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Mai Fanglayan: Igorot Actor Making History in Filipino Cinema

Witness history as Mai Fanglayan, an Igorot actor, wins Best Actress Award in her debut film Tanabata's Wife.

Discover the inspiring journey of Mai Fanglayan, the first Igorot Best Actress, and her breakthrough role in Tanabata's Wife.

Maribeth "Mai" Fanglayan, an Igorot actor from Baguio City, has been making significant strides in the Filipino film industry. Her journey, from a Mass Communication graduate to a celebrated actress, stands out, especially with her impactful role in "Tanabata's Wife."

Who is Mai Fanglayan?

Mai Fanglayan, deeply connected to her Igorot roots, calls Baguio City home. Born and raised in Baguio City, Philippines, she hails from Bontoc and Sagada, Mountain Province, adding a rich layer to her Cordilleran identity. She is the 7th among seven children, born to a former mining geological mapper turned jeepney driver father and a jack-of-all-trades mother.

Her childhood days were colored by the enchanting tales of Disney princesses, read from a large storybook that her mom secured for 100Php-a small fortune for the family. Despite her mother's elementary education and the challenges of poverty, she instilled a love for books in Mai and her siblings.

Mai Fanglayan

Alongside the Disney stories, Mai immersed herself in dramas and nighttime tales broadcast on the radio. These experiences fueled her imagination and storytelling abilities. Soon, she ventured into writing, crafting short stories during her school days.

While Mai's heart beats for fiction writing, her dream extends to the world of independent films. With a passion for screenplay writing, she aspires to not only write but also direct her own cinematic narratives one day. This deep-seated love for storytelling, nurtured in the heart of Baguio City, laid the foundation for Mai Fanglayan's extraordinary journey in Filipino cinema.

Miyuki Kamimura and Mai Fanglayan in Tanabata's Wife (2018)

"Tanabata's Wife": A Cinematic Breakthrough

Mai's entry into acting wasn't a planned venture. It all began with a twist of fate-an impromptu audition for "Tanabata's Wife," a film inspired by Sinai Hamada's short story.

According to Fanglayan, she hadn't intended to audition. Simply accompanying a friend to the audition unexpectedly thrust her into the spotlight. The film team recognized her potential and offered her the lead role, marking the commencement of Mai Fanglayan's remarkable journey in Filipino cinema.

In 2018, Mai found herself at the forefront of "Tanabata's Wife." Directed by Charlson Ong, Lito Casaje, and Choy Pangilinan, the film not only showcased Mai's acting prowess but also brought cultural narratives to the forefront.

The film, shot in Buguias, Benguet, seamlessly integrated Japanese, Kankanaey, and Ilocano languages, celebrating the rich tapestry of Filipino culture. Mai's character, Fas-ang, emerged as a beacon, embodying the essence of the Igorot community.

Mai Fanglayan as Fas-ang

But "Tanabata's Wife" is more than a cinematic creation; it's a celebration of diversity, both in language and its cast. What sets it apart is not only the linguistic richness but also the commitment to a cast reflecting the vibrant talent pool of the Igorot community.

Mai Fanglayan's co-stars, including Kurt Alalag, Danilo Bulanay, Shane Daweg, Rainell Cosme, and John Sagamla, all hail from Baguio City. This ensemble of talent not only enhanced the authenticity of the film but also highlighted the richness of Igorot culture on the big screen.

This collective effort showcased the depth of talent within the Igorot community, breaking barriers and contributing to the film's success at various festivals. As they portrayed their roles alongside Mai, these actors added layers of authenticity, making "Tanabata's Wife" a true representation of the cultural mosaic found in the heart of Baguio.

Triumph at ToFarm Film Festival

In 2018, Mai's journey reached new heights at the ToFarm Film Festival. Winning the Best Actress award for her stellar performance in "Tanabata's Wife" marked a pivotal achievement. The film, not just Mai's stellar act, clinched a remarkable total of nine awards, including Best Actor for Miyuki Kamimura and the coveted Best Film title.

Notable actresses in the category, such as Katrina Halili from "Mga Anak Ng Kamote" and Pokwang from "Sol Searching," found themselves surpassed by Mai's exceptional portrayal in the fiercely contested competition.

Mai Fanglayan Urduja Film Festival

Urduja Film Festival Accolade

In 2019, Mai's journey continued with the Urduja Film Festival, where she was named Best New Actress. Her portrayal of Fas-ang was not only recognized but celebrated. At the ceremony, Mai expressed gratitude to the festival and the entire team behind "Tanabata's Wife."

"Thank you so much, Urduja Film Festival, for choosing me as your Best New Actress. Thank you so much, 'Tanabatas Wife,' for the opportunity to play the role of Fas-ang, Tanabata's wife. Because of that, I was able to work with other great actors and actresses as well as directors and production teams in the industry. Thank you so much."

Breaking Barriers and Making History

Mai Fanglayan's accomplishments extend far beyond the realm of film festivals. In 2019, she received nominations from major Philippine award-giving bodies, including the PMPC Star Awards for Movies and Gawad Urian.

Her historic nomination at the Gawad Urian marked a significant milestone, as she became the first Igorot actor to receive such recognition. Competing in the Best Actress category, she stood shoulder to shoulder with seasoned talents in the industry.

The acknowledgment and nominations not only celebrated Mai's exceptional acting skills but also opened doors to collaborate with veteran actors and directors in the Philippine cinema. These accolades paved the way for Mai Fanglayan to contribute her talent to the rich tapestry of the country's cinematic landscape.

Mai Fanglayan during the 42nd Gawad Urian Awards Night. JCT

Mai's Impact in Filipino Cinema

Mai Fanglayan's journey in Filipino cinema made a lasting impression. Projects like "Culion" in the 2019 Metro Manila Film Festival and Brillante Mendoza's "Resbak" played a pivotal role in shaping her legacy.

In "Culion," Mai's performance connected with audiences, showcasing her talent and versatility. The film not only touched hearts but also highlighted Mai's skill in bringing diverse roles to life.

Mai Fanglayan with Iza Calzado in the film Culion. Photo: Neil Daza.

Collaborating with director Brillante Mendoza on "Resbak" added prestige to Mai's career. The film underscored her dedication to storytelling, contributing depth to her body of work.

Behind the scene of Resbak directed by Brilliante Mendoza. Photo: Center Stage Production

Mai Fanglayan's impact goes beyond awards; it's about the stories she shared, the emotions she portrayed, and the cultural richness she brought to the screen. Her legacy, marked by projects like "Culion" and "Resbak," reflects the enduring power of storytelling and the significant influence one artist can have on an entire industry. Mai's cinematic journey is not just a mark; it's a celebration of the vibrant narratives that define Filipino cinema.

Just the Beginning

Mai Fanglayan's journey is something special-a story where talent meets opportunity. From Baguio to the big film festivals, her path is a tale of resilience, cultural pride, and the endless possibilities for a rising star in Filipino cinema.

Her journey shows what happens when passion and unexpected chances come together. Starting as a Mass Communication graduate and growing into a celebrated actress, Mai Fanglayan's rise reflects the diverse talent in Filipino cinema. Her role in "Tanabata's Wife" wasn't just a personal win; it brought Igorot culture to the big screen.

As Mai steps into new cinematic realms, her story is a celebration of diversity, cultural richness, and a reminder that in the world of dreams, the options are limitless. But here's the exciting part-this is just the beginning.

Facing the Unseen Challenges

Life's journey often takes unexpected turns, and for Mai Fanglayan, the road to success was far from smooth. As her career gained momentum, the unforeseen curveball of a global pandemic in 2020 forced her to make an unexpected return to her hometown.

For two long years, Mai faced the harsh reality of minimal acting opportunities, financial strain, and the weight of personal challenges. The struggles deepened when her family confronted a daunting trial - her father's diagnosis of Stage 5 Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). The severity of the condition meant his kidneys were significantly damaged, posing a serious threat to his health.

Amidst the prolonged agony, Mai found herself grappling with depression, anxiety, and stress. The absence of acting engagements and the pressing need to support her family in crisis added layers of complexity to an already challenging situation. The uncertainty of where to begin and how to navigate this difficult period weighed heavily on her shoulders.

In the midst of these challenging times, a glimmer of hope emerged. The production company Mai had previously collaborated with extended a lifeline, offering her the role of Production/Project Manager. While this opportunity brought a sense of purpose, the inherent uncertainties of project-based work added a new layer of complexity to her journey.

As a contract-based Project Manager, the ebb and flow of projects presented financial challenges, making it difficult for Mai to meet both personal and family needs. The relentless search for alternative employment became a daily routine, with Mai sending out countless job applications, hoping for a positive response.

The emotional toll of frustration, fear, and anxiety began to take its toll on Mai's well-being. In the midst of this struggle, writing in her journal became a sanctuary, providing a space to articulate the internal battles and find solace in the written word.

The reality of Mai Fanglayan's journey unveils the unseen struggles behind the spotlight. In confronting the uncertainties, financial strains, and personal crises, she embodies resilience, courage, and the tenacity to navigate through life's storms.


Mai Fanglayan's journey in Filipino cinema unfolds as a tale of triumphs, resilience, and the delicate balance between passion and challenges. Notable among her achievements are the Best Actress Awards, recognizing her outstanding performances in "Tanabata's Wife."

She emerges not just as an actress but as a storyteller, a cultural ambassador, embodying the authentic spirit of the Igorot community.

The promising start sets the stage for Mai's ascent. It's more than personal triumph; it's about representing Igorot culture on the grand stage of Filipino cinema. Mai's journey into new cinematic realms becomes a celebration of diversity, echoing the limitless possibilities within the realm of dreams.

However, her path isn't without challenges. Unexpected twists, personal trials, and the global pandemic underscore the resilience that defines Mai Fanglayan. Through it all, she emerges not just as an actress but as a beacon of strength, navigating through life's storms with unwavering courage.

In this cinematic voyage, Mai Fanglayan's story isn't merely a chapter; it's an invitation. An invitation to dream boldly, to cherish diversity, and to craft narratives that resonate with the heartbeat of a nation. The brilliance of Mai's journey lies not only in her extraordinary Best Actress Awards but in the inspiration she leaves for future rising stars.

As we reflect on Mai Fanglayan's cinematic odyssey, we recognize that this isn't just the end of a story; it's a call to action. A call to celebrate diverse narratives within Filipino cinema, to embrace authenticity, and to remember that in every beginning, there's an extraordinary voyage waiting to unfold. Mai Fanglayan hasn't just graced the screen; she's left an indelible mark-a testament to the enduring power of stories and the profound impact one individual can have on an entire industry.

In Mai's own words, "More than anything else, my ultimate goal is to share my personal experiences in the hopes that my stories will somehow inspire and comfort someone just as how I found solace in writing. Until next time, be kind to yourself!"

For those captivated by Mai Fanglayan's compelling journey and inspired by her storytelling prowess, here's an opportunity to connect further. Mai is open to creative writing and content writing jobs, offering her unique perspective and talent to new projects.

If you have exciting opportunities or collaborations in the realm of creative writing, Mai invites you to reach out to her at Your support not only contributes to Mai's artistic endeavors but also extends a helping hand to her family. Let's join hands in fostering creativity and empowering the voices that enrich our cultural tapestry.

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