COVER STORY

Get to know Awra Briguela, the ‘breakout child star’ of his generation

Thirteen-year-old child actor Awra Briguela — popularly known as Awra — is perhaps best known for his viral video that led to his role as “Makmak” in the long-running primetime drama “Ang Probinsyano.” After having most recently won the singing-slash-impersonation contest “Your Face Sounds Familiar: Kids,” Awra shows us how his comedic timing, a flair for fashion, and a steadfast conviction to be true to himself combine to make him the “breakout child star” of his generation.

 

 

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — That loop earring on Awra Briguela is actually a key chain ring.

It was dangling on the shoot’s stylist’s belt loop and Awra was curious enough to turn it into an earring. “Maganda ba?” he asked us. He would find out later that the stylist has another key chain ring, making the pair look like an actual pair of earrings. “Hindi mo naman sinasabi tinatago mo pala!” he said in his usual deadpan delivery. But the look worked better with just one earring. He agreed.

Awra — whose real name is Mcneal — seizes this DIY spirit so much, he thrives on it. A look at his Instagram account reveals that, outside the confines of the television studio, much of his styling is done by him, with a little help from his cousins. He came into the shoot with his hair already did, courtesy of his cousin (“Nagsasabunutan kami dati niyan, pero ‘yung laro-laro lang,” he says). A few minutes into meeting the stylist, he was already asking where to buy ripped jeans and how to DIY the effect. He takes notes. One look on the rack and he already knows the look that he wants for the shoot. “Gusto ko ‘yang mga oversized na ‘yan, ‘yan ang gusto ko ngayon eh.”

Awra Briguela Awra Briguela looks to Rihanna as style inspiration. So much so that he follows the Haus of Rihanna website as references for styling. On Awra (left): Proudrace oversized turtle neck; (right) stylist's own floral button down and shorts. Photos by JL JAVIER

For a 13 year old, his grip on fashion is assured — something that you wouldn’t pick up on based on the first viral video that he appeared in. “Ang pangit ko talaga dun,” he says. But the “Awra” viral video became his ticket to fame and landed him the role of Makmak on the primetime hit “Ang Probinsyano” with Coco Martin.

Gumraduate muna ako,” he recounts. “Then after ko gumraduate diretso na ako sa taping nila Kuya Coco and then dun tinanong na niya ako kung ano pangalan ko. Sabi ko ‘Mcneal,’ sabi niya agad, ‘Makmak na ang pangalan mo.’ Nagulat ako kung bakit niya sinabi [‘yun], kinabukasan pala may taping na ako.”

But improvisation and acting are only two of Awra’s talents. He’s also passionate about performing, which is why he auditioned for “Your Face Sounds Familiar: Kids,” where he recently emerged as the winner. His impersonations of the likes of Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Liza Minelli, Grace Jones, and even Daniel Padilla (the hardest one that he had to do, he admits, “kasi sobrang gay ako kaya sobrang hirap baliin ng sobrang lalake saka maging heartthrob”) have stunned audiences, even meriting a Teen Vogue article, praising how Awra has got Nicki Minaj everything down pat: from the hair to gestures and facial tics.

His appearance on “Your Face Sounds Familiar: Kids” also happened to stoke the flames of his inner fashionista — having to appear on full makeup and a ton of wardrobe changes. For his shoot with CNN Philippines Life, he came wearing a black crop top, ripped H&M pants, chunky black boots, and a black backpack. It was a revelation, Awra the fashion savant. And he points to his sole inspiration for everything, including perhaps his walang pake attitude: Rihanna.

Awra Briguela For his non-T.V. apperance, Awra just does his styling on his own. "Ang mahal kaya ng stylist!" he says. On Awra (left): Zara denim jacket, Float shirt; (right) Proudrace oversized turtleneck. Photo by JL JAVIER

Dati ko pa siyang idol,” Awra says. “Nung nagka-Instagram ako talagang lahat, Rihanna.”

While young gay boys of the previous generation looked to fashion rags to cop the chicest looks, the new generation turns to Instagram for references.

Sa Instagram ka din madaling makakauha ng mga damit niya. Nakita ko yung House of Rihanna, andun ‘yung mga damit niya, kung anong brand. ‘Di ko naman kayang abutin yung mga brand ni Rihanna. Kaya inaano ko lang ‘yung mga style.”

I open my laptop and check the Haus of Rihanna website with him. Instead of Alexander Wang, Comme des Garçons, Balmain, and Vetements, he resorts to H&M, Zara, Forever 21, Adidas, and Nike. He’s also managed to get a pair of Fenty Puma by Rihanna. Earlier this year, he snagged  ₱50,000 worth of clothes, shoes, and accessories courtesy of a shopping spree from Vice Ganda, his 'adoptive' mother. According to Vice Ganda, Awra is his anointed heir to follow in his footsteps. 

“Ako lang talaga nag-style sa akin pag sa mga mall shows, ganyan,” he says, which explains his carefully put-together look since he just came from a mall show — in Mindoro. “Sa mga T.V. at guestings minsan ‘yung stylist ni Ate Vice [Ganda]. Ang mahal kaya ng stylists!” He then side-eyes our stylist, then laughs.

Awra Briguela In "Your Face Sounds Familiar: Kids," where he emerged as the winner, Awra was able to showcase his performing abilities by impersonating the likes of Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Shakira, and even Daniel Padilla. On Awra: Proudrace oversized turtleneck, stylist's own blazer. Photos by JL JAVIER

Perhaps inspired by the shoot to shop for a few clothes to add to his growing wardrobe, Awra planned to head straight to the mall right after. Before he left, however, I sat down with him to talk about his career, being a gay boy, and at the same time, got schooled about loving myself, later realizing that he preaches like RuPaul. “If you don't love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”

Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

‘Yung mga kasama mo sa viral video mo, iba na ba trato nila sa’yo?

Parang ganun pa rin, kasi ang sabi ko sa kanila, ‘wag nyo ibahin ‘yung pagtrato niyo sa akin kasi gusto ko pa din ‘yung dati. Natural lang. Kasi ano ba, nagta-trabaho lang naman ako. Hindi ako nagpapasikat sa madaming tao. Ginagawa ko lang ‘yung trabaho ko para sa dream ko din naman na mapasaya ko ‘yung tao. Gusto ko din kayong pasayahin.

Awra-1.jpg Earlie this year, Awra snagged P50,000 worth of clothes, shoes,and accessories courtesy of a shopping spree from Vice Ganda, his 'adoptive' mother. According to Vice Ganda, Awra is his anointed heir to follow in his footsteps. On Awra: Zara denim jacket. Photo by JL JAVIER

Your character Makmak has gone through some changes in “Ang Probinsyano.”

Ang sinasabi ko palagi, lagi ka lang magpapakatotoo. Kasi nung una natatakot akong aminin sa kanila na bakla nga ako, lagi ko sinasabi na lalake ako. After nun, ang naging role ko lalake na bakla nga, sundalo tatay ko, may eksena dun na umamin ako kay Kuya Cardo na bakla ako. Parang doon ko na din sinabi ko sa kanila ‘yung totoo. Bakla nga ako. Nagulat ako kasi hindi sila nandiri sa akin or tinrato ng iba, parang mas lalo pa silang naging masaya nung inamin ko. Dun ko napatunayan na sa pagpapakatotoo mo, hindi lang palaging may kokontra. Meron ding magiging masaya para sayo. And I’m so happy na naging masaya sila nung unamin ko.

So hindi nila alam na bakla ka nung una?

Hindi.

Madami bang umaaway at nanunukso sa ‘yo dati?

Siyempre madami. Ang alam ng lahat kapag bakla ka, bullied ka. Eh ako sabi ko sa sarili ko, wala silang karapatang apihin ako kasi hindi naman nila ako pinapakain, unang-una sa lahat. Lumalaban talaga ako kahit high school o college pa sila. Madami na akong naaway kaya puro galos ako eh. Hindi talaga ako nagpapatalo eh.

How’s your relationship with your family?

Sila ‘yung number one supporters ko. Sila ‘yung unang tumanggap sa akin. ‘Yung tito ko, kapatid ng father ko, gay. Na sobrang yaman ngayon dahil sa sobrang talino din, kaya tinanggap nila ako kasi hindi na iba sa kanila. Saka sa kanila naman kahit ano pa tatanggapin ka naman nila.

So parang inspiration mo siya growing up?

Oo. Gusto ko din maging mayaman eh. Kasi nakabili siya ng tatlong bahay sa States, sa L.A.

Awra Briguela For a 13 year old, his grip on fashion is assured — something that you wouldn’t pick up based on the first viral video that he appeared in. “Ang pangit ko talaga dun,” he says. On Awra (left): Proudrace oversized turtleneck, stylist's own blazer; (right) stylist's own floral button down and shorts. Photos by JL JAVIER

You recently won an award, Best Child Film Actor. Have you had workshops for acting since you said gusto mo na seryosohin?

Hindi ko kailangan mag-workshop kasi iniisip ko palagi na magpakatotoo lang. Fini-feel ko lang kung ano ‘yung nasa script. Lalabas ‘yung galing mo kapag nagpapakatooo ka lang. Hindi mo na kailangang i-motivate pa ‘yung sarili mo. Iisipin mo lang talaga na nandun ka sa pangyayari, ‘yun talaga yung nangyari sa buhay mo. Kaya madali lang.

Your other mentor, actually mother mo raw siya, is Vice Ganda. How was it like working with him in "The Super Parental Guardians"?

Si Ate Vice siyempre sobrang talino niya, tinuturuan niya ako, ‘Ikaw na bahala mag-adlib diyan basta ‘eto yung mangyayari.’ Ako, gusto ko rin ipakita sa kanya ‘yung kakayanin ko. Kaya parang sa amin, kung ano ‘yung kaya namin, ‘yun ang ipapakita namin. Hindi na nila kami kailangan pilitin kasi natural lang ang kailangan.

What are some of the important lessons that you’ve learned from Coco and Vice?

Respect. Kailangan makisama. ‘Wag lalaki ulo. Love your family. And sa lahat love yourself, kasi kung hindi mo mahal ‘yung sarili mo walang mangyayari sa ‘yo eh. [Kung] papabayaan mo sarili mo, wala kang maaabot. Kasi kung susuko ka agad, wala na tapos na ang lahat. Pero ‘pag sinabi mo sa sarili mo na kaya ko ‘to, kaya ko ‘yung ginagawa nila, malayo mararating mo.

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Styled by: Fed Pua