"You have to be conscious about yourself. Look at yourself, pause, and then evaluate. Nagbabago na ba ako because of the things that's happening to my life?"
For the longest time, Alden Richards had wanted to buff up, saying to himself, "Magpapa-abs ako, magpapaganda ng katawan."
But, always, he would end up frustrated, "Ang taba-taba naman."
Understand that even before he started going to the gym in the third quarter of 2017, Alden was already established as an A-list actor, TV host, recording artist, concert performer, product endorser, and restaurateur.
He has every reason to be concerned about his physique, notwithstanding his boyishly handsome face, dimples and all.
"Ang ginawa ko lang, sinikreto ko 'tapos tinrabaho ko po nang maigi," Alden told PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) and YES! magazine.
He was quite a sight when he turned up looking ripped and fit for PEP.ph Headliner photo shoot.
And after doing several layouts, including a few without his shirt on, even Alden himself was surprised.
"Eto na iyon, without knowing it... Nagulat po ako kanina sa results, e."
To reach his fitness goal, Alden committed himself to work out at the gym every morning before going to the noontime shows that he is part of: Eat Bulaga! from Monday to Saturday and Sunday PINASaya every Sunday.
Lately, the 26-year-old Kapuso star has also started preparing for his forthcoming action-drama series, Victor Magtanggol.
After work and other showbiz-related activities, he goes back to the gym if he still has the time and energy.
Alden works out for one to two hours, and tries out different exercise routines.
"May weights, calisthenics, body weight, high intensity," he said. "Nagkakasira-sira nga po iyong palad ko."
Aside from his regular gym workouts, he has been going through intermittent fasting that he began about a month and a half before our scheduled photo shoot and interview.
"Hindi kasi siya diet, e," he explained. "It's an eating pattern. It really works for me."
Alden follows the 16/8 Method, which finds him fasting for 16 hours and feasting for the remaining 8 hours.
During his feasting period, which lasts from 12 noon to 8 p.m., he eats anything he wants: meat, rice, fast food, and all other scrumptious cravings.
"Kita niyo kanina," he said, referring to the time the photo shoot wrapped up at around 6:45 p.m., "Dalawang platong spaghetti 'tapos apat na barbecue ang nakain ko."
According to him, at 8 o'clock in the evening, he stops eating: no edible reaches his mouth except water, black coffee or plain tea.
"Gumaling nga iyong hyperacidity ko,” he related. "Muscle spasms ko, nawala. I sleep better. I feel light, saka iyong body clock ko po is for the early birds na."
He flashed his trademark bedimpled smile when asked if he'll be showing off his now hunky physique in his projects.
"Siyempre po, nandito na, e," he replied.
He pointed out though that he was not aiming for an ideal weight but an ideal body, which he described as lean and muscular.
More than getting himself in the right shape, though, Alden has invested heavily in sharpening his acting skills to prepare himself for the challenging roles he'd like to tackle in the future.
Alden flew to the Big Apple to attend a one-on-one workshop with New York City-based acting teacher Anthony Bova of the Bova Actors Workshop (BAW).
Alden first studied under Bova in August 2017, when the acting teacher was invited by the GMA Artist Center to conduct a three-day workshop for some of its stars.
"The key aspect of the workshop is to know yourself," Alden said of BAW.
Its website describes the method as being heavily influenced by the Eric Morris System of acting.
"You have to know yourself na pinakamalalim, sa pinakamalalim.
"So kumuha po ako ng few sessions dito as a group, then, doon ko po nakita how effective Anthony Bova is in terms of teaching the craft, the method.
"E, umalis na po siya after a few weeks, so sabi ko baka puwede pong humingi ako ng one-on-one with him pagpunta namin sa New York since andon na rin ako."
Grinning, Alden answered in the affirmative when asked if the workshop had cost him a lot.
"Pero worth it," he added. "Iyong tipong hindi mo iisipin iyong binayad mo, then noong andon ako, iba yong one-on-one, e!
"Kaya iyon iyong isa sa pinaka-meaningful na U.S. trip ko."
The earnest student happily reported that he was able to fulfill the requirements of his exacting teacher.
"He was very impressed," Alden said about Bova's assessment of his performance.
"Pag ganon po kaganda ang result, parang gusto mong bumalik ulit, parang gusto mong tumeyk-two.
"Anthony Bova gave me another point of view in acting, in the craft.
"Parang akala ko noon, alam ko na lahat. Akala ko non alam ko na iyong keys to deliver certain roles.
"Pero attending his one-on-one workshop gave me another point of view."
Alden related that after the session, he treated Anthony to a dinner.
They were joined by Alden's GMA Artist Center handler Leysam Sanciangco and fellow actress Ana Feleo, who helped facilitate Bova's workshop for the Kapuso stars.
"Siyempre, feedback-feedback. And nakakatuwa, si Ate Ana kasi all-out siya sa lahat ng artista, sa lahat ng actors na involved don sa actors' workshop.
"Parang eto na po iyong isa sa mga best projects of GMA na binigay po sa amin.
"Parang we're learning so much.
"We're looking at being an actor in different perspectives po. Grabe, grabe iyong effect."
Alden has been so into Anthony Bova's method of teaching that he intends to fly back to New York and take up more acting classes.
Meantime, he continues his acting studies through Skype and looks forward to Bova's next visit to the Philippines for the showcase featuring students from the workshop organized by GMA Artist Center.
"Anthony makes us write," the actor said of the acting coach who had also taught at Tisch School of the Arts at the New York University (NYU), the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute, HB Studios, and the New York Film Academy.
"Pinagsusulat niya kami, parang short stories.
"So parang I finished a story, pinasa ko sa kanya, 'tapos may very good feedback siya... Hindi ko alam na I had that, don sa sinulat ko.
"May ganon akong feeling, realizations lagi na like a certain emotion was there na hindi ko alam.
"It's always about acknowledging the feelings, e. Acknowledge mo na you have this feeling para magagamit mo siya as tools."
Alden declined to share the stories he wrote for those exercises.
"Actually, personal," he pointed out. "Medyo malala po yong content... Confidential po.
"Kasi medyo may certain darkness ako na I never knew I could use to things, to write, to act."
Nevertheless, the widely popular and likeable Kapuso star opened up about that "certain darkness" in him.
"It's always been there," he acknowledged. "Alam ko naman. Sinu-supress ko lang, ilalabas ko lang pag kailangan ko.
"Kasi tayo as a human being, punung-puno tayo ng subpersonalities. Name it--the judge, the perfectionist, yong mabait, yong masamang ugali.
"Lahat tayo, meron niyan. But as we live every day, nato-tone [down] na iyan depende sa kaharap mong tao, depende sa environment.
"We wear masks every day. So parang iyon iyong tinuturo, na those personalities can be used to my work as an actor."
Alden cited the one acting challenge he wanted to sink his teeth into, something akin to what Scottish actor James McAvoy tackled in the 2016 film, Split, a kidnapper diagnosed with having multiple personalities.
"Ay, grabe iyon!" he exclaimed, "Kasi sabi ni Anthony, the audience will be at the edge of their seats if they see you, the actor, at the edge of your seat as you perform.
"So kapag may mga roles ka 'tapos sasabihin mo, 'Ay, kaya ko na ito, madali lang ito!'
"Walang growth don.
"Dapat when you do roles and projects, kailangan nandon iyong kaba... How are you gonna twist it?
"The director can only do so much, the writers can only do so much with what needs to be done for the role dahil 80 to 90 percent of the work comes from the actor.
"I love acting so much that's why I am willing to do whatever it takes to be a better actor," he said.
"I am sure the supporters, the real supporters, and fans will understand the gravity of whatever I am doing as an actor."
It's been seven years since Alden, who tried to join the 2009 edition of GMA's reality TV talent search StarStruck, launched his acting career via the 2011 Kapuso teledrama Alakdana.
Today, he's ready to step it up.
"There's so much to learn, so much to do," he said. "Hindi lang naman sa showbiz, but sa lahat ng trabaho, kailangan you always find a motivation to be better, always one step higher than what you were before."
Addressing his fans, he added: "Hindi naman dapat pabalik tayo lagi, so they will understand that."
The silver medal won by Alaala--a martial law docudrama produced by GMA News and Public Affairs in which he played the role of tortured writer Bonifacio Ilagan--at the 2018 New York Festivals TV and Film Awards last April has gotten the actor all pumped up.
He recalled accepting the award with GMA program manager Joy Madrigal at the awarding ceremony held in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.A., with much pride and honor.
"Ibang-iba iyong feeling na Filipinos get recognized internationally," he beamed. "It's something to be proud of po.
"And you tend to parang wanna do more, na you see the potential of Filipino craftsmanship in terms of telling stories, regardless kung news, entertainment, drama, na kaya natin to compete outside of our country."
"Yes, levelling tayo," he hastened to add about Philippine TV and movie productions being on a par with the world's best.
"We are capable of so much more than we could imagine. Siguro minsan lang hindi natin maiwasan iyong...
"Kasi ako na-experience ko personally noong mga first time kong nag-a-abroad, medyo nakakatakot na parang medyo dini-discriminate tayo ng ibang countries.
"Pero with our work, with the works na mga nare-recognize such as this, iyong New York Festivals, parang it gives us more confidence."
He then remembered telling the Alaala team: "Gawa po tayo ulit para we can have it compete to different festivals around the world.
"Iba po talaga iyong experience when I was there."
Alden also couldn't forget standing side-by-side with GMA news anchor and TV host Jessica Soho as they presented medals to other winners at the Asian Television Awards presentation in Singapore some two years ago.
"Hosting naman..." he said with a hint of pride that he was handpicked to host the event.
In 2015, Alden's career was catapulted to stratospheric heights with the birth of AlDub, the love team built around him and his Eat Bulaga! co-host Maine Mendoza.
But what he realizes and tries to practice is, it is best not to rest on your laurels.
"You look at success as a blessing," he now said in reflection. "But you just have to find a way to sustain success while doing good.
"Kasi sometimes medyo iba kasi iyong feeling pag andon ka, e. May mga certain tests. Mate-test ka diyan.
"You just have to be conscious about yourself. Look at yourself, pause, and then evaluate. Nagbabago na ba ako because of the things that's happening to my life?
"Kasi ako, I strongly believe that a failure comes too soon if the person decides to fail on himself. Ayaw na matuto, laid-back na lang. Parang since na-experience yong success, he or she thinks na eto na iyon. This is the point na kaya ko na lahat."
He continued, "That's the failure. Iyon na iyong start. So ako, I'm cautious for me not to be that kind of person."
Alden pointed out, though, that fear, for instance of reaching the end of success, is inevitable.
"Sabi nga, ang buhay, parang gulong lang iyan," he stated. "Minsan, nasa taas. Minsan, nasa baba. Basta work on yourself, be grateful for the blessings.
"I guess isa iyon sa mga magbibigay ng tao ng contentment if you learn how to count your blessings. Kasi minsan, when we experience perfection, we tend to make comparisons with certain things.
"Ako, like minsan, alam ng mga taong kasama ko iyan, kailangan ma-experience ko iyong dati kong ginagawa—kumakain sa karinderya."
He dispelled our incredulous reaction with an assuring smile, and announced: "Yes, kaya ko po."
He then recalled going into a small eatery somewhere in the Ilocos Region unmindful of swarming onlookers around him.
"Napakiusapan naman kasi," he said of those people, especially his fans, who let him enjoy his back-to-basics dining experience. "Puwede naman sila pakiusapan."
"Iba kasi iyong feeling na ako--since I became more aware of my emotions and memories--bumabalik sa akin iyong dati kong buhay, nagpa-flashback," Alden revealed.
"'Iyong baso mo, plastic. Kukuha ka sa water jug, yong mga small things like that."
He took his nostalgia trip farther.
"Babalik ka don sa simbahan na lagi mong pinupuntahan nong hindi ka pa artista, with friends, being with classmates," he said wistfully."Those things keep me grounded. Sarap sa pakiramdam na mare-realize mo, maa-appreciate mo lalo iyong buhay mo ngayon.
"You'd rather be thankful for the things you have rather than the things you don't have."
What would Alden, who seems to have everything except maybe a love life, considers his biggest heartbreak in the past seven years that he's been in showbiz?
"Hindi naman porket heartbreak means love," he pointed out. "Siguro pag merong mga certain things na you've worked hard and failed.
"Andon iyong heartbreak or it's your choice to move on from that heartbreak and learn from it. Dalawa lang iyon: stay or you go and move forward.
"Ako, I see to it to move forward. It's okay to be sad, it's okay to feel you've failed, acknowledge it.
"But if naaapektuhan ka na personally, umalis ka na don. Move on."
Is he moving forward to being a solo artist?
"Ngayon, parang di pa, e," he replied. "Kasi I always believe in the power of being in a group or a partnership.
"It's always best to do all the work or success na marami kang kasama."
Meaning, he's still in a love team?
The smile on his handsome face broadened with his famous dimples in full display and gave the same reaction to our earlier queries about Victor Mangtanggol.
"Sa presscon na lang," he said, referring to the expected launch of his new show.
Photographer: Mark Nicdao
Shoot Producers: Anna Pingol, Maria Irene Mislang
Grooming: Jay Herrera
Stylist: Melville Sy of Qurator Studio