Maja Salvador running after her dreams
- Vanessa Balbuena () - September 8, 2011 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines - If Maja Salvador earlier expressed disappointment that all her hard work was being overshadowed by malicious side shows, we can just imagine how that Matteo-Coco brawl is making her feel right now. But going by the trailer of her first indie movie Thelma which puts her on the titular role for the first time, even a juicy episode involving heartthrobs punching one another over her surely won’t eclipse Maja’s acting brilliance.

While her director Paul Soriano can be accused of bias for heaping praises on his main star, not many would likely argue that Maja is one of the gifted young actresses around.

"She surpassed all my expectations. I call her the Next Best Actress, if not the best already. I’m so happy that she put her faith and her name in this project," were just some of his platitudes towards this morena of the illustrious Salvador showbiz clan.

Later on, he would be heard adding this during their film’s press conference at the Crown Regency Hotel in Mactan, "I believe every great actor, whether you’re just starting or already a legend, should make the audience forget who they are. When one watches the movie and believes in the character so much, when the actor becomes the character, I think that’s the mark of what great acting is. And Maja did just that."

More than about running

Inspired by stories compiled by director Paul of professional and recreational runners he interviewed, Thelma is about an unwanted child who goes into track and field to redeem herself. Thelma’s mother was in the middle of a possible athletic running career when she came along and now favors her much smarter younger sister, while her father wanted a son who could help in the farm fields.

The defining moment that sets in motion Thelma’s desire to succeed is when she and her sister meet a car accident. The sister is practically crippled, and an expensive operation is her only hope to walk again.

A screenplay collaboration by Rino Que, Froilan Medina and director Paul, the film is in the vein of sports-themed drama films such as Children of Heaven, Million Dollar Baby and Remember The Titans. Its support cast include Tetchie Agbayani, John Arcilla, Eliza Pineda, Jason Abalos and Sue Prado.

More than about running, it’s a story of how one chases after a dream, no matter how hard it is. Director Paul, who made his debut film A Journey Home in 2009, said he wants to inspire viewers to work on their goals amid mounting odds.

"I want to tell everyone, especially the youth, you all have the right to dream. Libre ang mangarap. But while we all can dream and set goals, don’t stop there. You have to work hard, train and discipline yourself so you can make your dreams come true. That’s what Thelma did. Her dream was to use her talent for running to give her family a better life," he stressed.

Owning it

While polishing the fifth draft of the script, the first name that came to director Paul’s mind to portray Thelma was Maja’s. They had worked together in a commercial and some ABS-CBN projects before.

The director believes the role of a mischievous, tomboyish yet determined aspiring sprinter was meant for Maja even before he put ink on paper. Upon meeting with the actress to discuss the project, he was surprised to learn that her mom’s name is Thelma and that they hail from Aparri which is just two hours away from their film location of Ilocos. And to further seal the deal, Maja knew how to speak in Ilocano, which the character required. This saved time and money as Maja no longer had to be coached in the dialect.

Maja related this was a much different acting challenge, physically and emotionally. Now that the film is being exhibited, she shared feeling inexplicably tense. "But as my director and producers have been telling me, I have to own it. I gave everything so that people will see Thelma and not Maja in this movie, so that viewers can feel everything my character went through," she said.

The 22-year-old revealed that she not only shares Thelma’s "pasaway and makulit" traits, she will also similarly do anything for family.

‘When the legs fail, use your heart’

To help train Maja for her running scenes, Philippine Track and Field champion and once-hailed Asia’s Fastest Woman Elma Muros-Posadas, served as their consultant and also played a special role as Thelma’s running coach. Together with Elma’s husband Coach Jojo, they polished Maja into perfect running form for six straight weeks.

This did not come easy as Maja was also taping for the recently-concluded Minsan Lang Kitang Iibigin and had ASAP Rocks every Sunday. But these didn't stop Maja from attending to her daily regimen on the oval tracks.

Maja, who was never sporty but is now into badminton and boxing as a form of exercise, shared, "Hindi lang basta-basta na training ang ginawa ko. They trained me the same way they trained real runners. Even my director trained, hindi niya ako pinapabayaan. Pati siya nakikitakbo sa amin. So while we’re shooting, maganda na yung form ko, hindi yung inaarte ko lang ang pagiging runner ko."

There were constant leg cramps, muscle spasms and a one-time trip to the hospital when she fainted in exhaustion during a shoot. Yet even with the physical demands, Maja was grateful for the experience, especially the life lessons she took away from Coach Elma’s stories.

"I asked her how she started out and how the lives of runners are. Napagdaanan nila yung tumatakbo na walang sapatos, nakayapak lang talaga. These promising athletes from the provinces are recruited and brought to Manila. Syempre mga bata pa, so they get confused whether it’s the right decision to leave their families behind o magbakasakali sa Manila. When we started shooting, ang dami ng baon ni Thelma. Hindi na ako si Maja. The Thelma character was already complete and ready after my training."

She adds, "She always tells me during training when I’m already exhausted, ‘Huwag mong iisipin na pagod ka. Sabihin mo sa puso mo na kaya mo kahit sabihin ng utak mo na hindi mo na kaya. Kasi yang puso mo, 'yan ang magdadala sa 'yo sa tagumpay. Kung pakikinggan mo ang puso mo at hindi ka susuko agad, maaabot mo ang mga pangarap mo.’"

Crossing fingers

When asked if she expected to reap accolades for her performance, Maja wasn’t shy to admit that she is wishing for it. "Pinagdadasal ko po 'yun since I don’t have a Best Actress award yet. I hope that for Thelma, if not me, that my director or the film itself will win an award."

Thelma will be part of the Cultural and Literacy Program of the 31st Hawaii International Film Festival (HIFF) which will run from October 13 to 23. The said program, according to the HIFF website "provides free theater screenings of outstanding films that are rarely available in Hawaii." The website stated that director Paul will attend a post-film screening question and answer session.

Produced by Time Horizon Pictures in cooperation with Abracadabra Productions and released by Star Cinema, Thelma is now showing in theaters nationwide.

A JOURNEY HOME ABRACADABRA PRODUCTIONS BEST ACTRESS CHILDREN OF HEAVEN DIRECTOR FILM MAJA THELMA
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