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Welcome to the Era of Belle Mariano

From playing the younger versions of leading ladies to becoming a bona fide one herself, the 20-year-old actress' time has come to solidify her place in the limelight.

by Nicole R. Cruz | Aug 31, 2022

Having grown up in the industry, Belle has been a steady presence in show biz—and with the phenomenal success of "He’s Into Her" demonstrating her truest capabilities, she proves her worth as one of the brightest stars of her generation. 

Belle Mariano’s career as a child actor has imprinted a few images on our minds; whether it’s a snickering little girl from Goin’ Bulilit, a snarky maldita from Princess and I, or perhaps a lovestruck teen from the iconic "Cellphone" episode in Maalala Mo Kaya. But a single moment can turn all that around. And despite being in the industry for 10 years and counting, it took just one TV series for that to happen.

He’s Into Her was a smash hit. Though, behind the legions of fans and massive buzz on social media, the show’s journey turned out to be a melting pot of emotions and challenges that would shift Belle’s own perception of herself. It is this transformation that eventually, albeit not immediately, also changed the minds of viewers everywhere.

Unveiling the face of Preview’s September cover is one of the highlights of this year’s Preview Ball, which celebrates a new era of fashion and art. As forms of self-expression that can hold a wealth of meaning, fashion and art challenge the viewer to dig deeper in search of understandingmuch like the Gen Z star who has much more to her than meets the eye.

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Belle Mariano for Preview.ph September 2022

Headstart

Belle started doing commercials at the age of nine, but she officially got her foot in the door when a friend invited her to the set of Goin’ Bulilit, where the director encouraged her to join a scene—and the rest was history. But even before that, Belle had always loved performing. “You know, ever since I was young, I really wanted to be a part of this industry. I remember I used to tell my parents to allow me to go on auditions. So I think ever since it’s been a passion of mine. I think I’m the type of person who’s gonna perform [in public] in the middle of a crowd,” she says laughing.

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She would go on to do the comedy-skit show for four years while simultaneously doing other projects on the side, such as her first television series Lorenzo’s Time. The projects that followed throughout the years were often roles as younger versions of the main cast, including the ones she played in Princess and I, Juan dela Cruz, Muling Buksan Ang Puso, and Maria Mercedes.

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Even for Four Sisters Before the Wedding, which she considers to be her "first movie" given her lead role there, she also technically plays the younger version of Gabbie Salazar (Shaina Magdayao) from the original film. She’s been cast in big-ticket films starring the industry’s brightest stars and love teams, indelibly making her mark in such a cutthroat world.


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But despite all her major projects, Belle admits to having her fair share of struggles. It’s difficult growing up in the limelight, after all. “I think I went through an awkward phase,” she shares. “Everyone goes through that naman. After I graduated from Goin' Bulilit. I went through that phase wherein ‘Okay, I’m getting a lot of pimples, nagbi-breakout akoTapos ‘yun yung time na talagang bumababa yung confidence ko, and I couldn’t handle it. In a way, my confidence declined.”


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Amid the insecurities of navigating through teenage life, one thing that always brings her back to her feet would be her motivations. For Belle, this is simply her passion for performing as well as the people who support her: “I really love studying characters kasi. I love reading new material. I love acting. And of course, a big factor there is the love of my supporters. So that’s what drives me to my goals, and it still does.”


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Fueled by her pure love for acting, Belle weathered through the tides of her childhood and developed her self-esteem as a teenager. “You know, I think [those experiences] boosted my confidence, actually. Kasi before, ‘yun nga, I like performing but for a small crowd. Parang natatakot ako, parang nagkakaroon ako ng stage fright. Now, throughout the years, I learned how to be confident, because you have to be confident. Being confident means being myself and loving who I am,” she says.


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Liftoff

"Learning material" and "studying characters" might not be typical of average teenagers but it’s this ardent passion for the craft that serves as her foundation, something she goes back to again and again to draw strength from.

This foundation would be tested in He’s Into Her. Based on a Wattpad novel of the same name by Maxinejiji, the teen romantic comedy series tells the story of a spunky Maxpein del Valle and her relationship with the school’s cool kid and lead bully, Deib Enrile (Donny Pangilinan). Produced by Star Cinema, the show was announced in November 2019, generating both buzz and flak from the public—as it turns out that not everyone thought Belle had what it took to portray the loud-mouthed, feisty female.


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Social media was flooded with comments saying she wasn’t a good fit for the role, and Belle admittedly started to believe it herself, leading her to question her capabilities as an actress. But just like the show’s premise of hate turning into love, Belle transformed this negativity into a force that could positively impact her work, which wasn’t without its challenges. Belle describes Maxpein as totally different from her own mild-mannered self, but she treated it like any of her previous projects by thoroughly and diligently studying Maxpein’s character. The process itself was a sheer display of her professionalism at the ripe age of 18.


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“You really have to assess your character. Not just by yourself but together with the director and the rest of the team,” she says, sounding like a businesswoman at work. “Kasi you're building another person, parang gumagawa ka ulit ng isang tao. So [by working together], talagang nagkaroon kami ng camaraderie ‘dun sa buong journey. Yes, it was difficult [at] first. Syempre kinakapa ko pa ’yung character ko. ‘Yun ’yung isa sa mga naging struggles ko, 'di ba? Knowing Max, medyo far siya from my personality. But with the help of direk and the cast, nagawa ko naman siya.”


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True enough, the show quickly gained a following after its release, with people commending Belle’s performance online and casting a shadow on the cast reveal backlash. Those who have watched the show would attest to Belle’s powerful display of emotional range on-screen as she goes from standing up to Deib to fighting for his love. The dynamism and depth of Belle’s acting, aside from being the fruit of hard work, were also a matter of time. The show’s first season halted production in 2020 during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, inciting the cast to bond albeit virtually. In He’s Into Her: The Journey, a documentary on the show’s production, Director Chad Vidanes credits the show’s energy to the cast’s offscreen camaraderie, and Belle and her castmates agree. Despite never having worked together prior to the show (although Belle made a cameo role in Donny’s film James, Pat, and Dave), the cast formed a bond during lock-in taping, which many of them, including Donny, says is unmatched.

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It took three years before He’s Into Her finally released its pilot episode in May of 2021. With almost 100,000 people tuning in on iWantTFC, the platform crashed, causing a frenzy amongst excited viewers looking forward to seeing the highly anticipated series unfold. In retrospect, the mishap might as well have been a foreshadowing of the magnitude of the show’s current success. Aside from trending online episode after episode, it even gained a following in other countries, a testament to the production’s appeal. Local fans even went as far as putting up billboards to further promote the show.

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Of course, a huge part of the show’s ability to hook its viewers would be the chemistry between Maxpein and Deib, who went from incessantly butting heads to falling in love. Although this isn’t the first time Belle has crossed paths with celebrity heartthrob Donny Pangilinan, this is the first time she has been placed in a "love team," and it’s one that has often been touted as "the love team to watch."

Belief in #DonBelle’s potential led to a slew of projects, from their first-ever film Love is Color Blind to The Benison Ball, an online concert to celebrate their show and its supporters. With season two having just wrapped up, Team DonBelle fans are looking forward to the duo’s second movie An Inconvenient Love, slated for release in November.


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Maxpein is Belle’s breakout role. It had been something she was waiting for in her decade-long show biz career. When asked how she felt after the show’s overwhelming success, she says, “I’d been wanting to lead in a show ever since I was young, and now that I’ve been given that chance, sobrang grateful 'ko. And I’m so happy na I was part of this journey and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.”

On a personal level, the hit series has transformed that one thing Belle has always tried to cultivate: her confidence. “[At] first I was really doubting myself na baka di ko kayanin but then some things just turn out the way you don’t expect them to," she says in the series' documentary. "Natuto akong magtiwala sa sarili ko.” 

Embracing Stardom

With a renewed sense of self, Belle launched herself into projects she had only dreamed of pursuing. In June of 2021, she released her first single, ‘Sigurado,’ which is also part of He’s Into Her’s Season 1 soundtrack. In December of the same year, she dropped her first album titled Daylight which featured seven tracks meant to uplift and inspire listeners. Naturally (though still to her disbelief) this was followed by her first solo virtual concert, an intimate affair designed to connect with audiences all over the globe. The music videos of her tracks also served as another form of self-expression, capturing both her aesthetic preferences and acting chops.

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A year later in June of 2022, Belle launched her own YouTube channel with a visualizer (now used as the introduction of her videos) that shows her posing in black and white ensembles featuring sporty bodycon pieces mixed with oversized jackets, a personal and youthful take on today’s trends. It's a statement that Belle, now 20 years old, is grown up and ready to share more about herself.

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Her first video was a “getting-to-know outside of the show biz industry” where she talks about the many “firsts” in her life, unleashing a candid, talkative Belle that viewers might have never seen before. Her other vlogs, often in a show-and-tell format, demonstrate her raw wit, maturity, and humor. Although she’s always been true to her personality on and off screen, her YouTube channel only serves as another way to let it shine and perhaps discover more about herself. Hence the name
"Belle and Beyond."


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Belle acknowledges that there will always be obstacles that might obstruct her composure, such as the expectation to be perfect, she confesses. “But honestly you don’t really have to be perfect because that’s what makes you perfect. That’s what makes you lovable! That’s what makes you unique. You just have to be you,” she says in a self-assured manner.

Whether it’s the duration of her career as a child actor or the auspicious arrival of He’s Into Her, time has served as a mentor to Belle who always welcomed its teachings with patience and open arms. But after being under its tutelage for so long, it is clear that Belle now has the courage to take hold of whatever comes her way and allow it to mold her into the best version of herself. 

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With a career spanning 10 years, it’s needless to say that Belle’s got the talent to go far in the industry, and now she has the chance to show the world exactly what this talent is capable of. When asked what else she has up her sleeves, Belle wholeheartedly says it would be her full potential. “That’s still something I want to show others: What I can do. Kasi ‘yun nga, I've done He’s Into Her, I still have work, I still have more to explore. And I can’t wait to grow in those different aspects.”

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Despite the varied perceptions people have had of her in the past, Belle knows that what matters today would be what she thinks of herself. She understands that her power lies in herself, and this makes her more than equipped to dominate the world as one of the rising stars of her generation.


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Produced by Marj Ramos and Steph Sison

Co-produced by Em Enriquez

Photographed by Charisma Lico

Moving Cover by Simon Te

Art Direction by Bacs Arcebal

Fashion Direction and Styling by Steph Sison and Jeymi Reyes

Makeup by Jake Galvez

Hair by RJ Dela Cruz

Nails by Extraordinail

Words by Nicole R. Cruz

Assisted by Reg Rodriguez 

Set Design by AdSet Productions

Final Art by Kahlil Alcala

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