Updated 11:40 AM PHT Wed, July 20, 2016
Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The conference room is abuzz with scattered chattering between road managers, makeup artists, and television producers. Beyond it, office workers — adult professionals — are in position, phones and cameras at the ready, eager for any glimpse of whoever it is causing the commotion and the noise. No noise is more distinct, however, than that of the theme music of Circus Charlie, an arcade game introduced in 1984. The music is the loopy kind that gets stuck in your head, and every few minutes or so, it is accompanied by the frustrated, giggly shrieks of the person playing the game.
The player happens to be the TV personality and actress Maine Mendoza, the cause of commotion in question, who only minutes ago downloaded Circus Charlie as an app on her phone and is now using it to pass the time while getting her makeup done. She laughs at herself and nearly jumps out of her chair every time she loses, and she taps her feet while humming along to the theme tune.
If she’s at all nervous about filming a guest appearance on CNN Philippines’s talk show “Real Talk” to promote her new movie, “Imagine You and Me,” and discuss the whirlwind year she’s had after becoming a Dubsmash lip-sync sensation and half of one of the country’s biggest romantic pairings, it doesn’t show.
“Alam niyo ba yung Harvest Moon?” she asks the room, referring to the farm simulation video game from the late 90s, and is appalled to be met with blank stares and negatives. “Seryoso? Buhay ko yun noon!” The game on her phone forgotten, she raves: “Promise, ‘pag binigay niyo sa ’kin yun ngayon, bye, showbiz. Yun na lang gagawin ko. Buhay ko yun, eh!”
She is interrupted by the opening of the conference room door, and in walks Alden Richards, her leading man in “Imagine You and Me” and the other half of the above-mentioned romantic pairing, affectionately dubbed — no pun intended — “AlDub” or “MaiDen.” He is asked to take a seat on the side of the room opposite Mendoza’s, and soon they’re preoccupied with their own separate engagements: She’s off to wardrobe and finishing touches, and he’s making videos for fans’ birthdays and signing requested autographs.
Richards is left-handed. When he is given a photo to sign — “Ito yung nag-present ka sa FAMAS,” says the woman who hands it to him — he quickly scribbles on it before jokingly making a light self-deprecatory comment on what he’d been wearing that night. When his duties are done, he spends the rest of his downtime in his corner of the room, not speaking unless spoken to. His dimples, however, never disappear from sight.
When Mendoza returns, she pops a mint from a small green tin she has taken from the survey of items on the table. “Sa ’kin yata yan,” her companion tells her. She quickly checks her bag, and indeed, she produces a mint tin identical to the one she has just picked up. She apologizes and, with a smile, waves the mints and declares, “We’re twinsies!”
She and Richards have yet to acknowledge each other. It’s almost like a visual summary of AlDub’s beginnings on the improvised show-within-a-show on “Eat Bulaga!” called “Kalyeserye,” where the two built their brand of kilig on stolen glances and missed chances. But when the time comes for them to make their way to the studio for the shoot, Richards finally approaches Mendoza, beckoning to her, as if to prove that they really are in this together. At the photographer’s request for a few last-minute portraits before they leave the room and are faced with what is shaping up to be chaos, they lean against the wall, poised for the shot. Mendoza is still on her gamer kick. “Wala ba talagang may alam ng Harvest Moon?”
They gamely follow directions and pose for the camera. When the photographer says to pretend to talk, they don’t pretend; they just do. At one point, told to keep some space between them, Richards instead puts his arm around Mendoza’s waist. In an abrupt move, he pulls her close. “Bawal ang space,” he quips. It would be easy to understand; unresolved romantic tension, whether real or imagined, must be tiring. They never used to touch, never even used to talk. Their early appearances became guessing games of “Will they or won’t they?” And it certainly worked — their audience swooned, and when they caught their breaths, they turned their fresh-faced idols into a national phenomenon, just like that.
When AlDub finally closed the literal and figurative gaps and the unresolved was resolved, the nonbelievers said that with the “magic” gone, they would begin to fade. They would stop being the flavor of the month. They were overexposed, and rising that high that quickly must be a fluke. One year, a blockbuster film, numerous endorsements and magazine covers, and a hit theme song performed by Richards later, and it looks like the nonbelievers have been proven wrong.
In a single file, Mendoza, Richards, and their entourage leave the conference room to go to the studio. As expected, their phone- and camera-toting fans greet them, content with their quick greetings and photographic proof that today hasn’t been an ordinary day at the office. One has to wonder whether Mendoza has drawn parallelisms between the game on her phone, in which she pretended to be a circus performer who triumphs to rousing applause, and her life.
“Kuya, pakipatay yung maingay sa labas!” a floor director says when the show first cuts to commercial. The crowd outside is restless, and so is the crew inside — phones are out, turned on silent, acting as bootleg recorders alongside the larger professional video cameras. “First time ko pong makarinig ng talk show na hindi sinisigaw yung title [‘pag magko-commercial break],” Richards jokes, alluding to the relatively subdued tone of “Real Talk.”
When the cameras roll, the people inside restrain their voices to excitable whispers while Richards expertly deflects questions about their relationship (“We have a mutual understanding,” he says, leaning in close) and Mendoza weighs in on what makes AlDub work. Later they gush over filming in Italy for “Imagine You and Me,” an opposites-attract romcom where Mendoza plays a hopeless-romantic OFW who believes in destiny and Richards plays a heartbroken medical student who has a decidedly more pragmatic perspective in life.
The shoot wraps, and the bootleg recorders immediately turn into weapons of mass selfie-taking. Mendoza and Richards gamely oblige, but they have prior engagements — people like them always do — and so it’s not long before they’ve disappeared through a hidden exit before their adoring public could catch one last glimpse.
Back in the conference room, while getting their pre-shoot portraits taken, Mendoza slumped dejectedly, having failed to find anyone who could share in her passion for Harvest Moon. She turned to Richards. “Ikaw, alam mo yung Harvest Moon?” she asked.
He was the only one to say yes — her eyes seemed to light up. “Talaga?” she exclaimed. “‘Di nga!”
“Oo nga!” Richards said, narrowing his eyes and biting back a smile as she slapped his arm repeatedly out of excitement. “Nilalaro namin yun ng kuya ko.”
Her quest for a kindred spirit put to a satisfying end, Mendoza returned to her bubbly demeanor. “Wow,” she said, in a tone that conveyed, Imagine that! “Meron pala kaming something in common.”
Maine Mendoza and Alden Richards’s guest appearance on “Real Talk” airs on CNN Philippines tomorrow, July 20, at 9:30 a.m. with a replay at 4 p.m.
ERRATUM: An earlier version of this article erroneously attributed the quote, “Sobrang genuine yung nakikita ng mga tao na love na love na love ko siya,” entirely to Maine Mendoza. Only the part, “Sobrang genuine yung nakikita ng mga tao,” was actually spoken by Mendoza, in response to the question, “What sets you apart from the other love teams?” A variation of the latter part, “na love na love mo talaga siya,” was an addition made by the “Real Talk” host Christine Jacob. CNN Philippines Life has revised the article to correct this error.