Watching old Filipino romance movies had always been a favorite pastime of mine. Back when I was still in elementary, I’d come home from school, lounge a bit in my room, and automatically tune into my favorite channel (apart from the usual Disney, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network) Cinema One. My favorite Filipino movies were the ones from the ’90s and the early 2000s—pure, old-fashioned, unadulterated kilig from the likes of Claudine Barretto, Rico Yan, Judy Ann Santos, and of course, Piolo Pascual. The latter was a standout. From watching 9 Mornings alone in my college dorm room to shamelessly going to an actual cinema to catch Dan Villegas’ The Break Up Playlist, I knew a Piolo film would never disappoint.
Fast forward years after elementary school. I received a text one evening from my features editor. I’d like for you to write the cover story.
Oh wow, I replied. For the first time ever, I was assigned the cover story. Who?
I squinted at my phone. Iñigo…who?
When I looked him up on Google, I felt like my entire existence of being a closet cheesy-Filipino-romance-movie fan was a lie. How could I not know that Piolo had a son? And I was about to interview him next week?
Prior to my revelation on the internet, I had zero knowledge of this budding teenage idol. Apparently, neither did some Piolo fans, until he finally trotted him out into the limelight by his side. As far as I was concerned, Iñigo Pascual was an enigma; was he truly a talent to be sought after or was it all petty hype built upon his father’s success? Most people who aren’t familiar with him would probably think the same. And though I’d spent most of my days before the shoot abusing Google for any bit of information on him, he stayed as such, until I witnessed one particular moment before the interview.
It is eerily quiet when I enter the studio for the first time—save for a couple of interns moving around and about to set everything in its proper place, barely anyone makes a single noise to break momentum. I run through my list of questions hastily written on my oversized notebook and try to remember anything my editor advised me; one seems to stand out more than others.
His nickname is the “Ultimate Teen Heartthrob.” Do whatever you want with that.
Said ultimate teen heartthrob is on the opposite side of the room, quietly conversing with his managers. I know I am not particularly nervous for the interview (despite my lack of experience with teen heartthrobs or any similar species), though I am painfully aware of the gargantuan shadow that looms over him and his career. My train of thought breaks when an intern abruptly comes up to me and the rest of the editorial staff present and says, “There’s been a request for music,” while he nudges his head to today’s cover subject.
We see that he brought his own speakers with him and allow him to play whatever he wants. He sings, dances, snaps his fingers the moment the music starts. I watch him closely throughout the entire shoot and realizes that he never stops dancing or singing; this boy is certainly not one to sit still. He moves naturally, gracefully. Observing him simply having fun with the music gives you that feeling you’re supposed to feel when watching an effortlessly talented entertainer onstage—utter enchantment. It was then when I knew for sure—regardless of his heritage and whether you’re aware of it or not, Iñigo Pascual was born to perform.
[pull_quote]”His nickname is the “Ultimate Teen Heartthrob.” Do whatever you want with that.”[/pull_quote]
The first thing that I notice about Iñigo is that he speaks easily. A quarter into the interview and it already feels like a casual conversation between two friends catching up. He candidly discusses growing up away from the spotlight, his many interests as an adolescent, and the summers he spent with father Piolo Pascual. While Piolo was breaking multiple box office records and building his name as one of the biggest actors in Philippine show business, Iñigo lived a quiet life abroad with his mother, who’d simply wanted her son to have an upbringing away from the limelight that his heritage brought. No one had really known who Iñigo was, only the fact that Piolo had a son abroad.
Growing up as a teenager in LA, Iñigo was free to be whomever he wished—a regular kid who took the bus to school, got bullied, and juggled football team training and musical theater rehearsals at the same time. Early on in his childhood, he’d already been experimenting with various forms of performing arts, from being in a band and joining a dance crew to participating in school musicals. Iñigo even quit football after getting the role of Link Larkin (beating out a reasonable number of white guys more ethnically suited ofr the part) in his school production of Hairspray. Playing sports was just no match for acting.
His decision to join the industry was inevitable, rooting from an early childhood memory. “Ever since I was a kid, I really wanted to be in that area, that field,” Iñigo says. “There’s this one really memorable moment when my dad had this show in Chicago. After the show, [the theater] was already empty but the lights were still on. I went onstage by myself and looked out there, and said, ‘All right, I’m next. This is what I want to do. I’m next.’”
His father was initially against Iñigo going into entertainment, attempting to talk him out of it in the beginning. But considering his history of performing at an early age, Iñigo knew there was no stopping him; not even his own superstar of a dad could. He recalls nearly joining a boy band as his biggest opportunity to turn his dreams into a reality abroad., away from anyone who would recognize him as anything other than his own person—as Iñigo Pascual. After being scouted while singing at a school dinner auction, Iñigo flew out to Nashville, Tennessee to audition for the boy band’s label. Though he eventually passed, Iñigo found the contract too overbearing and constricting. “I received the contract and thought it was too one-sided. They were asking for too much, about seven to 14 years. I’d basically give up myself and my youth,” he elaborates. “I never thought I’d have an opportunity in the States. I wanted that because I didn’t want people to say ‘Oh, you just got into showbiz in the Philippines because of your dad, because you got an easy way into it.”
Though he was painfully aware of the pressure he would eventually face, he decided to try out his luck in the Philippine entertainment industry for the sake of pursuing his passion. Eventually, Iñigo made his film debut in Antoinette Jadaone’s Relaks, It’s Just Pag-ibig at the tender age of 17. The young actor already managed to make a good impression due to his dedication to the role, his own script dog-eared and marked with scribbles and notes. The projects from both cinema and television came flowing in naturally after that, with Iñigo garnering three feature films in his first half year in showbiz. Now 18 and nearly two years into the industry, he learned that it’s definitely no walk in the park, going from taping to shooting to running on four hours of sleep. And yet he eagerly marches forward like the trooper he really is.
[pull_quote]“There’s this one really memorable moment when my dad had this show in Chicago. After the show, [the theater] was already empty but the lights were still on. I went onstage by myself and looked out there, and said, ‘All right, I’m next. This is what I want to do. I’m next.’”[/pull_quote]
And then there’s that inevitable topic that he can never seem to escape—his parentage and the expectations that come along with it. While most young Filipino celebrities simply worry about making a name for themselves, Iñigo is overwhelmed with both that and how the public and the media is obsessed with viewing him as the second coming of Piolo Pascual. He mentions the pressures of being his father’s son right before I even get the chance to, when he reminisces his near affiliation with a boy band overseas, and how he desperately wanted to make it on his own and without the influence of his father’s name. As large as his own fanbase grew throughout his success, so did hateful comments from Internet trolls. Fuckboy. Untalented. Only riding on his father’s fame. Iñigo was no stranger to prejudice and stereotypes, to the point where he’s had directors and peers from Star Magic deem him as an entitled snob.
Regardless, he isn’t having any of it, nor does he allow anyone to break his motivation to succeed. His words flow without pause or stutter, only complete confidence. Iñigo is no doubt sure of himself. “I’m human, so I get hurt when people say bad things about me and say I’m not good enough. They expect me to be at a certain level where I need to know how to act good or look good because my dad is like this,” he says. “I mean my dad didn’t start off as the Piolo Pascual right away. He had to work his way up there and he had to mature.
“That’s how you turn into whoever you are now, and I’m working on that, I’m working on what I can show, what I can bring to the audience as myself. All the expectations and all the stuff that they say, I use it as motivation to work harder, not to just prove [myself] to them but show to them that I’m here for a reason and I’m here because I want this, not because it was given to me. You don’t just get it and that’s it. You have all the opportunities but you have to work, you have to deliver. That’s the hardest part. Of course, even if you’re not an actor’s son, there’s always expectations. There’s always that certain expectation that people have on every person, but for me, it’s on a different level because of my dad.”
Being the next Piolo is not Iñigo’s priority. To him, it’s more about focusing on himself and his own work, his own talents. “It’s an honor to be Piolo’s son and I feel blessed to have him as my dad, but I don’t want it to make me feel like I have to reach a certain level or a certain expectation. I just want to be able to satisfy myself and to perform. My goal is not to reach whatever my dad has reached. It’s scary, I mean how do you even reach that point, right?”
Further into the conversation, I challenge him a bit. So how are you different from your father? How do you stand out from all these other young male celebrities in the business?
He gives a coy smile and says without hesitation, “My music.”
If there’s anyone who shares the same excitement as his many fans over his plans to release an album by the latter half of the year, it’s Iñigo himself. Possibly even more so, since his love and passion for music burns brighter than his passion for acting, already apparent through his online song covers and stage performances. Well-versed in piano, guitar, and ukulele, Iñigo writes his own music and is hoping to have three to four originals on his upcoming pop-R&B album. Although he’s better known as an actor, Iñigo would someday want to be recognized as a recording artist in the future. He’s taking the risk despite his apprehensions. “It’s difficult to release music here. In the mainstream, it’s more of business than an art. Sadly, it’s really more on the business side.”
I suggest that perhaps he could go independent, and he leans back and grins approvingly. There is a spark in his eye and I could immediately tell that this guy does not joke around about the things he loves most. Try stripping him of fame and relevance, but one thing’s for sure—you can never take passion away from Iñigo Pascual.
“Why not? Probably, in the future. If my music doesn’t pick up here in the Philippines, I’m still going to continue writing music. I’m still going to continue producing my own music even if I have to personally record it and produce it all by myself. I’ll still do it because it’s a passion. It’s not something that I want to do as a business. It’s personal.”
[pull_quote]“To be honest, when people introduce me as that, I cringe. I want to work on my own title, not something that was just passed down to me. I’d like my own identity.”[/pull_quote]
It’s 3:35 and I’m only given until 3:45 for the interview with Iñigo. (“I’m so sorry!” he exclaims rather endearingly. “I talk too much.”) I notice our art director trying to get my attention as he waves and taps his finger on his watch. I nod hastily and turn back to Iñigo, my editor’s reminder resounding in my thoughts. So you’re the Ultimate Teen Heartthrob, I mention, the nickname derived from his father’s ‘Ultimate Heartthrob.’ Iñigo’s face scrunches up in embarrassment and he sighs. “Oh, man. I don’t deserve that title.”
You don’t think you deserve it?
“To be honest, when people introduce me as that, I cringe. I want to work on my own title, not something that was just passed down to me. I’d like my own identity.”
Like any regular teenager, Iñigo Pascual is still stumbling through the ropes of his youth and his budding career. Despite massive success within such a brief period of time, he claims he’s still learning, still getting starstruck over peers both older and younger (he cites Coco Martin, Sam Concepcion, Daniel Padilla, and Ylona Garcia among others), still attempting different roles and various forms of art, still trying to get an entire Filipino audience to acknowledge him as Iñigo Pascual, rather than the son of Piolo Pascual.
And despite everything that he inevitably must endure, there is no apprehension in him gunning for an identity, a career he could truly be proud of—only pure confidence and self-assurance. That is, I believe, where Iñigo Pascual wins.
Photography by Paolo Crodua, styling by Jed Gregorio, makeup by Sylvina Lopez