge part of our brain that we don’t get to use and a good way to tap into it is to pause and meditate. Not only did it help me a lot with my sleeping condition, it did allow me to be more vulnerable and just understand myself more. I became more present, really,” he opens up.

Of this newfound sense of being, he discloses that one of the biggest changes he brought from the experience of running a business for a period of time is to be more considerate of the people around him. May it be from understanding emotions from customer service and bringing it to his acting, or to the concept of opportunity-cost, and putting real value to the time people bring into work.

Trousers, Edwin Tan.
Underwear, Bench Body.

As he put it, there’s nothing like the urgency and knowledge of people relying on you—of people’s jobs relying on your ability to get things done, specifically—to really put your mind into laser-sharp focus. It’s this awareness that there’s an ecosystem of people that exists and matters outside of himself that he becomes more of a well-rounded person.

“I would be a hypocrite if I constantly say to people in interviews that once you set your eyes on something and put in the work, you’ll achieve great success, and then I, myself, don’t constantly look for ways to evolve and be an improved version of myself from yesterday,” he says.

“Right now, I think it is good that I know that I don’t know everything already. I am fully aware that I am a work in progress—in my acting, in my businesses, and as a whole, and yes, sabihin na natin (let’s just say) even in my looks. You cannot just say that you’ve got it all figured out. I was like that at the start, and I am happy that now, I always need to nudge myself to stop being ‘comfortable’ of where I am. Be proud of yourself, but never settle,” he waxes philosophical.

Overcoat, stylist’s own.
Velvet trousers, Edwin Tan.

Now that Heartful Café is close to premiering, Licauco expressed his hopes that this would be the project that finally puts him out of the “just a cute guy who got lucky” label that society has boxed him in. He firmly believes in the hard work and passion he put into this project, the guidance of his directors, acting coaches, and co-actors, and the focus he poured into studying critically-acclaimed performances between scenes.

“I believe that when you focus on something, and you’re very passionate about it, you really can do whatever. [This time], I performed beyond my expectations,” he highlights.

In his words, Ace Nobleza has been his most dedicated role yet, and he’s excited to see how the audience will react. As a romantic comedy that harbors more light tropes and comic relief, he also believes that Heartful Café is just what Filipinos need at this time of frustration, anger, and confusion.

Tank top, Bench Body.
Trousers, Edwin Tan.

Trousers, Edwin Tan.

With all that’s been said, David Licauco has certainly gone far and wide in establishing, nurturing, and widening his career path as he breaks through the many molds the industry, and society has predetermined for him.

From a son who might inherit the family business, to securing his own enterprise, and from a seemingly “just got lucky” face to the whole matinee idol package, Licauco has made a name for himself in all the fields he committed himself to.

Marked by focus, grit, and verve, he is set to take off at full speed—all gas and no brakes.

Produced, creative and fashion direction by Leo Balante

Photography by Dookie Ducay

Grooming by Nadynne Esguerra

Videography and shoot assistant: Bhernn Saenz

Shot on location at DHQ Studio at The PARC

Special acknowledgments to GMA Artist Center