Marvin Jay Cuyugan—better known in the world of showbiz as Marvin Agustin—is the youngest of three children of Danilo and Teresa Cuyugan. Danilo worked as a lineman for the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT), while Teresa was a stay-at-home mom. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Marvin was forced to become the head of the house at a very young age, although he was the bunso.
"Nagkaproblema,"he explains. He does not go into specifics, but the problem involved his dad: "Wala siya no'ng growing-up years ko. Naging maloko siya no'ng mga panahon na 'yon. Alam kong mahal niya kami, mahal niya ako, pero 'yong time long... Kaya medyo awkward kami no'ng lumaki na ako. Kasi, parang hindi ko siya nakasama. He wasn't really there for 'yong support at advice."
Danilo Cuyugan's absence is explained in news reports. According to the Manila Bulletin (June 24, 2006), he spent 11 years in prison "because of a drug-related offense." On June 5, 2006, he was one of 57 inmates who received executive clemency from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
As a result of his father's imprisonment, Marvin became "Daddy Jay," as his mother and two sisters called him. But everyone in the family had to work and contribute financially.
"My mom was forced to sell a lot of things like tocino, longganisa, and I would help her out," Marvin says. "To help the family. To put food on the table."
At 16, he set out to find real work. His first employer, the Tia Maria bar-restaurant, was initially hesitant to hire him as a waiter because of his age. Although he could be legally employed, he was not yet of legal age to serve alcoholic beverages to customers.
"Pero sobrang pursigido ako na kailangan kong magtrabaho. I needed to help my family. So, 'yun, I was given the chance, basta magpe-present lang ako ng parental consent, mga ganoon."
Marvin became Tia Maria's youngest regular employee, and because he showed potential to become something more, it promoted him to the marketing team. Marvin says the bar-restaurant even planned to sponsor his college education, so that he could take up hotel and restaurant management. But fate had other plans for the teenager.
In 1996, Tia Maria had a promotional activity in the ABS-CBN compound. There, Marvin was spotted by the network's talent management arm, Talent Center (now called Star Magic).
"I never believed that I have the looks of a celebrity," Marvin muses. "Wala namang background ang pamilya ko na into acting or into arts. Zero talaga. Kaya never talagang sumagi sa isip ko na mag-aartista ako."
Marvin was introduced in 1996 in the ABS-CBN television series Gimik, where he was first paired with actress Jolina Magdangal. Their love team turned out to be very successful. He went on to star in such critically acclaimed movies as Tanging Yaman and Dekada '70, and in such popular Kapamilya television shows as Sa Sandaling Kailangan Mo Ako and Whattamen.
DADDY JAY. On August 15, 2005, Daddy Jay became a real dad. His girlfriend at that time, Tet Dy, gave birth in California, U.S.A., to twin boys who were named Sebastian and Santiago. For Marvin, who was with Tet at the time she gave birth, being a parent in the U.S. wasn't easy. "Walang yaya," he recalls. "Parang after a while, hindi ko ma-enjoy 'yong mga anak ko, e. Nagiging trabaho. Papalitan mo ng diapers—lahat, dalawa."
Since Tet had delivered the babies by cesarean section, she was not strong enough to care for the twins. The bulk of the babysitting chores fell on Marvin. Being a first-time father—and to two babies, at that—he was often at his wit's end. A certain incident made him realize that he couldn't do the job alone.
"Nandito sila sa kilikili fco,"he says, demonstrating how he held the babies, one in each of his arms, while they were in bed. "Sa sobrang antok ko, naunahan ko pa silang matulog! E, delikado 'yon. Malay mo, malikot akong matulog, madaganan ko sila. After two weeks, sabi ko, 'Forget it!' Kumuha ako ng yaya kahit mahal talaga. Nag-enjoy na ako, nagkaro'n ng quality 'yong pagiging tatay ko. Hindi 'yong para akong yoyo ng mga anak ko. At least, 'yong yaya, tinutulungan ako."
Back then, Marvin reveals, he had a hard time telling the identical twins apart.
"Sometimes there would be mornings na magkamukhang-magkamukha sila, and it would be really hard to identify them. Dati, meron silang parang red na mark dito sa cheek, so iyon 'yong palatandaan ko. After noon, nag-fade. Kinabahan ako. Baka isa long 'yong pinakakain ko, di ba? Hahaha! Yong isa, payatot. Yong isa, ang taba-taba. Yong isa, ligo nang ligo. Yong isa pala, hindi."
To solve his problem, Marvin devised an ingenious method to differentiate one child from the other: he used a pen marker.
"Una dati, sa paa,"he says, chuckling. "Sabi ko, baka may makakita, baka sabihin tinatarantado ko 'yong mga anak ko. Hahaha! Tsaka pag sina-swaddle ko sila ng lampin, aba, hindi ko na malaman. So, ginawa ko ngayon, sa likod ng tenga."
During that time, Marvin was seriously thinking of relocating to the U.S. permanently because of the kids, and because good projects weren't coming as often as he wanted.
"Ayoko nang bumalik dati. I considered it. Kaya sa Amerika ko nga sila gustong ipanganak, para 'yong mundo nila would be bigger. Options nila, choices nila sa buhay, mas malaki. Gusto nila mag-aral sa Amerika, gusto nila magtrabaho sa Amerika, gusto nila sa Europa—anywhere they'd like to study, madali for them. Parang gusto ko 'yong quality ng buhay do'n. Mahirap kung sa mahirap, kasi you'll start from scratch. Pero I was only 26 then noong lumabas sina Santiago and Sebastian. So mahabang-mahabang panahon pa. So, sabi ko, willing ako."
But Mariole Alberto of Talent Center (now Star Magic) came up with an offer Marvin couldn't refuse—the lead role in Kutob, a horror flick to be produced by Star Cinema for the 2005 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF).
"Pinadala 'yong script sa States," he says. "Please daw i-consider ko. When I read the script, sabi ko, 'Sige po, gagawin ko.' Bumalik ako no'n."
The role won two best-actor awards for Marvin—from the MMFF and the Film Academy of the Philippines, which gives out the Luna Awards—as well as a best-actor nomination from the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS).
COMEBACK KID. Though it seemed that things would be going well again for his career because of his wins, Marvin decided to leave ABS-CBN.
"Na-discourage ako, kasi maraming mga bagay na hindi natuloy sa ABS-CBN," he discloses. "'Buti na lang, an offer came from GMA-7— 'yong I Luv NY. Doon ulit actually nagkaroon ng fire 'yong passion ko, 'yong career ko."
With his transfer to the Kapuso network, Marvin got his showbiz career back on track. At the same time, he embarked on a new career—as a restaurateur. It was a profession he had always dreamed of getting into.
"Goal ko dati, magkaroon ng restaurant. So, noong naging artista ako, nagkaroon ng opportunity. Nagkaroon ako ng capital pampatayo. Pinag-aralan ko 'yong negosyo, on how to build... Hindi na just to manage. But, you know, to build."
His first venture in the food business came with his endorsement of Mister Donut in 2001. As part of his deal to promote the product, he asked for a franchise of the doughnut chain. He opened two branches, one in Fairview, Quezon City, and another in the Makati business district. The business went well for a couple of years until competition made it less lucrative. He eventually closed down his two Mister Donut branches.
Marvin also invested in Ricecapades, a chain of food carts offering affordable rice toppings, and Oyster Boy, a restaurant which he co-owns with Dennis Gan.
But the budding restaurateur wanted to do more than invest. He wanted to create.
"After opening Oyster Boy, sabi ko, why don't I get into the kitchen? Kasi 'yong partner ko sa Oyster Boy, he is into operations naman talaga. Magaling siya mag-set-up pero hindi siya talaga sa kitchen."
To learn more about the kitchen, Marvin enrolled in a certificate course at the International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management (ISCAHM) in 2005.
"After that, nagkaroon ako ng urge to open my own concept," he says. "And that's when Ricky came in."
Ricky is Ricardo Laudico, his friend. Marvin and Ricky presented their business ideas to Raymund Magdaluyo, who already owned a chain of restaurants—Crustacean, Red Crab, and Heaven and Eggs.
"Ricky's the one handling the operations," Marvin says. "Raymund is actually our guru. Siya 'yong talagang nasa restaurant business dati pa, e. Sobrang grateful kami dahil si Raymund, he didn't just mentor us, nag-partner pa siya sa amin. Nagtiwala siya sa passion naming dalawa ni Ricky."
In December 2005, Marvin, along with business partners Raymund and Ricky, opened Sumo Sam, a Japanese-American fusion restaurant, at the Shangri-La mall. The three now have a company with the same name as their first restaurant—Sumo Sam Incorporated. Aside from the Sumo
Sam restaurant, which already has three branches, the company has opened several other restos—Cafe Ten Titas, John and Yoko, Marciano's, and Mr. Kurosawa, which has two branches. That's a total of eight restaurants!
Despite the recent global economic crisis, Marvin says business has never been better.
"Mas lumakas pa at dumadami,"he points out. "Iyong ultimate goal is to open international—United States, Singapore, or Hong Kong. Wherever! Basta gusto namin madala 'yong bandera natin. Meron kaming mga 30 to 40 percent na mga customers na foreigners—Americans and Europeans. And they are so amazed with how we execute and how the Filipinos evolved in culinary. Kung paano tayo ka-playful and yet hindi nawawala 'yong core, 'yong sarap ngpagkain."
In order to tap the international market, Marvin and his partners often go on food tours around the world to research new trends and tastes in the restaurant business. He lists Danny Meyer as his idol. Danny is the restaurateur who owns the New York dining hot spots Union Square Cafe, Tabla, and Eleven Madison Park—Marvin's favorite restos in the Big Apple.
"We have a team of chefs na nagbe-brainstorm. Walang tigil 'yan. We bring them to Japan, we bring them to Singapore, we bring them to Europe, we bring them to the United States...
"We love to travel. And that's one thing kaya kami nagbukas ng restaurant. This is our way of sharing our exposures, experiences namin in terms of culinary, in terms of design, in terms of service, what we experienced. We want to share it through the restaurant in terms of food, service, ambiance, 'yan...
"Hindi namin tinitipid when we talk about quality, when we benchmark. Hindi talaga kami nagtitipid. We want to give the best quality to our customers, to the Filipinos."
Marvin believes that his success in showbiz and the food business can be attributed not only to hard work but also to Divine Providence.
"I'm really blessed with the people that I encountered. Maraming klaseng tao sa mundo, e. Mabait 'yong iba, pero iba 'yong direction. 'Buti na lang 'yong mga kaibigan ko, mabait, and to the direction I also like.
"Doon ako sobrang nagpapasalamat sa Diyos, kasi binibigyan niya lagi ako ng mga key people. Like kunyari nga sa acting no'n, when I was still in ABS-CBN, Enrico Santos [business unit head], siya 'yong nag-manage sa 'kin. And I'm so grateful siya 'yong nag-direct sa akin. Tinuruan ako from scratch. Tapos, sa mga restaurants, ayan sila Ricky, sila Raymond, sila Dennis—dumating sa buhay ko."
GOING FOR THE GOLD. Apart from being dad, actor, and businessman, Marvin now has another title to his belt: archer. He says he was introduced to archery by fellow Kapuso star and athlete Richard Gomez.
"Ka-partner ko siya sa badminton dati. Grabe din ako mag-training doon. Pag napasok ako sa isang bagay, lahat pag-aaralan ko. Sabi sa 'kin ni Goma, 'Sayang naman ang determination mo. Why don't you get into a sport napuwede kang mag-compete internationally? Why don't you try archery? Wala masyadong height requirement, age requirement, length ng training. Maging serious ka lang, a year of training, you could go places.'"
Marvin has only been seriously training for the past six months (at the time of this YES! interview), but he has already competed internationally.
"Tuwang-tuwa 'yong coach sa akin, kasi nakapag-compete na ako sa Bangkok, nakapag-compete na ako for Asian Archery Grand Prix. So ayun, I guess kung sincere ka talaga with what you really like, mas mapapalibutan ka ng mga taong tutulong sa iyo."
Marvin is now training with the Philippine archery team—under the tutelage of Coach Choi Won Tae, a Korean Olympic medalist archer—for the upcoming South East Asian Games. Hopefully, Marvin says, the experience will help him qualify for the 2012 Olympics.
The actor says he couldn't be thankful enough for the many good things that have happened in his life.
"I'm more than happy with the blessings. Yong happiness kasi, hindi nabibili, and I'm glad I have joy and happiness. Family, friends, career, everything! Kahitpapa'no, hindi hirap with some things. I could still get to do roles na 'yong gusto ko talaga. Hindi 'yong para long magkaroon ng trabaho.
"I need to act, e. I need to work. Now, I want to work na. I want to work because I enjoy it. I want to work because this is my passion. I act because I love to act, not because I want to earn money."
Marvin has revived his career, established himself as an entrepreneur, excelled in archery, rekindled his relationship with his father, and secured a future for his two kids—over whom he shares joint custody with his former girlfriend. All these he achieved at the age of 30.
But he is still aiming high. When we ask him in what field he sees himself excelling in the next couple of years, he refuses to choose one.
"Billionaire na Olympian, hahaha!" he replies. "Kaya 'yan nang sabay. Kaya sabay, I tell you."
With this guy, nothing seems impossible.