Yassi Pressman is defiantly happy.
This much I know, after half an hour of speaking to her face-to-face. At this point, the 21-year-old British-Filipina actor/dancer/singer/host has just wrapped up a five-hour shoot in the sweltering summer heat—the insufferable, scorching prelude to the storms you’re wading through now—but she is still spry and, most importantly, eager to talk. Although she’s allowing herself to relax now, I don’t find a trace of fatigue in her chipper voice. And almost everything she tells me is as bright as the afternoon sun that shines through the windows of this hotel.
From the outset, Yassi’s demeanor surprises me. Showbiz, especially Philippine showbiz, is a jungle that swallows people whole—they either get spit out or get better. I was expecting a girl who was either subtly guarded (if there was a spot to protect) or relieved to speak a little freely about their disdain (if there was any, at all). It can get that cutthroat. As you might have already guessed by this point, Yassi Pressman is none of those things.
I was seeking out anything, any pits and lows in all of her 21 years in this world that might have pulled her down a time or two. Not that I was wishing it on her, though—never that. I was just looking for an entry point into her world—a world that more and more people discover every day with each new endorsement, each new cover, each new movie, each new dance video—that could get us to relate to her even more.
Sure, she had her usual quirks (“I always try to get yummy food!” she says proudly, when I ask her about the secret to her happiness) but nothing extraordinarily humanizing. Yassi’s been in showbiz for almost five years now, propelled to near-ubiquitous fame by viral Facebook videos, magazine covers, commercial endorsements, and starring in both movies with friends JaDine and her own vehicles. Not to commodify talents, but she’s becoming more and more wanted by the day; that, in my opinion, should be enough time to ferment some burnout or existential crisis. Things people my age constantly deal with, things that they’re looking up to better people than them for some answers. Or some suggestions, at least.
So I spend my conversation with Yassi persistently prodding at her armor, looking for some chink or dent in that bubble of joy. Or a stream of deep consciousness I could unleash. Has there ever been a moment in your five years in showbiz that made you want to quit? “It made me look at my other options,” she says pensively, but never giving in to the Q word. Do you ever wake up with doubts? “No.” No regrets? “No, no regrets.” So everything you’re doing now is you doing what you love. “Yes.” I guess your management never has the problem of trying to get you to stay happy and smiling all the time. “I hope so! I don’t think so.”
Instead, she gives me fighting words. Lucky you, you don’t have to reconcile doing what you love with doing things you’re told to do or things you have to do. “I think you just have to find a way to love what you’re doing. How do I explain that? There was also a quote about it. Try to be happy where you are, make yourself happy where you are.” I guess you don’t feel like you’re burning out yet. “Maybe when those non-sleeping days just go on and on and on and on, that’s the only time where I feel extremely exhausted. But then again, who am I to complain? These are all blessings coming to me.” “Don’t give up. You just really can’t, if you really want something.”
The good thing about me deciding how to deal on a daily basis is that there’s always gonna be something that’s not perfect. There’s always gonna be something that might annoy you. You have no control over some things.
In all of this, the most depressing thing she’s said is that she has days she wishes she could go out in public peacefully. “Sometimes I just wanna walk in a park and be with my dog,” Yassi muses. “On sad days, if you’ve just gone through something, you just want quiet time. You don’t really get that sometimes.” And she even manages to turn that loss into a win: “I love the love that everyone’s showing. One time, I was walking in Greenhills, I just wanted to—it was like a bad day for me. A little girl came up to me and she was crying. She’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, Yassi, you’re the reason why I’m dancing! Thank you so much! I won best in dance when I was grade four!’ she said. That made me love the craft even more.”
And as though she’s succinctly explaining her attitude, Yassi sums up her life philosophy as such: “The good thing about me deciding how to deal on a daily basis is that there’s always gonna be something that’s not perfect. There’s always gonna be something that might annoy you. I don’t know, maybe a bird would like shit on your shirt, or something. You have no control over some things, and you just have to push it aside and just continue. Or you could just be badtrip the whole day. It’s your choice.”
Going over our conversation in my head, I felt that maybe my standards of unhappiness in the showbiz industry are too grave. I’m probably just a little too cynical, too negative for a guy who’s only ever given quick glimpses through whom I’ve been able to talk to. But even then, I figured that, hey, I could still relate more to the celebrities who have been too overworked and misunderstood, who’ve got more than a few pangs in their chests, those who’ve got something painful kept inside all waiting to be vented.
For all I know, everything Yassi has told me is a put-on, a brave white lie she has to wear every day just to get through. But all throughout her telling me about the good things she believes in, I find that it honestly never feels artificial. Her most consistent affectation is her being blindingly positive. If it’s a lie, it’s a damn good convincing one, but I’m giving her a lot more credit than that and believe that that’s how she really is.
It takes a few minutes on my 15-minute walk home that night to finally arrive at an important realization: contrary to whatever I believed in pre-Yassi, maybe the way that she is actually is possible. Maybe her impenetrable joy is a real thing, just as real as sadness and stress? That a person as busy and burdened as she is is able to embrace happiness every day in this harsh unforgiving city/country/world/life? All this time I was looking for a way to “humanize” Yassi, to make her “tangibly human,” but why had it never occurred to me that it could be just as human to tackle each day with unfailing optimism? Why couldn’t her happiness be extraordinarily human?
I then become paranoid that I might have offended her in some way by indirectly insinuating, through the kind of questions I’ve thrown at her and the answers people can tell I wanted, that she could possibly be something other than her vibrant, beautiful self. That she may be incapable somewhere in there of experiencing sincere happiness. That she can’t not be like the rest of us, who allow ourselves to be bogged down by our lives.
Because why can’t it be just as realistic that she’s chosen to take the higher road? Why can’t she teach us—and why can’t we learn, if we are able to learn—that it’s okay to not believe life isn’t all frustration and hate and jadedness? Or that it’s entirely possible to proceed triumphant despite it?
You’re a beacon of light, Yassi Pressman. Never dim.
Photography by Shaira Luna, styling by Grace de Luna, makeup by Sari Campos, hair by Sydney Helmsley. Shot on location at Hive Hotel and Convention Center and My Brother’s Mustache Folk Bar