For us, crowd of curious onlookers outside the realm of eminent luminaries, the glisten of having an already familiar name will not ever dim. We often look from a lens shunning the life behind the glitz and glam tied to a celebrity’s being, but underneath the pomp and the celebrity, and the sheer ‘otherworldliness’ from the roles they play are their own stories wishing to be heard. Behind the line of accolades and brimming throngs of admirers are trails of doubts and wishful thinking.
José Ezekiel Madrid was once a young boy who wished to swim through the sea of onlookers—his eyes set on the shore of his dreams. But, he noticed that he was barely moving. Propelled enough by ambitions but blocked by distorted self-perceptions, it took him more than a decade to become what to him now is an evolved, more realized version of Ruru Madrid.
A few days shy of the prime of his 20s, the young top-rating primetime series lead opens the drapes of his campaign to the cutting edge of his career. The actor takes a look back at the storied moments of his 10 years in the industry and his upward trajectory suddenly hits him. “I would consider this year my luckiest year. I’m just very happy sa lahat ng mga achievements and blessings na natatanggap ko,” he realizes.
Top and trousers, Cruz MNL. Overcoat, stylist’s own. Shoes, Prada, subject’s own. Photographed by Jerick Sanchez.
This is a far cry from the year prior to his Push Issue cover shoot with Rank Magazine where in a December 23, 2021 VLOG uploaded to his almost 190,000 subscriber-strong YouTube channel, an emotional Madrid addressed fans bearing bad news of an unexpected halt to the filming of what would be his most important lead role on television would be. However, much like the rest of the world, the veil of uncertainty that cloaked all of us because of the pandemic did bring him questions about the state of his career and his life as a whole.
“Last year was the worst year of my career, I felt that sobrang dami kong pinagdaan na challenges,” he recalls. With the abrupt paralysis of the “usual” brought about by the pandemic, the actor was among the people who experienced getting lost in the chaos. The firm grasp of hope he had for his career started getting loose.
Even before his rise to fame, Madrid had always dreamt of starring in any action-packed project. Finally, Lolong, a Philippine action-fantasy drama series, reaches the palm of his yearning hands in 2019.
He poured all of his being into the preparation just so he could unlock the best out of the character he will be portraying in the forthcoming months at the time—he took on a diet, he worked out, and through research, dived into the depths of his role.
Suit, Edwin Tan. Photographed by Jerick Sanchez.
But 2020 came, the rage of the pandemic caused a halt to his character’s awakening. His team knew they had to put it off for the time being, as the world came to a pause. At the outset, he looked at it from a lens of making use of the delays given as an opportunity to explore and prepare more for his portrayal of Lolong.
However, the once thought brief defer dragged on for years. “Bakit gano’n? Parang hindi natutuloy ‘yung project, parang minamalas ako,” the actor shares, as the pandemic began to quell the blazing flame of dreams.
With a rife disease coursing and dimming the light of the past two years or so, Madrid saw this limp what looked to be a steady ascent from his newcomer days, as he tread the path to leading man status prior to the news of the health crisis. The immediate halt was one thing. The waiting was an even wilder beast. He divulges, “Matagal din akong walang project na ginagawa. Parang karamihan ng ginagawa ko puro guestings lang, pero like regular show, wala talaga,” he looks back.
Wide-collared top with hand-painted and hand-embroidered Rank Magazine insignia, custom Kelvin Morales. Trousers, Cruz MNL. Mesh shirt (worn underneath), Proudrace. Shoes, Prada, subject’s own. Photographed by Jerick Sanchez.
Although the actor already possesses a headline-worthy name and an established fanbase, he still got to a point of questioning his place in the industry. In that same year, his name yet again flashes all over the headlines of news articles, but it was about him revealing his battle with depression to the public, and how it almost made him quit.
Things turned blurry for him, from his plans for his career in the years ahead to his dream of introducing Lolong to little kids out there. He had thought that perhaps the craft was not really for him, perhaps acting was not really his passion all along. The distorted lenses of young José Ezekiel seem to have suddenly come rushing back.
Rising through these halts brought by such a crisis takes massive courage not to give up. The two years of his life amidst the pandemic unearthed roads he wouldn’t expect to take. As he navigates through the waves of his career, he gets to meet sorts of its forms—from a tidal to one that wraps him calm. Madrid, then, reaches the shore.
Oversized suit and trousers, Cruz MNL. Photographed by Jerick Sanchez.
On the fourth of July, Lolong finally came to life. “Parang kailan lang dina-doubt ko sarili ko, feeling ko hindi ako deserving para dito. Pero this year, nagkaroon ako ng mga realizations sa life ko na mayro’n talagang perfect timing sa lahat ng bagay,” Madrid waxes almost philosophical, for a guy who is still barely 25.
“Sabi ko nga, sobrang worth it. Parang noong time na ‘yon sobrang nagmamadali ako na sana mapalabas na ‘tong show na ‘to or magawa ko na… Kung nangyari siya ng mga panahon na ‘yon, I don’t know kung magiging ganiyan siya ka-successful. But right now, I feel na parang nag-aalign ‘yung stars for me,” he adds.
The success his latest series has amassed glints to the passion he has for the craft, “This year, feeling ko nagbunga na lahat ng mga pinaghirapan ko last year. I’m just very grateful right now, [learning from things that] happened, parang tuloy-tuloy lahat ng blessings na natatanggap ko. I mean I’ve waited for that project since pre-pandemic pa ata, and finally nag-air na kami this year.”
Overcoat and trousers, Cruz MNL. Photographed by Jerick Sanchez.
With his name now a solid fixture on television and among the brightest from his mother network, GMA 7, appearing on both reality and primetime series—his wailing tenacity for his dreams displays clearly on the screens.
Indeed, the turmoil of a year that has passed is now eclipsed by his raging ardor for acting. Along with this is him learning that the path he chose to take is more complex than what he thought it was, with how it can’t be measured with the projects he gets or the money he earns.
“Parang bonus na lang sa’kin ‘yung pera, bonus na lang sa’kin na may mga taong nagmamahal sa’yo o nagpaparamdam sa’yo ng suporta. Lalo na ever since bata ako pangarap ko na maging action star, finally nagawa ko na siya dahil sa Lolong. So, ngayon, I’m just enjoying lahat ng ginagawa ko kahit sobrang nakakapagod ‘yung fight scenes or mga stunts na sobrang delikado,” the actor firmly declares.
His still persistent, loud avidity is as vivid as it gets when asked about projects he would love to try in the years to come. He doesn’t mind whatever genre it is, as long as it carves out the brim of his prowess. Madrid is firm, though, that he doesn’t wish to be bound to a singular identity, as he wants to put out more of him and his artistry.
“Gusto ko ‘yung nacha-challenge talaga ako lalong-lalo na sa trabaho ko, to the point na parang kahit sa sarili ko iisipin ko na ‘Kaya ko ba ‘to?’ Pero pipilitin kong kayanin ‘yun, kasi gano’n ko kamahal ‘yung trabaho ko,” he says with pride.
Photographed by Jerick Sanchez.
Despite all the successes already chained to his name, he remains the young José Ezekiel who once wished to be the person he has become now, with the magnitude of celebrity now attached to him and throngs of supporters eagerly waiting for his every move. For starters, it took him 30 minutes after his Rank Magazine shoot to leave the premises only to pleasantly allow tenants of the same building as location partner Studio LAJ to get a social media snap with him.
Throughout the entirety of his career, he had never let the buoyant feeling of fame get to him, as that would mean thrashing the trails from his pristine years when he first joined GMA Network’s Protégé: The Battle for the Big Artista Break in 2012 to his projects prior to Lolong.
For a child who once thought being an ‘artista’ is “suntok sa buwan”, as he used to see himself lacking talent in any aspect or not having enough attention-grabbing charm, it was never a struggle for Ruru to keep himself grounded, “Ang tagal kong pinangarap na makapasok sa industriya. Ang tagal kong pinangarap marating kung nasaan ako ngayon, and ayokong masayang ‘yun.”
“Tinitingnan ko lagi kung saan ako nagmula. I mean, hindi naman ako galing sa mayaman na pamilya, sobrang simple lang ng buhay ko noon. Pangarap ko lang makatulong sa pamilya ko, and now na nagagawa ko siya, ayoko nang hayaan na bumalik kami sa buhay namin dati lalong-lalo na pamilya ko,” he opens up.
Mesh shirt (worn underneath), Proudrace. Trousers, Cruz MNL. Top, Kelvin Morales. Photographed by Jerick Sanchez.
As ardent as any aspiring actor who is in pursuit of fulfilling their dreams, some would put on faces that aren’t theirs just to get in—eventually losing sight of the line between a script and reality. Although he bears multiple names for roles he had portrayed and will continue to portray in his bright foreseeable future, Madrid never had to identify who is who. Even at the clap of a film board, his unwavering zeal for his once “suntok sa buwan” ambitions never dimmed.
The actor doesn’t find the need to cloak himself; with that, he means to be unapologetically authentic and bare, “Hindi ako ‘yung tipo ng tao na once may camera diyan, mag-iiba ako. I don’t see the point na parang kailangan ko pang umarte, kasi ‘yun na ‘yung trabaho ko eh, aktor na ako. Bakit ko pa kailangang magpanggap sa tao kung sino ako? ‘What you see is what you get’ ‘yun ako eh. Even with my friends, sa mga taong nakapaligid sa’kin, sa mga taong nakakakilala sakin, ayokong ibahin ‘yun.”
Brewed throughout the decade of his career, his outlook towards the purpose of his artistry brought about dynamics to his viewpoint; from his passion being driven by his desire to see himself in the television at first, to pouring his best for his family, and now wishing to leave a mark and legacy. He may not have a full list of his fans in his head, but in their faces is the child who was once like him.
Photographed by Jerick Sanchez.
The people queuing for his events or shows may put on different sorts of hats, but there will always be something that connects them to him. With that, he wishes for them to grab firmly to their dreams the way that he did. Carrying a bag loaded with resilience and humility earned throughout his career, he now walks to the crowds with a thread that ties them to him.
“Five years from now, ten years from now, I want to be remembered. Kahit na wala na ‘ko sa mundo, gusto ko alam pa rin ng tao na si Ruru ganito or may nagawa ako, kumbaga kahit papaano may naiambag ako sa buhay ng mga tao,” he says, hopeful.
After a decade of quest for his rightful place in the industry, he finds none, but he is at his happiest at that. Madrid now views his craftsmanship from a lens already free from doubts. All he aims to do is push forth beyond his limits, and as long as there are projects to act on, he will continue to pursue his burning passion.
With additional text by Leo Balante
Produced, creative and fashion direction, and interview by LEO BALANTE
Photography by JERICK SANCHEZ
Grooming by VINCE LEENDON
Videography by ALEJANDRO TORRONTEGUI
Official location partner STUDIO LAJ
Cover layout by EMIL SANTIAGO
Fashion by CRUZ MANILA, EDWIN TAN, KELVIN MORALES, and PROUDRACE