Young stars in the Philippines take many different paths. Some go abroad to pursue a new life. As a rising star in her early 20’s, Jaja Bolivar left her budding entertainment career to begin an adventure in the United States of America. “It was my first time leaving the Philippines,” she said in a recent interview. “I ran into trouble getting my visa, but luckily, some of the clerks at the Consulate recognized me from TV. So I got stamped: Six months. Single entry. Maximum stupidity!”
When she was growing up in the Philippines, first in Manila and then Naga City, Jaja emerged as a natural performer. At her Catholic high school, she was class president and class clown, delighting her classmates with impersonations of the teachers and the nuns. She got her first taste of the stage when she played Gigi in her school’s production of Miss Saigon.
Jaja attended the University of the Philippines–Diliman where she graduated cum laude with a B.A. in Broadcast Communication. While in college, she became very active in SAMASKOM, a prominent performing arts organization and a breeding ground for some of the country’s shining talents, such as Renee Hampshire, Jaja’s best friend, who impersonated President Gloria Arroyo as the beloved character Ate Glow.
Jaja appeared in television shows while in college, but she didn’t launch her career until she graduated. She quickly landed roles in national ad campaigns. “I did ads for a pizza chain… baby diapers… a dishwashing soap. Haha. It was absurd, but to me, I was balling.” She earned a regular spot on ABS-CBN’s Wazzup Wazzup, a popular political comedy show. Jaja created various characters, including Wander K, a nocturnal superheroine who interviewed petty criminals coming and going from local jails. Her most celebrated character, Kikiam Defensor, was a caricature of the revered political matriarch, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago. Kikiam was the headline reporter on Wazzup Wazzup, interviewing the nation’s biggest newsmakers, including then sitting President Gloria Arroyo, disgraced former president Joseph Estrada, world champion boxer Manny Pacquiao, and even Senator Defensor-Santiago, herself. “It was another unforgettable scene that I never could have expected. As we were warming up for the interview, she asked me what I had for breakfast. In character, I cited one of her famous quotes by replying, ‘Actually, I had death threats for breakfast!’ Later she told the press that she was not amused. This worried me, but I still thought it was funny.”
Jaja’s career expanded to recurring roles in drama and comedy on other television networks as well as mainstream and independent films. Before moving to the US, she was represented by well-known Filipino host and agent, Boy Abunda. “One day, when we happened to be in the same studio, I crashed his dressing room and told him, ‘Tara, usap tayo!’ (Come, let’s talk!), the tag line from his TV show. It worked!”
Despite her growing success and popularity, Jaja felt pulled by two irresistible forces that kababayans know well: love and America. “I moved to the US to reunite with my then boyfriend. I followed my heart.” In California, a new door opened. The globally broadcast cable show Adobo Nation premiered on The Filipino Channel and Jaja became one of the show’s original hosts. She interviewed a wide range of Filipino-American artists and celebrities.
While attending the Coachella Music Festival, Jaja was featured in an H&M promo and also met her future husband. After getting married, she appeared before one of the world’s largest audiences in a Budweiser Super Bowl commercial. “It was my first audition in L.A. I couldn’t believe it! Another ridiculous moment in my unscripted life. I make sure to appreciate these things when they happen.”
Jaja is now a proud member of the Screen Actors Guild, living in New York City with her husband (an American filmmaker) and two dogs. She travels the world as a flight attendant for a major airline while pursuing her acting career. She recently turned her talents and experience toward creating a new YouTube channel called The Brachiator (break-ee-ay-ter). The Brachiator is a lively and poignant exploration of the meaning of America around the world, including within her adopted home country. Episodes have already been shot in London, New Orleans, Tokyo, and the Philippines.
Jaja reminisces about her beginnings in the Philippines. “I miss my colleagues. We had so much fun hamming it up, like when we were en route to our location shoot every morning. Strangely, I also have to say I miss the spacious bathroom on one of the top floors of the ABS-CBN building where I would go to briefly get away from it all. I treasured those little moments of serenity amid the chaos of the industry and the madness of Manila.”
Watch The Brachiator and SUBSCRIBE at:
Learn more about Jaja at: