FILM

Marco Gumabao knows you’re thirsty for him

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The rising star talks making “Just A Stranger” and being an online thirst trap. Photos by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — A few days before I’m set to interview actor and model Marco Gumabao for this story, I come across a video on Viva Entertainment’s content channel where Marco reads a set of crowdsourced thirst tweets. It’s now a by-the-numbers exercise in looping the Internet’s absurdity back on itself — the Internet is thirsty for Marco Gumabao to a point of madness; let’s see how Marco reacts to that.

Aside from one particularly explicit tweet, the entire thing was pretty tame. Still, I wondered how it felt to be at the center of that online attention. Being bombarded with thirst tweets and thirsty Instagram comments is an experience unique to this late 2010s hellscape and it’s well worth investigating what that’s like in the first person.

“It’s fine naman,” Marco says matter-of-factly, “because, first of all, it’s me who posts the photos where they comment. So when you post the photo, you have to expect people to comment those kinds of stuff. Wala, ako naman, I just take it lightly. There are some people who go overboard, mas extra bastos sila pero, wala... dinadaan ko na lang sa tawa.”

Photos by JL JAVIER

Instagram often feels like an environment where, while we’re dismantling traditional notions of physical attractiveness and growing increasingly accepting towards body diversity, someone could still feel immense scrutiny towards their own body. While seemingly unfazed, Marco does feel a degree of pressure to maintain a body he’s come to be known for. “Yeah, definitely, because they always expect you to have abs all the time and it’s the hardest to maintain, [but] I use it as motivation or fuel to do more or to do better.”

Marco has spent the last several years playing supporting roles in films from “She’s Dating The Gangster” to “Ulan,” as well as working in teleseryes such as “Forevermore” and “Los Bastardos.” For the first time in his career, he takes top billing across Anne Curtis in Jason Paul Laxamana’s “Just a Stranger.” Certainly, there was a lot of pressure on Marco but it was something he took on willingly. “It’s my first major role for a movie and it’s with Anne Curtis pa, ‘di ba? So lahat ng pressure nandoon, because I’m sure all the other artists na guys are saying na, ‘Why him? Dapat ako na lang.’ So I have to show them why I deserve to be in this spot,” Marco says. “It’s also the first time for me to play a May-December love affair, so everything was so exciting and everything was so new kaya parang, sino ba ako para tanggihan ito?”

“Just a Stranger” is a film with the visual palette of Mexican erotic dramas like “The Crime of Padre Amaro” or “Y Tu Mamá También” with little of the sizzle. Despite the problems with the script and characterization, Anne and Marco manage to hold their own, getting by with serious acting chops as well as palpable sex appeal. While Anne’s raw, heartbreaking performance as Mae is at the level we’ve come to expect from her, this is our first time really seeing Marco shine on screen. His turn as the charming but emotionally vulnerable Jericho makes a compelling case that Marco truly belongs in front of the camera.

“Before, when I started showbiz back in 2011, I was younger, I was still studying in high school so I wasn’t as invested compared to now,” he says. “It was only like two, three years ago when I told myself na I have to take this seriously. If I want to do this in the long run, I have to be mature now in terms of acting and in terms of my body.”

No doubt the film (and even this CNN Philippines Life photoshoot for which the styling brief was a denim jacket, a hat, some jewelry, and not much else) will account for another round of online thirst, feeding back into the endless loop of Internet fandom. Though it’s a game he plays well, it is worth noting how seriously Marco takes his craft. While a deeply imperfect film, “Just a Stranger” stands as proof of his ability to do more potent work. There’s so much more here than a thirst trap and it’ll be exciting to see what lies ahead for him as an actor in the years to come.

Photos by JL JAVIER

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Styled by DAVID MILAN
Hair and makeup by MAC IGARTA