Trying one’s luck in a foreign country has never been easy.

Leo Consul can attest to that as someone who went through a series of ordeals before becoming famous in Indonesia as a host, singer and actor.

Yet, as he looked back on his modest beginnings, he couldn’t help but feel emotional about the experiences that he had to go through as an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW).

In an exclusive virtual interview with The STAR from the set of Indonesia’s No. 1 soap opera Terpaksa Menikahi Tuan Muda (Forced Marriage), he shared some of his unforgettable moments when he was just starting out and how he managed to rise above difficulties.

Leo is currently managed by Cornerstone Entertainment, which has stepped up #CSGoesGlobal efforts to have its talents cast or showcased in international shows and productions.

Humble beginnings

Due to lack of opportunities in the Philippines, Leo moved to Indonesia in 2011 and started as an English and Math teacher in an international school.

“Pagdating ko dito, I had no money. Like literally P500 pesos. ‘How the hell am I gonna survive with this?’ Although I have my friends, siyempre may sari-sarili din silang problema,” he shared.

“I was looking for a job after college. Fresh graduate ako. Mailap ang opportunity. Walang trabaho, ang hirap maghanap ng trabaho sa Manila. Kayod dito, kayod duon. And then my friends, who are based here in Indonesia, are teaching in an international school. So sabi nila, they were looking for a teacher. Since I wasn’t doing anything in the Philippines, sabi ko, ‘Let’s give it a try,’” he continued.

He did the profession for at least six months to fulfill his mom’s dream for him to be a teacher.

Leo also recalled a job interview in which, “(I was) carrying my portfolio, my bag, and looking awesome. Tapos pagdating ko sa site, ‘yung school building, pinapatayo pa lang. They were just looking for teachers for next year.”

“I remember sa apartment namin, we didn’t have money. We didn’t have the money to pay the bills, the electricity and all those stuff. So every morning at 5 a.m. bababa kami sa gym just to wash our dishes. Maliligo kami sa gym kasi wala kaming tubig sa taas,” said Leo.

“Tapos ‘yung ultimong pagkain namin, isang hipon, sinigang na hipon, but you can barely see the hipon (in a bowl), it’s somewhere there. Natabunan na ng kangkong,” he furthered.

To continue, the 34-year-old star auditioned for a band and he was signed under Sony BMG Indonesia. He became a member of a boy band, however, due to visa issues, his career as a singer didn’t take off.

There was also a time when Leo was hosting Eat Bulaga! Indonesia in 2013, he swam through flood waters to get his passport.

He recounted, “I was on TV, it was afternoon, I was hosting, like you know the same energetic Leo. And then it rained really hard here in Indonesia to the point talaga na bumaha hanggang taas-taas. Pag-uwi ko, pagkakita ko ng bahay na tinitirhan ko, parang nasa boarding house lang ako nun. Wala pang bintana. Sobrang baha, as in ang taas na baha. Tapos sinisid ko yun just to get my passport. The only thing I saved was my passport. Habang sumusuong ako sa baha, people were looking at me, and they were like, artista yun ah.”

In these circumstances, Leo went on contemplating his fate. “I was doing my laundry kasi hindi ko kayang bayaran yung laundry ko noon. I was going from one place to another, sa mga Filipinos (living in Indonesia) na medyo malayo sa lugar ko, just to use their washing machines. Tapos dala-dala ko yung laundry ko sa bus.

“I was holding my laundry sa bus tapos I was very down. Sabi ko, ‘Anong ginagawa ko dito?’ I have my diploma, I graduated from a prestigious university (University of the Philippines Baguio), ‘What am I doing here?’ Tapos yung mga tao tinitingnan nila ako sa bus. You could hear them like, ‘Di ba host to ng show?’ Tapos ako, ‘Crap, I was holding my laundry.’”

Looking on the positive side, he realized that the people were already starting to notice him. “At least nag-iingay na pangalan ni Leo sa Indonesia and that’s working. Bahala sila kung anong isipin nila sa laundry ko or what.”

Those humble beginnings would remind Leo that “you have to start somewhere. Those were the difficult times but I managed to survive.”

Breadwinner, OFW mom

Being the breadwinner of the family, Leo had to put on hold his dreams to provide for the family. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism, minor in Broadcasting.

“If I would start like with the salary na hindi kayang sustentuhan yung pamilya ko, I would rather leave my dream behind first, like put it on hold. And look for some bigger opportunity para matulungan yung pamilya ko. They’re actually depending on me. Kailangan ko munang i-hold ng pansamantala as I go through,” said Leo but still hopes to write someday.

Likewise, he revealed how “challenging it was for him as a kid” when his mom had to go to Malaysia to work as a domestic helper. Leo was just two years old then and he was left with his stepfather in the province.

At first, “I wouldn’t understand bakit parang yung ibang mga kaibigan ko, they’re with their family, they’re very tight. And then ako, I was left with my father. Ako ‘yung naiwan na gumawa ng mga chores sa bahay. Andaming questions. Of course, as a kid, in a sense, ‘Bakit parang nangyayari sa’yo?’”

It only made sense to him now, “Noon, ako yung naiiwan sa kusina, nagluluto, and it became a hobby. After that, it became a passion. Fast forward, I released my cookbook here in Indonesia. And now it makes sense kung bakit ako yung naiwan sa bahay noon. Everything happens for a reason kumbaga,” explained Leo.

He also remembered what his mom said to him when he went to Malaysia to meet the employer of his mother, “Sabi niya, pinalaki ko yung anak nila instead of raising you. And she’s very, very regretful. Of course, I would understand because kailangan naming kumita. Kailangan ng pera para sustentuhan ang pamilya.”

‘Overwhelming, humbling experience’

Fast forward, he now stars in Indonesia’s No. 1 soap opera Terpaksa Menikahi Tuan Muda (Forced Marriage), which runs daily for two and a half hours.

“This is a love triangle (story). Ako yung private assistant/bestfriend ng mayaman na guy. He got married to this girl na hindi naman niya mahal. Kasi nakikita ko na he is not treating the girl right, so ako yung na-in love sa girl. The guy doesn’t know. That’s where the story revolves,” shared Leo.

“Nasa 64th episode na kami (as of this interview). Medyo nag-move on na ako. Another girl came in na pinartner sa akin, so apat na kami this time. I have my own love story. It’s based on a best-selling novel here in Indonesia. Maganda ang reception ng mga locals sa telerserye. We (would go) viral every now and then,” he added.

Forced Marriage is his third teleserye after Cinta Yang Tertukar (Switched at Birth) in 2016 and Love Story in 2020, which were both primetime, top-rated series. He has two movies coming up to be released by the end of this year and next year.

Prior to being an actor, he hosted variety shows, including Eat Bulaga! Indonesia and It’s Showtime Indonesia, and had his own talk show program.

“It’s overwhelming, at the same time, humbling. Kasi this is not my hometown. These are not my people. The fact that they appreciate me, it’s very overwhelming. I feel grateful na mabigyan ng pagkakataon to showcase my talent in a different country. Of course, they can just choose a local artist to do my part. But they choose me to do it,” he said of his unexpected success.

Pursuing career in Philippines

Before he moved to Indonesia, Leo used to audition in Philippine reality shows but didn’t get in. He was a former StarStruck Season 4 contestant. Jewel Mische, Aljur Abrenica, Kris Bernal and Mart Escudero emerged as the Ultimate Survivors in that batch.

But now, he plans to try his luck in Philippine showbiz after fulfilling commitments in Indonesia.

It was his parents who inspired him to pursue a career in the country. “My tatay is 74. He could barely see. Kapag pinapanood niya ako sa YouTube, sabi niya, ‘Anak, I hope one day, mapanood kita dito sa Pilipinas, entertaining our kababayan,” he shared.

“Minsan hindi na niya ako nakikilala. (He would say) ‘Naalala ko na anak ko sa probinsiya (Pangasinan), namumulot ng basura,’” shared Leo and promised that his father will see him on Philippine television one day.

The actors he looks up to are Lukman Sardi in Indonesia and Christopher de Leon and Piolo Pascual in the local entertainment industry.

He also recently dropped new singles such as No Puedo and Kamu.

Leo concluded the interview with some advice: to “dream big” and learn to adapt to different cultures. “May mga times talaga na you would feel down. Siguro mag thi-think twice ka, this is not for you. Pero if you put your mind and heart into it, if it’s for you, it’s gonna happen. Don’t stop. Maybe you can take a pause if you’re tired or exhausted, but don’t ever give up.”

“You have to learn na makisama sa ibang tao, lalo ibang culture ‘to, dapat marunong tayong makisama. Hindi sila ang makikisama sa atin, ako yung foreigner dito, so I have to adjust. Kahit saang industriya, kahit saang propesyon, It’s important na marunong tayong makisama,” he added.3

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