Markki Stroem’s Heart of Darkness

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Photography by Ralph Mendoza
Styling by Carla Villanueva
Grooming by Byron Velasquez of MAC
Produced by Paolo Lorenzana

On family teleserye, Dyesebel, Markki Stroem goes deep. Playing a vengeful merman on GMA’s revival of the half-fish tale, he dove into a bit of backstory. “He might have been hurt by someone in the past. His parents could have been killed by someone on land, so he has a vendetta against them,” Markki says of the inspiration he created for his character Ablon, an underwater obstacle to Dyesebel’s two-legged love interest, Liro (Sam Milby). “He starts out as a friend and winds up a foe. I like being kontrabida.”

Still, Dyesebel’s waters are nothing compared to the depths he’s gone for past roles. A sociopathic soldier. A man with autism. The son of a drug-addled Robin Padilla in MMFF entry 10,000 Hours. In each portrayal, Markki is a man possessed—an intensity that racked up award nominations for Slumber Party, where he disappears into the role of a queenly gay man.

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Communicating the ticks of a character is easy for a Pilipinas Got Talent finalist who can lay emotions bare in his music. In his solo album Thousands of Pieces, complex issues are served palatably as smooth, sensual jazz. And while slickly made, his self-produced music videos deviate from the sweet, safe route OPM artists often take. Think lover’s corpses and doppelgangers as subject matter.

In between taping for Dyesebel, the Fil-Norwegian Benchsetter talks to B/BLOG about his new album of convention-slaying covers and rallying against music video norms by putting up his own production company. As if that isn’t enough, Markki reads us his poetry. The formulaic celebrity interview is shattered, as well.

Did you grow up here, Markki?

I moved to Germany with my family for three years, where I did elementary school. Then I moved back here. I went to college in Switzerland for four years and then I got back here. I auditioned for Pilipinas Got Talent. I made it to finals. Every year I tell myself I’m going back to Europe but then fortunately, I always get some sort of show.

Why the desire to fly out? Are you frustrated trying to make exactly what you want happen over here?

When I got back here, I started writing really different stuff. I tried to create things that are out of the ordinary from what the Philippine masa is really into. It became very jazzy. A lot of my music videos are a little bit…

Morbid?

Yeah. I guess it’s different and some people are drawn to that. Both my music videos got on MYX’s Top 10 for a while. They’re different but you have to be different, right?

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Did you encounter opposition in trying to push these offbeat concepts?

Oh, a lot. The thing is my videos are from my production company. I have my own production company. So all of that is no filters. It’s created by me, my director, and my cinematographer, who happens to be Japanese. They all have ideas of what would work. Not work in the sense that you’re selling it to people—‘Ah, come watch this because it’s pa-cute.’ You’re showing reality and the minds of different people in different states of psychosis.

What’s behind the concept of “Thousands of Pieces,” where a wife dies and the husband decides to keep her body?

It’s more of the underlying concept of denial. I’ve always loved psychology and different forms of mental disorder. My best friend’s a psychiatrist so it’s just understanding how to relate to people in this big stream of things. You can come across someone who’s bipolar—how do you deal with that? How are you supposed to react to what he or she says? I guess in my music videos, much like Criminal Minds episodes, it’s not morbid because the writer or director is morbid. I guess it’s there because it maybe shows a very overstated feeling that one has, and the feeling is amplified tenfold so that people understand.

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The Dyesebel gig—is that out of necessity? To get your name more fully out there?

Actually to be honest, if it was any normal teleserye, maybe. But I’m enjoying myself. Not because the story’s for children but because it’s fun to swim with fins. It’s a real core exercise. It’s like working out everyday and you’re paid to work out! It’s not really out of necessity or to get my name out there to the masses, I guess it’s just fun. And if you’re having fun while doing work, then it’s a good thing.

And given your background, you don’t need to do anything you don’t want to.

Yeah. I guess for me, not to sound obnoxious but I have a college degree. There are a lot of people in show business who have not finished college. The backup is there. The reason it’s so good that it’s there is that I can freely do what I love to do and not get scared of the outcome. With me, I want to follow a winding path. If it takes me somewhere, it takes me somewhere. I can always go back to my fallback. At the moment, I’m having the time of my life. The past four years have been a crazy rollercoaster ride. Actually, my management has been kind of stressed with me because whenever they tell me to do masa, I’d always say, ‘Why?’ And now with Dyesebel, the reason I really like this is because I get to act but as a different person or fantasy creature.

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You’ve gotten recognition for your role as a gay stylist in Slumber Party. Can you tell me about how you prepared for that?

I auditioned for it and they said, ‘Oh, this is gonna be a really, really hard role. Are you ready to take it on?’ I said, ‘Yeah!’ It’s fun to create and be a different person. We were just four guys and we really had to find the core friendship from these individuals who have lived their lives together since they were babies. They’re from different sub-tribes of the homosexual population. There’s one who’s completely straight-acting, gym boy. There’s another one who’s my character: a fashion designer. Bitch. And there’s another one who’s an idiot—a hairdresser who just cracks jokes every second. From three different sub-tribes, you find that they’re friends since they were kids and see how they’ve evolved based on that.

Would you say that’s your most challenging role to date?

Yeah, one of the most challenging roles. The reason why it wasn’t as challenging was because the director was really good. He’s an actor’s director. But then last year, I did a lot of different roles. I did a sociopath for Cinemalaya. It really got me because it took me to a dark place. There was one where I played an autistic guy. And for 10,000 Hours, I played a drug addict’s son. So it’s all sorts of darkness. But now, I’m happy I’m doing something happy. You have no idea.

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But if you were offered the usual route of young good-looking actor—a love team or something—I’m guessing you wouldn’t do it.  

I probably won’t be inspired, which is a problem. When I’m not inspired, I don’t give my all.

Was the production company a way to really go against the music video establishment and do your own thing? 

It was an outlet. I came back from Berlin two years ago and met four random Polish individuals, and they’re so crazy, happy-go-lucky, and didn’t care about anything. They said, ‘Why do you look so happy?’ ‘I don’t know, ‘cause I’m happy. I miss this. I miss Europe. I miss being able to express myself any way that I can.’ They said, ‘So why don’t you try something different? Create something different?’

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I listened to “Somebody that I Used to Know,” I saw the music video. That was the first time I heard it before it got famous here. I got so inspired by the music that they had there and how crazy their concepts were. How am I supposed to bring that here? I went back, found a director who does commercials, and then “Steal Your Soul” happened randomly. Then it went on YouTube and did well. Not amazingly well but for a niche, it did okay. It established me and then “Thousands of Pieces” came and that was fun, too. I guess that all spawned not only my music videos but Christian Bautista’s music video, Noel Cabangon…

So you’ve helped make videos for other artists?

I’m producer and also me and the director work together. I direct some of the shots, he does too. If an artist wants someone to shoot strange concepts, they’ll tell us. Like Rachelle Ann Go wanted a dream to be created into a music video. Her dream was waking up and seeing her younger self. We found this abandoned school and created the video based on her dream. And from then on, I just created different music videos for different people. I didn’t want to compromise. In the end, a lot of the videos got on the top 10 on MYX because…

They were different. You’ve also got an album full of covers coming up.

Yeah, the first one was all original. Second one is a jazz cover album. The reason I’m doing this is because I hear covers and they’re done exactly the same way as the original. So what happens when you get a “Ngiti” (starts singing), how are you supposed to change that? So you arrange it and you make it (sings the same song differently, soulfully).

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Are you taking any risks in terms of song choice?

There are some but they’re all really just pop songs that I like. I re-create with my band. We arrange it. I don’t like other people touching my stuff. That’s why I guess the “Call Me Maybe” cover did okay because it was arranged based on…actually, it was a filler song on the album and then they played it everywhere. So I said, okay, I’ll do a covers album. But my next album after that is not going to be covers. I’ve been writing a lot. A lot of poetry, actually. Poetry over music. I think it’s scarier to write poetry because there’s so much more that you can write and express based on your heart and feelings.

And just what are some thoughts that you’re tossing around in your head at the moment?

I’m going through something right now, I guess. Pretty bad but it’s helped me. I’ve been writing a lot so…actually I just wrote this now on the way. (Reads poem) “Deterioration”: Torn, like parchment ripped out of an unfinished letter / Lost, like a tormented survivor of a great play / Crunching numbers on an abacus, pretending that freedom is accomplished / Cowering monotonously, fetal / Waiting for an answer, tormented by the solution / Dampness, darkness, stalagmites pierce the cords of my pulsating organs / Ringing endlessly in a makeshift hearing aid with drained life force / Emptiness, it is enough to unlock one cage and end up in a bigger one / Tragedy, justifying what is and what will be / Waking to an endless pit of shackles / Broken, like a ripped childhood plush toy / Entranced, like an infant in his playground / Watching, hoping, praying for a jobless locksmith.

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  • Stephanie Gomez

    Wow,ur really hot! I know bench is so glad to have you as one of their models

  • Speechless.

  • M.S.fan

    He Looks Like a (Special Child) Baby 😉
    but this is great (y)