For Lifestyle.INQ’s June 2023 cover story, Madeleine Humphries details her journey of rediscovery, why she moved to Los Angeles, and the importance of trusting your intuition
For Madeleine Humphries, moving to Los Angeles was never about becoming Hollywood’s next big star.
“I believe that everything happens for a reason,” she tells me, leaning back against a window. It’s covered by old, black cartolina, but small gaps in between allow a bit of light come through. “The fact that I was able to prolong my career, to start at 12 and still be able to start from scratch at this point in my life is pretty beautiful.”
As I interview her, we position ourselves criss-cross applesauce on two granite countertops inside a conference room kitchenette. Just for today, it is our studio. We hear the flurry of the production team packing up just a few steps away. It was the quietest spot we could find.
Two hours prior, Madeleine “Madz” Humphries arrived on set wearing a delicate green dress with capped sleeves that slightly draped off her shoulders. She had just gotten back from a spontaneous beach trip, sporting a freshly cut bob.
When I introduce myself, I fumble a little bit. “Hi Ca–”,.
“Madeleine! Hi Madeleine!” I say hurriedly to escape the slight embarrassment. “So nice to finally meet you in person.”
More famously known as Carla Humphries, Madeleine is no stranger to local show business, having been an actress for over two decades now. This is however her first time back in the Philippines after almost four years. And we thankfully manage to catch her only days before she departs for Los Angeles, her home base.
Unlike most of my interviews where I’m armed with a set of questions, my one-on-one with Madeleine is different. She’s a breeze to talk to. No fuss, no frills. Despite her years in the entertainment industry, Madz is the complete opposite of the “artista” stereotype.
“I always thought my life was a black and white film,” Madeleine playfully tells me as she recalls her childhood. “I was born in San Francisco, and then we spent a good amount of time as children in France. I would literally speak French with an Italian accent. I always had this dream of becoming an actress.”
Seemingly projecting her make-believe world into reality, it was in 2003 when she was discovered by famed talent manager Johnny “Mr. M” Manahan at just 12-years-old while performing in school. That same year, Madeleine’s stage name and on-screen persona “Carla” was born.
At the time of our meeting, I’d only known Madeleine for about two hours—or 16 years depending on how you count.
As a child, I used to watch Cinema One channel movies with my yaya growing up in the hopes of improving my Tagalog. “The first time I ever saw ‘Carla’ was in 2007. I watched ‘First Day High.’” I told her. She giggles at the thought of how long ago that project was. “When I was discovered, I didn’t know how to speak Tagalog. So if you watched Cinema One, I would read Pugad Baboy comics and listen to AM radio.”
Throughout the early stages of her career, Madeleine found success in a multitude of youth-oriented shows and even became part of a “love-team” with actor Janus Del Prado. Her roles in teleseryes such as “Maalaala Mo Kaya: Langis,” “Bituing Walang Ningning,” and “Star Magic Presents: Abt Ur Luv” earned her nationwide recognition.
In light of all this, Madeleine shared how she often “forgot” that she was Carla. When recognized in public and called by her stage name, it was almost mechanical how she would have to look back and respond. “I’d often have to remind myself who I was. It was like putting on a costume.”
Despite struggling with this duality, Madeleine’s career as “Carla” persisted. In 2013, she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Metro Manila Film Festival for her role in Joyce E. Bernal’s “10,000 Hours” where she starred alongside Robin Padilla. In 2017, she landed the role of Joanna Bonifacio in F.H. Batacan’s crime novel turned feature film “Smaller and Smaller Circles,” which garnered critical success.
For all intents and purposes, Madeleine was at the top of her game.
“Thinking back to the little girl I was when I first started out, I wanted so badly to fit in. I think part of me was programmed at a young age to think: ‘Okay, you have to suppress the bigger parts of you,’” Madeleine explains. Describing the feeling as being boxed in, her decision to go by her given name felt like the healthiest step towards becoming the best version of herself. Carla no longer offered the authenticity Madeleine longed for, both as an artist and an individual.
“Now, I want to make clear how grateful I am for the fact that I was Carla. She really made me find my way and for all intents and purposes, protected certain aspects of me.” It seemed as if beyond the emotional complexities that came with being Carla, Madeleine still spoke of her with gentleness—fondly talking about her as you would an old friend.
“A huge part of acting is the exploration of your humanity. If you aren’t giving light to certain aspects of your own humanity, then you’re just portraying something that has no truth.”
“In the past, a lot of the characters I encountered were caricatures of real people. I feel like the stories where a person is going through the mundane, or a person is going through real life struggles that aren’t embellished or magnified aren’t told of enough.”
When Madeleine tells me this, she expresses her desire to hopefully write her own material for film one day, reminiscing how her acting teacher in LA once started a class by telling them: “My goal is to make you all writers.”
“One thing I also realized was that a lot of us [Filipinos] are educated through film and television. A lot of the impoverished areas in the Philippines, if they don’t have access to education, they have access to a TV. If we can show that it doesn’t have to be all pain, all suffering, all victimhood; if we can celebrate strong characters, the ones that overcome things, and tell these stories instead, I think that would be great.”
Taking on Tinseltown
When people think of Los Angeles, the first thing that probably comes to mind is Hollywood. It’s the scenic backdrop to a narrative everyone knows all too well: Girl from a small town risks everything to make it in the big city with only a couple bucks to her name. She struggles—the only thing carrying her through are her big dreams. She catches a break. She eventually makes it and live happily ever after. The end. Credits roll. It’s Oscar-worthy.
But Madeleine’s story is a little different. It’s early in 2020 when she packed her bags and moved to Los Angeles. Armed with a wealth of experience from working in local entertainment, the only similarity she shares with the aforementioned narrative would probably be her big dreams.
“I’m not claiming that because I moved to Hollywood I’m now going to become this big actress. I’m just trying to become the best artist I can be and maximize every opportunity that I have.”
As a US citizen, it was a viable option for Madeleine to take the plunge and move considering the minimal red tape she would have to go through. “I’m there to bust my butt going to auditions, and take acting classes, and basically unlearn all the things that didn’t serve me as an actor, a performer or human being in the Philippines.”
However, shortly after her move, the pandemic hit. The bustle of Tinseltown came to a grinding halt and soon, the rest of the world. “It’s so interesting because being in isolation kind of purged all the excess. It purged everything I didn’t need and it kind of left who I was at the core. Not having anyone there was a breakthrough for me.”
“I got my license on my own. I got health insurance on my own. I was so scared because aside from possibly contracting COVID, I wouldn’t have any healthcare to cover me. I could’ve gone into debt if I got sick. I had to figure out how to make ends meet. I kept myself safe.”
Life’s biggest challenges often appear when you are far from the comforts of home, and Madeleine reiterates this to me as she looks back on her life during the height of the pandemic. Reading as many books as she could, she fed herself with knowledge only the privilege of time could provide.
Throughout the lockdown, Madeleine also found solace in the company of a few good friends. “The Bascos opened their home to me,” she shares.
Fellow actor Dante Basco who is best known for his character work in “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” “Hook,” and “American Dragon: Jake Long” was one of the people who helped her cope with the troubles of being away from home. She credits him and his family’s generosity, saying that she would not have survived without them. “The pandemic was so mentally damaging for so many people and the simple gesture of opening your home to a stranger is the most humane and uplifting thing you can do. The Bascos made me part of their family.”
The road less traveled
As I went through my interview transcript with Madeleine, I briefly remembered a quote from the 2008 film “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” where Brad Pitt plays a man who aged backwards. He says: “For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing… I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”
A clean slate after years of perseverance and work is not for everyone. It carries with it a lot of fear and inevitable uncertainty. And for Madeleine, allowing her vulnerability and intuition to serve as her compass throughout this journey has made all the difference.
“The industry is hard, and sometimes, it isn’t always fulfilling. So you have to find balance in your life, to continue doing what you love, and have the sanity to push through.”
When I ask Madeleine what she would say if she ever got the opportunity to speak to herself just before she left Manila, I notice her eyes well up. She throws her head back in an effort to collect herself and lets out a big exhale.
“It’s not going to be easy. One foot in front of the other. You’re gonna realize that this is the tipping point of you becoming the most empowered version of yourself, and you are going to reach the place that you always dreamed you would reach because you’re going to let go of all your pain and not feel sorry about going after what you want.”
Over the past four years, Madeleine’s efforts towards reshaping her career have been far from simple. Like any big decision, it comes with sacrifices. The sacrifice of leaving the comforts of home. The sacrifice of having no one else to rely on. And it’s a list that only grows over time.
It’s almost cathartic how Madeleine answers my final question. At this point, I notice the sun beginning to set, and the light peeking through the covered windows at the beginning of our conversation is long gone. “You’re going to stop making excuses and explaining why you do certain things you do, and you’re gonna find freedom in knowing that at your core, you like who you are. You are capable of amazing things. Don’t underestimate yourself.”
As we hop off the granite and give each other a hug before parting ways, I think about how Madeleine’s return to Manila feels like a victory lap. A testament to the power of taking control of your own narrative, she proves that sometimes, taking the biggest risks makes room for the biggest pay off.
Photography by JT Fernandez, assisted by Nicolette Alberto
Styling by Sophia Berbano Concordia, assisted by Colleen Cosme
Hair by Richard Villarey
Make-up by Angel Reyes-Manhilot
Production Assistance by Julia Elaine Lim and Lala Singian
Sittings by Angela Manuel Go