Mark Rivera gets big break in 'Unbreak My Heart'

Leah C. Salterio

Posted at Jun 03 2023 09:59 AM

Mark Rivera is part of the cast of 'Unbreak My Heart.' Handout
Mark Rivera is part of the cast of 'Unbreak My Heart.' Handout

MANILA -- In 2004, Piolo Pascual and Claudine Barretto were paired in Olive Lamasan’s blockbuster drama, “Milan,” filmed in the Italian city.

Unknown to many, however, the love story of “Milan” started with the actual couple, Jay Rivera and Helen Laylo, whose complicated romantic affair was dramatized on the big screen.

At that time, the couple’s son, Mark Daniel Rivera, was only seven years old. “In the film, the entire story was shot only in Italy,” Rivera told ABS-CBN News. “But the actual story happened in real life in Japan, Saudi Arabia and Italy.

“My dad was interviewed in the movie. The life of a Filipino TNT [tago-ng-tago] in Europe was documented. He was played by Piolo in ‘Milan’.”

Rivera has been here in the Philippines since 2012, when he turned 15. “I still return to Italy because my parents are still there,” he said. “When it’s my vacation there, July-August, I would visit the Philippines.”

In 2013, Rivera played football for the Azkals under-21 team. “I started football since I was six years old,” he said. 

At that time, Rivera also started doing TV commercials, from Jollibee to Gatorade, Smart, and TV Plus. “I got injured in football, so after six months, I had to rest,” Rivera shared. 

After two years, he stopped getting offers, so he tried exploring show business. Surprisingly, not one in his family was a product of showbiz.

“My parents were so surprised when I tried showbiz,” Rivera admitted. “I never thought to become an actor. But they were happy and they supported me. Initially, they were not sold to the idea that I move here to the Philippines."

In 2015, Rivera made his TV acting debut in the daytime series, “Be My Lady,” with Erich Gonzales and Daniel Matsunaga, in a role close to his heart. He formed a love triangle with Yves Flores and Loisa Andalio

“They were looking for a varsity football player,” he shared. “I got the role and I got lucky because I know how to play football. Bagay sa akin ang role. Very challenging because of the language.”

The series proved to be a real challenge for Rivera. At that time, he was still not yet fluent in speaking Tagalog. “Acting-wise, it was totally different from commercials,” he said.

That same year, Rivera subsequently got a role in an Australian TV series, “Jack Irish, Season 3,” where he played a young Filipino surgeon. He auditioned and got the role. 

Rivera, who is turning 26 this October, is in the Philippines for good. He lives alone in Sta. Rosa, Laguna with a maid and a beagle named Kiwi.

He is part of the landmark production, “Unbreak My Heart,” the recently premiered teleserye with Jodi Sta. Maria, Richard Yap, Joshua Garcia, Sunshine Cruz, Eula Valdez and Laurice Guillen in lead roles, produced by GMA 7, ABS-CBN and Viu.

Rivera plays Jacob, a Filipino trying to find love in Europe with his wife, Queenie (Dione Monsanto). “It was really random how I ended up being part of ‘Unbreak My Heart’,” Rivera said.

“I was having a vacation in Italy, visiting my family in Milan. I haven’t seen them for four years. Sir Deo [Dreamscape] and PJ Endrinal, they asked if I could stay longer in Europe.

“Then they asked me if I could be part of their project in Europe. I said, ‘Why not? It’s a dream to work in my hometown and at the same time, I could visit my family.’

“I didn’t think twice. It was a no-brainer for me. I guess I was just at the right place at the right time.”

Rivera gave his nod without any idea how big the project was. “I realized this series is so immense,” he said about “Unbreak My Heart,” directed by Manny Palo and Dolly Dulu.

“The project is really huge. I didn’t realize about that. I didn’t expect it to be really big. We shot in Lucerne, Switzerland and also in Milan, Italy during winter season last February.

“It was challenging for the entire staff to work. Zero degrees and we were out shooting. Along the way, we met Rose [Jodi], who is looking for her daughter in the story.”

He admired how Sta. Maria immersed herself into her character. “I was observing just her preparations for the series, wala pa siya sa set, ibang-iba talaga,” Rivera said. “She isolated. She was in character right away, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., she was Rose. 

“Hindi siya bumibitaw. Sobrang hirap. Sobrang effort. Sobrang respect ko sa craft niya. The work that Jodi gives is so admirable."

After watching the pilot episode of “Unbreak My Heart,” Rivera cried when he saw his name on the credits, realizing he is part of the big cast.

“It was like a dream for me,” he realized. “Until now, I am still emotional. It was really surreal for me. I feel proud and thankful for this opportunity. This biggest collaboration of the networks.”

Rivera, who is now managed by Arnold Vegafria’s ALV Talent Circuit, also recently signed up with Universal Records and is slated to release his debut album third or last quarter of this year.

“I’m happy that I will be able to express myself in music, not just in acting,” Rivera said. “The agreement with Universal Records, I’m going to start writing my own songs and they will guide me to find my niche. I’m trying to pursue OPM pop.

“I’m super thankful because the team of Universal Records is very talented. This is another opportunity for me to grow not just as an actor but also as an artist.”

Rivera is also part of the cast of “I Love Mati,” his first big break as a lead actor, where he will be paired opposite Shaira Diaz and will also star Enzo Pineda. 

Rivera is part of the cast of two other films to be shot within the year.