Janine Gutierrez was 21 years old when she began her career as an actress.
In industry years, this may be considered a late entry, especially since her showbiz contemporaries—Kathryn Bernardo, Liza Soberano, Nadine Lustre, Maja Salvador, Kim Chiu—got their headstart much younger than that.
But Janine, eldest daughter of former matinee stars Ramon Christopher and Lotlot de Leon, felt that, showbiz wise, that age wasn't too late.
After all, the 29-year-old Kapuso star knew that she shared the same narrative as her idol, actress and endorser KC Concepcion, unica hija of Gabby Concepcion and Sharon Cuneta.
"Si KC Concepcion yung idol ko when I was younger, kasi anak ng celeb, ganyan. 'Tapos she finished school first, and then saka siya nag-showbiz," Janine said.
"Siya yung parang ni-look up to ko, na 'Ah, okay, puwede pala yun.'"
A graduate of European Studies in International Business, Janine eventually finished her studies at the Ateneo de Manila University first before venturing into acting.
This was exactly what her mom wanted her to do, even if her star-studded family actually got her confused at one point.
"Di ba, in other families, pinupush ka ng mga lolo't lola mo na grumaduate?
"Sa akin, ang sinasabi, 'Hala, kapag tinapos mo pa iyan, parang wala ka ng time for showbiz.'
"So, litong-lito ako... but then, there's really no formula. Either way works, depending on what you want."
Her grandparents are showbiz giants: multiaward-winning actor Christopher de Leon, former matinee idol Eddie Gutierrez, Asia's Queen of Songs Pilita Corrales, and, of course, the Superstar Nora Aunor.
Her relatives include actors Jackie Lou Blanco, Tonton Gutierrez, Matet de Leon, Ian de Leon, Richard Gutierrez, Ruffa Gutierrez, Mariel de Leon, and Gabriel de Leon.
Despite her showbiz roots, however, it took a while for Janine to figure out what she wanted to do with her life.
In fact, she really had no plans of following their showbiz path.
"Sobrang bilib ako sa mga tao na, bata pa lang sila, alam na nila kung ano yung gusto nilang gawin. Kasi yung mga taong ganun, bata pa lang sila, lahat ng ginagawa nila ay papunta doon," Janine told PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) following her pictorial for PEP HEADLINER.
"Ako kasi, I didn't know what I wanted to do.
"Or maybe, I was in denial of what I wanted to do kasi may medyo pagkarebelde din ako dati, na 'Ayoko, ayoko maging kapareho niyo,' ganyan..."
As a child, Janine said she used to dislike the erratic nature of show business.
Explaining, the Kapuso talent said, "May konting tampo ako sa showbiz kasi, di ba kapag artista, sobrang unpredictable yung schedule?
"So, nung bata ako, palagi ko na-e-experience na maka-cancel yung pasyal namin or kailangan namin umuwi agad from a trip, kasi may taping, may shooting.
"Siguro medyo possessive ako sa parents ko. So, when I was younger, 'Ayoko! Ayoko mag-artista!'"
Still, love for the craft and the industry runs deep.
BAPTISM OF FIRE
Janine's interest in acting was sparked during college.
"When I was older, dun ko na lang na-realize na I really wanted to try it. Gusto ko i-grab yung opportunity," admitted the actress-model.
But even if she grew up with actors, Janine had no idea what to expect on the set, and the network did not give her any special treatment.
One time in 2013, when she failed to properly act out a role for a teleserye, she quickly learned that acting was no walk in the park.
"Nung artista na ako, ang hirap, kasi nung bata ako hindi naman ako nag-workshop. Hindi naman ako nagsimula nang maaga.
"So, nung nag-artista ako, parang baptism of fire siya na, 'Oh my god! This isn't play time. It's work! You're getting paid to do this, to perform, to deliver.'
"Hindi ko talaga alam yung ginagawa ko, 'tapos I remember there was one show na hindi ko nagawa nang maayos for me.
"'Tapos after nun, ang tagal kong hindi nabigyan ng teleserye, and then, I was like, 'Oh my god!'"
Janine was jobless for a year.
Around that time, the newcomer began to reconsider her career options.
"Nagka-second thoughts na ko, kasi I was really sad that I wasn't getting work.
"Wala akong show, ganyan, 'tapos sobrang nalulungkot na talaga 'ko.
"I was thinking baka mali na nag-artista ako.
"Baka dapat tinuloy ko na lang yung plano ko na magtrabaho somewhere else.
"Baka dapat mag-aral na lang ulit ako para makapag-diplomat ako.
"That was my original plan talaga when I was in school—to work for the foreign service or for an international company.
"Gusto ko maging ambassador. Ang dami ko nang naiisip talaga."
Then the remake of the '90s series Villa Quintana presented Janine with a chance to redeem herself.
She was offered the role of Lynette, the series' main female lead.
Elmo Magalona, then a Kapuso actor, was her co-lead.
"Villa Quintana was directed by Gina Alajar who, as we all know, is an award-winning actor herself.
"Sobrang thankful ko sa kanya kasi hindi niya ko sinukuan noon.
"As in, talagang ina-acting niya lahat ng eksena. Kapag hindi siya happy, hihingi talaga siya ng take two from me.
"So, she really taught us and pushed us, and that's when I was really, really sure that this is what I wanted to do...
"I really want to learn how to do this well. I really like acting.
"I really like working with all these people, being part of these stories, so dun ko talaga pinagtuunan ng oras na mag-workshop, pag-aralan yung mga role."
Villa Quintana, Janine's first lead role, ran from November 2013 to June 2014.
After successfully wrapping up her first major teleserye, Janine's star power began to rise.
She became one of GMA-7's promising leading ladies, testing her star appeal with a major teleserye gig every year.
After Villa Quintana in 2014, Janine and Elmo reunited for the romantic-comedy series, More Than Words.
A year after, Janine landed her first solo lead series with Dangwa, which introduced viewers to her on-screen partnership with then-GMA-7 hunk Aljur Abrenica.
In 2016, Janine and Aljur starred in the romance series Once Again.
That same year, the actress guest-starred in the remake of Encantadia, where she portrayed Agua, the Kambal-Diwa of the Water Gem.
In 2017, her dramatic prowess was put to the test in the afternoon series Legally Blind, where Janine played a blind rape victim who continued to pursue a law degree.
The following year, Janine cut down on drama and went on a fantasy-adventure route with Sherlock Jr. and Victor Magtanggol.
For 2019, the actress is back as lead in Dragon Lady, a fantasy drama inspired by Filipino-Chinese culture.
As Janine proved herself a reliable network star, the local fashion scene offered more ideas for the young Kapuso beauty.
Through the lens of photographer BJ Pascual, it didn't take long for fashion magazines to dub Janine one of their newest darlings.
Her back-to-back collaborations with BJ propelled the young talent into the fashion big leagues.
Foray into fashion was even more highlighted when Janine became a muse for designer Vania Romoff, placing her in the same league as ABS-CBN top star Anne Curtis.
Gradually, Janine's name was included in various Best Dressed lists. She also headlined top fashion magazine titles.
In time, the GMA-7 actress became a real presence in fashion. So much so that Janine's current fashion influence began attracting international high-end brands such as Louis Vuitton, Tom Ford, Aerin, and La Mer.
Just this March 2019, she flew for the first time to London, United Kingdom, to attend a special event for deluxe fragrance brand, Jo Malone.
THE OTHER SIDE OF FAME
As Janine's star power shines brighter each year, the young Gutierrez has come to see the industry in a different light.
She remarked, "Iba talaga kapag ikaw na yung nakaka-experience, e.
"Alam ko na mahirap siya dahil puyatan, nakakapagod yung trabaho.
"Alam ko na mahirap siya dahil maraming chismis, maraming masasabi ang ibang tao.
"Pero iba pa rin talaga kapag sa iyo na nangyari na ikaw na yung napupuyat, ikaw na yung nababash, ikaw na yung nahihirapan sa mga eksena."
There was a point in her career when social media challenged Janine's tolerance of avid followers and their so-called "fan wars."
Social media—namely Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—is the central platform that this generation of celebrities chooses to use in interacting with fans.
And if there's one thing the showbiz world has come to know about social media, it is that the place is a free-for-all for fans.
When the announcement was made that Janine would be Alden Richards's new leading lady for the 2018 action-fantasy series Victor Magtanggol, the actress was dragged into a Twitter war between fans of Alden and fans of his former love-team partner, Maine Mendoza.
The questions remained: Are Alden and Maine still a love team? Are they still going to work with each other?
In a way, the announcement that Janine would be Alden's new partner for his new series gave them an answer.
But, it wasn't the kind of answer they were hoping for.
"Masyadong maraming mean comments that I had to shut it off for a while," she said, briefly recalling that time.
It was her mom Lotlot, one of the best actresses working today, who put the fan disputes into perspective for her.
"My mom was saying, 'Ano ka ba, buti nga ikaw ganyan lang. Dati sa amin, nagsasapakan talaga sila sa basement.'
"Kunwari yung mga love-team fans, ganyan-ganyan, mga fan wars ganun daw, physical...
"My mom was saying na, 'At least now, it's just like that.'
"Pero, it is still hurtful."
Another aspect of her career that Janine has come to feel is the pressure that comes from being a member of a star-studded celebrity family.
As the granddaughter of Christopher de Leon, Eddie Gutierrez, Pilita Corrales, and Nora Aunor, she is thrown a different set of expectations.
As Janine mused, "Siguro, in denial ako na napre-pressure ako.
"Kaya tuwing tinatanong ako nung nag-uumpisa pa lang ako mag-artista, kung napre-pressure ako, palagi kong sinasabing, 'Hindi. Hindi sobrang supportive ng pamilya ko. No pressure at all!'
"But then, I realized after a while na, 'Oh my God! Sobrang nakaka-pressure pala!'
"Kasi, siyempre bilang dala ko yung pangalan nila, I also want to make them proud and, at least on some level, also have their success and yung pagmamahal ng mga tao sa kanila.
"So, it's a lot of pressure on myself.
"Hindi naman nanggagaling sa kanila yung pressure, pero parang nari-realize ko din, na sobrang... I had to admit also to myself na I had a privileged start in showbiz.
"Kasi nga, dahil sa mga magulang ko kaya naman nagka-interes sa akin yung mga network na papirmahin ako.
"So, hindi ko talagang puwedeng sayangin yun... You really have to make the most out of every opportunity given to you.
"Kahit maliit na role lang, kahit mag-ge-guest ka lang, pagbutihan mo kasi mapapansin at mapapansin yung trabaho mo kung pinagbubutihan mo.
"Kailangan ko talagang patunayan na dapat may puwesto ako dito."
Janine is now eight years in the industry.
What changed for her?
She answered immediately: "Ngayon, mas malaki yung pangarap ko.
"Parang, dati kasi gusto ko lang magtrabaho.
"And now, looking back, actually I don't know why I didn't dream bigger...Eight years later, I'm still as hungry. If not, baka hungrier pa to do more work and to reach new levels. Sobrang dami kong gustong gawin."
With her world much wider now than it was eight years ago, Janine dares to go international with her career this time around.
"I just really want to make more movies.
"Pangarap ko sana makapag-festival sa ibang bansa, to be able to attend the red carpet there.
"It's my dream to do a Netflix project with an international team.
"Also, with fashion, to be able to do shoots out of the country, more events out of the country.
"Nung bata kasi ako, hindi talaga ako nakakapag-travel, so I only was able to go out of the country when I was working na.
"That's when I realized na 'Shocks! Ang laki pala ng mundo.' Ang dami mong puwedeng gawin.
"Huwag mong i-limit yung sarili mo sa kung ano lang yung nakikita mo sa paligid mo."
At the same time, 2019 will mark Janine's 30th birthday.
Musing on this milestone, Janine let out a little scream, perhaps out of fear and excitement for what lay ahead.
But with certainty in her voice, the actress says she will honor her wants and dreams more in the next chapter of her life.
In Janine's words: "I guess growing up naman regardless of what age you are—whether you're turning 18, whether you're turning 30, whether you're turning 40—it's really about getting to know yourself more and being unapologetic.
"Yun yung theme niya for me. You really have to go for what you want."
And what does Janine want?
"I guess just allowing myself to be more free and to dream bigger.
"To say yes to the things I want and fight for the things I want and say no to the things I don't want."
PHOTOGRAPHER: Shaira Luna
SHOOT PRODUCER: Nikko Tuazon
INTERVIEW: Francesca Ganal
CREATIVE DIRECTOR: Jeremiah Idanan
STYLISTS: Mac Intia and Melville Sy of Qurator Studio
MAKE-UP ARTIST: Anthea Bueno
HAIRSTYLIST: Mark Familara
VIDEO PRODUCERS: Jean Saturnino, John Henri Mariano, Coleen Olivia