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Julia Barretto: The star in the stars

Julia Barretto is still in her TV makeup when she arrives at our cover shoot on a gloomy Sunday afternoon during the Independence Day long weekend. Comfortably dressed down in a fitted black tank top, tights, and athletic sandals, she enters the spacious flat in Cubao donning an infectious smile that is a stark contrast to the stormy weather. It’s been a long day, but Julia is unfazed. She courteously greets everyone in the room one by one—and gives makeup artist Lala Flores a big hug—before quickly sitting down to have her hair and makeup done.

As she chats with the team, she removes her TV makeup to reveal a bare face and fatigued eyes. It’s Sunday. The only day of the week when she’s not taping her teleserye A Love to Last or shooting an unnamed upcoming film with her onscreen partner Joshua Garcia. It’s also the only day of the week that she could have been in bed early; her work schedule for the other six days of the week typically runs from 5 a.m. to 3 a.m. There are countless excuses she could’ve easily used to get some much needed rest, but she didn’t make any. Instead, she’s chosen to come to our shoot, and she even discloses that she’s booked for another shoot after ours.

It’s almost impossible not to associate the name “Barretto” with the showbiz dynasty. Anyone who has turned on a television is well aware that 20-year old Julia Barretto is the daughter of actress-turned-politician Marjorie Barretto and actor-comedian Dennis Padilla, and the niece of actress Gretchen Barretto and ’90s teleserye queen Claudine Barretto. There isn’t a single interview with Julia that doesn’t mention the weight of her last name. The name she chose over her father’s stage name, and the one she chose to use despite being born Julia Francesca Barretto Baldivia. And just like everyone who has followed her career, Julia is conscious of the gravity that comes with her name—for better or for worse.

Though she averages about two hours of sleep a night, her demeanor during the shoot is unaffected by her demanding schedule. Her 11 years in the industry have trained her to acclimate to the long hours of the career she’s decided to pursue. “It’s fun. I have no complaints. I mean, it gets tiring sometimes, I guess, but when you love what you do, it doesn’t really stop you,” she says.

Then there’s the added pressure of living up to her family’s success. It’s something that has become both a curse and a blessing for her. She admits, “I’m tired of being asked all the time, ‘Do you feel any pressure being a Barretto?’” She then adds, “I’m always asked that, and it’s the same answer every time.”

“Actually, it’s better now than before,” she admits, when asked if she feels like she is still in her family’s shadow. “I used to be bombarded with so many questions about them (her aunts) and it’s almost like, I thought I was here to be asked questions about myself, not about other people.”

Clearly perturbed by the mere mention of her famous last name, she finally perks up when I mention that her Instagram account @juliabarretto is the first result that appears when you search “Barretto” on Google. She’s thoroughly surprised, and she flashes a grin as she exclaims, “That’s a good thing!” Showing a rare glimpse of her unguarded self, she’s still hesitant to admit she may have grown to become the “main Barretto” of her generation.

***

Julia has been acting since she was nine years old. She uses one particular analogy to describe her life in showbiz, where the scrutiny can take its toll on her: “It’s like living in a fishbowl—being like a fish that everybody is watching over; waiting for you to make a mistake and then feast on it. It’s so hard to commit mistakes, even though it’s so normal to because you’re young and you’re just human.” At one point, when a basketball accidentally hits her head during our courtside shoot, she stays quiet and composed, seemingly unaffected by it and by the fans who seem to follow her while trying to shove their phones in front of her face, asking for pictures. Julia carries on until sundown with the same perky attitude that she possessed at the beginning of the day.

It’s when the shoot moves to the bed that I catch a glimpse of an uncontrolled, candid Julia. Her shield slips for a split second when she rests her head on the sheets. Her big, piercing eyes fight to stay open as she tells herself, “I’m not tired! I’m not sleepy!” We ask her what song we can play to help her stay awake. She picks Ariana Grande’s “One Last Time,” the same song she performed earlier that day on ASAP. Singing along to the song, she switches back to work mode. As I watch her miming dance moves as she sings along, I can’t help but think that her whole life has become one big show she’s put on for others.

Her film career took off last year when she starred in Vince and Kath and James (VKJ). Not only did the film garner accolades—like the Children’s Choice Award at the 2016 Metro Manila Film Festival and Most Promising Actress and Actor from the Box Office Entertainment Awards for her and Joshua respectively—it was also the 42nd MMFF’s highest-grossign film.. VKJ was also her first film with ex-Pinoy Big Brother housemate Joshua Garcia, followed by a touching episode of Maalaala Mo Kaya earlier this February. With a new movie by That Thing Called Tadhana director Antoinette Jadaone (Love You to the Stars and Back as of this writing), as well as ASAP on Sundays, and tapings of A Love to Last now added to her plate, Julia is busier than ever.

When I see her typing on her phone in between outfit changes and hair and makeup retouching, I ask the inevitable question about her palpable chemistry with Joshua Garcia. She looks up and cheekily remarks, “You’re trying to get something out of me!” She then proceeds to tell me, “We’re just honest about our feelings for each other, and I think that registers on screen.” She continues, “I’m thankful for all the support from fans, and up to this day it’s still very overwhelming. This time last year, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be in the position that I’m standing in right now. I’m so glad that somebody like him came into my life for so many reasons.”

The duo, dubbed JoshLia by both the industry and the fans, is on its way to being showbiz’s next “it” love team to join the likes of KathNiel and LizQuen. I ask her what her game plan is with JoshLia. “We don’t have a game plan, we just want to continue being honest. I don’t even think there’s any point in comparing us with other love teams because each love team has their own magic,” she says. “Love teams make a lot of people happy. They make a lot of people believe in love. That’s a good thing; they have a good effect on people, especially the younger generation. Joshua and I are just focusing on what we have and what we’re trying to create with what we’ve built together. I want us to be known as the acting love team.”

She mentions their upcoming film, written and directed by Antoinette Jadaone, as fresh, unique, and a “rollercoaster ride.” She’s thrilled about the idea of portraying a character that is out of the box. “I’m playing a girl who believes in aliens,” she explains, hence the movie’s title mentioning stars. “Maybe other people will consider me weird for believing in aliens—because I believe in aliens—but that’s my character. You’ll know why when you watch the film, but other than that my look is very unique: everything vintage.”

Julia keeps mum about all the other details, but reassures me that it will be a film worth watching. She also mentions that she has other impending projects she’s working on for the rest of the year but tells me she can’t disclose anything about them yet.

What she does tell me is that she draws from her own experience for her performances. “Compared to when I was starting out, I think I have a deeper pain,” she says. “I have a deeper understanding of life: about people, about love, and about pain. I’ve become a better and stronger person.” She says that learning to embrace and understand pain has become the key to her success as an actress. “Every painful moment in my life, I take in, and I embrace it,” she says. “So when the time comes to use it, I can go back and re-feel that feeling. And I can do that because I don’t escape from feelings, I endure it.” A technique I imagine a Hollywood actress would go by. Julia casually mentions it like it’s just something she’s learned to do through the years.

When I ask her more questions about the scrutiny surrounding her family and its effect on her career, she fights back tears. “I don’t regret anything in my career. There’s no preparation for a life like this, for an industry like this. When you get into this, you just have to toughen up and know how to handle it well, deal with it well.”

Recently, her own sister Claudia entered the scene as a singer with her debut single “Stay.” I ask her what advice she’s given her younger sister. “I’ve told her to stay true to herself,” she shares. “I don’t want her to be manipulated by other people because they want her to be a certain way. I want her to be the person that she wants herself to be. I want her to just be real, be honest with herself.” Julia sheepishly confesses to being a stage sister. There is a certain sense of sorrow in her answer, perhaps because of the implications of her own struggles growing up in the industry she’s been in since the age of nine. Her sister, who’s now 17, will most likely have to face the same challenges as part of the family legacy.

***

From what I can surmise about Julia based on my brief encounter with her, she’s truly passionate about what she does, and she’s surprisingly well adjusted and accustomed to the work that comes with it. Her work ethic is perhaps one of the better things to come from her lineage. But, given the weight of her last name, it’s difficult not to question whether her profession is something she’s chosen on her own, or something she’s followed to prolong her family’s dynasty. It’s evident that this is only the beginning and that there’s a part of her still waiting to come out of her shell—a version of Julia Barretto that has yet to be shared with the world.

Perhaps her idea of making a name for herself is more than just stepping outside of her family’s shadow. This facet of Julia that we see now may be just a preamble for what awaits her in the future—a future that she envisions will include a stint at a film school in New York (“I have to do that before I die or I can’t die!”). She’s well aware of what her name means to the showbiz industry, but she also knows that being an actress is not something she sees herself doing in the long run—she’s also itching to explore more things in life, like her dreams of being a “normal” film student or owning a daycare.

She blurts out the word “normal” like it’s something that’s out of her reach, which it probably is. There’s definitely nothing normal about living life like a “fish a in fishbowl,” formulating pristine answers to probing questions from people who are always doubting her sincerity, and shouldering the weight of the expectations that precedes her.

Perhaps in another life—a life after the industry or outside of it— maybe that’s when she can finally make an excuse to get that much needed rest. Maybe then, but not today.

 


Photography by Ralph Mendoza
Styling by Jed Gregorio

 

Credits:
Clothes by Bench, Human, and Basic Movement.
Makeup by Lala Flores
Hair by John Valle
Special thanks to Cai Maroket
Intern Vera Cabanos

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