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Here's Why Maja Salvador Is and Will Always Be Her Own Boss

A breadwinner at 14, the actress opens up about working hard for what she has and what success now means to her a decade and a half later.

by Sofia de Aros | Dec 1, 2021

Now 33, Maja is deep into a vibrant career that has cemented her as one of the nation’s most popular and sought-after showbiz mainstays. And with her new management firm, she’s taken fresh talents under her wing. 

 

At the age of 14, Maja Salvador’s primary concern was her family’s electricity bill. “Ang problema niyo, magkano yung baon niyo at paano niyo pagkakasyahin yung baon niyo,” she says. “Ang problema ko na noon, pambayad ng kuryente namin.” Shortly after, she would go on to enter show biz and become her family’s breadwinner. She scored a supporting role in It Might Be You, a primetime drama that starred John Lloyd Cruz and Bea Alonzo. That was 18 years ago. Now 33, Maja is deep into a vibrant career that has cemented her as one of the nation’s most popular and sought-after show biz mainstays. Just ask any local entertainment lover to name 10 Filipina actresses off the top of their head. Chances are, Maja Salvador will make that list.

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Maja Salvador for Preview.ph December 2021

Knowing what she knows now, what would she have told her 14-year-old self? “Pag bumalik ako dun, wala akong babaguhin. Gusto ko yun eh. Gusto ko na na-experience ko yun. So baka ang sabihin ko lang sa 14-year-old Maja ay, ‘Ang galing mo. Dahil kinaya mo. Hindi ka nag-give up.' Kailangan kasi yun eh, para mabuo yung pagkatao mo. Yun yung magmo-mold sa katauhan mo.”

As we started the interview, she told me that I could ask any question I wanted to ask. “Kaya ko siyang i-handle,” she says.

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Brown suit, BARO LABEL; Rings, NAMI

Maja joined the call from Dolores, Quezon, where she was staying for her lock-in taping for Niña Niño, her first-ever teleserye for TV5. Lock-in taping, she said, felt like she was living in her very own Universal Studio: The cast and crew live for days at a time in quaint rented houses in the same area, all in manageable proximity to the set. As we spoke, she kept her camera off. Her voice was straightforward, completely free from dramatic inflections. Think of an ate figure you rely on to serve you no-nonsense truths—someone winning at life but isn’t precious nor cheesy about it, and shares piercing, practical pearls of wisdom without fuss, like they’re common sense.

Despite the numerous accolades she has under her belt—she most recently bagged the Best Actress award at the 2021 Asian Academy Creative Awards—Maja does not rely on her credentials, and is cautious about giving advice: “Mahirap magbigay ng advice kasi iba-iba tayo ng sitwasyon eh.” In fact, her ability to avoid resting on her past successes is incredible. Every project, she stressed, is a make-or-break. You can be trending now, but the future is never guaranteed. This is precisely why she gives each job her “1000 percent.”

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Black chain top, KIMIKIMI (@kimikimi.co); Leather Pants, REJINA PYO

“Every project, iniisip ko na audition ko yun,” she explains. “After nitong project ko, makakuha kaya ako ng next project pa? Hindi lahat nabibigyan ng magagandang opportunities. Kung mabigyan ka, talagang i-grab mo at ibigay mo yung best mo. Alagaan mo yun. Yun yung magandang attitude.”

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"Lagi kong sinasabi na sa industry natin, hindi pabilisan sumikat. Patagalan sa industriya." In her own personal manual, endurance is key.

The Dos

If you ever get the chance to meet Maja, know that she grants you full permission to call her by the names of the characters she’s played. I wrongly assumed she’d be iffy about this, and she was quick to correct me. "Happiness yun ah!” she exclaims. “Kasi naka-relate sila. Kaya ka nila tinatawag sa character name mo. Happiness ko yun kasi ibig sabihin love nila yung character na napapanood nila. Gusto ko yung nakikita nila yung character, hindi si Maja.”

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Such interactions would always pan out the same way. First, the fans would catch her attention by way of her character name—Trisha from One More Chance (2007) being a common one. But then, they’d shyly follow up with, “Miss Maja, pa-picture!” “Yun yung nakakatawa eh. Pag nag ‘Miss Maja’ na sila,” she laughs.

When asked what it feels like to be a household name, she paused. Over the course of our conversation, she made it clear that she didn’t have an appetite for glamour or clout for their own sake. “Ako kasi, hindi ko nafi-feel na star ako, na superstar ako, o kung ano mang star yan,” she clarifies. “Feeling ko yung pinaka mission ko in life is to entertain people. To give happiness and to inspire people. Last na yung pagiging famous. Kasi never mo naman masu-sustain yun eh. Pag yun at yun ang goal mo, feeling ko successful ka sa labas, pero deep inside you, may kulang.”

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She first realized she was famous when she was a teenager, having established herself as a dance prodigy. It was 2003 when she began performing on ASAP, where she eventually earned the titles “Dance Princess” and “The Queen of the Dance Floor”. Being on TV may be a reward in and of itself for some, but to her, it was chiefly a job she was grateful to have. “Ang showbiz sa'kin talaga noon [ay para] makaipon ako, para wala nang utang ang family ko. Work lang siya, hindi siya passion—wala pa akong ganun at that time.”

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Needless to say, she grew to love acting and went on to appear in 18 films and a multitude of reality shows, soaps, and specials. She even pursued music in 2014 and 2015, a stint that produced two platinum albums. Like many Filipina stars, she is an intimidatingly productive quadruple threat—a dancer, singer, actor, and entrepreneur rolled into one. Her current status is one of solid, shatterproof stardom, but her frame of reference is always practical and hinged on relentlessly tracking down an opportunity.

"Lagi kong sinasabi na sa industry natin, hindi pabilisan sumikat. Patagalan sa industriya."

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Neon Green Suit Set, MAISON SORIANO (@maison_soriano); Purple boots, Maja's own

Maja was born in 1988, and her parents separated when she was a baby. While her mother worked abroad, she lived with her mother’s siblings. Her showbiz earnings put her little brother through school, yet she herself did not graduate college. (She revealed that she still has plans to go back to school to learn business management: “Paano mag-run ng isang business, hindi yung puro bigay lang ng ideas.”) Her celebrity life, she confided, afforded her a monumental resource—access to even more work. Having a highly visible portfolio shaves down the word count of your here’s-why-I-deserve-this-job spiel. Given her tough upbringing, Maja is keenly aware of this.

Ako, siyempre, artista. So yung mga dreams ko, yung mga goals ko in life, ang dali lang makuha.” She contrasted the ease at which she snags opportunities with that of her non-celebrity brother, now 26, who she consoles and encourages, assuring him that his own success is soon to come. “Nafi-feel niya na yung pressure,” she notes.

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Yet even for a person of her caliber, it’s not always smooth-sailing. In 2020, the game-changing ABS-CBN shutdown forced Maja to shift course. She left Star Magic, her home base for 16 years, to be a freelance artist. Shortly after, she acted upon a random idea she and her boyfriend Rambo Nuñez had been floating around during the lockdown: Starting their very own management firm.

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Niloloko ako ng co-actors ko before: 'Ikaw nalang manager namin!’,” she shares. So they went ahead with it, and launched Crown Artist Management on March 17, 2021. The agency is now run by Maja, Mikki Gonzalez, one of ABS-CBN's regional department heads, and Rambo, (“Bo”, as Maja likes to call him). At the time of our interview, they had 16 talents in their roster. Her main aim? “Para maka-help din sa mga taong nawalan ng trabaho. So yun naman yung pinaka goal namin, ang makatulong.”

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The Don’ts

So, given her proactive work ethic, is there anything she’ll say no to? Yes, she tells me—horror projects. This may come as a surprise, given that screamfests have a special place in her career. (Her first film was the critically-acclaimed Sukob (2006), which starred the likes of Kris Aquino, Wendell Ramos, and Claudine Barretto. Maja shared that she officially signed off the genre after taping the Diablo episode of Shake, Rattle, and Roll 11 (2009), arguably one of the most genuinely terrifying segments of the entire film series. In it, she played Claire, a young woman who gets possessed by the devil. Maja did the whole rodeo: She wore gnarly prosthetics, i.e. horns, blackened sharp teeth, and a warped, doughy monster face; she convulsed, growled, and had to eerily cram her mouth with human hair.

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“That was all me,” she says, not a body double. With nonchalance, she recounted bizarre things she experienced as a result of participating in a mysterious chant for the role. “Di ko naman alam yung meaning ng chant, pero kailangan mong sabihin from your soul,” she recalls. She began waking up regularly at 3 a.m., and would hear whispers in her ear. “Eh, sa totoo lang, takutin akong tao. So after nun, sabi ko, ayoko na ng horror muna. Masyado ko ring in-embrace yung character ko dun,” she says, sounding unfazed.

"Basta ako, never talaga ako pumapatol. Sayang sa oras, sayang sa energy. Dapat alam mo lang kung kanino mo ibibigay yung magandang energy mo.”


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Demons, both literal and figurative, have no space in her life. As is expected of someone with nearly 10 million followers on Instagram and 1.46 million subscribers on YouTube, she’s come across her share of bashers. However, she is so completely immune to the bashing that, when I asked what people would bash her about, she found she couldn’t even recall the target of all their hate—she was so far removed from the noise. “Wala talaga, hindi sila mananalo,” she says. “As in super dedma ako. Anong mangyayari? Magpapadala ako?”

“If ever man, if idamay yung family ko, baka doon ako sasagot,” she laughs. “Depende pa rin if worth bang reply-an. Basta ako, never talaga ako pumapatol. Sayang sa oras, sayang sa energy. Dapat alam mo lang kung kanino mo ibibigay yung magandang energy mo.”

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The Future To-Do List

When asked about her future plans, her excitement spiked: “Andami pa! Ang bata ko pa eh.” Her main goal is to be a mother and raise a family; she promised herself that she would give her future children an upbringing different from her own. She’s also thinking of checking out cooking lessons, inspired by the likes of Judy Ann Santos, who pursued a culinary course and now has a cooking channel on YouTube. And, in addition to running Crown Artist Management, the talent agency she's founded herself, she also wants to launch her own brand. What kind of brand? “Secret!” she giggles. “Basta, marami pang gagawin si Maja. Hindi ako magsa-stop. Di porket may sarili na akong management, yun na yun. Kung ano yung pwede ko pang maisip. Marami pa ang nakalatag. Isa-isa siya namin ila-launch.”

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She also plans to stick to vlogging, despite how difficult it’s proven to be. Contrary to popular belief, being a vlogger is leagues trickier than being an actor, she argues. With acting, you have a set, a script, and a director to lead you. When you’re a YouTuber, however, you need to work from a place of raw instinct, fueled by high-octane energy and talkativeness. “Gusto ko na mag-give up mag-vlog,” she jokes. "Ay, hirap na hirap ako.” But she sticks it out as a “gift” to her fans—she worries less about the views, and does it to provide them with regular updates on her “unglamorous, real life.”

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Black blazer, BARO LABEL; Black bodysuit, Stylist's own; Gold earrings, NAMI; Beige Croc-print boots, PARIS TEXAS

But while Maja has embraced YouTube as a platform, she won’t be buying into the TikTok craze any time soon. “Hindi ko na kaya yung sobrang sasabayan ko yung mga bagets ngayon,” she says. “Di porket trending, sasabayan mo. Kung kaya mong makasabay, go. Pero wag mo ring ipipilit.”

Maja’s sincere, unpretentious commitment to the grind preempts all the pressure others put on her. Her logic: If she already challenges herself on all fronts, taking the initiative to scope the terrain of what she can and can’t do, there will be no room left for self-doubt brought on by external demand. “Ako, naniniwala ako na always challenge yourself. Dahil pag pini-pressure ka ng ibang tao, tapos ka na dun kasi ikaw mismo, chinallege mo yung sarili mo.”

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Kasi even ako, hindi ko rin natakasan yung anxiety last year, nung nag-start yung lockdown,” she says, after being asked about the expectation to be resiliently productive amid the global pandemic. “Pagdadaanan mo lahat. Gagapang ka sa hirap.” But it does get better, especially if you manifest realistic goals and supplement your wishful thinking with concrete action. “Wala namang mabibilis na results eh,” she offers. The climb shines brightest in hindsight.

After nearly two decades in the business, Maja still manages to break new ground. Her latest project is the upcoming film Arisaka (available on Netflix on December 9), a cop thriller directed by Mikhail Red, which is an action-packed tonal shift from her role as the titular Niña in the TV5 teleserye. She's not afraid to take on feisty characters in the same way that she doesn't hesitate to let her goals branch out. Maja's story proves that longevity depends on whether or not you multiply your targets. Instead of arranging your life in service of a singular objective, why not dart from bullseye to bullseye? Why shoot a lone long-distance arrow when you can broaden your property line and build a legacy house on it? 

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maja salvador preview.ph cover story december 2021

Given everything she's doing now—with her talent agency, her continuous stream of new projects, her brewing businesses—there's no doubt that the 14-year-old Maja would be proud: "Biglang magugulat ako. Parang, uy! Naisip ko lang ‘to dati ah, nung bata ako. Ngayon nagawa ko na siya.”

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Produced by Nicole Arcano

Photographed by Renzo Navarro

Art Direction by Eugene David

Beauty Direction by Nicole Arcano

Makeup by Denise Ochoa

Hair by Jay Wee

Styled by Cath Sobrevega 

Assisted by Jem Arboleda and Melaika Varca

Words by Sofia De Aros

Special thanks to Aren Santos of AdSet Production and Crown Artist Management Inc.

*All shoot attendees were tested and were negative of COVID-19 at the time of the production. Safety protocols and social distancing were implemented during the photo shoot.

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