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Bela Padilla Is Not the Kind of Actress You Think She Is

Whether in front of or behind the camera, she always manages to surprise us.

by Chandra Pepino | Mar 8, 2018

From finding her footing in film to exploring new screenwriting opportunities, Bela Padilla knows what she wants and works hard for it. 

When Bela Padilla arrived on the set of her Preview digital cover shoot and walked over to greet us, it felt as though we were encountering a familiar face from a regularly-frequented café—you feel like you know her, but there is much more under the surface. This month’s featured celebrity is no stranger to sexy shoots, but it was her first time agreeing to do a topless layout—a decision Bela appears to have arrived at naturally and conscientiously (instead of the typical dive into semi-starvation, accompanied by panic and dread). As she leaned back into her seat and began to speak, you can hear the cracks in her voice, perhaps worn down from taping or a previous shoot. Still, there’s a certain assertiveness and strength that remained evident in her every word. Each time she made a Wes Anderson reference, it never felt pretentious or heavyhanded—the corners of her mouth lifted up, her eyes sparkled, and her tone was one of genuine admiration. “You know how Wes Anderson uses the same actors in all of his films? You would see Bill Murray do a cameo...I want something like that. I want flavor in my films; I want you to know it’s me.” After nearly a decade in the industry, it’s a humble but poignant request—Bela just wants you to know it’s her.


Bela Padilla for March 2018

The Actress

Filipino showbiz is replete with multihyphenates, from child-actresses-turned-pop-singers to leading-ladies-slash-travel-vloggers (the iterations are virtually endless), but rarely do we ever come across an actress-screenwriter—much less one who has earned the respect of the likes of directors Irene Villamor, Antoinette Jadaone, and Joyce Bernal. In fact, it was during one of their quaint Sunday meetings that the early beginnings of Bela’s latest film, Meet Me in St. Gallen, were ironed out: “Direk Irene brought it up, but there was no title yet—she called it ‘Happy Project.’ [We had already been in talks for] a reunion project after Camp Sawi together, so I said, ‘Direk, it sounds like something I want to see myself in. Do you mind letting me try out for it? Do you want me to do it?’” Bela was so excited that she jumped the gun at a meeting with Viva Films’ big boss, Vic Del Rosario, the next day. “Boss Vic gave us the go signal. I’m so proud of this movie—out of all the things I’ve done so far, this is what I’m the most proud of.”

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“If I could marry my job, I would. I think that translates into the work that I do. I would like to be remembered as someone who never left anything to chance."

She and co-star Carlo Aquino accepted the project without having read the full script, a spontaneous move for both actors. Even more spontaneous was the fact that Meet Me in St. Gallen was written as they went along: “Direk Irene wrote Act 2 based on our performance in Act 1, and wrote Act 3 after watching our performances in Act 1 and 2,” Bela explains. “We shot chronologically, which is pretty rare considering time and budget constraints.” This atmosphere of creative freedom allowed Bela to soul-search during their filming days in Europe. “I appreciated myself [when I was there]. I gave myself a chance to explore different places. I trusted myself completely. I fell in love with food, good coffee, a nice shot of gin and ginger, and I fell in love with myself.”


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It’s Bela’s tenacity that gets her over the brick wall, whether she’s playing a fatherless model in I America, a beleaguered journalist in 10,000 Hours, or a black-lipped rebel in 100 Tula Para Kay Stella. “I always try to inject a little bit of me. I always give my all, because I have to give justice to whatever project is given to me,” says Bela. she tilts her head, and almost as if she’s begun to daydream, she continues: “This is my job, and I love it so much. If I could marry my job, I would. I think that translates into the work that I do. I would like to be remembered as someone who never left anything to chance. I think that should be the responsibility of every person we see on TV—to never leave everything behind.” Traits like hard work and determination are easy for anyone to throw around, but Bela actually talks the talk—her FAMAS, PMPC, and MMFF wins and nominations speak volumes in this regard.


The Screenwriter

The duality of Bela Padilla lies in her comfort both in front of and behind the camera: her screenwriting credits to date include 10,000 Hours (2013), Camp Sawi (2016), Luck at First Sight (2017), and Last Night (2017). You’ve heard it said that writers are great lovers—treat them right and they’ll make palaces out of paragraphs; choose to leave and they’ll turn you into literature. Bela’s forte has always been romance, and so her fervent tirades for the local film industry come from a place of love: “There are so many film festivals now, and they’re giving us quality projects. And then we don’t watch. And then we complain. Why do we see the same thing over and over? Because this is what we pay for. So let’s be consistent in our complaints and our actions. If you want something good, pay for it. Watch it. Don’t download it,” she implores.


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Bela also hopes that the film industry continues to serve a wide range of audiences, not just the millennials: “You know what’s funny? Every time I pitch stories [as a screenwriter], they [always ask], ‘Will the millennials relate to this?’ And I get a little offended. I do consider myself a millennial. I am in that age bracket. But I also identify with older people. Why do we have to cater to one generation only? Don’t people of all ages deserve good films, too?” she stresses. “Why must we always think about what millennials will say about our film? Why don’t we make a good film for everyone? I want to take that fear out of people, producers, writers, and actors. [We shouldn’t always have to] feel the need to look young and feel young.”


But when she finally shuffles her papers, ready for directors and actors to pore over and peruse her pages, trust that the rest of the world will be waiting with bated breath to hear what Bela has to say.

“It’s a good time to be in this industry and it’s a good time to be in the audience, but I want you guys to know how hard it is for us to come up with one film. It takes blood, sweat, and tears, but [our hope is to] feed audiences something good, and that no matter their age, they will appreciate it.” Evidently, Philippine cinema is a paramour Bela Padilla will never abandon.

The thing about writers is they will always be difficult to describe. Those who weave words like silk will always escape the confines of categorization, and Bela, as young and promising as she is, knows she’s still volumes away from her life’s greatest work. But when she finally shuffles her papers, ready for directors and actors to pore over and peruse her pages, trust that the rest of the world will be waiting with bated breath to hear what Bela has to say.


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The Fighter

Bela’s problem-solving approach for emotional distress is a result of encounters with naysayers. She has on numerous occasions become an easy target for anonymous keyboard warfare—something she refuses to take lying down. “If you’re hiding behind an anonymous name and a picture that isn’t your face, you shouldn’t say anything. You’re being a coward. You’re not contributing. You’re just noise,” she says.


She then recalls a brief run-in with the Twitter community last year, during which she encouraged her followers to treat Joey de Leon with “a bit more kindness” after he made contentious remarks about depression on an Eat Bulaga segment. “I felt horrible about it because I go through depression myself, and I know a lot of actors and young people do, too...but what I felt worse about was how the people were dealing with it. I saw 14-year-olds cursing him [on Twitter]. You’re free to be angry, but must you speak this way?” Her righteously palaban attitude manifested just recently when her Instagram account was flooded with backhanded compliments about her belly in a bikini photo last week. “Are we not vulnerable to pain? Do we not feel what you say to us when you call us names?”

“If I can’t do anything about it now, I’ll sleep it off, or I’ll have a good meal, and I’ll think about it later on.”

It's this type of unshakeable public attention that requires one to have a reliable support system. Asked whom she turns to during troubling times, she gives us a rundown of familiar names—Yassi Pressman, Dani Barretto, Kim Chiu, Angelica Panganiban. These are names the public is all too familiar with, but that Bela has come to know as family. “There are days when I get bad news, and I immediately call them and ask, ‘What do I do now?’” After nearly a decade in showbiz, her go-to bounce-back strategy is straightforward—she calls it her golden rule: “If I can’t do anything about it now, I’ll sleep it off, or I’ll have a good meal, and I’ll think about it later on.”


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Despite this constant assault of human interaction, be it positive or negative, Bela finds herself inclined to search for complexity in others. Bela makes room for nuance and gray areas in as much as the world’s great writers never present their characters to be purely good or evil. “If I could break walls to give [people second chances], I would. And as much as possible, I make sure I don’t hurt anyone,” she says matter-of-factly.


Show business is tough, but Bela is tougher—beneath her opinionated exterior, however, lies a side of her that her audiences have yet to see...or might never even see. And perhaps that's alright. Instead of searching for complete transparency or demanding that our actors and actresses open their entire existence to our watchful, hungry eyes, perhaps it's better that those like Bela preserve crucial aspects of their identity to themselves. It's in the secrecy and the mystery, and the fact that we might know Bela but never truly do, that her artistry will continue to astound us in the years to come.

Photographed by Charisma Lico

Styled and Produced by Marj Ramos

Art Directed by Mark Buenaobra

Assisted by Nicole Arcano

Makeup by Denise Ochoa

Hair by Paul Nebres

Nails by Vernadette Roberto of Posh Nails

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