Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Beauty Gonzalez feels like she’s always an underdog.
That’s probably why she keeps on winning.
“But, you know, it’s good naman to feel that way rather than you feel na comfortable ka and then you’ll be too relaxed, isipin mo na kaya mo lahat,” she says.
I am talking to Beauty while she is being made up for her photo shoot with CNN Philippines Life. “I’m sleepy,” she says when asked how she is doing. She just finished taping for “Kadenang Ginto” earlier that morning, and the scenes they shot were difficult. “It was a hard taping. Ang lamig sa studio, parang North Pole,” she quips.
Beauty does not want to reveal too much, but she does say that particular shoot involved a cook-off between her character Romina and her business rival and — because the show is an afternoon soap opera — stepdaughter Daniela.
“It’s stressful in a way and fun in a way,” Beauty says of her experience working on “Kadenang Ginto.” “Fun kasi masaya ‘yung set. Everyone is magaan katrabaho. Stressful kasi long hours. Sa umaga I’m crying, in the afternoon I am laughing. In the night time I am mad again.”
But stress aside, Beauty is very happy. “Kadenang Ginto,” after all, is a hit, no matter how you look at it. It is a ratings success; the show premiered October of last year and it is still on air. According to reports, it has been extended until next year. It is also an internet sensation. Even if you do not watch local afternoon soap operas, you’ve probably seen memes inspired by the show. (The meme “Cassie, hindi ka muna papasok sa school” that became viral when classes were suspended was based on a dialogue from the show.)
There is no one element that made “Kadenang Ginto” a hit.
For Beauty, “Kadenang Ginto” resonated with audiences because it is a “typical drama.” It is unapologetic about its soap opera roots.
“Nakakawala siya ng stress. A lot of people na nakakausap ko, sabi nawawala raw stress nila. Kasi kapag pinanonood nila, nastre-stress sila para sa amin. ‘Yung stress nila napupunta doon,” she says.
Consider its story: Romina is the secretary-turned-wife of business tycoon Roberto (Albert Martinez), who married her — this part I copy from the show’s official synopsis — “despite the fact that she was raped and was carrying the child of the assailant.” Unknown to Romina, it is Roberto’s daughter Daniela (Dimples Romana) who orchestrated the abduction.
Right before seducing Romina’s fiance Carlos (Luis Alandy). Worse, Romina does not know it was actually her own husband Roberto who sexually assaulted her. And with their lives intertwined, Romina’s and Daniela’s daughters Cassie and Marga (Francine Diaz and Andrea Brillantes, respectively) end up fighting too.
As is the norm in afternoon soap operas, “Kadenang Ginto” is overly dramatic and over-the-top. The confrontations are loud and the evil schemes are downright insane. In a recent arc, Daniela blackmails Romina into giving up her shares in the family company in exchange of blood her sick daughter Cassie sorely needs. Before that, Daniela creates a fake hostage-taking (which accidentally involved her daughter Marga) to stop Romina from finding out Cassie is Roberto’s daughter (and rightful heir to their business empire). It is, in today’s parlance, extremely extra.
Its success is reminiscent of another after soap opera, GMA-7’s infidelity-themed “Ika-6 Na Utos.” But “Ika-6 Na Utos” thrived on being a viral sensation. (Remember Sunshine Dizon and Ryza Cenon’s toy gun fight scene?) It is intentionally over-the-top because the network wanted it to become viral. “Kadenang Ginto” is campy, sure, but its driving force is not unnecessary viral moments but actual, down-to-earth emotions. For instance: How will Romina react if and when she finds out it is her husband who abused her and fathered her child? Underneath the soap opera scenario is an undeniable reality — betrayal and the inevitable eventual redemption — that makes it relatable.
“Alam mo na kung ano mangyayari but you still wanna see it. Ano, sasapakin na ba niya? Makakabawi na ba si Romina?” Beauty further muses on the success of “Kadenang Ginto.” “Romina is not the typical bida na tanggap lang nang tanggap. Siya rin, may spunk. As a viewer, para kang nanonood ng boxing ‘pag pinanonood mo si Romina.”
Of course, the heart of “Kadenang Ginto” is its cast.
And at the center of this is Beauty Gonzalez.
You would be forgiven to think that this is Beauty’s biggest TV breakthrough.
True, “Kadenang Ginto” is probably Beauty’s biggest show to date. But she has appeared in so many successful shows that it is criminal that she is not often considered a formidable leading lady. In fact, before “Kadenang Ginto,” she was the lead star in the afternoon soap opera “Pusong Ligaw.” That show was not a phenomenal hit, but its success warranted a good nine-month run.
“Kapag may bagong project ako, kinakabahan talaga ako. It’s like first day of school for me. Kasi syempre, it’s a new thing. It’s a new project. And you really wanna do well. And you want people to love you and your character. You want people to feel what you feel in the show,” Beauty says.
Perhaps it is easy to underestimate Beauty because of how she started in show business. The youngest and only daughter of Carina Luche and Manuel Gonzalez, Beauty grew up in Dumaguete. She had no big dreams as a child. “I didn’t want to study. I didn’t want to do anything,” she shares. Her long-term plan was to turn a land her family owns into a cemetery. “I told my parents about it and, you know, I want to make coffins na cool. Like if you’re LGBT, I’ll make you a rainbow coffin. Ganon iniisip ko dati.” Her mother thought it was a foolish idea and forced her to do modelling and beauty pageants in Cebu instead.
Her official entry into show business was via “Pinoy Big Brother: Teen Edition Plus” in 2008, also through the prodding of her mother.
“Napilit talaga niya akong sumali sa PBB. Hindi pa ako pumila noon. Kasi ayokong pumila. Why would [I] line up eh ayoko naman sumali?” she says. It was her yaya who fell in line for her. Needless to say, Beauty had a comfortable childhood.
“And when it was my turn to audition, hindi talaga ako nag-ayos. Sabi nila, why do you want to join? Sabi ko, ‘I don’t want to join. My mom wants me to join. If you want, you can get her.’ I didn’t know na the more you push them away or resist, the more they’re interested.” Beauty was chosen to be one of the show’s 14 teen contestants. She placed fourth in the competition; actor Ejay Falcon placed first and T.V. host Robi Domingo was the runner-up.
Beauty initially planned to travel and enjoy her ₱100,00 cash prize from “Pinoy Big Brother.” But acting offers came as soon as the reality show ended.
“I was curious. Everyone, lahat, gusto maging artista. Ako, binibigay sa akin, bakit hindi ko i-try? At the time, I didn’t know what I wanted in my life. So I gave it a try,” she says. “I started doing it for fun. I wanted to enjoy my life.” Beauty was given supporting roles in high profile T.V. shows such as “Iisa Pa Lamang” (starring Claudine Barretto and Angelica Panganiban), “Angelito: Ang Batang Ama” (starring JM De Guzman) and “Honesto” (starring Paulo Avelino and child star Raikko Mateo).
Beauty adds: “And then my mom told me she got me a house, she got me a car. And she told me, bahala ka na, if you’re gonna get pregnant, get out of the house. Sabi ko, I don’t want to get pregnant. I wanted to enjoy my teen life. So parang, i-enjoy ko talaga. I worked hard. Lahat ng best friend roles, ginalingan ko lahat ng best friend roles para may panggastos ako every week to go out. Kasi, ine-enjoy ko ‘yung work ko.”
But it was in the 2014 hit romantic movie “Starting Over Again,” which starred Piolo Pascual and Toni Gonzaga, that made her realize that she wanted to take acting seriously. In the movie, she plays Wella, one of the best friends of Gonzaga’s love-struck Ginny.
“Doon ko na-realize na, wow, may galing pala ako. Kasi at first it was just for fun. Wala lang. And then noong pumatok ako sa ‘Starting Over Again,’ doon ko na-realize na I should take it seriously. Kailangan ko na magpapayat. So I took care of myself. I should lose weight so people could see me under this round face, a beautiful face,” she quips. “And that I can do also kung ano ‘yung naabot nila. That was my turning point.”
So Beauty lost weight and even became a cover girl in a popular men’s magazine. She starred in the afternoon drama “Moon of Desire,” co-starring Meg Imperial. Then, finally, she got her first lead role via the primetime soap opera “Dream Dad,” opposite Zanjoe Marudo. The show became a hit. After that, another lead role in the morning soap opera “Ningning.” She also had a role in the afternoon show “Walang Iwanan.”
The perennial best friend has become a leading lady.
Then, it came to a halt.
“Naudlot siya,” Beauty says of her rising career at the time. She got pregnant.
“Noong paakyat ‘yung career ko, nabuntis ako. Okay, what now?”
Beauty was in denial when she first found out she was pregnant.
“Ang dami kong kinuhang pregnancy kits. I bought, like, five pregnancy tests because I cannot believe it. Then isa-isa — boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. Oh my God, what am I gonna do? At that time, I was doing two shows. Two shows and then I was pregnant,” she says.
Both the fans and the tabloid press were quick to express their disappointment.
“Buntis pala si Beauty Gonzalez. Haay! Sayang siya. Amp!” a tweet from 2015 reads. A tabloid report from the same time reads: “Sinayang ni Beauty ang pagkakataon dahil kung kailan dumami ang proyekto niya ay saka siya nagpabuntis.”
Beauty was aware that, while it is not impossible, it can be difficult for an actress to get back into the game after pregnancy. “When you get pregnant in showbiz, don’t expect it to be like flowers — lalo na when you’re not married and you’re starting your career,” she says.
“And everyone was saying, ‘Sayang ka, sayang ka.’”
As if channelling her “Kadenang Ginto” character Romina, Beauty told herself at the time: “Sabi ko na lang, ‘Lagot kayo kapag nakabalik ako dito. Tignan natin kung sayang ako.’”
She did come back, months after giving birth to her daughter Olivia and marrying famed art curator Norman Crisologo. But it was as if she had to start from scratch. Gone were the lead roles; she had to slug it out in supporting roles again. In 2016, she played best friend to the characters of Angel Locsin and Jodi Sta. Maria in the movies “The Third Party” and “The Achy Breaky Hearts,” respectively. Beauty had no regular TV shows that year, admitting that gaining momentum after her break was a struggle.
But it obviously paid off, with the success of her afternoon soap operas “Pusong Ligaw” and “Kadenang Ginto.”
“You know, that’s what I’m trying to prove right now,” Beauty says. “I’m trying to make it like Hollywood na even if you got pregnant, if you’re married, hindi ka ma-stereotype na ganun na lang ‘yung role mo palagi. Na kapag nanganak ka na, mommy roles ka na pala. You know, even if you’re happily married and even if you have a beautiful family and you have kids, if you look good and if you can deliver the character, pwede ka. Women empowerment ba na, you know, kaya namin ito.”
Of course, the irony there is that Beauty, a young 28-year-old actress, got her second wind with mother roles. In “Kadenang Ginto,” she plays a mother to Francine Diaz who is only 13 years her junior. She also played Gabby Padilla’s mom in “Billie & Emma,” and one of the running gags in the film is that the two can be mistaken for sisters. But in “Pusong Ligaw,” she played mother to actor Enzo Pineda — who is also 28 years old. But she did not mind. “I really want people to believe I can be a mom to a young actor. Mamaya pwede akong 40s tapos mamaya pwede akong 16 years old,” she jokes.
“At first, na-ano ako na, huh? Grabe naman, porke’t nanganak na ako, ganito na nangyari sa career ko,” she admits. “And you know, I am just doing my job. And if people believe that I am their mom, then maybe I’m really doing a great job.”
For Beauty, the main takeaway here is that an actress like her — who got pregnant and married at a young age — can still be a bankable lead star just like the rest of them.
Not everyone is open to the idea, Beauty admits. After all, the leading lady is not just an actress; she is also, unfortunately, a male fantasy. But it shouldn’t be that way.
“Ang daming mga young moms, ang daming magagaling diyan na napapabayaan nila ‘yung sarili nila kasi ganun lang din ‘yung nakukuha nilang role, e. So if I can show them na if you take care of yourself, pwede ka pang magpakilig dyan. Pwede ka pang maging Kathryn Bernardo.”
It’s no secret that Beauty almost did not play Romina in “Kadenang Ginto.”
Early last year, it was reported that Beauty was planning to move from ABS-CBN to rival network GMA-7. Many saw this as a surprise, since her last show with ABS-CBN was a hit. But the transfer seemed ripe to happen; she even appeared on the GMA-7 weekend game show “Celebrity Bluff,” which all but seemed to confirm the move.
Nothing came out of the guesting, however, and Beauty remained with ABS-CBN.
Asked about her brief dalliance with GMA-7, Beauty says, “Paano ba sasabihin? I was impatient. Okay, alright, I’ll be honest. I was impatient, you know. I was very impatient.”
She does not elaborate on what this meant, but further explains: “As a person, gusto mo… you want na agad-agad. And sometimes you have to wait for the best thing to happen to you. And being impatient, you end up doing wrong decisions and I was just happy enough na na-save ako.”
No offense to GMA-7, of course. “But, you know, I just realized na mas happy talaga ako dito [sa ABS-CBN]. And that’s what is important to me — kung saan ka masaya, di ba?”
“I’m happy that ABS took me back. And, you know, they love me pala. Ako lang pala ang baliw.”
And the people love her too — she just doesn’t know why.
“Honestly, I just like to prove people wrong. Kasi kapag akala ng mga tao na hindi papatok, pumapatok. So, ine-enjoy ko lang.” Beauty says she knows not everyone — whether this means the fans or people in the TV network, she does not clarify — thinks she deserves the breaks she is getting.
“I always feel that all the time. I always feel like I’m always the underdog,” Beauty says. “But I don’t want to talk about it. Instead of patulan mo, you just ride on the game and prove them wrong; you’ll just have a good laugh after.”
It goes without saying that she’s having a good laugh now.
Her happiness does not just come from her showbiz success. A huge part of it comes from her family life — as mother to three-year-old Olivia and wife to Norman.
“Family life is golden!” she quips.
Becoming serious, Beauty adds: “Syempre, family life brings me to reality. Family to me is reality kasi. My world is busy, overexposed na. Family brings me back to who I am, and that’s important for me.”
It is difficult to be a mother, wife, and an actress. But she credits Norman for being supportive. There are still things she wants to accomplish outside being a family woman and keeping the balance between actress, mother, and wife is a “work in progress.”
“I’m still filling up my cup everyday. Minsan, walang laman ‘yung cup. Minsan, may laman. And it’s a process. And I am happy I have my husband to be there for me and my daughter to help me fill up my cup,” she says.
Other dreams she still wants to fulfill? “Marami pa akong gustong i-achieve, syempre. Marami pa akong gustong gawin sa buhay ko. Even the simplest things. Ano ba gusto kong gawin lately?”
Norman, who is accompanying Beauty during the shoot, volunteers: “A Star Cinema blockbuster!”
“Yeah, I want a Star Cinema movie. Yeah. Hello, gusto ko ng Star Cinema movie,” she quips.
“Seriously, it doesn’t have to be [a Star Cinema movie]. But that’s my dream. I want to have a movie na, you know, hindi ko ine-expect na papatok. Sana dumating din sa akin ‘yung ganung storya.”
Watch out: Beauty may feel like she’s an underdog, but she has the charm and the dreams that make her a winner.
Makeup by MIKKA MARCAIDA
Hairstyling by MARK IBARROLA
Styling by MAGS OCAMPO
Produced by PORTIA LADRIDO