Alden Richards: 'I Don't Want to Be Famous. Deep Down in My Heart, I Just Really Want to Be an Actor'
One of the most recognizable men in the country opens up about the trappings of fame.
More Photos: Esquire Ph ( September 2019)
The Alden Richards effect is real and immediate. When passersby turn their heads and notice who the camera lens is pointed at inside the Harley-Davidson showroom in Bonifacio Global City, the reaction is instantaneous.
“Uy si Alden o,” one male office worker with an ID attached to a lanyard around his neck tells his buddy walking beside him. He whips out his mobile phone and attempts to take a picture through the glass walls. Some women passing by also notice the spotlights and nudge each other. One looks unsure, but holds her phone up as well. Eventually, young men and women who don’t look like they’re old enough to be working at one of BGC’s high-rises congregate outside the venue. One of them lets out squeals of excitement every few minutes. Eventually, she also starts pounding on the glass walls with her fists, trying to catch the actor’s attention.
Richards acknowledges the group with a dimpled smile, sending them further into a frenzy.
It’s perhaps a mini version of what Richards has to contend with on a daily basis. The 27-year-old is one of the most famous men in the country, and, in recent weeks, his name has only gotten bigger, thanks to a little movie called Hello, Love, Goodbye. The Star Cinema production has already been pronounced as the highest-grossing Filipino movie of all time, earning close to P900 million after about a month in theaters. At this rate, it’s not a stretch to imagine that it would soon breach P1 billion.
“Sana,” Richards says. It’s his first project under the film group of ABS-CBN, which, of course, is the age-old rival of his home network of GMA. He says he was “very surprised” at the success of the film, a love story between millennial OFWs set mostly in Hong Kong. He gives props to his co-star, ABS-CBN talent Kathryn Bernardo, and their director, Cathy Garcia Molina, who is practically a household name if you’re a fan of the Star Cinema oeuvre of modern-day romantic films mostly featuring the studio’s stable of fresh-faced matinee idols. In effect, Richards downplays his own contributions to the movie’s remarkable run at the box office.
“I’d like to believe that it’s really the material,” says Richards, when asked about what he thinks made the movie so popular. “It was perfectly written. It was perfectly directed. Everything just came together: the characters, the conflicts, the relatable stories inside the movie that each and every person who’ll watch it can relate to.” He’s confident that every person who’s seen it will find something about their own lives staring back at them from the giant movie screen.
To be sure, the novelty of the Alden-Kathryn pairing must have contributed a significant percentage to ticket sales. Bernardo has another entry on the list of top-grossing films of all time, The Hows of Us, but that one was with her perennial screen partner Daniel Padilla (the other half of that entity most people refer to as KathNiel). Perhaps people were genuinely curious to find out if there was chemistry between the well-known Kapamilya actress and the staunchly Kapuso actor. Of course, with about 10 percent of the Filipino population living and working abroad, the storyline involving pretty-faced OFWs no doubt struck a nerve not only with the OFWs themselves, but their own families living with that experience back home.
Perhaps it’s all of that and more—that lightning-in-a-bottle confluence of personalities and situations that has reignited the Philippine box office currently floundering against the onslaught of Hollywood movies. Whatever it is, one thing’s for sure--Hello, Love, Goodbye undoubtedly pushed Richards’ star wattage from merely luminiscent to damn near approaching supernova levels.
Which is strange for Richards, considering he never planned to be this famous in the first place.
From Richard Faulkerson Jr. to Alden Richards
Showbusiness was never on the horizon for Richard Faulkerson Jr. The industry that values, nay, requires heaps of ego and self-confidence was alien for somebody who grew up with near zero-levels of self-esteem.
“I really didn’t like being in the spotlight,” he says. “I don’t like attention. I was very insecure.”
But the wide-eyed, fair-skinned kid clearly stood out among his classmates and contemporaries in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, where he grew up. He credits a high school adviser who first pushed him to join a popularity contest, which he initially declined because of said self-esteem issues. But the adviser was relentless and clearly had faith in him. And so he finally caved and joined the school pageant, Mr. and Ms. Intramurals.
“I said, ‘Sige na nga,” he says. “Para matapos na.”
Of course, he won.
After that, he entered two more such contests, one pitting residents of Sta. Rosa against each other, and another for the whole province of Laguna. He won those, too.
That’s when he started thinking to himself, hey, maybe there’s something to this being-in-spotlight thing. It was when the young, still-Richard-Faulkerson-Jr’s mother died in 2008 that he got into it in earnest. He started auditioning for commercials and TV networks, powering through the self-doubt and pushing the insecurities out of the way.
He remembers his first audition for a teleserye—one of the male leads for GMA Network’s Alakdana starring Louise delos Reyes. It was 2010 and he was all of 19 years old.
“I remember that I was late, he says. “I was the last person to arrive in that audition. It was in this studio in GMA na super lamig. I had to memorize the script in 10 minutes. I’d never memorized any script before.”
Apparently he did well enough that he got the part. Richard Faulkerson Jr. was on his way to becoming Alden Richards.
His story is well-known from that point on. Roles in various commercials, TV shows and films followed, plus a stab as a singer with albums produced under a recording contract with GMA. His steady appearances onscreen had the desired effect—he was becoming well-known. The trappings of fame hit: he was being stopped for pictures by fans screaming his name—Alden Richards.
“It was overwhelming at first,” he says. “My first months as Alden Richards, I had to get used to people calling me Alden. I’m really Richard. I’m RJ at home.”
Then, of course, AlDub happened. If he thought he was famous then, he was unprepared for the insanity of the nationwide obsession with his onscreen partnership with Eat Bulaga mainstay Maine Mendoza.
“I’ve been in the industry around nine years now,” he says. “I realized that, more than the popularity, the fortune coming from this job that I’m doing—it’s all meaningless without me being able to inspire people. I can honestly say that I’m not doing this for fame. I don’t want to be famous. Deep down in my heart, I just really wanted to be an actor. An actor who can help tell great stories through all the projects that I make. To inspire people. To inspire fans. That’s the real purpose of my job right now. Being onscreen, being on TV ads, being on billboards and magazines—all that comes as a bonus na lang. My higher calling is to really be an inspiration. More than anything else.”
The perks of fame
But fame does have its perks. For Richards, it’s the power and the privilege of being able to pick and choose the projects that he’d like to do. Most young upstarts in the entertainment field are advised to take what they can get in an industry that's notoriously fickle and unsympathetic. But after you reach a certain threshold, the circumstances flip. Suddenly, you’re inundated with offers and proposals and projects, from people, companies and brands eager to attach your name and your perceived clout to theirs.
We saw a glimpse of this when Richards topbilled a GMA docu-drama about Martial Law called Alaala in 2017. Back then we also noticed a burgeoning talent coming to his own as a serious actor.
Today, Richards says he appreciates being able to say yes or no to whatever’s handed to him, not just because it’s an unseen barometer of the level of influence and fame he’s achieved, but moreso because it gives him the chance to do work that actually means something to him. The people around him—his management team, and network bosses—often ask if he wants to do a specific project. And if the answer is no, they look for something else.
“Kasi angpangitnamanna, you accept a project or you do something, taposginawa mo lang kasikailangan mo siyanggawin. Ang ending, you’re giving just half of your heart to it. Hindi mo naibibigayyunglahat mo kasihindi mo siyagustonggawin. (You’re not able to give your all because you don’t really want to do it in the first place).”
Which is exactly what happened with his newest endeavor—a primetime TV series called The Gift, set to start airing this month. When network executives asked him what he wanted to do next, his answer was immediate—he wanted to go back to drama. His last teleserye was the fantasy series Victor Magtanggol, which was inspired by Norse mythology. This time, he plays a regular guy—a Divisoria kargador who loses his eyesight in an accident. The role sounds like a major challenge, which is why Richards says he took the time to learn about the struggles of blind people—both those who were sighted and eventually lost it either through an accident or sickness, or those who have been blind all their lives.
Ask Richards though who he’d most like to work with and he is quick to answer.
“John Lloyd Cruz. He’s a good friend. If he happens to come back at some point, I’d love to work with him.”
Cruz, who is on a self-imposed sabbatical from the entertainment industry, was one of the first people Richards says he contacted when he got the Star Cinema project. The older actor’s message to him was simple.
“He told me, ‘As long as you’re happy, you’re good.' And I said, ‘Pagbalik mo, sana we can work together.'”
The pressures of fame
To meet and talk to Alden Richards is to confirm what most other people who have had personal encounters with the young actor have said about him: that he’s levelheaded, extremely polite, and always ready with a reassuring smile. Clearly, fame—even the ridiculous, stratospheric, just-one-name-and-you-know level that only a handful of people will only ever experience in our lifetime—hasn’t gotten to his head.
But, like most human beings thrust into such extraordinary situations, Richards feels the pressures of being a wildly popular celebrity, and one held up on a pretty high pedestal. Celebrity may be its own reward, but in the young actor’s case, he is keenly aware of the responsibility of being looked upon as some sort of role model. This is perhaps one reason why, unlike many other actors of his generation, he has never been involved in anything remotely unsavory or salacious. While some people may think of him as too vanilla—milquetoast in a sea of hellraisers—his awareness of his influence is too great for him to squander it all by being the subject of the scandal du jour.
“You’re put in this position because people look up to you,” he says. “The things you do, you inspire them. You make them believe in things that are good in life. And yes, I do feel that pressure. You don’t want to disappoint these people who look up to you. The reason why I’m here is I need to help these people who need inspiration. Who need someone to hold on to. And I love that about my job. That’s why I keep going.”
It’s the second time Richards refers to what he does as a job. It might be inconsequential, but again, that hyper-awareness of treating his career just like any other profession seems increasingly rare in an industry filled with wannabes looking to fast-track their path to getting rich and famous. And as if to emphasize this point, he provides a sincere, if a bit unexpected answer when asked if a man like Alden Richards still gets worried about things.
“Of course,” he says. “The way I see life now, I really jump into uncertainties, but I’m scared also. I’m worried about that uncertainty. There are a lot of what-ifs. Hindi namannatinpwedesabihinna, sige talon ka lang. Bahala na. Of course, at the back of your mind, you always think about the what-ifs.
“Messing up is what worries me,” he adds. “If you don’t mess up, you don’t learn. So it’s okay. But don’t mess up big time.”
At this point, Alden Richards—actor, singer, host, entertainer, superstar—seems almost too good to be true. But the kind has to exist, right? For every nine entitled, hardheaded, talentless hacks trying to make it in showbusiness, there has to be that one person that’s just as good in person as he is on paper.
I ask him if there’s anything else he’s doing after this interview.
“Yeah, I’m going to go to see my grandma, she’s in the hospital. Since yesterday.”
All together now.
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