‘I would love to be in a Judd Apatow movie’

By Cristina DC Pastor

J. Elaine Marcos plays a Filipina mail-order bride in the Broadway hit “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” which opened March 20. Catch the show and sing along with the ‘caged bird’ Cynthia Campos.

TF: Are you related to the Marcoses?
JEM: Very distant. My dad grew up in same area in Ilocos. We are in the same family tree.

TF: Is that an asset or a liability?
JEM: Depends. He’s got many followers, but obviously there are things he’s done in the past we weren’t happy about. I remove myself completely from that.

TF: Tell me about growing up in Canada.
JEM: I was born in a city called Burlington, Ontario, about half hour from Toronto. My immediate family, my mom and my dad, brother, my cousins are still there. My mom of course is a nurse. My dad is a computer consultant. Nobody’s in the (entertainment) business, although they sing karaoke. We used to bowl as a family. It’s either bowling or Broadway, I guess I chose Broadway.

TF: When did your musical talent emerge?
JEM: All the competitions that my mother put me into. It was mainly dance competition during high school. I did a lot of drama here and there, dance classes. I went to performing arts camp. She sent me to different classes to keep myself busy. I really loved performing. I completely understand now why she did it: to create some discipline. For me at that time it was like, ‘How am I gonna find time to do my homework’?

TF: Were there a lot of Filipino families where you lived?
JEM: There were about three Filipino families in my suburban neighborhood. One of them is still my best friend. I didn’t grow up with a lot of Filipino culture.
But when I did “Miss Saigon” in 1999 to 2001, there was a majority of Filipinos in the cast. This was the time Lea Salonga came back to play Kim. For the first time, I could go to lunch with whatever food I had and people would want it. I was around, not only Filipino, but Asian culture. “Miss Saigon” really made me get close to my culture. It made me appreciate more how different I was. I worked with Lea again in “Flower Drum Song.”

TF: When did you come to New York?
JEM: I came here in 1994. I went to a school called the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Midtown. It was a conservatory, it’s a two-year program, pretty much singing and acting all day for two years. I graduated in 1996. Then I kept on till I got to working on Broadway then TV.

J. Elaine's show-stopping number 'Pop Musik'

TF: How did you land the role of Cynthia in “Priscilla Queen of the Desert”?
JEM: There was a list of characters; the casting director called my agent. There was this role that pretty much screamed ‘J. Elaine Marcos.’ My description was a Filipino, with comedic timing, wants her own cabaret show, completely funny. That’s the kind of reputation I’ve made to the casting director. They called me in, and they gave me the sides and I just did the character that I’ve always done, which is really my mom. If anyone asked me to mock the Filipino accent, I would just do my mom.
I’ve also impersonated Imelda Marcos in “The Wedding Singer.” I’ve had this thing with the Filipino accent.

TF: What’s Cynthia like?
JEM: Cynthia is the mail-order bride of Bob (an Australian mechanic who joins the Priscilla bus). She is a feisty Filipino woman who is a caged bird living in the middle of nowhere in Australia and desperately wants to be the next Madonna or Cher. Her number in the show is entitled “Pop Musik,” which shows off her true talent. It’s a bit of a show stopper.

TF: Imelda Marcos paved the way, huh?
JEM: Absolutely. And all the karaoke I did with my family.

TF: Are you planning to go back to comedy?
JEM: Improv comedy is what I do, yeah. If comedy is part of an offer I try to do it as much as possible.

TF: Did you enjoy the “Bridesmaids”?
JEM: That is my dream movie. Ideally what I’d like to do is a movie like that, with people like that, with a director like that. I would love to be in a Judd Apatow movie. Melissa McCarthy, she’s amazing. Ideally, I would like the supporting role, the neighbor who comes in, says one or two lines, then leaves. Not the main character. I’m a less-is-more kind of person.

TF: Any other favorite comediennes aside from Melissa McCarthy?
JEM: Kristen Wiig. But there’s one I’ve always loved and it’s Ellen DeGeneres. She’s not just funny, she has this nice persona about her. She just makes me laugh.

Jennie Elaine Marcos — or J. Elaine – recently starred in “Morning Glory” with Rachel McAdams and Harrison Ford. She played Lisa Bartlett, the sultry, but grammatically challenged, TV reporter. The first and last time she visited the Philippines was at age 7 or 8, constantly whining about the heat. “I was too young to truly enjoy it,” she said.

Cristina DC Pastor is the founding editor of The FilAm.

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