We’ve got our on her!
Could you play some Lana Del Rey?” Bela Padilla asks sweetly, standing under the bright studio lights as her very first
Cosmopolitan cover shoot kicks off. Wearing a figure-hugging black bodysuit, jeans that could more easily be called demolished than distressed, and sky-high black booties, she looks the epitome of an elusive kind of laid-back cool, making the request more than appropriate.
“Summertime Sadness” comes on, and with that, Bela transforms right before the team’s eyes, becoming sultry, pensive, and jaw-droppingly sexy, belying the quirky-girl vibe she sashayed in with beforehand. You can hardly tell that it’s been a long and busy day for the 25-year-old actress, who shows with every click of the camera that she is one of those most delightful of showbiz creatures: a professional.
Discovered at 17 during a school field trip, Bela is a relative veteran in the industry, as well as a member of one of the country’s most established show business families. Despite this, she admits never having entertained the idea of acting before she was scouted. “I was really shy,” she shares. “When we were growing up, we would be asked to dance, perform, entertain the titas, and I would always be the kid at the back begging not to be picked. I really didn’t imagine that this opportunity would fall into my lap or that this would open up for me.”
A lack of concrete plans after graduating, however, would serve as the catalyst for her acceptance of the offer. “I think the fact that I had family members who
were in showbiz made it easier for me to imagine myself acting. It’s still overwhelming, but it was definitely helpful seeing people I’m close to and people I trust working in this industry.”
This, however, isn’t to say that it’s ever easy. “Every time I get a new project, or read a new script, I get scared,” she confesses. “Everyone who’s worked with me knows that on the first day of shooting, I’m literally shaking because I’m anticipating when the character is going to sink in.”
There are tinges of Method acting in her technique: She narrates how, while shooting
Ang Probinsyano, where she played opposite Coco Martin as his wife, she would come home still wearing a wedding ring. One story she regales us with details her crying and upset about the death of her “husband.” “I took feelings home. I’d snap out of it after a few hours, but until then, I relish the character,” she says.
She shares her desire to tell true, compelling stories rooted in real people’s experiences, and this revelation sheds light on how she has managed to become so versatile an actress. “I’m a different person when I’m in front of the camera, but I try to inject a bit of Bela into performances. That’s what I’m trying to live by now, in trying to make the characters I play more authentic: I try to delve deeper into all my characters,” she says. “I do feel the pain every time I cry, or get slapped, or every time my character gets hurt by another character, so I hope it translates.”
Writing, though, is a more conscious effort for Bela. With several finished scripts and concepts already under her belt, including the hit movie
Camp Sawi, she shares that she hopes to legitimize this facet of her career. “I don’t want established writers to wonder why I’m getting a break. I’m taking writing courses so I can feel that I put the work in. I want the work to feel real,” she says.
It’s a smart move on her part. “I don’t see myself acting forever, because the turnover for actors is so fast,” she says. “I’m trying to position myself in a way that I can write as a career if people stop casting me. If people would have me, of course I’d want to act for as long as I can.” It’s a pragmatic statement, and one can’t help but respect her for her transparency.
“Writing’s not something I thought I’d do full time, because I’ve transitioned from seeing acting as something fun that pays the bills, to really loving every bit of it,” she explains. “On set, that’s my comfort zone. Everywhere else, it’s like I’m living half a life, but when I’m on set, I feel like I know what I’m doing and what I’m doing is something I can be proud of.”
It would be easy to assume that, having crossed over, Bela would insist on being involved in each script, but she corrects us: “Out of respect for other writers, you play what’s written.” When writing scripts for herself or for friends, however, is when she can flex her creative muscles. “I notice I tend to downplay characters I write for myself and try to uplift the others,” she explains. “It’s a conscious effort. People here have so much to say about everything, so it’s just to be safe.”
She would know, after all, about haters. In 2012, she found herself in the middle of a controversy when a men’s magazine put her on its cover, alongside several models painted in blackface. The internet cried foul, citing racism, and promptly attacked Bela. “I honestly don’t think about it anymore,” she says of the brouhaha. “You can’t predict how things turn out. You make the most out of things, I guess. I would have reacted the same way now as I did then, which was to apologize. I didn’t do anything intentionally hurtful, but that people were hurt by it was a signal for me to apologize. You don’t have to be in the wrong to say sorry. I know the team didn’t intend to hurt me; they didn’t want to put me in a bad light.”
One could say it was a baptism of fire. She’s mellowed, though,with experience. “It wasn’t easy, but I guess with the duration I’ve been in show business, you get a little bit more ‘Ah, who cares?’” she says. “I used to be really affected. If there were a hundred comments, and 99 were great but one was bad, I’d fixate on the bad one. Now, I appreciate the 99 more. Those little things used to scare me, that I’d lose my job over that one comment. Now I know it’s not true. You get more work by being professional, and I hope the people who write those hateful comments realize that the people who pay us know more about what’s going on.”
Bela says she keeps doing the work, despite the challenges, for the most important people in her life: her family. “I was