Around four years ago, JC Alcantara, the star of the much-talked-about online series Hello, Stranger, was in his hometown Nueva Ecija dreaming of becoming an actor.
As a child, he would watch his favorite TV shows, like the sketch comedy program Goin’ Bulilit, and pretend to be one of the kids in the cast. He would act out scenes in the home he shared with his father, a construction worker, mother, a housewife who sells rice, and his three other siblings. Little did he know that on the same year, he would bag a TV commercial gig that would change his life.
The third of four children, JC started to hone his acting chops in grade school in Bongabon, Nueva Ecija, where he was born and raised. The school performances and classroom presentations became a way for the young man to fuel the creative fire inside him. But making it on TV was a dream that seemed beyond reach for a probinsyano. It was difficult enough to keep him in school. In his freshman and sophomore year, JC lived with his uncle who spent for his studies because the family was down and out. He went back to Bongabon on his third year, and finished high school there.
It was during his mid-teens that he decided to give acting a shot. It was a long shot, but a shot worth taking. On his free time, he would take the bus from Nueva Ecija to Metro Manila to audition and attend casting calls. And then he got the TV commercial for a fast food chain. He was 16. After that, the projects kept coming, and this gave JC a chance to help out the family financially. “Dati ’yong TV namin, pinupukpok lang,” says the 20-year-old actor, referring to how they would resort to fixing the broken image in their TV set, instead of having it fixed professionally or buying a new one.
Unlike the confident, serious character he plays in Hello, Stranger, the guy we see in front of the screen in this Zoom interview call is shy, a little taciturn, and chuckles at himself quite often—especially when one mentions his newfound fame. “No’ng pagbigay sa akin ng talent fee, binili ko agad ng TV. Surprise ko. Umiiyak sila, ‘Bakit may TV sa bus?’ Nagba-bus lang ako pauwi dati. Sarap ng feeling.”
When the commercials started pouring in, JC was able to save enough money to build his family their own home in Nueva Ecija. “’Yong bahay kasi namin dati, pinagtagpi-tagping yero lang. Seventeen years old ako no’ng nagpagawa ako ng bahay. Sobrang tapang ko no’n. Wala namang kasiguraduhan na kikita pa ako.”
Up to this day, JC isn’t sure where he got the guts to push through with spending for their house—it must just be faith. And it’s probably the same kind of faith and guts that brought him to the role he is currently playing in Hello, Stranger.
Hello, Stranger is Black Sheep production’s first digital series. It falls under the BL (Boy Love) genre, which tackles romantic relationships between two men. In it, JC plays an A-student, Mico, who is forced to work with varsity jock Xavier (Tony Labrusca) on a project during the quarantine. The actors in the series act out their characters on the video-con and communications application Zoom.
JC, who is living alone in a rented apartment in Makati City, says they each shoot their parts in their respective homes, with the help of designers and their director. It’s a different experience, he reveals, but an exciting one.
When he auditioned for the role, he thought it was a teleserye, where he would be paired with Vivoree Esclito, whom he has worked with in the drama anthology Maalaala Mo Kaya. Before the audition, he made it to primetime TV through the hit drama series Halik (2018-2019). “Nagulat na lang ako, no’ng sinabi ng handler ko, ayan na JC, ha, BL series,” he says.
He had been offered two BL series before, he reveals, but at the time, he was not ready for it. As he was weighing his options, he sought the advice of his aunt, a lesbian. “Iniisip ko na na ang dami kong friends na part ng LGBTQIA+,” he says. “’Tsaka may direktor din na nagpush sa akin na gumawa ka ng ganitong role. Sabi niya, ‘Artist ako, e. Craft mo ’to. Para may panibago kang gawin.’ ’Tsaka kaya ko tinanggap din ’to para din sa LGBTQIA, para maging boses nila. Dala-dala mo ’yong bandera nila, and mapasaya mo sila sa ganitong role.”
He didn’t tell his family about his new project until the series premiered. “Sabi ko lang manood sila,” he says with a hearty laugh, shaking his head at the memory. “’Ayon, nagulat sila. Tumawag sila sa akin. ‘Uy…Si Tony pala ang ka-love-team mo dito?’ ‘Opo.’ Nagulat lang, pero support naman sila.”
The series has been the talk of the town since it premiered on June 24, and JC’s name has been popping up on social media more often these days. They point out his screen presence, his undeniable promise. He claims he doesn’t think much about the fame that comes with the job. In fact, in his free time, he’d rather focus on learning new things, like playing the ukulele. Or you will catch him playing Mobile Legends, or cooking hotdog and pancit canton. He loves the fact that he lives by himself. It keeps him focused.
“Gusto ko lang umarte,” he says when asked about his new status in life. “As long as wala naman akong inaapakang tao, o ginagawang mali. Good vibes lang. Ang iniisip ko lang basta may natatanggap akong trabaho.”
So far his job has allowed him to buy a new car in 2019, so he doesn’t have to ride the bus or commute anymore to and from work (pre-pandemic). He is also spending for his 13-year old sibling’s studies. But his top priority now is to save up enough funds to bring his whole family to Manila, and expand their rice business in the city.
“Masaya po ako sa nangyayari sa akin kasi hindi ko din naman to ine-expect,” he tells us. “Kumbaga, nandito na rin ako, ibigay ko na ang best ko.”
Hello, Stranger airs every Wednesday, 8:30 p.m., on Black Sheep’s Youtube channel and Facebook page, and on iWant app and Cinema One channel