COVER STORY

Kathryn Bernardo is stepping out on her own

With a beauty business, a makeup line, and a movie without Daniel Padilla, the young actress is shaping her identity outside the world of KathNiel.

 

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — “Upo ka na, love.”  

Those four words may seem endearing-yet-insignificant, but they carry much weight when you consider that they were said by actress Kathryn Bernardo, and that she’d just called Daniel Padilla — her love team partner of over six years — her “love.”

Just a few years ago, any direct proclamation or show of affection was almost taboo for the pair, who have remained tight-lipped about their off-screen relationship ever since their “Got to Believe” days.

During the Q&A at the press conference for their upcoming movie, “The Hows of Us,” the two skipped anything remotely cryptic, instead blindsiding reporters with their honest and revealing answers. The tipping point was when Daniel was asked how many years it’s been since they officially got together. After joking around, he paused, gave his signature bad boy snicker, and matter-of-factly declared: “Together? Basta more than five years.”

Photographers clicked away. Reporters breathed a sigh of relief. Fans watching the livestream bowled over from the kilig. Though their social media posts and candid moments never really caused anyone to doubt, Daniel’s reply was still treated as a revelation considering that this was the first time they’d ever admitted to being official. But now that that mystery has been put to rest, what could be next?

Kathryn Bernardo CNN Philippines Life.jpg Photo by CHARISMA LICO

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At 22, Kathryn Bernardo is one half of a pairing that’s earned a spot in the Pinoy pop culture hall of fame. KathNiel’s influence spans both film and television: they’ve got countless endorsements, and have worked with big stars and directors in the business.

Six years may not seem like a long time, but as a couple who is used to having all eyes on them, it seems like it’s been ages. The current generation practically watched them grow up in front of their T.V. screens.

There are downsides to this, too. It’s become almost impossible to talk about one without mentioning the other. Can Kathryn or Daniel exist without the other? It’s clear that both Bernardo and Padilla seem to think so. With over 14 projects to their combined name, Bernardo believes that now is the best time as ever to explore new territory and widen their breadth as actors.   

“Alam mo, pinag-usapan namin ni DJ na gusto niyang gumawa ng ibang projects without me,” Bernardo says, referencing Padilla’s MMFF starrer with Vice Ganda. Given all the strings attached to being in a loveteam, Padilla’s name often comes up when we ask Bernardo about her plans for a solo career.

“Of course, mas comfortable ako na nandoon si DJ, pero alam ko na darating na rin yung time na maghihiwalay muna kami and ayoko alisin sa kanya ‘yun,” she adds. “Ayoko maging selfish na solohin siya, na tayo lang parati kasi ang daming magandang project for him without me and sino ba naman ako para mag-no doon, diba? Career-wise, let's see.”

Kathryn Bernardo CNN Philippines Life.jpg Photo by CHARISMA LICO

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“The Hows of Us” is set to be KathNiel’s most mature film to date, and it also happens to be one of the final four projects that director Cathy Garcia-Molina has promised to make before retiring. Bernardo and Padilla have been working with the acclaimed romance director ever since the T.V. series “Got to Believe” in 2013.

In the “The Hows of Us,” Bernardo plays George, a headstrong fresh graduate who goes through the ups and downs of a long-term relationship with Primo (Padilla). The story is supposed to explore the millennial tendency to give up, and uncover their reasons for staying along the way.

The new topic strays from the wholesome persona that Bernardo is used to. She says that George’s personality is far from her own, so “hopefully nga ‘pag napanuod nila, si George talaga ang nakikita nila kasi it's totally different from Kathryn in real life.”

Garcia-Molina recounts how it was a conscious move to make a film different from their usual to let the pair’s acting shine. “Na-exhaust na somehow ang romcom kasi both in soap operas and film, ginagawa nila,” she says. “For those who are tentative pa kung may acting prowess ba 'tong dalawa or hindi, hinahanapan na. Pwede ba silang tawaging aktor other than the romcoms that they do? This is the answer.”

The director thinks that Bernardo’s performance, in particular, stood out from the usual. “I've been hearing na maraming nagda-doubt sa capacity ng mga artista ko, especially Kathryn. Talagang sabi ko, hindi. Ilalabas ko ang galing ni Kathryn sa pelikulang 'to. And I think she did it with flying colors.”

Padilla, meanwhile, gushes while trying to explain how his partner has grown as an actor, saying that he thinks their growth pattern was similar. “Sa reactions pa lang. Ang lapad na ng emotions, ang lapad na nung span ng reactions.”

All of this is part of their mission to grow as individuals, and Bernardo admits that there’s still so much they haven’t learned. “Marami pa kaming kailangang matutunan. Nag-mature kami, nag-grow kami, pero ang dami pa pala.”

Kathryn Bernardo CNN Philippines Life.jpg Photo by CHARISMA LICO

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Little by little, we’re seeing that Kathryn Bernardo is emerging all on her own. In the vein of other famous celebrity bosses, it was her “kakikayan” that led her to start Kathnails, a nail salon that she runs with her family.

“Personally, I’m very particular with my nails — I like getting my nails done, bonding ‘yan namin ng mom ko,” says Bernardo. “So nag-try lang kaming gawin siyang business and maganda ‘yung naging feedback ng tao.”

Coming from a non-business background hasn’t been without challenges for the young actress, but she is eager to learn.

She says: “It’s not easy, especially for me kasi bago siya, pero I’m really learning sa Kathnails and okay ‘yun kasi nagiging aware ako sa mga [bagay]. Okay lang din kasi nandiyan na din mom ko to guide me. Magaling siya sa ganyan. Last week, nag-start na kami mag-franchise. By 2020, sana 30 branches. So let’s see kung may mga ok na deal sa franchise. Fingers crossed.”

More recently, Bernardo collaborated with local makeup brand Happy Skin for their new diffusion line aimed at a younger market — a feat she calls “a dream come true”. At the Generation Happy Skin launch last Aug. 18, Happy Skin founders Rissa Mananquil-Trillo and Jacque Gutierrez share the actress’s hands-on involvement in the collection that they made specifically for her.

“She didn’t want pieces or colors in the collection that she wouldn’t use kasi kilala daw siya ng fans niya. She also does her own research, so even before presenting all the products, during a trip to the States, she bought nine mascaras, tested them,” Mananquil-Trillo says. “She really studied formulas, the brushes. [It shows that] she's diligent and does her homework because not a lot of people do that.”

Gutierrez echoes those sentiments, saying that one thing that they really liked about Bernardo was that she made sure of two things: that all of the products in the collection were things she would use in her typical makeup routine, and that all the shades and colors would suit morena skin. “From the first time we brought our products to her at ABS-CBN, she actually said, ‘Oh, I’m really not a user of brow pencils. Can we do a liquid brow pen instead?’” Gutierrez recalls.

Bernardo was very particular about one shade in the collection: authenticity, and Mananquil-Trillo and Gutierrez recall how important it was for Bernardo that they keep it despite it not being as catchy as what they were used to.

“Shade names [in the collection] had to be representative of values or traits that are important to her,” adds Mananquil-Trillo. “She knows that makeup is a tool to not just make women pretty, but to also empower [them]. Kath told us she wanted to use that word because [she] feel[s] like the women in my generation are pressured to be different just because of society.”

Kathryn Bernardo CNN Philippines Life.jpg Photo by CHARISMA LICO

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Next on Bernardo’s list is an upcoming film with Sharon Cuneta and Richard Gomez, which is her first acting gig without Padilla.

“More on family naman, hindi love story [‘yung bagong movie],” she says. “Okay naman si DJ with that at mixed ‘yung emotions ko kasi I'm not used to not seeing him, especially sa shoot.”

As to what she plans to explore moving forward, Bernardo still hasn’t thought about it. Given the time, she’d like to work more on the business side of things, maybe dabble more in photography and take up a short makeup course.

But of course, being an actress in this industry has its own trade-offs.

“Kailangan lang talaga, time. Once may time, ang dami-dami kong gustong gawin,” she says, with sparkles in her eyes. “Sana may magawa ako next year.”