Nadine Lustre: Stargirl

Nadine Lustre: Stargirl

It was two days after Christmas, and the streets of Makati were relatively clear. The building where the studio was looked empty, and the elevator that took me to the top floor looked like it was still on vacation mode.

Everyone was still on holiday, except for a few people on the eighth floor who were busy preparing for this cover shoot—a shoot that had to be rushed in order for the issue to make it to the printers.

This was, after all, the new-year issue with one of the biggest (and busiest) stars of the last 12 months. This is a face you see on billboards, on television, on social media, on your favorite fast food joint’s posters, and even on coffee cups at the convenience store. Hers is a name that can only fail to ring any bells if you have been living under a rock. A multimedia triple-threat celebrity is what they call her, although for the rest of us that day at work, she is just Nadine.

I enter the room expecting frenzy, a team of stylists and makeup artists surrounding a big chair, fussing over a star. Instead, I see one brightly lit corner and a girl doing her own makeup. She is sitting on her chair, hair up in rollers, mouth slightly open as she lightly puts on her mascara. If you did not know any better, you would have thought she was just a regular girl.

Nadine actually plays the regular girl quite well. Her repertoire has thus far been composed of girls that represent the ordinary girl, the underdog. She has mastered the entire spectrum of regular girls—from nerdy, pimpled teen to struggling but quirky OFW, and even a hardworking young wife. In a showbiz landscape that downplays the good looks of the star as a major plot point of most narratives, it can be a little tiring.

And it’s not just on the screen; it’s in real life, too. These days, just like a regular girl is a look most celebrities tend to put on. “Look at me, I have no makeup on and I make my own coffee! I’m so normal!” they all say. But it takes a certain type of persona to lend some credibility to this normalcy, especially for very famous personalities. Actresses can act on cue, sure, but with social media making everything so transparent and accessible, they cannot always put a front that audiences will lap up. And so it is kind of disarming to actually see someone being—not acting like—a regular girl with no cameras rolling yet. This was no role, this whole putting her makeup on by herself, enjoying the playlist she created for her own amusement, chatting with people on the set while casually eating salad. This—this was real.

Nadine is happy to let the drama stay in her fictional life. In real life, she is free to make a narrative of her own, one she can choose to steer in the directions she pleases, now that she has earned her spot as a bankable actress, and perhaps more significantly, a real artist.

“I’ve always just wanted to be me,” Nadine muses about her career trajectory. “Because who else can I be?”

Nadine’s first outfit is a big shirt with Mariah Carey on it, the image on the album cover of the famous singer’s chart-topper “Rainbow.” On one hand, it made total sense: both are women who had humble beginnings in the industry; they had great talent, but did not have overnight success. Instead, it would take many failed attempts and weak starts before they hit their stride. But on the other, they could not be more complete opposites. Mariah embodied the word diva—she reveled in being one. Nadine is no such thing. She is polite, and does not care much about what she looks like. She casually cleans up the small mess she made of her salad dressing.

“Real” is a word thrown around often when it comes to Nadine. She is part of what is unarguably one of the most famous love teams in the country, JaDine. The other half of this tandem is James Reid, he of the famous abs and surprisingly good acting chops. They can sing, they can dance, they can command entire arenas; and coliseums all over the world. They can make both teenagers and lolas cry. But most importantly, they are #TeamReal: a couple in real life.

But now that they have shattered the glass ceiling as far as the love team narrative is concerned—they’re now officially an item, yay—one wonders what lies ahead. After all, not many celebrities get past the whole masquerade of are-they-or-are-they-not. And so many people, both fans and naysayers alike, have their eyes on the two, awaiting their every move. Some, of course, are quick to predict that their admission will mean the end, that their days as a kilig vehicle are now over since the “mystery” is gone.

Hindi naman nawawala ‘yun eh (It’ll never go away), it’s part of it. But we just don’t mind them. This is us, this is what we want to do.”

And it is this utter lack of pretension that lets you convince yourself that she’s actually not a regular girl. An ordinary person will most likely feel offended, maybe post a status on Facebook, and make a big deal out of it. An ordinary artista will tweet about it cryptically and will let her fans take the cudgels, even when they have no idea what their idol is saying. But Nadine is neither. She looks at it from the point of view of someone who has gotten a glimpse of fame from the bottom of the ladder and now fully understands all the perils that come with exposure. She will acknowledge it, but let it slide. She knows how to draw the line, like a true class act.

Which is hard to find these days, especially when everyone feeds on big fights and drama. But for Nadine, she is happy to let the drama stay in her fictional life. In real life, she is free to make a narrative of her own, one she can choose to steer in the directions she pleases, now that she has earned her spot as a bankable actress, and perhaps more significantly, a real artist.

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“Okay, I’ve got to admit this: I only saw Romeo X Juliet for the first time a few weeks ago,” she shares.

“The Leo and Claire Danes one?” I asked.

“Yeah, ‘di ba!” she said candidly, after we talked about her film and communication background. “Actually, growing up, I wasn’t really that appreciative of movies,” she admitted. “It was only when I was taking the course in college that I grew to have an interest in it.”

This discomfiture is refreshing especially coming from someone who seems to have gotten a good grasp of what show business is all about. She has been in four blockbuster films and two well-received teleseryes. Her schedule requires her to be in front of the camera almost every single day (soap shoots are M-W-F, commercial endorsements go in between). She can project on cue, and she can do it well. She can muster enough vulnerability when the script requires her to walk away from the love of her life at the airport. She can project a serious librarian/teacher ready to chastise naughty millennials when the photographer requires her to. One can say she’s pretty much got the whole actress thing down pat.

Nevertheless, she thinks she can still better appreciate the craft. “When I was in school, I realized that I want to be behind the camera din pala. I like editing, I like making videos.”

For her, making movies seemed to be just as exciting as being in it. This is actually not surprising. If their Always travel video is an indication of her aesthetic, surely she has a lot more to offer.

Aside from wanting to produce short films, she is also keen on creating new music. Her previous album, the eponymous Nadine Lustre, was a success (and is, undeniably, the most frequently replayed OPM album in my Spotify), but given its radio-friendly pop leanings—part and parcel with her branding then—she admits she now wants to explore music that really speaks to her. She names Up Dharma Down as her dream collaboration; and going by the steady stream of music blasting from her Bluetooth speakers during the shoot (Kygo, Banks, and Alina Baraz, to name a few) her taste nestles comfortably between dark R&B and smooth deep house, with a tinge of indie electronic. Quite the opposite direction from her previous endeavors, but very much in tune with her personal aesthetic—very Scorpio, if you ask me.

Although Nadine admits that between her and James, it is the latter who is a better songwriter. “I tried to write, pero I can’t write as well as he does! He can write an entire album!” she says. “But for my album, I want to be hands-on with everything else. Although I want to experiment more, because I like so many styles of music.”

And therein lies the humility that comes with admitting that there is still plenty of room to grow. To expand her horizons and pursue interests that can only deepen her understanding of their profession.

There is a change of tone in her voice when she gets to talk about projects she wishes to engage in independently. “Independently” meaning a lot of things: 1) on her own, 2) with James, but outside film or TV, or 3) outside the confines of what management would normally have them do. She actually finds no qualms in initially being packaged as a particular kind of celebrity.

But she has also reached that point in her life where she can now plot for herself the kind of creative pursuit that will give her a sense of fulfillment. She is fortunate, then, to be working with such talented, brilliant minds as directors—mentors—to guide her through.

“Just the other day, while in the kitchen, as in I was just cooking when suddenly I randomly had an idea for a short film. So I texted Direk Tonet [Jadaone], and told her, ‘Direk, I have an idea.’ She replied, ‘Game, tara!’ It’s just about finding the right time for it, I guess.”

It is easy to feel disillusioned in this industry, given the repeated formulas and run-of-the-mill plots. But Nadine has seen and done enough to understand that the audiences deserve more too. “I think it’s also what the audience wants, to be given something different. And I see nothing wrong with it,” she said when asked about the recent indie vs. mainstream discourse that has been going around. She has been both a spectator and a product, both viewer and actor. She understands the industry as an audience member and actor—and she realizes the value of giving them what works but also putting to the cultural forefront material that will engage the masses in a different way. It’s something she hopes to do one day, when the cosmos gives her the time and freedom to do so. She is, at the end of the day, an evolving creature. Both a piece of art and an artist.

But Nadine is careful about where her passions will lead her. Every choice she has made up to this point has been about achieving that perfect, ideal popstar package. Now, she’s slowly shedding the manufactured sheen, but still maintaining her identity in the process. She still wants to travel the world, even though she’s been to at least three continents in the last 10 months. She wants to make films, she wants to produce her own music, she wants to find more stories to tell. The point is, now, at the top of her game, Nadine can choose.

“I’ve been through it all, I’ve done girl groups, love teams. There’s really a progression, and it’s like that, eventually you’ll have to establish yourself as your own person.”

“Just the other day, while in the kitchen, as in I was just cooking when suddenly I randomly had an idea for a short film. So I texted Direk Tonet [Jadaone], and told her, ‘Direk, I have an idea.’ She replied, ‘Game, tara!’ It’s just about finding the right time for it, I guess.”

It was two days after Christmas, and the streets of Makati were relatively clear. Everyone was still on holiday, but not this girl with a smiling Mariah on her chest. In between the takes, someone on the set quips, “We should be playing Mimi!” but everyone else knew it was no longer necessary. Nadine is Nadine: not-so-elusive a chanteuse, but freer, more relaxed, happy. She belongs no more to the public than to herself.

After the shoot, I found myself with her in the same elevator. She held the door for me and we had a small chat about a book I gave her.

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“Aww, thank you! I think I really need this,” she said, before giving me a quick beso. It was a short book about love and hate, something she probably knows a little too well, given the cutthroat industry she is in.

Eight months before, she was a girl I was watching on stage at their concert in Araneta. A few hours ago, she was a person on my Instagram feed whose candid photos I heart. After alighting the elevator, she is still that. But therein lay the difference between the diva on the shirt and the young lady wearing it: Nadine needed no myth or illusions surrounding her, required no glitz or glamour to affirm her worth. She can share her love story like a friend, she can admit her shortcomings openly, she can become the stand-in for the every-woman seeking for happiness in all her shows and still have us root for her. She is still very much a regular girl.

Except that at the same time, she isn’t. And aren’t we all luckier for  it?

By Karla Bernardo
Photography by Joseph Pascual
Styling by Vince Crisostomo
Assisted by Paulo Deoferio
Makeup by Nadine Lustre
Hair by Sydney Helmsley
All shoes from Parisian

This article was originally published in our January-February 2017 issue and has been edited for web. View the full issue online here. For physical copies, our delivery locations are listed here.

Exclusive #ScoutxNadine wallpapers are available on the gallery above.

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