May 24, 2024 The voice of all eras.

‘A Crazy Man’s Job’: Elijah Canlas on Playing Roles that are So Hard to Love

May 7, 2024

May 7, 2024
There’s more to actors than their pretty faces. Strip away the superficial, and you’ll see that the best movies aren’t just a parade of good looks. The real beauty of a film lies in its ability to engage audiences—through relatable characters, thought-provoking narratives, and visually striking scenes that transcend mere aesthetics.

In this age obsessed with filters and cosmetic tweaks, anyone can look the part. But what you can’t fake is the talent and dedication it takes to breathe life into complex characters. That’s what Elijah Canlas brings to the table. His ability to transform into and fully embody challenging roles showcases not just his skill but a profound understanding of the human condition, setting him apart in a world focused more on appearance than substance.

Here, the Batang Quiapo and High Street actor reveals what it really takes to crawl into the psyche of his characters, nail the performance, and genuinely connect with viewers. He takes us behind the scenes of his acting grind, revealing just how much sweat, soul, and sheer genius it demands to animate those difficult roles on screen.

Gen-Z Features Elijah Canlas | #shotbyEm
Full ensemble except shoes: H&M H&M Man  | Accessories: Homura Design | Photo by: Em Baun

It’s Not All Rainbows and Sunshine

As one of the standout young actors of his generation, Elijah might appear to have had a smooth ride. His roles in the hit series Senior High and Batang Quiapo, coupled with accolades for Kalel, 15, Gameboys, Blue Room, and He Who Is Without Sin, suggest a seamless ascent. But what most people don’t know is that there was a time when this young actor almost quit acting for good.

For a theater kid and cinephile, it was indeed a dream come true to land a part in a Cinemalaya film back in 2014. But despite this promising start, roles dried up afterward. “The fact that I was given a chance to be part of making a movie, ang saya-saya ko,” he recalls. “But a year and a half later, after doing so many auditions, I wouldn’t get anything. Wala talaga akong makuha. So, by the end of 2015, I was like: ‘I’m done’.”

Gen-Z Features Elijah Canlas | #shotbyEm

Worn out of the relentless cycle of commercials and fruitless auditions, Elijah went back to Laguna to finish his studies, then moved to BGC to attend Mint College, focusing on filmmaking. “I did my duties, you know. I went through all those auditions, pero wala talaga. So, I was like, maybe it’s not for me,” he explained. Despite his early acting experiences, Elijah’s true aspiration was to become a film director.

You know, I didn’t want to become an actor. My dream is to become a film director. So, I thought I’d film instead.”

But while Elijah had convinced himself that acting wasn’t for him—believing he didn’t fit the typical actor mold with no connections or family ties in the industry—his friends saw a spark in him that he couldn’t see in himself. And like how it all started, it took a film to shatter his doubts and pull him back to the stage. “I watched this movie called ‘Gusto Kita with All My Hypothalamus’ and I fell in love with it. I fell in love with acting again. Nasabi ko, ‘parang ang sarap umarte ulit’.”

Gen-Z Features Elijah Canlas | #shotbyEm

This realization was a turning point in Elijah’s career. Although the producer who had offered to manage him in 2014 turned him down—no longer managing talent—he referred Elijah to other industry contacts. From there, everything fell perfectly into place.

“And ever since, tuloy-tuloy na. Of course, the learning never stops. The hard work never stops. It’s about not giving up entirely. I may have given up those couple of years, but I always was open-minded to going back to try again,” he reflects. “It’s not all rainbows and sunshine in this industry. Not even for me, especially not for me. Ang dami-dami talagang pinagdaanan.”

Being an Actor is a Crazy Man’s Job

While many assume good looks are all it takes to be an actor, Elijah proves them wrong with his high-caliber performances in roles that tap deep into emotions. At a young age, he’s pushed the boundaries of acting, exploring diverse genres beyond the typical rom-com sweetheart role common among his generation. By venturing into challenging territories, he has broadened his skill set, showcasing his adaptability and resilience. “Being an actor is a crazy man’s job. Only crazy people are willing to do this to themselves.”

Gen-Z Features Elijah Canlas | #shotbyEm

Elijah candidly shares that his deep immersion in complex roles sometimes follows him off-set. He admits to carrying the emotional weight and intricacies of his characters into his personal life, long after the cameras have stopped rolling. “Even when they say ‘cut,’ uuwi ako still with those emotions.”

It took some time for Elijah to learn how to separate his work from his personal life. He developed a strategy of spatial relationships—of consciously deciding that work stays on set or in front of the camera, and home is distinctly personal space. He emphasizes that being aware of one’s individuality and maintaining boundaries is a vital skill for actors. “Dati talaga, nababaliw ako. And I know a lot of actors go through this as well.”

Gen-Z Features Elijah Canlas | #shotbyEm @em.baun

Right now, Elijah is better at managing his emotions, which allows him to accept multiple roles at once. In the past, he would tackle one project and character at a time, but now he’s successfully handling three different characters in three simultaneous projects. It’s a crazy thing to do, but having his loved ones close—his family and friends—helps keep him grounded and sane through it all.

A Good Actor—Like A Good Donut—Leaves You Wanting More

Elijah Canlas-Gen Z Features (1st)-8

With each role offering a fresh flavor, Elijah’s appeal has become more irresistible to a broad audience. To stay on top of the game, he diligently learns what each story demands, understands the director’s vision, and responds to the needs of the entire team during shoots. His dedication to truly embodying his characters has not only improved his performances but also built strong trust and respect among industry peers and fans alike. “I feel, like, more people have trust in me, and then they trust my craft. They trust my talent. And they know that, di ako gagawa ng kalokohan sa set.”

Moreover, Elijah continues to apply the fundamental lessons from his early theater days: to observe and listen. Playing roles that differ vastly from his own personality, he keeps an open mind towards all walks of life and practices empathy. He believes that by doing so, he can deepen his understanding of his characters and bring more authenticity to his performances.

Gen-Z Features Elijah Canlas | #shotbyEm
Pastel green vest and shorts: Monohomme Studios | Accessories: Homura Design | Photo by: Em Baun

Like many actors, Elijah acknowledges the challenges of playing difficult characters, such as villains or those who make poor decisions. To tackle these roles effectively, he draws on real-life complexities, understanding that everyone has flaws and makes mistakes—no one is perfect. This perspective helps him bring a sense of humanity and depth to even the most unlikable characters, making them more relatable and believable to audiences.

“You have to look where everybody is coming from. And once you see that, it becomes clearer. I always try to find something to love about the characters that I play, even when I hate them. Kailangan talaga makahanap ka ng something to make them human. To perform them well.”

“Kasi, the bad guys don’t think they’re bad guys, right? They always think they are doing this for a reason,” Elijah explains. By adopting this perspective, he sees the characters he plays in three dimensions. He believes that understanding their motivations helps him justify their actions, making his portrayal more authentic and grounded.

Gen-Z Features Elijah Canlas | #shotbyEm

You Can’t Just Win Everything

While taking on unconventional roles sharpens his skills, Elijah, like many actors, often faces harsh scrutiny for accepting controversial characters in today’s digital age. The toxic online culture and relentless “cancel culture” have made many celebrities retreat. As someone who is sensitive and tends to overthink, Elijah admits that online comments affect him deeply. As a result, he has learned to carefully choose his battles.

Being a public figure means living under a microscope, where everyone feels entitled to judge you. Elijah is well aware that this comes with the work that he has chosen, so one of the many things he has to settle for is that: not everybody is going to love him. “People will have problems with me, even if it’s a misunderstanding. And I won’t have the chance to explain myself. But sometimes, you just can’t win everything. You can’t just win every one. And you have to accept that kasi this is a cruel world.”

Rather than dwell on negativity, Elijah focuses on his acting and limits his social media usage, aware of its impact on his mental health. “Makakahanap ka talaga ng rason to be affected by what you see on social media. So, nakafocus lang talaga ako sa trabaho and my daily life.”

Gen-Z Features Elijah Canlas | #shotbyEm @em.baun

The Man Who Stood for His Principles and Values

Needless to say, Elijah means business. He’s not in it just for the fame or clout. Instead, he sees recognition as a natural part of being dedicated to his work—an offset for being driven. He takes his roles seriously, diving deep into research for every character he portrays. For instance, when preparing for the role of Cairo in Gameboys, he attended SOGIE orientation and seminars to better understand and represent the LGBT community. I’ve always been an ally, but at the same time, with the LGBT community, I felt like I needed to dig deeper,” he explains.

Similarly, for his role as Jayjay, a character on the autism spectrum in the Netflix film Keys to the Heart, he not only researched Savant Syndrome but also spent a month practicing piano and immersed himself in schools for students on the spectrum. These experiences help him capture the nuances and complexities of his characters, thereby enriching his performances.

Gen-Z Features Elijah Canlas | #shotbyEm @em.baun
Pants: LSW | Accessories: Homura Design | Photo by: Em Baun

Taking into account the struggles and challenges he’s overcome to reach where he is today, Elijah feels deeply grateful for the support, love, and inspiration from those around him. He believes the best way to reciprocate is by excelling in his work. This commitment drives him to thoroughly research and prepare for each part, ensuring he delivers standout performances. “Naiirita talaga ako sa mga actors na hindi nape-prepare. I’m like, ‘you’re getting paid, you know’. This is our livelihood, and we’ve been blessed enough to get paid big. We are very spoiled. So, the least we could do is to do it well.”

Elijah openly admits that one of his pet peeves is people who show up to work focusing solely on looking good—relying on charm and looks without putting real effort into their performance.

“This is an art. It’s still a craft. And we have to put our effort into learning more about it and digging deep so we could portray our characters in the best way that we can.”

Gen-Z Features Elijah Canlas | #shotbyEm @em.baun

Beyond his demeanor, Elijah wants to be remembered not just as a versatile actor who’s never afraid to explore his range but also as a genuinely kind person. “I want people to remember me—not only just my co-actors but the crew, the staff, even the writers—as a kind person in general.”

Moreover, he is determined to stand by his principles and values when it comes to storytelling. “I always make it a point to choose projects that mean something to me—or mean something to somebody out there. I hope people will remember me for that. That I really gave importance to each project that I made.”
Gen-Z Features Elijah Canlas | #shotbyEm @em.baun

Creative Direction & Photographed by Em Baun

Assisted by: Niccole Mendoza | Joy del Rosario

Video: Mary Jane Manglicmot, assisted by: Stephen Singson, Trillian Galicia

Makeup: Jia Enciso Catu using DIOR, NARS, Tilburry, MAC

Hair: Christian Luis Nava

Styling: Myrrh Lao To

Styling Assistant: Mai Chua

Overall Coordination: Angel Altura | Niccole Mendoza

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