Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Listen to Heart Evangelista talk about her life, and you’re bound to give her credit where it’s due.
When a person who’s lived the last 18 years of her life in the public eye tells you, “I think I’m pretty controversial,” like she’s reciting a grocery list, that’s when you know she’s not playing around. “I’ve been through so much in my life,” she goes on. “And I’ve been written, you know, painted a different image many times.”
And although she doesn’t name names or get into specifics, the accompanying mental image says it all for her: the ups and downs of her acting career, her transition from kikay teen idol to fashion icon, her well-documented dating history, her relationship with her parents, her marriage to the senator turned vice-presidential candidate Francis “Chiz” Escudero, and whatever else. She can’t say it enough — she’s been through it all.
But today, Evangelista is settled, to say the least. She’s launching her line of lip products, a collaboration with the local makeup brand Happy Skin, following the release of her beauty book, “This is Me, Love Marie,” just months before. On Instagram, where she caters to more than a million followers, she declares herself a multi-hyphenate, or, in more recent terminology, a slasher: She is a “wife/actress/artist/author/designer.” And she has the cred to back up each title.
She is a big believer in going after what you want — making it happen — when you want it. This go-getting mentality is one she employed when she decided to work with Happy Skin, of which she’d been a fan mainly for its being local and “good for the skin.” “I thought of coming up with a collaboration because on a lot of my Instagram posts, people would ask me, ‘Oh, what’s your shade of lipstick?’ or, ‘What do you advise for this skin tone?’” she says. (True to her teenybopper persona, she has been passionate about makeup for as long as she can remember. “When I was little, I used to draw on covers of Vogue, put lipstick on [the models], take a Pentel pen and make it like an eyeliner,” she recalls.) To make the collaboration happen, she decided to send a message to one of Happy Skin’s co-founders, Rissa Mananquil-Trillo. “She messaged me the day after,” Evangelista says. “She was abroad. And I was like: ‘Oh, my God. Such a stupid idea. She didn’t message me back!’ But yeah, she was super excited.”
The pair came up with a trio of shades with accompanying lip liners, made up mostly of nudes, which corresponds to Evangelista’s personal beauty philosophy. “They suggested that we put in a [red shade], so you’re covered for the whole day, from morning to night,” she adds. “Because, you know, we all live serious lives, with work and everything, we wanted it a bit playful.” Proof of this can be seen on the packaging, which — in addition to being a boxed set that comes in the shape of a heart, of course — is adorned with her doodles.
And doodles are cute, for sure. But if you’ve been paying any attention to Evangelista at all for the past few years — and it’d be difficult not to — you’re probably well aware that she has gotten serious as a painter. While it came as a surprise to most when it first made the rounds that the actress was dabbling in art, as though it were a sudden development, to Evangelista herself, it was more like coming full circle. “Ever since I was a little girl, I’d paint on our walls,” she recalls. “My mom would always get mad at me [because] we had white walls. But my dad was super-duper supportive. And he said, ‘No! ‘Wag mong pagbabawalan! Let her hone it. Let her develop it.’” He would come with her to museums and to SM Megamall, where they would discover painters and new artists together, and take her to see street artists who sketched customers live.
When she started acting and focused on different interests, art was relegated to the sidelines, where it stayed for quite a while. “Until I went through life,” Evangelista says. “One day I was just super extremely sad, and then I started to paint again. And my husband said, ‘Why don’t you get a big canvas and just paint?’” Unsure at first, as she didn’t know what to fill such a large space with, she decided to just go for it. “I just kept on painting, and I love it. I absolutely love it.” It became apparent that filling in the gaps wasn’t so difficult after all — her arsenal of recurring themes touches on images of women, fish, florals, and nature in general, but she insists that she just paints whatever she likes.
Her foray into art soon grew with exhibitions at the Ayala Museum and even Chan Hampe Galleries in Singapore, a collaboration with the designer Mark Bumgarner on handpainted dresses, and illustrations for the children’s book “Daughter of the Sun and the Moon,” written by Rocio Olbes, and A.A. Patawaran’s poetry collection “Hai[na]ku and Other Poems.” She also turns handbags into one-of-a-kind pieces by painting on them.
Evangelista has turned to minimalism as a fashion must. “I think I like to keep it simple, basic, timeless,” she explains. “I like whites and blacks, and maybe a pop of color with my bag. My shoes, I [prefer to be] nude all the time; with my makeup, it’s the same.” It is, then, she admits, a contrast to the way she paints, which she describes as very colorful. “So I guess that’s why it’s an outlet,” she muses. “It’s therapeutic for me to paint.”
Asked about her identity in art, she turns serious. It is perhaps out of a certain self-awareness regarding the fine line she’s treading: that public perception where, if you’re in show business, you can’t possibly be a “true” artist. “It’s kind of intense for me to talk about the art scene because I feel that a lot of people are raising their eyebrows,” she says. “Like, ‘Oh, artista, but she’s painting.’” But at the end of the day, she adds, she’s just a painter who wants to paint, regardless of the reception: “I just really want to just keep painting. Whether you like it or not, I will paint. And if you like it, thank you very much. If you don’t like it, I’ll just keep it in my house.”
Somehow, strange as it may seem, acting is now a day job for her. While she may not have withdrawn from the public eye, to see her as anything other than herself has become a rarity. “Right now, I’m working on a telenovela, and I enjoy it,” says Evangelista, whose plan at the moment is to do one soap a year. On “Juan Happy Love Story,” which is more of a romantic comedy than a melodrama, she plays Happy Villanueva, an idealistic sap in search of The One who gets swept up in an unlikely relationship — and eventually, marriage — with the commitment-wary Juan dela Costa, played by Dennis Trillo.
It’s just that her attention is fixed on the canvas instead of the screen. “It’s always going to be my first love, and I don’t want to forget about it,” she says of acting. “But as of now, I really am on a high, developing my branding and getting into certain things, like home, fragrances, painting, other things like that. So as of now, I’m enjoying the other side of me, which is Love Marie instead of Heart.”
Love Marie is, of course, Evangelista’s real given name. In the delicate world of fame, former identities tend to fade once screen names — and screen personalities — take over. That, or they become reserved for the private lives of celebrities, their last remaining tie to a sense of normal. It’s rare for an established actress to revert to such a name, especially when she has spent almost two-thirds of her life as someone else.
Evangelista says the decision to “introduce” Love Marie came when she got serious about painting, echoing her earlier sentiments about being panned for her earnest attempt at art. “I didn’t want to put a face to the paintings,” she explains. “I was so afraid of the judgment — as an artista, you get bashed every day. People tell you this and that. If I painted, what else were they going to say? Parang, ‘Ano ba yan!’” She started signing her work with “LM” for anonymity. If people didn’t have preexisting notions of who she was, she says, “maybe they would respect me.”
“I didn’t use the name that I’ve been using for 18 years,” she says. “I used my school name. So that’s how I introduced Love Marie, with my first exhibit at Ayala Museum’s Artist Space. And I just felt really comfortable introducing me as me. That’s who I am in the real world and I kind of like it.”
Evangelista said it herself: Her life has been written about every which way possible, so many times that it appears as though everything had been said. But if there’s a side to her that she wants to make known, it’s that she really does try to live as normally as she can — and most days, she even succeeds. “Maybe because I’m always dressed and I’m always wearing my nude pumps, my bags,” she says, referring to the way she is perceived as sosyal. “I’m actually a really casual [person]. I love to stay home. I hardly wear my slippers at home — I sometimes just like to, you know, sit on the floor and get dirty with my dogs.”
One would be inclined to think that for someone with so much on her plate, Evangelista must be just about ready for a vacation, to relax and stop for a while. But her plans suggest otherwise. “I’m planning to have a baby this February,” she says. “I’m really going to seriously work on it and make it a priority.” She’s only a year into her thirties, but her vision for the next few years is clear. “It’s really just discovering me as a mom, which is a totally different chapter, and I’m not familiar with it at all. But it excites me and frightens me. But you know, I will embrace it.”
She has also been posting frequent updates about another first for her, and the surest sign of her independence. “I’m building a house right now, and hopefully I’ll celebrate my Christmas there with my kids now,” she explains, referring to Escudero’s children.
With years and years paved with emotional learning curves, Evangelista wants to teach herself something concrete and practical for a change — but it’s also something that’s helping her reconnect and fix her relationship with her mother, with whom she had a falling-out. “I’m working on my cooking,” she laughs. “That’s why I’m so glad that my mom and I are OK [now].” Of course, like the multi-hyphenate that she is, she can’t become a cook without making it a full-fledged project. “We’re actually coming up with a cookbook, and it’s all about heirloom recipes and how cooking has really improved our relationship. [It’s] me as a wife and as a mom-to-be, my struggles and the things I’m learning, and how I can relate to people [who are in the same position].”
It was quite the journey for Heart Evangelista to become Love Marie Ongpauco-Escudero. The 31-year-old muses that the last 10 years have felt like “three lifetimes ago” to her. “I think I’ve changed a lot,” she says brightly. “I’ve been through so much” — and here she drags out so for emphasis — “I can actually write a novel about my life. You wouldn’t even understand, like, ‘What?!’ I think I’m a completely different person. When I look back, parang, ‘Who is she?’”
Still, she is quick to clarify that she has no regrets. “I’ve changed so much, but I really like who I am today,” she says. “I love myself more today.”