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Make No Mistake: It Has Always Been the Kathryn Bernardo Era

by Katrina Maisie Cabral | Nov 10, 2023

Twenty years since she debuted in the industry, Kathryn Bernardo remains unafraid to experiment in uncharted territory.

Kathryn Bernardo is forever in medias res. Five minutes into our conversation, she’s already called back into the studio, where she is set to be submerged in a half-filled tank of water. Her appearance for the day is a drastic change, with hair cropped short, shorter than most have seen it, like a picture-perfect example of her usual state of flux—a second nature to one Kathryn Bernardo.

Kathryn Bernardo for Preview November 2023

For Very Good Reasons

Sitting on the couch, dry from the water and her hair back in its original form, Kathryn is keen to discuss the delicate art of letting go and moving on. Specifically, how she's shedding the characters from A Very Good Girl, which she admits still cling to her even on that very day.

The process of letting go of a role is solemn, much like laying them to eternal rest. Actors say their eulogies and pay their respects. In return, these characters are immortalized on film and become permanent fixtures of an actor’s creative DNA.


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Kathryn, on the move as always, is about to take on this final step after a quick trip following a hectic press tour. Her co-star Dolly de Leon had partaken in the process, too, but for Kathryn’s case, this would be her first time.

Parang talk lang siya. Then you'll just say goodbye to your character,” She describes in detail, retelling what she had heard about from her acting coach. “You say thank you for all the learnings. Thank you for making me feel all these emotions, and all. But now it's time to let go. You’ll be forever part of me.”

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It isn’t that hard to fathom why Kathryn finds herself attached to Philo and Mercy. In the Petersen Vargas-helmed film, the actress branched out from her string of romantic comedies and onto a darker, twisted side. Here, Kathryn portrays the two characters opposite Dolly de Leon’s Mother Molly Suzara, the target of Philo’s meticulously crafted revenge plot. The result, at least in the real world, is a staggering P100 million box office, alongside countless reviews that laud Kathryn’s compelling, career-defining performance.

But before all that, there was the initial decision to say “yes” to the project. Kathryn recalls that this pitch shone brightly among those given to her for a handful of reasons. First, it was the characters. “The story is about different kinds of women. And there are struggles with all those women and then they have their own battles,” she points out.


Second were the thematic issues of social strata that surround the film. Something that seems a touch too familiar, thanks to reality. “Hindi talaga fair ’yung mundo,” Kathryn says. “So, do you just accept that? Or do you fight back and i-break mo ’yung nakasanayan ng mga tao?”

Third was the opportunity to work alongside Dolly—whom she affectionately calls Miss D—the actress who so recently rocked the Philippine film industry after trailblazing Golden Globe and British Academy Film Award (BAFTA) nominations for Triangle of Sadness. For anyone who asks Kathryn, they were a match made in the cosmos. They’re both Arieses, for one, and they had the same work ethic, with a hands-on eye for the script. 


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In an alternate timeline where they were the same age, Kathryn liked to think that they would have found themselves in a tightly knit barkada of their own. But much like their characters sans the bad blood, the duo formed a connection, a mentor-protégé relationship, and in their case, an honest-to-goodness friendship, and one that was sealed with a promise the day they “officially” met.

“We had a deal na we’ll make this work,” Kathryn recalls. She knows the exact day it transpired–the 20th of April. “‘I’ll tell you if feeling ko hindi mo nagawa [mabuti] masyado ’yung eksena. Ganon ka din sa akin, you're gonna help me.’ So naging open agad ’yung relationship namin and I was very honest with her.” And so came the enticing chemistry of A Very Good Girl’s leads, a palpable feeling on screen manifested by that promise.


Challenge, Accepted

But the draw for Kathryn was set by the fourth and final condition: the enticing pull of a challenge.

Portraying both Philo and Mercy had stretched the way she viewed acting as she knew it. While 2019’s Hello, Love, Goodbye infamously immersed the actress into the life of an OFW on the brink of frustration-laced tears, A Very Good Girl expanded herself, in more ways than one, by filling the roles of seeming opposites in one film, which involved physical and mental preparation. She had shed some weight for the characters, and played dress-up to distinguish Philo and Mercy. Emotionally, she sought guidance in hopes to better manifest the blurring line between them.


“Before I accept any movie or TV series na i-offer sakin, [I ask myself,] ‘Okay, anong bago? Anong hindi ko pa nagawa?’”

With a 20-year acting experience in her mere 27 years of existence, challenges were now her personal bread and butter in an industry that can so often box actors in plug-and-play, perfectly laid-out typecasts. She found her start in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role in 2002’s Dekada '70, which, when thought about, became the butterfly effect that led her to first main role in Super Inggo, to eventually Mara Clara and She’s Dating the Gangster, then coalescing into a filmography that found its way to A Very Good Girl. For the most part, the common denominator in the many roles she has been in is constant change.


“Before I accept any movie or TV series na i-offer sakin, [I ask myself,] ‘Okay, anong bago? Anong hindi ko pa nagawa?’” Kathryn says. “Para hindi ako parang nagpa-plateau. Yes, you can do rom-coms. Pero the next, [pwedeng] ibang klaseng story naman na rom-com.”

After all, her careful choices had led to her win at this year’s Seoul International Drama Awards, where she accepted the Outstanding Asian Star award for her work in 2 Good 2 Be True, the 2022 drama and romantic comedy series that she co-stars with her partner and the other half of “Kathniel,” Daniel Padilla.


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The trip to Seoul was a brief yet exhilarating time, transpired and tucked in between a packed schedule days before the A Very Good Girl premiere. She flew into the South Korean capital, got dolled up for the red carpet, and received the award with her team and fans, who graced the stage as much as she did in the metaphorical sense through her acceptance speech.


While Kathryn jokes about her sparse interactions with other celebrities due to a bout of shyness and hunger pangs, (“I was super shy!” she laughs, blushing. “Gutom na gutom talaga kasi kami. ’Yun lang nasa isip ko.”) she’s also quick to note the changing landscape of the Philippine entertainment industry, which ultimately brought her to that very stage.


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Nakaka-proud na, slowly, nakakapasok tayo sa ganong mundo,” Kathryn says. “Sana magtuloy-tuloy, because I feel like ang dami talagang magagandang materials and talents dito. If just given enough time and budget, kayang-kayang natin.”

Production and material have evolved, she thinks. But even more so, the audience has, too. Some would coin this as the brink of a renaissance for the Philippine entertainment industry, where genre-bending films and series have been put out to the world, and Filipino actors are given their due in the international landscape. As someone knee-deep in front and behind the scenes, Kathryn knows it, too.

"Not that I’m against the formula, because it worked before. It just so happened na iba na ngayon. Nandito tayo sa transition era."



“Feeling ko ang daming na realize ng mga tao during the pandemic,” she muses on her theory on why this aforementioned “renaissance” is happening. “Na-open na sila sa iba’t-ibang platforms na nakita nila na, ‘Oh, na-enjoy ko rin pala ’yung film [that’s] not the usual formula na ginagawa natin.’ 

“Not that I’m against the formula, because it worked before, she clarifies. It just so happened na iba na ngayon. Nandito tayo sa transition era. People now are very smart when it comes to watching a movie, and kailangan bigyan mo sila ng material na worth their time [and money]. And I think, the creatives, nagkaroon sila ng more freedom to do these things, because ’yun ‘yung gusto din ng tao ngayon.”


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Break the Mold

In the grand picture of this renaissance stands Kathryn, who is shaping to be a pivotal moving part in the scheme of things. While we looked into the lens of the industry as a whole, Kathryn’s story on a smaller scale seemed to have a rebirth of its own. At least, in the eyes of those who witnessed her anew in A Very Good Girl. But to her, it might be a different case.

Kathryn weighs her words in response to whether or not she has entered a more experimental age as an actress, marked by her latest film. She settles on a calm “I think so,” but A Very Good Girl wasn’t a stand-alone film in a sense—it was a totality of a work-in-progress, a long, constantly moving experience and two decades of wisdom, settling into a project that she was currently proud of. 


“I wouldn’t say na ’yung iba kong ginawa before wasn’t experimental,” she says. “Kasi Hello, Love, Goodbye and The Hows of Us, they were different experiences, too. And wala akong regrets na ginawa ko ’yun kasi ang dami ko talagang natutunan.”

"Hindi ako na-limit, because I’m very vocal kung ano ’yung gusto ko at kung ano ’yung ayaw ko. I’m very open with management. If I don't like it, they don't force [me]."

In ways, Kathryn is the showbiz child star personified, but with all the gleaming, great things still shining from her. As viewers would know, the actress has done the usual rounds audiences have come to expect of the quintessential Filipina artista, with a succession of rom-coms, teleseryes, love teams, tearjerkers, and even a self-titled pop album in 2014—the whole nine yards. But while naysayers could easily see this as playing like a cog in the machinery known as Philippine showbiz, to Kathryn, each and every part of it was vital. For one, she never felt “limited” by perceived constraints.


“I feel like ’yung mga nagawa ko, it was just perfect for my age. Perfect for my fans as well,” she explains. “Hindi ako na-limit, because I’m very vocal kung ano ’yung gusto ko at kung ano ’yung ayaw ko. I’m very open with [my] management. If I don't like it, they don't force [me]. Kapag may ’di ako comfortable gawin, I say no politely. And I think ’yun ’yung nakatulong talaga, na kailangan mo gawin ’yung mga bagay nagpapasaya sa’yo.”


Kathryn credits her showbiz experience for helping her reach a maturity of her own, both as an artist and as a person. Much has been said about her “all-grown-up” visage, from her peeling her “good girl” image as a Teen Queen, a talking point that has transcended from the themes of her film and onto notions of her real-life persona. When an unsolicited video of her vaping had leaked on the internet, Kathryn had expressed her dismay at the violation of her privacy, but stressed that the act didn’t “define” her as a person.

The discussion on being a role model and upholding a certain image was raised, but it wasn’t a new conversation to a former child star like herself. Kathryn acknowledges that there were toxic expectations that hung over her mind as a teenager, but it was something that she, too, learned to let go of.


"I don't want to be good just because I have to be good... Basta wala akong nasasaktan na ibang tao, then I'm okay. Especially now, I feel like mas kilala ko na sarili ko. So I don't have to please everybody. I just do things that make me happy."

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Nung tumanda ako, I [no longer think] of the pressure of being a ‘good girl,’ because I don't want to be good just because I have to be good. I don't want to lose myself,” she expresses.


This process of letting go and moving on, meanwhile, involves shedding the remnants of artista-hood once the cameras are off.

Hindi lang [showbiz] ’yung mundo ko. Today, artista ako. Pero later, pag-uwi ko, hindi na. At the end of the day, you’re a normal human being.” she says. Basta wala akong nasasaktan na ibang tao, then I'm okay. Especially now, I feel like mas kilala ko na sarili ko. So I don't have to please everybody. I just do things that make me happy.”


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Kathryn is in a constant state of movement, but her feet remain standing on the ground where her roots took form. While she has her foot in the door with wins on international stages, foreign projects, while intriguing, make her think about the toil and trouble of starting at “square one” in an entirely different world. 

Dito pa nga lang ang hirap na. It took 20 years to get to where I am now. Ang dami pang kailangan gawin,” she explains. “I’m open with opportunities kung mayroong partnership, but then I would like to stay here, kasi, alam mo, iba kapag dito sa Philippines, eh.”


She, however, knows where her next stop is after the shoot—a quick, well-deserved break—but she laughs and admits that she has no clue what’s next after laying her characters from A Very Good Girl to rest. 

“I don't know. I don't know talaga!” she says. “I just take it day by day. I don't want to overthink. I don't want to put too much pressure on myself. Hindi ko alam anong mangyayari sa akin for 2024, but ’yung uncertainty, ’yun ’yung exciting, ’di ba?”

The blur of action in the fast-paced industry notwithstanding, Kathryn knows the value of pausing once in a while. After her short break, she hopes that a brand-new pitch will shine in the mix once again. It could very well be another genre-bender like A Very Good Girl, or even an alternate spin on the teleserye. Whatever route she goes on, Kathryn will, as a constant, always test the boundaries of her artistry, with no pressures hanging over her any longer.


Gusto ko lang parati to make something that will make me grow as an actress,” she says, punctuated by two words, and two words alone. “No expectations.”

Produced and Styled by The Preview Team
Photographer: Charisma Lico
Creative Director: Bacs Arcebal
Editor-in-Chief: Marj Ramos-Clemente
Production: Katrina Maisie Cabral and Reg Rodriguez
Fashion: Marj Ramos-Clemente, Reg Rodriguez, Leika Golez, and Isha Fojas
Makeup: Owen Sarmiento
Hairstyling: John Valle using Jhen Hair Extensions
Set Design: Paul Jatayna, assisted by Pao Mendoza
Story: Katrina Maisie Cabral
Videos: Jana Jodloman
Social Media: Jamie Lou Briones
Shoot Location: Balara Content Studio
Special thanks to Celine Mallari of Univers Greenbelt 3
* Editor’s note: No animals were harmed in the production of this cover.


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