Bianca Umali is not your ordinary celebrity.
During her shoot for PEP.ph's (Philippine Entertainment Portal) Main Attraction, not only did she drive herself from Paranaque to Pasig, the location of Summit Studio, she also did her own hair and makeup--like a pro.
She said, "First time ko ito," referring to her shoot sans a glam team.
Being independent has become second nature to Bianca, who lost her parents at a young age. Her mom died when she was five and her dad when she was ten.
She said matter-of-factly, without any bitterness in her tone, "No one taught me how to be like this. No one told me to be who I am, because I learned every thing without having a choice."
With the guidance of her paternal grandmother, Lola Vicki, she learned to be responsible for her own actions and decisions even before she turned 18 on March 2 of this year.
"Lahat ng mga decisions ko in life, lahat ng mga thoughts ko, lahat ng mga napagdaanan ko, napagdaanan ko siya nang ako lang mag-isa, na ako lang yung humaharap, na ako lang yung nagde-decide para sa sarili ko, and I think doon ko nakuha kung gaano ako katatag."
Hence, when this writer brought up the bashing she received from a well-intentioned social-media post and her involvement in an alleged reel-turned-real love triangle, she seemed unruffled.
Not seeing the need to revive those issues, she revealed how she overcame them instead.
"Ako, personally ha, kapag may ganon, I don't see it as ano, I don't dwell in it, e. I think yun yung magandang ginagawa ko na when there's something negative.
"Hindi siya yung something na nanamnamin ko na maglulugmok ako. When it happens, I accept that it happened, and see it not as a mistake, but as a lesson."
These lessons, according to her, might come in handy in the future.
She continued, "Kasi makikita mo in the future, believe me, na-prove ko na maraming beses na, in the future, 'Ay, kaya nangyari yun sa akin, kaya kinailangan kong matuto from that, kasi kung paano ko iha-handle yung situations in the future.'
"It's the art of dedma, but still, yung right understanding pa rin ng mga bagay-bagay. Open mind."
With regard to comments and criticisms, Bianca said she would listen only to people whose opinions matter to her.
"Ang opinyon ng ibang tao, hindi siya mahalaga sa akin unless I ask for it.
"Parang sa pananamit, if I ask you bagay ba sa akin 'to, your opinion would matter because I asked for it.
"Pero if sabihin mo sa akin na, 'Ay, ang pangit ng suot mo.' 'Tinanong ko ba yung opinon mo?'
"Hindi, e, ito gusto kong suotin, e. Suot ko siya dahil ito gusto ko.
"What matters to me is me.
"Pero kasi sa generation natin ngayon, normal nang opinionated ang mga tao. Ang dami nilang sasabihin. So ganun, it's how you think."
Being too independent and headstrong may not sit well with some people, but for Bianca "it has advantages and disadvantages."
She explained, "Ang disadvantage, well, how people will see you, siyempre, marami namang iba't ibang perspective ng tao diyan.
"I don't have parents, so a lot of people say, well, some, na parang, 'Ay, walang magulang iyan si Bianca, e, kaya ganyan siya lumaki. Wala kasing nag-ga-guide sa kanya.'
"Pero ang advantage noon, proud ako kasi kahit lumaki ako nang walang mga magulang, kaya ko yung sarili ko."
"Meron akong paninindigan sa sarili ko, kaya ko magdesisyon para sa sarili ko. Hindi ako nakadepende sa ibang tao para mabuhay."
Careerwise, is she ready to say goodbye to BiGuel, her six-year-old love team with Miguel Tanfelix?
Bianca said, "Actually, hindi naman siya naging big thing sa akin kasi parehas kami. He has his own career, I have my own career path, and then we both have our own career path, so hindi siya big deal.
"May times na siya yung may solo, may times na ako yung may solo, it was never a big deal for us. Wala din kaming insecurity."
Her first solo project was in September 2017, when Bianca was tapped to be a part of Alaala: A Martial Law Special, a documentary top-billed by Alden Richards.
Before that, however, Bianca had repeatedly said she could not see herself doing projects without Miguel.
She replied, "Siguro kasi yung maturity and the professionalism I've learned.
"At saka, ever since naman, hindi ako nag-close ng doors na makipagtrabaho sa ibang tao.
"And also for Miguel, yun din naman yung sinasabi niya, yung parehas kaming open.
"Di kami choosy. Ako personally, di ako choosy.
"At saka sabi nga nila, sobrang cowboy ko daw kasi kahit anong ipagawa sa akin, ginagawa ko!"
But BiGuel fans are in for a treat, Bianca and Miguel are set to top-bill a horror movie soon.
It will be their first movie together, the first time they will be tackling major roles on the big screen.
How did the shoot go?
"Tulungan. Actually, kami naman ni Miguel ever since, tulungan naman talaga kami sa lahat ng work namin.
"Pero this time, since it's our first major movie together, iba yung discipline, iba yung kung paano namin pag-usapan yung mga gagawin namin."
FROM BIT PLAYER TO LEAD STAR
Now that Bianca is about to headline a movie for the first time, she could not help but look back to her humble beginning as a commercial model doing bit roles in teleseryes and movies.
She recalled, "Ito, fun fact ko, isa sa mga movies na pinag-extrahan ko is Yaya and Angelina (2009), kay Kuya Bitoy [Michael V.] at saka kay Kuya Ogie [Alcasid].
"Ang director kasi noon is Direk Mike Tuviera. I was only super duper young pa, mga seven, eight.
"Now that I'm 18, I'm shooting this movie, which is also directed by Mike Tuviera. And this time, meron na akong role.
"Kaya noong nalaman namin na we are shooting and working together again, sobrang nag-reminisce kami kasi noong nag-e-extra ako, napansin niya ako, pero super bagets pa ako noon."
She went on recounting her journey in showbiz back when she was a a newbie.
"Dati, noong nag-e-extra pa ako sa mga shows, yung tipong pauupuin ka lang diyan kasi kailangan may nakaupo diyan? Ganung level ng extra!
"'Tapos every time, para lang makapunta sa taping, sasabay ako sa pull-out na three a.m. sa GMA.
"E, ilan kaming talents noon. And then, pagdating niyo sa set, ang aga niyong nandoon. Pagdating niyo, kinabukasan pa kayo kukunan."
She also remembered the time when she used to sleep in folded balikbayan boxes while waiting for her take.
"Lagi akong may baong karton noon to sleep on, kasi walang upuan, e. Buti nga ngayon yung mga talents, meron nang open tent for them sa mga set namin. Pero noong time ko, wala."
"'Tapos, kunyari, pag yung karton na hihigaan mo, nabasa pag umulan, wala ka nang hihigaan. Ganung level."
Proud of hurdling those tough times, she remarked, "Pinagtrabahuhan kong ma-achieve ang kung nasaan ako ngayon."
But what the Kapuso actress said next surprised us.
"Ang pag-aartista, hindi siya dream for me. Never siya naging dream."
Her biggest break in showbiz was Tropang Potchi, a kiddie show that aired in GMA-7 from 2009 to 2015.
After her stint in the show, Bianca's love team with Miguel was born.
BiGuel shared the screen in several projects, including Paroa: Mga Kuwento ni Mariposa (2012), Mga Basang Sisiw (2013), Nino (2014), Once Upon A Kiss (2015), Wish I May (2016), URL: Usapang Real Love (2016), Mulawin vs. Ravena (2017), and Kambal, Karibal (2017-2018).
The last project would turn out to be their most successful teleserye to date, and gave Bianca the chance to work with the likes of Christopher de Leon, Carmina Villaroel, Alfred Vargas, Marvin Agustin, Jean Garcia, and Gloria Romero.
On the show's high ratings, Bianca said, it was "very unexpected kasi actually, ang Kambal, Karibal, filler lang talaga siya."
The 18-year-old actress then gave a brief history about their show, which aired for nine months.
"Dapat ang airing namin was January ng 2018, like early ng 2018, but since a show had to end and hindi pa ready yung papalit, kaya a show had to start agad ng November ng 2017.
"Then supposedly, filler lang, kapag naging ready na yung next show, aalis na kami.
"And then, surprisingly, minahal kami ng mga tao, so unexpected talaga lahat na kung gaano kami katagal, kung gaano kami minahal. Lahat-lahat, very unexpected."
Bianca owed her first film project to the success of Kambal, Karibal, including all the other opportunities she and her co-stars, Miguel, Kyline Alcantara, and Pauline Mendoza, are enjoying at present.
"It was a life-changer. Ganon ko siya makikita kasi it opened up so much opportunities for each and everyone of us.
"Lahat. Yung lessons na natutunan namin on- and off-set, lahat, lahat, lahat.
"Kasi even yung veterans na kasama dun sa show, halos first time ko lang nakatrabaho. Actually, kami lahat, first time lang namin magkakatrabaho, of course, aside from Miguel na lagi kong kasama."
After the success of Kambal, Karibal, Bianca hopes to level up in her future projects.
"Every time naman na nagkakaroon kami ng bagong project, it's always a turning point dahil... well ako, I personally see it as, kumbaga, sa hagdan, it's always a new step going up. So new opportunities.
"So siyempre, Kambal, Karibal talaga, we had an amazing run and blessing talaga siya. Actually, wala namang nabago. Kumbaga, yung pagiging thankful ko na it was successful, ganun."
PEP.ph asked: Does she have plans of reinventing herself?
Chuckling, she answered, "Yes, pagkagising ko kaninang umaga. Yun yung pinaka-recent."
And though she does not have a clear-cut idea yet on how she will reinvent herself, her goal is clear:
"Be smarter than how you were yesterday."
Bianca is not even anxious about the now and the future, as she lifts every thing up to God.
"Sobrang lakas din kasi ng faith ko kay God na I raise every thing up sa Kanya, like kung may problem ako, Siya yun lahat.
"Kaya siguro natutunan ko rin na kapag may negative, okay lang yan. It's part of His plan. Sabi nga nila, it's written."
Q&A WITH BIANCA
Question: What is your favorite childhood memory?
Oh my God. Just one? That's such a hard question! Ang hirap! Just one talaga? Yung naaalala ko, two or three [years old ako] 'tapos it's a vivid memory, nasa mall kami ng mommy and dad ko, 'tapos binuhat ako ng mom ko.
Question: What was the greatest achievement you had when you were young?
Nakapag-memorize ako... the very first song I memorized, "Reflection." Disney baby kasi ako, and then I had to perform for school. Ang very first song na minemorize at pinerform ko was "Reflection" by Mulan.
(Lea Salonga's singing voice was used for the movie's version of "Reflection.")
Question: What was one lesson that you learned noong bata ka na nadala mo ngayon?
Question: Which among the TV show you starred in is your favorite?
Follow-up question: Anong hindi mo makakalimutan sa Tropang Potchi?
Ang dami kasing stories doon, e. Ito, ito, ito, magshe-share ako ng story, okay lang? Noong nag-start ako mag-Tropang Potchi, I was yung loser, as in kumbaga lahat sila mayayaman, ako yung pinaka-poor. Ganun. Sobrang loser ko dati, as in ang baduy ko, walang pumapansin sa akin, wala akong alam, kahit music, wala akong alam na brands, yung hair ko noon, sobrang panget pa, and then ang kasama ko noon, lola ko. And then how I dressed up, alam mo yung laking lola? Nakatakong ako 'tapos yung mga damit ko noon, galing palengke or ukay-ukay, kasi wala pa naman, hindi ko pa afford, e. 'Tapos dati, noong times ng Potchi, lahat noong mga kasama ko, yung mga damit nila, sponsored!
Follow-up question: Sino nga mga kasali doon?
Sab [Sabrina Mann], Ella [Cruz], Julian [Trono], Miggy [Jimenez], ganun. Mga child stars. So noong pumasok ako, ako lang yung walang anything. So silang lahat, kunyari, ito, dressing room namin, yung mga maleta nila, nandiyan, 'tapos kapag binuksan mo, nakaplastic yung mga damit nila, kasi di ba ganun pag sponsored? Nakaplastic yung damit.
'Tapos yung mga girls noon, sila, meron silang mga accessory box na ang dami nilang kuwintas, ako, wala. Kahit ni isa, wala.
'Tapos sila, mga naka-iPhone 3Gs, mga may iPad. Ako yung phone ko noon, Nokia lang. Nokia na hindi ko alam yung unit pero Nokia na malabo yung camera, pero maliit lang. 'Tapos when they talk about music, hindi ko alam, hindi ko kilala si Justin Bieber, doon ko lang nakilala si Justin Bieber!
Doon ko lang nalaman na there's such thing called an iPad and na may 3Gs pala, na may Twitter at Instagram pala, na may Facebook pala. Ganun.
Super duper baduy ko! 'Tapos kunyari, magthu-Thursday pa lang, bago mag-Thursday, weekends, ganyan, yung lola ko nasa palengke, mag-church kami 'tapos tuwang-tuwa ako, 'pag uuwi siya sa bahay, may dala siyang plastic ng mga bagong damit. 'Tapos alam niyo yung plastic na galing talagang palengke, yung green na sobrang nipis na ang bilis mabutas, 'tapos yung aamuyin mo, amoy ukay-ukay? Ganon! Sobrang tuwang-tuwa na ako noon.
'Tapos yung shoes ko noon, siguro mga tatlo lang na paulit-ulit habang sila naka-Converse, naka-Adidas. Ako, super baduy talaga.
'Tapos favorite kong game noon sa app, 3Gs pa yung phone noon, Tap Tap Revenge. Alam niyo yung Tap Tap Revenge? Sobrang adik ako doon dati 'tapos kahit pag nagbi-VTR ako, naa-amaze ako, nakikihiram lang ako ng phone para makapag-Tap Tap lang. 'Tapos biglang may one time, meron sa kanilang nagkaroon ng iPad, 'tapos merong Tap Tap Revenge, 'tapos tuwang-tuwa ako, ang laki! Ang sarap mag-Tap Tap Revenge. Inggit na inggit ako! E, wala pa akong budget noon or anything.
So one time, bumili ako ng tablet na Samsung, sobrang happy na ako noon kasi nakakapag-play ako ng games, may camera na yun kahit sobrang labo noong camera compared sa mga iPad nila, sobrang saya ko na nakakapag-video ako, nakakapag-picture ako, at saka may bitbit akong tablet! 'Tapos yung mga phones nila, magaganda, ako yung Samsung lang na super-duper-duper liit pero touch screen. Basta noong Potchi, ako yung loser, as in loser, promise.
Question: What was the most independent thing that you did?
To stand up for myself. Explain ko ba? For me, yun yung biggest thing na nagawa ko, yun yung most independent kasi yun yung hirap na hirap ako. Kasi takot ako sa rejections and takot ako sa confrontations. Wala lang sa akin yung alagaan yung sarili ko, mag-manage ng pera, harapin yung problema sa buhay nang mag-isa, sisiw lang yun. Pero to stand up for myself, to know my worth, and to fight for what I stand and believe in, that was such a hard thing to do pero nagagawa ko na. And because of that, I found who I was.
Question: What was the sweetest thing that was done to you?
Sweetest thing that was done to me? The sweetest thing that was ever done to me was... that person was super proud to have me sa buhay niya.
Q: How do you see yourself 10 years from now?
Alam mo, that's a hard question. Kasi alam mo, natutunan ko, life is unpredictable, ang hirap na magsalita, kahit magsalita ka for what will happen to you tomorrow, puwede siya magbago. Or kahit mamaya, pag-alis ko dito, hindi ko alam ang mangyayari. Ang unpredictable pero siguro in 10 years, 28 ako noon? Happy, blessed, fulfilled, contented.
PHOTOGRAPHER: Andrea Beldua
SHOOT PRODUCERS: James Patrick Anarcon and Rommel Llanes
ART DIRECTOR: Jeremiah Idanan
STYLIST: John Paul Dizon
VIDEO PRODUCERS: Sam Navalta, Jham Mariano
VIDEO EDITOR: Nicee Estores
Special thanks to Pauline Ducay of GMA Corporate Communications and Wilfred Villaruel of GMA Artist Center