Metro At 30: Mikee Cojuangco-Jaworski Looks Back On Her Journey In Showbiz
The athlete-turned-actress shares, "My becoming an actress in the industry was very accidental, but I loved it... it gave me this huge platform where I can deliver a message"
In 1994, a 20-year-old Mikee Cojuangco-Jaworski—then still just known simply as Mikee Cojuangco—graced the cover of Metro, then still just five years in circulation. “I have the same hairstyle now,” she laughs, her ponytail hanging low behind her head. “It’s so funny. It’s gone kind of full circle.”
Her eyes glaze over the magazine covers, a specific memory springing to mind with each one: first, a shoot after she had gotten engaged; another when her eldest son was still a baby; there was one set in a hangar, too, which quickly became her favorite. In August of 2019, Mikee was photographed for her fifth cover with the premier fashion lifestyle magazine, and it is a homecoming as much as it is a celebration. “I didn’t realize that the first one I did was 25 years ago,” she points out. “A lot of things in my life have changed since then.”
When she was last photographed for Metro, she’d still been competing as an equestrienne. These days, she spends most of her time being a mom to her three sons as well as a member of the International Olympic Committee. The same year as her first Metro cover shoot, she’d been paired with Aga Muhlach in Forever. In 1995, she played an angel who falls in love with a human after being sent to Earth on a mission to retrieve one Juan dela Cruz. I Love You, Sabado was only her second movie—the second of only a handful, in fact—but she’s an absolute natural in front of the camera that you’d think she’s been doing this her entire life. In 1996, she became a third of a singing girl group, the most boyish of the bunch, in DoReMi alongside Donna Cruz and Regine Velasquez-Alcasid. But Mikee is not an actress—or at least, not anymore.
“That was another lifetime,” she says, the words out of her mouth with a breathy sigh. It’s not said in any particular way—neither wistfully nor regretfully, as one might think. Mikee often tells things like it is. She is rarely ever one to sugarcoat, but where most people would have bordered on harsh, she is soft; where people would have become caustic, she is kind. Her dimpled smile and her bright, shining eyes have stayed the way they’ve always been since the time she first captivated the hearts of a thousand Filipinos through an all-too-iconic Swatch ad in 1991.
That was hardly all that she was known for at that time, of course. Mikee has been riding since the age of 10, undergoing rigorous training every day, and she’s been joining international show jumping competitions since the age of 16. So when she was met with an accident that ended with her falling off a horse, leaving her unable to train for over a year, she suddenly felt like she wasn’t doing anything with her life. “I was bored out of my brains,” she says. “I decided to accept movie offers. That’s what got me in the public eye.”
In the end, I was doing my thesis, shooting a movie, and training for the Asian Games. It was crazy, but it was so exhilarating
And the public loved her. They loved this young woman of refinement, class, and sophistication. She was a daughter of politicians, an up-and-coming athlete, a winsome actress, and a colegiala from one of the best schools in the metro. Almost overnight, she became the quintessential 90s It Girl. Mikee, who in high school only used to dance to Gary Valenciano’s songs with her best friend, director Mae Cruz Alviar, was now in the spotlight too, making movies with other 90s icons. Mikee had found herself onstage in Ang Larawan, alongside Celeste Legaspi and Rachel Alejandro; on the silver screen in various self-titled television shows; on shop posters endorsing clothing brands. “In the end, I was doing my thesis, shooting a movie, and training for the Asian Games. It was crazy,” she says. “But it was so exhilarating.”
The very fact that she was able to accomplish all these things all at once is a testament to how much of a hardworking and dedicated woman she is. Mikee’s days had often been filled to the brim: her call time for a film shoot would be at nine in the morning, ending at two in the morning the next day. But her day rarely ended there, if it ever did. In this lifetime, the one that involved hot camera lights and layers of makeup on her face, the days often bled into one another: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. Rinse, repeat. When she would go home after taping, her routine was as follows: wash her makeup off, have a meal, shower, and then get back in the car to travel to Batangas where she would train. “When I’m done,” she says, “I would go back to the car, go home, shower, go straight to the shoot. That was my life for five years.”
Mikee pauses and takes a breath. It’s like she almost can’t believe she had survived that whirlwind of a life. She doesn’t regret a single moment of it, though: “I was so happy doing it because I really felt like I was getting good things done,” she tells Metro.Style. This is the quality most evident in Mikee: her need to be doing something worthwhile and purposeful. When she thinks back to that moment in her life, she finds herself in awe. “I have to admit I miss it sometimes,” Mikee says. “My becoming an actress in the industry was very accidental, but I loved it. I loved doing it. I loved the people I worked with. It allowed me to pay for my sport and be in my sport and it gave me this huge platform where I can deliver a message.”
I have to admit I miss it sometimes—Mikee on her hectic life as an actress
To Mikee, what has always mattered is using one’s influence for good. Even as a 13-year-old, years before she would be known for her first movie outing, she would attend her parents’ rallies in Tarlac and ask them what their platform was. This, first and always, before she stood onstage to campaign for them. She always had to know what she was campaigning for, always had to be informed and educated. In her life in the public eye, she’s always known the responsibilities that came with it. “It’s so much less stressful to just say, ‘I’m gonna stay home.’ It’s so much easier to do that. But I don’t think I was brought up believing that I would be living a life worth being proud of or that I would have lived my life to the fullest… if I’m just gonna do that.”
She’s always been about knowing her purpose, operating under that purpose, and, most importantly, never forgetting the people who have helped her along the way. “I’ve worked with a lot of older people and I see a lot of young people,” Mikee says. “For me it’s so important to know where you came from, how you started, to be in touch with the people who were there when it began, to appreciate the struggle, the growth, to be able to evolve to a place where everyone who’s involved has that opportunity to make a positive contribution.”
My becoming an actress in the industry was very accidental, but I loved it. I loved doing it. I loved the people I worked with. It allowed me to pay for my sport and be in my sport and it gave me this huge platform where I can deliver a message
This much is seen in the way she parents her three sons: Robbie, Raf, and Renzo. She has never settled—never just becoming “mom.” She is a mother, yes, but she’s also who she’s always been, even before: a daughter, a sister, an athlete, a friend, and a wife. Even after giving birth to her first son, she wanted to ride. She needed to ride. It’s easy to look at Mikee and see that her sport is a core part of her, and this identity is the one she’ll take with her, forever. “I am an athlete,” she’ll tell you. “That’s what I am.” She might’ve chosen between her sport and acting, but between being an athlete and being a mother, she’s never felt the need to pick sides—she’s both.
Of course, motherhood is not always easy. Mikee has had her fair share of doubt, guilt, and uncertainty in navigating the world of parenting, just as any other parent has. “I’d always ask myself, ‘What did I miss?’ I think every parent thinks this way,” Mikee shares. “I wanted my kids to be athletes, to have the same lifestyle as me. But they choose their own paths. Then that’s when you wonder, ‘Did I try hard enough?’ And then God sort of says,” she continues, her entire face lighting up, as it often does whenever she mentions her faith. “‘Hoy! Ano ka ba? If you really believe things are exactly where they should be, you shouldn’t be asking yourself these questions.’ We try to teach them values. Roots and wings—roots to live by and then wings to fly, and always knowing what to come home to or where they came from.”
For me it’s so important to know where you came from, how you started, to be in touch with the people who were there when it began, to appreciate the struggle, the growth, to be able to evolve to a place where everyone who’s involved has that opportunity to make a positive contribution
For most of the shoot, Mikee flits in and out of the ballroom: first to change into a deep red dress, second to have her hair and makeup retouched, third to take a break after being photographed. She changes into her next outfit: a black pantsuit lined with silk lapels. She changes one final time, back into her own clothes—a navy blue top and denim jeans—just before we sit down with her for an hour-long conversation. “This is me,” she says, gesturing to herself. “Buti pa nga naka-blue ako today eh. Sometimes I look at my cabinet and it’s like, white, white, white, white.”
Mikee thinks back to a quote she remembers saying in one of her previous covers: “Style is not about what the fad is right now, it’s about what you can carry.” When her eldest son asked her what he should wear to his first day of class at university, her answer is exactly what one would expect from her, and it is absolutely endearing. “In college, I owned three pairs of shorts: khaki, black, and denim,” she recalls, laughing. “I owned two pairs of shoes: high-cut sneakers and Doc Martens. And then a pack of white Hanes t-shirts. So… yeah,” she grins. “That’s my style.”
“I will always go for comfort because I can operate when I’m comfortable,” she adds. “I don’t like feeling pressured because I have to look a certain way or people will not take me seriously. But I do understand it and I do make my own compromises. When it’s just about fashion and how you look, what’s in and what you should wear, it drives me crazy. There is so much more.”
Mikee’s depth always rises to the top, because she’s nothing if not insightful—and, most of all, raised by a strong woman. Mikee’s asked to name a woman, any woman at all, that she admires the most, and she answers without skipping a beat. “My mom,” she says, referring to politician and philanthropist Ting Ting Cojuangco. “When I was so insecure about how I looked because I was very overweight as a young girl, she would say to me, ‘You’re tabachoy, but you’re still very beautiful. Physical appearance is not the only thing about a person,’ her mom would tell her. ‘You just have to pursue your dreams.’” Mikee continues, adding more, her voice growing impassioned. Here is a daughter whose love, respect, and pride for her mother is clear as day. “Everything in life can be an adventure depending on the attitude you take toward it,” Mikee says, quoting her mom. And even more, still: “You take every opportunity that comes your way and you make the most of it.”
Everything in life can be an adventure depending on the attitude you take toward it
Beyond her parents, part of what has made Mikee the woman she is today is, without a doubt, her faith. “I hope that my faith has been the biggest influence in my life because that’s really what keeps me centered through good times and bad,” she says, softening. It’s what has always kept her grounded and, in some way, in control. “I believe everything in my life happened for a reason—even falling off a horse and being injured for over a year,” she says. “God has been so amazing in the way that he has balanced my life. I’ve always had that balance. And even when I didn’t think I did, it was a matter of taking a step back and saying I know it’s there, I just have to recognize it.”
In her 2012 Metro shoot, Mikee had seen a side of herself that she didn’t know was there. “It was a revelation even to myself,” she says. “It taught me something about myself. That shoot was so not me, but it was.” There she’d been, head-to-toe in Prada, hailed a woman of style. She’d always been seen and described as simple, but Mikee has always known where her priorities lay, and in all the lives she’s had—whether it’s as a daughter, sister, friend, athlete, actress, It Girl, 90s icon, wife, or mom—one thing is clear: Mikee Cojuangco-Jaworski is a woman who contains multitudes.
I believe everything in my life happened for a reason—even falling off a horse and being injured for over a year. God has been so amazing in the way he has balanced my life
Produced by Kat Cruz-Villanueva, Ceia Ylagan, and Judy Arias
Photography by Dookie Ducay
Video by Chapters by Mayad
Art direction by Raff Colmenar
Sittings editors: Geolette Esguerra, Grace Libero-Cruz, and Kate Paras-Santiago
Production design by Kathy Sy King of Event Styles
Makeup and hairstyling by Eric Maningat
Styling by Bianca Santiago-Reinoso
Shot on location at City of Dreams Manila
Special thanks to C&L Decor, Shop Rent Gala, 4th Wall, and 18th Floristry; Charisse Chuidian and Romina Gervacio of City of Dreams Manila