|Actor Coco Martin answers questions from the media during the press conference of Max's Restaurant on Tuesday. Photo by Nimfa Chua for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA, Philippines - Before becoming one of the country's biggest stars, Coco Martin worked as a waiter in a homegrown restaurant chain.
Debunking notions by many that being a waiter does not require a lot of thinking and hard work, Martin stressed that it was his job at Max's restaurant that helped bring him to where he is today.
"Minsan, uuwi ako ng bahay, 'di ko na makayang maligo or maglinis ng katawan. Minsan, 'di ko na nahuhubad ang uniform ko dahil sa sobrang pagod," the prized actor said of his experience in the service industry.
"Kung baga ang waiter ay hindi siya madaling trabaho. Madali lang tignan pero kapag tinrabaho mo siya, 'yung maghapon kang nagbubuhat ng mabigat," he added.
The 'calling card' moment
It was in Max's where Martin was first tapped to try show business. In 1999, while on duty, he was spotted by an assistant of Johnny Manahan, an executive of ABS-CBN's talent management arm Star Magic.
His first test? To smile.
"Noong time na nagtatrabaho ako sa Max's, one time mayroon akong kinukunan ng order. Isang pamilya. Sabi ng lalaki, 'smile ka nga.' Natawa naman ako, bakit ako pinapa-smile, unang-una lalaki pa siya," said Martin, who was puzzled over the idea of a straight man wanting to see his pearly whites.
"Natawa ako at maya-maya nag-take ako ng order, pumasok sa kitchen, at binigay ko na 'yung order. Maya-maya, noong sine-serve ko na 'yung order, binigyan ako ng calling card. Sinabi niya, 'assistant director ako from ABS-CBN, assistant ako ni Johnny Manahan.' Si Rene dela Cruz, AD ni Mr. Johnny Manahan.
"Tapos sabi niya, 'mamayang gabi kapag interesado kang mag-artista, tawagan mo ako.' So kinuha ko na 'yung card, pumunta ako sa kitchen. Sabi ko sa mga kaibigan ko, 'oy, may nagbigay sa akin ng calling card, taga ABS-CBN.' Sabi sa akin, 'bakit hindi mo tawagan?'"
The moment he got home, Martin, who was a working student at the time, called the number on the calling card. He was asked to go to ABS-CBN the next day.
"Kahit nahihiya ako, tinawagan ko 'yung nasa calling card. Sabi ko 'ako po 'yung binigyan niyo ng calling card sa restaurant.' Sabi niya, 'kung willing ka, pumunta ka bukas sa harap ng ABS-CBN.' So kinabukasan, pumunta ako sa ABS-CBN tapos pinakilala niya ako kay Johnny Manahan. Tapos sabi niya (Manahan), 'sige, pag-audition-in mo," he shared.
Even if he did not know how to sing or dance, Martin still tried his best, saying that he will do everything to earn extra money for himself and his grandmother, who was paying for his education.
"That time, wala pa akong talent, hindi ako marunong sumayaw at kumanta. Akala ko naman noong kinukuha na ako ay pasok na ako at magiging artista na ako, paga-audition-in pa pala ako. Eh di pumila ako, nag-audition ako. Pinakanta ako, kanta ako kahit 'di ako marunong kumanta. Pinasayaw ko, sayaw ako. Ako kasi basta babayaran ako, bakit hindi? Basta alam kong pagkakakitaan, go lang ako.
"Edi ginawa ko, kung matatanggap ako o hindi, okay lang, at least sinubukan ko. Tapos ilang audition 'yun, nakalusot ako nang nakalusot, hindi ko in-expect na mapipili ako ni Mr. M. Hanggang sa pumili na siya ng 10, nakapasok pa rin ako."
Change in priorities
Martin's success at the ABS-CBN auditions came at the expense of his performance as a waiter. His absence at work while trying his luck as an actor eventually got him fired -- something that he is not proud of.
The Kapamilya star also shared that his grades suffered because he neglected his studies.
"Habang nagwo-workshop na kami, hindi ako nakapasok sa school at sa trabaho ko kasi Monday to Saturday ang workshop kasi malapit na kaming i-launch [as Star Magic talents]. Tapos siyempre babagsak na ako sa school, 'di na ako nakakapasok sa work, natanggal ako sa Max's. Hindi na ako nakakapasok ng ilang days," he said.
It was during this time that Martin's grandmother interfered and advised him to finish his studies first before venturing into showbiz.
"Sabi ko sa lola ko, 'La, mag-aartista ba ako o mag-aaral ako?' Sabi ng lola ko, 'tapusin mo muna ang pag-aaral mo kasi kapag nakahawak ka na ng pera, tatamarin ka nang mag-aral. Tapusin mo ang pag-aaral mo at pagkatapos noon, gawin mo kung ano ang gusto mong gawin sa buhay mo.'"
And that is exactly what Martin did.
With no job as a waiter to return to, Martin focused all of his energies to studying. He was not launched as a Star Magic talent.
His hard work paid off. After graduating from college, Martin again tried his luck in show business, and had several television appearances.
But it was when he ventured into indie films that Martin really began to shine as an actor.
And the rest is history. He starred in several hit TV shows on ABS-CBN, from "Tayong Dalawa" and "Minsan Lang Kita Iibigin" to "Walang Hanggan", which brought him to leading man status.
Currently, Martin is gearing up for his newest project, a titular role in the upcoming ABS-CBN superhero series "Juan dela Cruz".
While he enjoys his work as an actor, Martin stressed that he is doing this primarily to help his grandmother.
"Ako kasi bilang tao, practical ako, kung saan may trabaho at kung saan ako kikita, at kahit paano ay makatulong kasi lola ko lang ang nagpaaral sa akin. Siyempre, nahihiya naman ako na puro siya ang nagbibigay sa akin," he said.
Return to roots
With several acting awards and top-rating shows under his belt, it is safe to say that Martin is one of the Philippines' most prominent showbiz personalities.
And in a surprising twist, Martin finds his way back to Max's, where all of this began. Not as a waiter, but as a celebrity endorser.
"Sa pag-aartista ko ay naging bahagi ang Max's kasi nagkaroon ng opening. At saka nagkaroon ako ng awareness, 'yung nakikita mo na ganito pala ang pagdadaanan ko. Sabi ko nga, hindi ka naman darating sa dulo kung wala kang maraming sangang pagdadaanan. Kung baga sa Max's, isa kang sanga kung bakit ako namulat o nagkaroon ng interest sa pagpasok ko sa mundong ito sa showbiz," he said.
And now that he is finally endorsing a restaurant, Martin said he is also planning to put up his own food business. Again, he has his family's future in mind.
"Ang trabaho ko bilang artista, tatanda ako at baka balang araw hindi na ako bibigyan ng chance ng tao," he admitted. "Siyempre, iisipin ko nandito ako para sa pamilya ko at sa future ko, so bakit hindi na lang ako pumasok sa business? Dahil sa HRM graduate ako, gusto kong pumasok sa negosyo na alam ko. At siyempre, ang unang-unang maiisip ko ay restaurant."
With his earnings and connections, Martin can easily put up a posh restaurant. But the actor remains grounded and prefers to reach out to the masses through a simple hole-in-the-wall joint.
"Ako kahit lugawan o paresan, okay na ako. Kasi ayaw kong magtayo ng isang malaking negosyo na napakaganda pero wala namang kumakain. Much better sa akin na mayroon akong gotohan o mamihan na punung-puno ng driver o ordinaryong tao. Para sa akin, napakasarap na pakiramdam 'yon," he ended.