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Bela Padilla Is the Boss of Her Own Fate

Whether it’s carefully taking on roles, detaching herself from social media, or dressing in whatever way she wants, Bela Padilla remains the captain of her own life.

by Jamina F. Nitura | Sep 4, 2019

As artists, I feel like we shouldn’t let the audience dictate what we bring out into the world. Instead, we give them what we love so it’s good and true.”


It’s easy to fall into Bela Padilla’s orbit. Inviting with her easy smile, there’s a guarded quiet confidence that you can’t help but respect and admire within the first minute that you meet her. It’s this aura of self-certainty in the way she speaks that has you leaning in, in hopes of catching even a sliver of the trust she’s found in herself. She holds her head high as she settles down, all the while turning her body towards you, a sign that she’s giving you all her attention. There’s nothing intimidating about her movements though, nor with the focused way she regards whoever she’s speaking to, while occasionally sipping on a bottle of chocolate nut milk. 


Bela Padilla for September 2019

Suffice to say, Bela’s energy is composed of an all-enticing charm and intelligent authority that she has earned after years of striving to prove herself in the industry. After all, only someone with her talent and tenure gets offered a role for a remake as iconic as Miracle in Cell No. 7, a 2013 multi-awarded Korean comedy-drama. “I thought I would have the rest of the year off kasi I didn’t have to do anything anymore. I remember I was at the beach where I booked a diving trip with friends and my mom,”  Bela recounts after having finished shooting for her primetime serye, Sino Ang May Sala?: Mea Culpa. “On my first night there, boss Vincent [del Rosario] from Viva Films called me and asked if it was okay with me to take on Nadine [Lustre]’s role for Miracle in Cell No. 7, and I said yes, since it’s a great opportunity to work with Mr. Aga Muhlach.” 

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Call it coincidence or fate, but much like the actress in real life, her upcoming role—anticipated by fans and K-drama fanatics alike—speaks to the person Bela’s grown to be. The story of an unfortunate, mentally impaired man scorned by his country’s justice system, the upcoming film features Bela who’s set to play an adult daughter, a lawyer described as independent, street-smart, school smart, and utterly hungry to clear her father’s name. “I like how strong and independent she is,” Bela muses. “We see injustice every day and the story is a huge example of that, and it happens. It’s a good wake up call to people as a reminder na 'hey, this happens.' We should be more aware of how we take care of the people around us and how one life can change forever because of a wrong accusation.” 


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It’s the kind of narrative she’s actively steering her career path towards; one with intent and purpose, one that speaks with the motive of actually saying something.  “Now I really want to be more careful with the projects that I do especially with movies. They last longer, they live longer in the heads of people. They quote you years after the movie has come out,”  Bela tells Preview. “Right now I feel like I want to be playing roles that have more of social relevance. Whoever’s watching my movies, I think if I can affect just one person with it, I feel like I did my job well.”

Having transitioned from a young actress with something to prove, to an award-winning multi-hyphenate set on what she wants to bring out into the world, at the early age of 28, it’s abundantly clear that Bela Padilla is the boss of her own making. 


"Whoever’s watching my movies, I think if I can affect just one person with it, I feel like I did my job well."

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Staying True to the Authentic Bela

In a business built on connections and the almost toxic need to vie for mass approval, Bela’s confident enough in her own merits to stray from the crowd. Where to bare your skin in risqué roles is almost synonymous to “growing up” and developing as an actress, she doesn’t feel the need to overextend her repertoire into a territory that doesn’t feel authentic to her sensibilities. “There are roles that are more R-18 than the ones I usually do and I’m not comfortable with that. I don’t want to show my skin on the big screen. It’s weird because I’m always given the strong independent woman role but I’m actually very old school as a person. Still very old fashioned,” she explains. 


This is most evident in the films she’s top-billed: from 100 Tula Para kay Stella, Meet Me in St. Gallen, and Camp Sawi, all of which the actress had described as “wholesome and real” for her. In fact, her main criteria for accepting roles involves an innocent yet important clause that we can all relate to—that is, can she invite her mom to the premiere? “If she can’t watch it because she’s just deeply disappointed in me then I would rather not do the movie,” she states matter-of-factly.


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Also a weaver of stories herself, the steadfast independence in which she goes about with her craft seamlessly translates into her own writing. A stickler for darker themes often considered taboo in the country, Bela has always tended to the colorful and eccentric when it comes to her screenwriting. She paints this picture through ticking off her favorite movies—all veering towards the surreal—including titles like What Dreams May Come, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Mood Indigo. Asked why it’s important for her to tell such unconventional stories, she had this to say, “I guess we all have personal reasons for these things. What’s important to me might not necessarily be important to other people, but it’s interesting to me, that’s why I want to bring it out. It’s as simple as that,” she says. “As artists, I feel like we shouldn’t let the audience dictate what we bring out into the world. Instead, we give them what we love so it’s good and true, and then we see what their reaction is. You don’t change everything you know for your audience. So this is what I know, that’s why this is what I like writing about and this is what I like bringing out into the world.”


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Stepping Out of Social Media

After significantly cutting down her Instagram following in half, the barely contained passion in which Bela explains her recent social media detox comes as no surprise. It seems the shift from her phone to a life more present in the real world has been a long time coming. Her decision to unplug comes from a nostalgia that once again yearns for a raw experience of the senses we should be enjoying, of learning actual lessons without having to Google our way through life. Don’t get it wrong though, while she acknowledges the convenience technology brings—a fan of occasionally laughing at cute animal videos on Instagram herself, or looking through the photo app for beauty and fashion pegs that she can take inspiration from—she’s a firm believer that one should learn to look up from their screens. “I cannot reiterate this enough, there should be a life outside your phone. It’s very disturbing when you go out, everyone’s literally on their phones. I feel like the more time we spend on it, the less time we get to spend being a real person,” she confidently declares, harboring a strong tone asking to be heard. 


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It’s a message clearly conveyed in her latest screenwriting credit, Apple of My Eye, an admittedly light-hearted romance flick following the relationship that blossoms between a web developer and a girl who’s chosen to live a traditional, tech-free life. Aware of the similarities, Bela half-jokingly admits that her inspiration for the movie ultimately came from her own experience. “I would still say I’m very backward when it comes to technology, and I feel like it’s deliberate already to stay away from technology as much as I can,” she explains. 


"I post pictures of dogs not because you might like it and you might think it’s cute. I feel like social media gives us that pressure, that we always have to be aware of what other people think of us and that’s wrong."

Along with this is her understandable aversion from a social-media-centric world that’s bred a generation in constant need of gratification. As if a like or two on our carefully staged Instagram photo can make or break the way we perceive ourselves. It’s this reason that while some people are opposed to Instagram taking down the like-count visibility on photos, Bela, on the other hand, stands behind the effort. “It gives less pressure to the younger generation. It lets them just post pictures because they like the pictures and not because other people will like them. I think that’s what we should take away from social media.  It’s your own validation of yourself, that’s what it’s supposed to be. I post pictures of dogs not because you might like it and you might think it’s cute. I feel like social media gives us that pressure, that we always have to be aware of what other people think of us and that’s wrong.” she reiterates. “It was so much easier in the '90s when we had physical photo albums, and we'd show it to friends because we’re comfortable showing it to them. Now we post pictures in an album sort of style on Instagram because we hope other people would like them, or we hope they’ll think better of us after they see our pictures. Sometimes it makes me a bit jaded or sad. So, I step out once in a while, and I would recommend it. Too much of anything is bad for a person.”


At the end of the day, it’s not about getting inside your granddad’s beat-up Cadillac and driving backwards into the time of infuriatingly slow dial-ups or tedious rotary telephones. No, all Bela’s clamoring for, in her own personal way, is for a promising young generation to take control of their youth, to build genuine confidence that's not dependent on measly numbers and likes on screen, or the opinions of strangers on the internet. We owe ourselves that much.


A Woman of Her Own Style

You could question a celebrity's authenticity in a business where, as Bela speaks of it, “Everyone’s supposed to like you.” What with stars trained and groomed into an image the industry big-wigs believe a mass paying audience would want to see and follow. And with the pressure that comes from having to appear perfect 24/7 before a sea of peering eyes judging your every move, your every word choice, and your every outfit change, there’s nothing wrong with enlisting a bit of help, especially when it comes to one’s outer appearance. 


However, for someone like Bela who knows every asset and underlying “flaw” of her body all too well, she promises that what you see is what you get. She describes her style peg as something akin to a European girl, effortless yet still put together in a cotton shirt, silk skirt, tote bag, and her comfy universal Chucks to get her through the day. “I’ll always look for one piece to excite me for the day. Whether it’s a new bag, there has to be something that excites me with my look,” she says. Although admittedly, fussing over wearing this season’s fashion trend is rarely something she concerns herself with now. Especially not when she’s wholly intent on always dressing for herself, only ever donning clothes that render her confident and comfortable in her own skin. 


“I feel like I know what looks good on me. I won’t wear a sleeveless top ever because I know in my head my arms are big. So why would I put myself through a day of torture [and wonder,] “Are they looking at my arms?” or “Are my arms too big in this top?” So, for sure I’ll wear a shirt that covers my arms, or a polo,” Bela says, undeniably at home in her red T-shirt, loose pants and white sneakers as she talks of the most important thing a person should remember when dressing up: knowing your body. 

For someone like Bela who knows every asset and underlying “flaw” of her body all too well, she promises that what you see is what you get.

For Bela, the definition of dressing well all boils down to how your outfit makes you feel. “We read this over and over again and it sounds like such a cliché. To be honest, when I first read this in my teens, I was like 'how do you know your body?' But really just look in the mirror and see, are you really happy with what you’re wearing today?” she sounds off.  “It’s supposed to be what makes you feel like you look good, because there are girls who are smaller or bigger than me that are comfortable with their arms showing. I’m not. So this is what I’ll wear. So, it’s what you think you look good in because that sets the mood for your whole day.”


That being said, she reveals rarely asking for a stylist’s help when it comes to dressing up, often taking on a devil-may-care attitude when she turns up overdressed or underdressed to a show or event. “I’m comfortable with it because that’s what I wanted to wear that day. I will ask for help from stylists when it’s an event, or I need to wear something like a gown because I don’t have a multitude of gowns waiting at home. I also get a stylist when my job requires a specific thing. But if I can do it on my own, I’d rather do it on my own."


It’s an admirably bold choice that not many celebrities would dare to follow. Then again, not many celebrities are like Bela Padilla. On the occasions that she does need a helping hand, the actress remains true to her image by offering her input and sending her stylist pegs, yet keeping an open mind for collaboration at the same time. “I think anything that’s creative is always more beautiful when it’s collaborative. If you are humble enough or comfortable to ask for help from someone to make something beautiful then that’s a nice thing because you got to share it with someone at this moment. I mean, I’m not trying to sound deep for something so simple like styling, but in general, when you work with someone, there’s more gratification after it turns out well.”


Confidently individuated in her personal choices, yet openly collaborative with her art, Bela’s the driver of her fate, set for a course that’s entirely her own. Whether she decides to keep the wheel steady on the same path, or she takes the long road to somewhere unforeseen, everyone else is afforded with nothing but to watch the rest of her story unfold.

Produced by Marj Ramos

Photographed by Paolo Crodua

Art Directed by Bacs Arcebal

Fashion Direction and Styling by Yanna Lopez

Beauty Direction by Nicole Arcano

Makeup by Justine Navato

Hair by Jan Edrosolan

Nails by Posh Nails

Set Design by Aren Dale Santos of ADSET Production

Shoot Assistants: Shantel Beramo, Angelica Renia

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