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Cebuano actor talks about achieving Hollywood dream

IT HAS been a great year for Asian actors—from the star-studded cast of the blockbuster film, “Crazy Rich Asians” to Kris Wu’s bigger-than-minor character in Luc Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.” Now, a Cebuano actor has emerged, joining talents on the rise in the global entertainment industry.

An actor, producer, writer, and doctor, Mark Labella has appeared in shows such as “Chicago Fire” and “Chicago PD.” His latest is a guest starring role in a just-released episode for “NCIS Los Angeles.”

“For me, it’s all about being able to wear your heart on your sleeve. I know I am not exactly what they’d consider the classic good-looking however for me it’s all about giving your heart to every performance. My
director once told me that it’s important to know the pain and sympathize with the pain of your character,” he said.

Labella, in an online interview, shared his enthusiasm as well as set expectations of a promising Hollywood career ahead.

“I love writing and as an Asian male it’s kind of hard and roles are tough and limited. When ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ came out, it was such a breakthrough. I did an audition for the character of Nico Santos. Right at this moment, to be able to write a lot about characters is something that I am a lot excited about,” he said.

Relatively new to professional acting, Labella started in theater, independent projects, and musicals. He booked his first SAG (Screen Actors Guild)-principal role on his second audition in Marcus Noble’s “Everyone Must Die.”

Labella, who grew in San Diego, California, said his passion for acting began at a young age. He took on a lead role in a school musical at age seven.

His parents, who are in the medical field, did not encourage such a career. So, he served in the military as a Hospital Corpsman for five years and used his G.I. Bill to finish his education at Cebu Doctors University with degrees in Bachelor of Science in Medical Technology and Medical Doctorate.

After med-school graduation, he moved to Chicago to attend Kaplan University’s USMLE Prep Program.

It was in Chicago that Labella rekindled his passion for acting.

Asked what comes closer to his heart between acting or writing, the Cebuano actor said, “For now it has to be acting because it is paying me well but I like doing both. If I could have it my way I would act on those that I wrote. My motivation is pure creative drive. I remember when I was saving lives there in Cebu City Medical Center I did love that part of helping others. This acting and writing thing is also an extension of me and I cannot just simply brush it off, I have to write and act. “

Labella is bent on making a mark in his upcoming acting performance.

“I never had any acting experience and the very next thing I did after ‘Chicago Fire’ I remember I auditioned for the Screen Actors Guild After Project. It was the very second audition of my life and I got lucky because I got cast. I said to myself that I’ll just do this and will have all of the fun doing it who knows acting might love me because I have this knack for jumping into other people’s skin.”
Labella also made sure to elaborate on his Cebuano roots while talking about the trajectory he wants to pursue in the acting industry.

“I noticed that I have two parts of myself, one is to serve others and one is to push for that creative self that I need to fulfill. These two sides of me have always been innate and I cannot seem to run away from it so why not embrace it,” he said.

“Here’s the thing, in the Philippines when I was still young, me and my friends would do this little acting pieces. Back then my parents were working here in the US and while I was growing up, I was nine years old I would always imagine myself being on TV. It was later on in my life when I knew that my grandfather was one of the pioneering filmmakers in Cebu way back in the days so everything has come full circle, I guess,” he added.

Aware that everything is not served on a silver platter, the actor recounted the challenges one goes through in order to chase that Hollywood dream.

“If you’ve seen that audition scene in (the movie) ‘La La Land,’ it’s exactly like that where the casting director is chewing a gum, or on the phone and some they don’t really care about your auditions. You just have to mentally prepare that you know what, you are here and you are willing to take any kind of curveball that comes your way,” he said.

”It’s very different in here because unlike there in the Philippines everything is served wherever studio you come from. Here, you have to audition. You’ve got to really memorize your lines and once you have those lines one hundred percent down to pat you can then put some essences on those characters. And from there it would be easy for you to jump into those skin. You have to know that character and breathe in the air of that character because you will never be the same person once you go inside that audition.”

Like most dreamers aspiring for Hollywood success, Labella said he wishes to work with the big names in the industry.

“Of course who doesn’t want to work with (‘Crazy Rich Asians’ director) Jon M. Chu? Right now, I know that there’s a part two (for ‘Crazy Rich Asians’) in development though it’s not officially greenlit yet here in Hollywood. I think that he’s the one person I want to work with right now. Also to be honest, I do love

TV because with TV you get to live in that person’s skin for a lot longer. And also I really like
superhero movies. Right now, I like Marvel. And also I like horror movies, I think they’re fun.”
Has he put being a doctor aside for now?

“I watch a lot of TV and movies and I know it’s kind of weird but on the side, I do still read my medical books just to remember a number of those that I used to know,” he said.

In the meantime, he looks forward to visiting Cebu next year.

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