Perhaps the only career advice that Nova Villa ever received—andheeded—came from her mother, AnaAcosta Villanueva, a science teacher. Then 15 years old, Novelita Villanueva appeared as an "extra" in movies and needed a screen name.
Her mother provided it. "Memorized niya ang lahat ng mgaplaneta at stars," Nova says of her late mother. "Doon niya kinuha 'yung NovaVilla. Villa, shortcut ng Villanueva. 'Yung nova is the smallest and brighteststar. Tama rin kasi Novelita, 'di ba? Sabi niya, ‘Magiging screen name mo Novabecause maliit ka naman. The smallest and brightest star...'"
After that, a big action star would unexpectedly give thelittle star her biggest break. In 1964, Nova accompanied comedienne Chichay, herneighbor in Sampaloc, Manila, to Premiere Productions. While Chichay was transactingbusiness in the office, Nova was left by herself in the canteen. It was thenthat an elegant white Cadillac entered the gates of Premiere.
Nova recalls excitedly, "Siyempre, para kang fan n'on.Patingin-tingin. Artista siguro 'yung nakasakay kasi hindi naman ma-artista angPremiere. Unlike Sampaguita Pictures and LVN na nagkalat ang mga artista.Sumilip ako. 'Yung nasa Cadillac sumilip din!" She goes on, her eyes lighting up:"Nagkatinginan kami. Inay! Si Fernando Poe [Jr.]! Of all people! Hindi akokumikibo. Eh, nakatingin sa akin. Napahiya pa yata ako."
Minutes later, FPJ's manager, Bong Esteva, approached her in the canteen and asked if she wantedto be an artista. Without hesitation, Nova answered "Yes!" The very followingday, she was filming her first movie with FPJ.
"Daniel Barrion [ang title ng movie]," Nova volunteers. "Si Ronnie Poe ang akingleading man. After that movie nag-sign ako ng contract. I was seventeen years old. Ifeel very lucky dahil up to now, wala namang kinontrak si Ronnie kundi akolang."
Nova spent three years as a contract star at PremiereProductions before turning into a free agent. She then became a fixture ofseveral highly successful television comedies. "Lahat nga ng channelsnaikot ko," she says. "I'm the only actress na since 1968, hindi akonababakante."
At one point, she even pinch-hit for Nora Aunor—at the time, Nora was the country's onlysuperstar—when the latter took a pregnancy leave from her show Superstar. "I was the Nora Aunor," Nova says with pride. "Ako 'yung nagpatuloy ng‘Superstar.' Ako 'yung nag-e-emcee."
The hardworking Nova has made more than 150movies and appeared in the television dramas, Maalaala Mo Kaya, Salamisim, and Panagimpan.
In recognition of her talent as a comedienne, she has beenawarded four Best Comedy Actress awards from the Star Awards forTelevision.
LOVE THY NEIGHBOR. At about the same time Nova's career was picking up, she metthe dashing Alfredo "Freddie" Gallegos.Says Freddie, "Neighbors kami sa Scout Gandia [Quezon City]. Plus San Beda ako, CentroEscolar siya dati, magkatapat lang. So neighbor pa rin sa iskwelahan, di ba?Love thy neighbor daw!"
Freddie pursued Nova but Nova was not smitten. Says she,"Actually, sa totoo lang, hindi naman ako talaga attracted sa kanya. Ang kulitlang! Ang tiyaga... araw-araw nasa bahay namin."
Freddie was then having problems with his girlfriend. "KayNova ko binubuhos 'yung sama ng loob ko sa girlfriend ko. Until later on,nakikita ko sa kanya 'yung traits na gusto ko. Caring, thoughtful, and a verygood cook. I felt na parang she's ideal for a wife, for a mother. I sawqualities that will last in a relationship. Siya na ang niligawan ko."
Neighbors proddedNova to give Freddie a chance. "Ang mga kapitbahay ko ang may crush, " shesays. But she admits that Freddie did fit her requirements for an ideal partner.
"Kasi noon," she says, "ang prayer ko, ‘Lord, kung bibigyanmo ako ng mapapangasawa, hindi naman kailangan mayaman, hindi naman kailanganguwapong-guwapo. May itsura-itsura naman. Ang importante sa akin may tinapos,kasi ako, hindi ako nakatapos. I only reached second year college BS Education.Gusto ko naman may pinag-aralan. Para kung halimbawa—ilayo ng Panginoon—wala naako sa showbiz, at least naman may sasalo ng obligasyon."
Freddie not only got a diploma from San Beda College, (BSCommerce, major in Management), he finished with a cum laude. And after a voteof confidence for Freddie from a trusted priest, all of Nova's doubts wereerased. "Dinala ko si Freddie sa best friend kong pari," says Nova. "Sabi ko,‘Kilatisin mo nga 'yan.' Kinaibigan ng kaibigan kong pari. ‘Okay siya, mabait,'sabing gan'on."
She finally gave in. "Nagustuhan ko na rin nung bandanghuli kasi he's a gentleman. Hindi siya agresibong lalaki. Hindi kapagsasamantalahan."
Nova and Freddie married, and October 25 this year they willbe celebrating their union of 30 years. They have one child, Jenny, who livesin California, is married, and works for the federal government. Nova and Freddie have three grandchildren: one girl and twinboys.
Freddie says that now that it's just the two of them, they'reacting like newlyweds again, going out on dates, and calling each other petnames like Nang, Nanong and Kunit. Freddie, today a manager at Petron, says,"In our case we enjoy each other's company. Kapag weekend, we go out, we go seea movie. Kung minsan doon na kami sa sinehan kumakain. Enjoy na kami ng gan'on.Mababaw lang ang kaligayahan namin."
So harmonious is their relationship that Freddie cannot evenrecall the last time he and Nova had an argument. "After years, you hardlyfight anymore," he says. "Alam na niya 'yung gusto ko. Alam ko na 'yung gustoniya. Dumating na siguro kami sa gan'ong punto."
Freddie has never been jealous of Nova's career or bothered by her screen partners. "Kasi naman kaming dalawa, we built ourrelationship on trust. Hindi naman ako nagseselos dahil nakikita ko naman na'yun ang trabaho niya. Tiwala naman ako. Wala naman akong nakita na bagay oaction o reaction niya na dapat pagselosan ko."
"SISTER" NOVA? It probably helps that the woman he married isGod-fearing. She goes to Mass every day and is active with the Mother ButlerGuild in her parish. Nova offers: "Walanamang nagtuturo. Just that at the age of eight years old, binasa ko ang buhayni Jesus up to crucifixion and I found myself crying. Grabe and iyak ko. Gustung-gustoko na ang about spirituality."
Her reading space, located next to the masters' bedroom, hasshelves filled with religious VHS tapes and books. "I don't buy books na lovestory," she says seriously. "I prefer to read lives of saints—anything na makakatulongsa pagpapalagong espiritwal."
Nova mentions St. Filomena, St. Michael and St. Therese assome of her sources of inspiration and strength. "I'm so curious na sabi ko,‘Tao rin ba ang mga ito?' ‘Umiihi rin ba ito?' ‘Kumakain rin ba ito?' ‘Bakit silasaints?' Habang binabasa ko sila, aba eh, mas grabe pa pala ang problema nilasa akin! And yet, ang tatag nila sa pagdala ng pagsubok sa mundo becausethey're so close to God. Ang mga depressions nila, ang galing nilang dalhin, inspite of the fact that they're in pain."
Nova's eyes light up again as she says, "They teach me whatto do—na ang formula sa buhay ay tumindig ka, lumaban ka, kumapit ka."
If she's starting to sound like a nun, that may be becauseat one point in her life, everyone's beloved Tita Nova did think of becomingone. She confesses, "Gusto ko sanang mag-madre pero nagdalawang-isip ako,parang may pumipigil. At the same time parang gusto ko ring mag-artista. Sowhat a conflict, 'no? Ang layo naman ng dalawa. Sa bandang huli, naging artistaako. 'Yun ang binigay sa akin. Hindi naman ako nagprisinta, na-discover ako.Nagulat na lang ako."
But, by her reckoning, the profession she finally chose hasbeen very meaningful. "Every time I see mga lola, mga nanay na fans," she says, "kahit saan ko masalubong, saTutuban, sa palengke, kahit saan... iisa ang sinasabi nila sa akin: ‘Nawawalaang sakit ko kapag napapanood kita. Tawang-tawa ako sa iyo. Favorite kita.'"
Nova's mother would have been proud. Her little star ismaking everyone for miles around break out into bright smiles—and, what's more,she's been doing so for nearly four decades now... and counting.
Click MORE PICTURES to view photos of Nova Villa's house fit for a star.