Katrina Halili: From shy teener to serious actress

by Rachelle Siazon
Jul 28, 2021
Katrina Halili recalls, "Sa StarStruck naman, kaya ako lagi napapagalitan kasi hindi ako nagpa-participate." But it was not because she was pasaway. She continues, "Mahiyain kasi ako."
PHOTO/S: @erickamaanio / @katrina_halili Instagram

Katrina Halili never thought she would become a dramatic actress, least of all that it was written in the stars.

Even when she was among the very first batch of StarStruck finalists 18 years ago, she didn't really want to be an artista back then.

In an exclusive interview with (Philippine Entertainment Portal) in September 2020, Katrina said, "Sa nangyari sa career ko, dun ako naniwala sa destiny.

"Kasi ilang beses ko siyang pinilit takasan, pero nandiyan pa rin talaga.

"Pero buti na lang, kasi ngayon love na love ko rin yung work ko!"

EDUCATION AND FAMILY BACKGROUND

Katrina was born on January 4, 1986, in El Nido, Palawan. She was christened as Maria Katrina Iren Pe Halili.

Her half-Chinese mom is an entrepreneur, while her father is a lawyer. They separated when Katrina was still young.

Katrina spent part of her childhood in Palawan, her mother's hometown.

She finished her elementary and high school education in Chinese schools in Manila.

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Katrina described herself as a timid student who shied away from activities that would make her be in the spotlight.

She told PEP.ph: "Hindi kayo maniniwala na mahiyain ako.

"Sa school, minsan sasali ako sa mga program, pero pagdating nung araw na yun, hindi ako umaakyat sa stage kasi kinakabahan ako.

"Oo, takot ako! Ayoko nasa harap ako 'tapos may nakatingin sa aking tao."

She even avoided class recitation like a plague.

Katrina admitted, laughing: "Pag sa school, ayoko ng recitation. Lagi ako bagsak sa recitation. Ayoko yung tatayo 'tapos lahat sila nakatingin sa akin. Sobrang di ko kaya! Nahihiya ako.

"Mas gusto ko yung nagwo-work na lang. Mag-e-exam ako by written...

"Kaya never pumasok sa isip ko na papasukin ko itong pag-aartista."

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HOW SHE GOT DISCOVERED BY A TALENT SCOUT

But for all her attempts to be nondescript, Katrina was noticed by a talent scout who approached her with surprising news in 2003.

She was told right there and then she would be part of StarStruck, a reality talent search that GMA-7 was yet to launch.

Katrina was totally taken aback as she didn't even go through the audition process.

She recalled: "Kumakain lang ako sa restaurant. May lumapit sa akin na StarStruck crew, may camera.

"Lumapit sa akin yung staff, sabi sa akin, 'Miss, pasok ka na sa Top 100 ng StarStruck.'

"E, siyempre di pa natin alam yung StarStruck kasi hindi pa pinapalabas, di ba?

"'Anong StarStruck?' 'Artista search siya.'

"Siyempre, kaba-kaba sa dibdib ko. 'Ay, ayoko po, Ate.'

"Sabi niya, 'Pasok ka na kasi nakita ka namin sa roving. Interbyuhin ka lang namin, Miss.

"'Tapos pakita ka lang ng talent mo, pakilala ka lang. Kanta ka, sayaw ka, or umarte ka.'"

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In the end, Katrina was persuaded to do a song-and-dance for the camera.

As Katrina recalled, "Sabi sa akin, 'Anong skills mo ba?' Sabi ko, 'Ate, wala akong talent.' 'Kanta?'

"E, siyempre pala-answer naman ako. 'Kumakanta ako, pero sa videoke lang, Ate.'

"'Puwede na yun!' E, di kumanta naman ako. Yun na!

"O, sige, 'My name is Katrina Halil. Watch out. I'm gonna be a star.'"

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KATRINA ATTEMPTED TO SKIP STARSTRUCK CALLBACKS

Willy-nilly, Katrina went along with the StarStruck crew, but when she was called for an appearance, the first thing she did after showing up was quit.

She recalled, "After a week, tinawagan na ako. Top 100 ako, may pila. Ini-interview na," she recalled.

Laughing at her antics, she continued: "'Tapos lima na lang. Lumalayas ako. 'Miss Kat, nasaan na po kayo?'

"Hindi nila alam ninenerbiyos ako. Anong gagawi ko dun? Takot na takot ako.

"Umuwi talaga ako. Sabi ko, 'Ay, sorry po, kanina pa ako nandiyan. May school po ako.' Hahaha!

"Wala silang alam dun, talagang tumatakas ako. 'Anong oras ba iyan matatapos?'

"Tumatawag sa akin alas tres [ng hapon], kasi alas otso [ng umaga] pa kami pumila.

"Sabi ko, 'Mga 5 po. Akala ko tapos na audition.' 'Antayin ka namin hanggang 6.'"

The 18-year-old Katrina, again, went along because she just couldn't say no.

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Katrina continued, "Pumunta ako kasi mahiyain nga ako, nagsabi ako na, 'O, sige po.'"

"Jusko! Hanggang sa na-cut ng Top 60, Top 30... Tuwing malapit na ako sa interview lumalayas ako.

"Alam iyan ng StarStruck. Tumatawag sila sa akin, 'Nasaan ka po?' 'May school po ako.' Puro gano'n rason ko.

"Nung Top 14, hindi na ako nakalayas kasi nasa stage kami, 'tapos may picture, yun ang ipapakita. Dun kami sa stage ni-reveal, 'Eto na yung Top 14 finalists."


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BEST IN "NAPAPAGALITAN" AMONG FEMALE CONTESTANTS

StarStruck Season 1 aired from October 27, 2003 to February 1, 2004.

It produced many of the popular female stars today, including Jennylyn Mercado, Yasmien Kurdi, Cristine Reyes, and Katrina herself.

Looking back, Katrina admitted she was often reprimanded mainly because of her innate shyness.

She said, "Sa StarStruck naman, kaya ako lagi napapagalitan kasi hindi ako nagpa-participate. Mahiyain kasi ako.

"Siyempre alam ng teacher na artista search ito, so pinasok ng mga StarStruck contestants, nangagarap iyang mga iyan na gusto maging artista. Siyempre isa ako dun.

"Siyempre yung mga teachers, hindi nila alam na hindi ako nag-audition, na bigla lang akong napasok dun.

"Grabe, kaya lagi ako napapagalitan! Bukod kay Rainier Castillo, ako yung sa babae na lagi pinapagalitan."

Throwback videos of her StarStruck training with dance mentor Douglas Nierras showed Katrina being scolded for taking the lessons lackadaisically.

Douglas is seen in one of the videos giving her a tongue-lashing in the middle of a class, "Katrina, do not play with me! Ang arte, ha! Bruha... Juskuday, nag-iisip ka ba?!"

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Katrina has long ago realized that the dance mentor's outbursts were all part of the StarStruck finalists' training.

She said, "After Starstruck, ambait pala ni Sir Douglas. Siyempre nga naman teacher siya.

"Pag di siya maging strict, di ka susundin ng students mo, and di sila matututo kasi nga wala silang takot sa iyo.

"Pero yun nga, lagot ka, pero matututo ka."

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KATRINA COULDN'T PERFORM AT ACTING CLASSES

Katrina said she felt out of place because she did not do as well as the other girls during the workshops, especially when they were all herded to John Robert Powers, a famous coaching center for personality development at the time.

She remembered, "Lahat ng girls dinala kami sa John Robert Powers. Nagulat ako sa mga kasama ko, lahat sila umaarte. 'Act crazy. Act ganyan.'"

Katrina just wasn't up for it the reason acting wasn't really her cup of tea.

She continued, "Alam niyo ba nakailang pass ako? Lima. Siyempre mapipikon yung teacher. Naiintindihan ko yun.

"Sabi sa akin, kasi ang alam niya nag-audition ako, 'Gusto mo mag-artista, di ba? Bakit ka nandito? Alam mo, Miss, walang sumsikat sa pagpapa-cute!"

"'Tapos in-interview ako, 'Ano masasabi mo sinabihan ka ng ganun?' 'Sila na lang po kasi sila naman nag-effort.' Hanggang dun nagsabi pa ako! Hahaha!"

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She clarified, "Hindi sa mayabang ako. Nahihiya ako!

"'Tsaka nagulat din ako, bilang normal na estudyante ka lang, 'tapos mapapasok sa ganun, e, di naman ako nag-audition ng ganun.

"'Tapos sasabihin, acting sa gitna pa, e, di nga ako nagre-recite sa school masyado.

"Kinakabahan ako, 'tapos dun pa, 'tapos may mga camera..."

Although she knew when it was time to give up, the prospect of bringing home a cash prize motivated Katrina just enough to hang tough.

She recalled, "Sabi kong ganyan, 'Ay, next week na lang ako para PHP50,000 yung cash prize.'

"Natanggal nga talaga ako nun! Nag-sign pa ako ng 'I love you' sign kasi nakita ko mga tao sobrang nag-iiyakan nung natanggal ako. Na-touch ako sa mga tao.

"Kaya gusto ko ipa-feel sa kanila, 'Okay lang ako. Thank you. I love you.'

"Okay lang talaga ako. Hindi nga ako umiyak, di ba?"

Katrina was dumbfounded when she was asked to come back as part of the "Avengers" or eliminated contestants who were tasked to give challenges for the remaining contestants or "Survivors."

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She told PEP.ph: "Nagulat ako na babalik. 'Tapos ako pa ginawang leader ng Avengers. Ginupitan ako ng buhok nun kaya nagmukha akong maldita."

All the Top 14 contestants were given exclusive network contracts after the show, and thus began Katrina's path to stardom.

MEMORABLE KONTRABIDA ROLES

Katrina learned to love acting playing kontrabida roles in GMA-7 shows.

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She was given a string of unforgettable kontrabida roles that molded her into a good dramatic actress and earned for her the niche as the network's "Primera Kontrabida."

It started with GMA-7's first TV adaptation of Darna top-billed by Angel Locsin in 2005.

Katrina reminisced: "Favorite ko talaga mga fantaserye. Sa Darna, dun ako unang-una nabigyan ng opportunity.

"Bigla ako naging Black Darna, na wala naman talaga sa eksena na magiging Black Darna ako.

"Parang a week lang before na may Black Darna na papasok, 'O, ikaw na Black Darna.'

"Nagpa-fitting sila. Meron din silang ibang tao pina-fitting. Nag-fit siguro sa akin."

It was truly a treat for Katrina to be the wearer of the iconic two-piece Darna costume in black and engage in fight scenes with Angel.

Katrina said, "Memorable yun sa akin kasi yun ang unang nagbukas ng opportunities sa akin kaya napansin ng mga tao.

To this day, Angel's Darna has remained a record-holder as GMA-7's highest-rating TV show.

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Katrina also appreciated playing kontrabida to Marian Rivera in GMA-7's first remake of Marimar in 2007.

A self-confessed fan of the 1994 Mexicanovela top-billed by Thalia, Katrina remembered buying a copy of the original series three months before she was told about the Kapuso adaptation.

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Katrina related, "Malaking project iyan, and super favorite ko talaga siya. Hindi ko alam na gagawin siya ng GMA.

"Three months before na ire-release ng GMA, hinanap ko siya sa West Avenue. meron dun nagbebenta ng mga CDs or lumang movies, pumunta ako dun.

"Pinapanood ko siya. Idol ko talaga yung palabas na Marimar."

Then she found out about GMA-7's adaptation of her favorite Mexicanovela.

Katrina pondered the thought, "Thirteen years old pa ako nung una kong napanood iyon. 'Tapos bago ni-release ng GMA, hinanap ko. Bakit? Sign na ba yun?"

However, when she auditioned for the role of Marimar, she was offered the Angelica character instead.

Katrina turned it down, "Sabi sa akin, 'Ikaw si Angelica.' Hindi ko tinanggap.

"Sabi ko, uuwi ako ng Palawan. Yun ang rason ko."

Katrina explained her hesitation to play the ruthless Senyora Angelica Santibañez, who committed unspeakable acts of cruelty against Marimar and her loved ones.

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"Hindi ako maldita. Sobrang fan lang ako ng Marimar. Galit ako kay Angelica, bakit ako magiging Angelica? Yun ang reason ko.

"Nakakatawa, di ba? Kung iisipin ko ngayon sa dami ng ginawa kong kontrabida, para akong sira, affected ako."

According to Katrina, she eventually bowed to persistent pleading of the producers to accept the role.

She said, "Siguro two weeks yun na tanggapin ko na."

Morever, the role became more interesting to Katrina when she started imagining what she could do with the character Angelica to get the viewers involved.

She remarked, "Hindi puwedeng buwisit na buwisit lang."

Katrina elaborated: "Super effort talaga ako dun! Dahil fan ako nun, nagawan ko ng picture kung anong gusto kong character.

"Gawin ko na lang siya maarte. Kailangan kahit nagmamaldita siya, dapat may reaction na, 'Pero maganda siya.'"

Katrina added, laughing, "Hanggang sa ending ko, di ba, pinakain ako sa buwaya!

"Pinaka-harsh na kamatayan ko yun bilang kontrabida. Nahulog sa helicopter, pinakain pa sa buwaya.

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"Napaka-bad naman talaga kasi ni Angelica."


BEING MENTORED BY MARYO J. DE LOS REYES

After StarStruck, Katrina intended to give showbusiness a go for "two to three years," then she'd quit and live a simple life in Palawan.

Katrina said, "Siguro matagal-tagal din bago ko nagustuhan. Madalas ayaw ko. Parang gusto ko na umuwi.

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"Iniisip ko noon, 'Hindi ako para dito. Hindi ko kaya. Wala akong talent.' Parang timang, di ba?

"Ayoko talaga, pero nagkataon lang na sunud-sunod din ang projects ko. Sobrang thankful din naman ako sa tiwala nila."

All her misgivings about the acting business vanished when she had the good fortune to work with the late director Maryo J. delos Reyes.

She lit up thinking about it, "Mas minahal ko yung work ko during that time na kasama ko si Direk Maryo. Bukod sa may mentor ka, may tatay ka."

Maryo was a respected director known for his classic Pinoy movies: Annie Batungbakal (1979), Saan Darating ang Umaga? (1983), Hindi Mo Ako Kayang Tapakan (1984), Anak Ni Waray vs Anak Ni Biday (1984), Bagets (1985), and Tagos ng Dugo (1987).

He also directed My Other Woman (1990), Sinungaling Mong Puso (1992), Magnifico (2003), Naglalayag (2004), A Love Story (2007), and The Unmarried Wife (2016).

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Katrina continued: "Unang-unang nagkasama kami ni Direk Maryo sa Magdusa Ka. Simula nun, sunud-sunod yung taon na lahat ng shows ko, siya ang director ko.

"Nakita ko rin kung paano niya mahalin yung work niya. Kasi ang tagal din namin magkasama.

"Kaya nakita ko paano siya mag-work, paano niya mahalin work niya."

Some of Katrina's GMA teleseryes with Maryo were Magdusa Ka (2008), Langit Sa Piling Mo (2010), and Magkano Ba Ang Pag-ibig? (2013-2014).

He was also her director in Rosalinda (2009), Munting Heredera (2011-2012), Magkano Ba Ang Pag-ibig (2013-2014), and Niño (2014).

As it happened, it was Maryo who taught Katrina to believe in herself.

She recalled, "Tuwing nagba-bonding kami ni Direk, lagi niya sinasabi sa akin kung gaano niya ako kamahal, kung ano ang tingin niya sa akin.

"Siguro dun ako nag-start na mahalin yung sarili ko, na naniwala ako sa sarili ko dahil may taong naniwala sa akin, na talagang sinasabi sa akin."

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HOLDING ON DESPITE TRIALS

According to Katrina, Maryo also taught her to focus on self-growth during a dark phase in her life that made her want to quit showbusiness altogether.

She recounted. "'Tapos nung nagkaroon ako ng issue, ang suwerte ko...

"Na parang, kahit tingin ko, 'Ayoko. Hindi ako para dito.' Lagi niyang tinatatak sa isip mo, 'Eto nakikita ko for you. Gusto ko makita na ganito ka. Gagawin natin ito para sa iyo.'

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"Dun ako nabuo."

Katrina particularly remembered the time when Maryo pushed her to do the kontrabida role in Rosalinda.

"Oo, grabe! Siya pa magte-text, 'Ni-request kita dito, ha.'

"Hala! Hindi niya alam, tuwing sinasabi niya yun, umiiyak ako...

"Dedma na ako sa mga negativity, hanggang sa merong tao na naniniwala sa akin."

It mattered a lot to Katrina that the director did not give up on her, that he valued her.

She said, "Bakit siya naniniwala sa akin? E, magaling na direktor ito? Eme-eme ka lang naman diyan, 'tapos kinukuha ka niya sa show niya."

Katrina also credited GMA-7 for giving her all-out support all these years.

"Thank you din siyempre sa GMA, of course, sa tiwala na ibinigay nila.

"Kasi may issue na ako nun, e. 'Tapos binigyan nila ako ng Rosalinda.

"Hindi ko siya tinatanggap. Sabi ko, 'Ayoko talaga.' Pinilit na naman nila ako."

Rosalinda was another popular Mexicanovela played by Thalia in 1999. Carla Abellana played the lead role in GMA-7's remake in 2009.

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Katrina said, "Tinatanggihan ko kasi parang feeling ko, 'Sino pa manonood sa akin?' So parang hindi ako confident sa sarili ko."

But GMA and Maryo helped Katrina get back on an even keel.

She said: "Thank you sa GMA, na kahit may pinagdaanan ako, tuluy-tuloy pa rin tiwala na ibinigay nila.

"And siyempre, thank you din sa pinagdaanan ko, si Direk Maryo talaga nakasama ko.

"Kaya dire-diretso din yung work... Nabuo ko ulit sarili ko."

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KATRINA AS A DRAMATIC ACTRESS

Over the years, Katrina has proven that she can hold her own as a dramatic actress.

Her most recent series was Prima Donnas, a top-rating Kapuso series that aired from August 2019 to March 2020 and August 2020 to February 2021.

Katrina essayed the role of Lillian, a surrogate mother to the triplets played by Jillian Ward, Althea Ablan, and Sophia Pablo. Wendell Ramos played as the triplets' father. Aiko Melendez was cast as Kendra, the kontrabida.

In the story, Wendell's wife dies and he eventually falls for Katrina. Standing in the way is Aiko, who desperately wants to stop Katrina from marrying Wendell.

The show earned good reviews not just because of the triplets but also because of the trending confrontation scenes between Katrina and Aiko.

Katrina's character transformed from that of a meek hired surrogate to a feisty mom who had had enough of Aiko's evil machinations.

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Speaking to PEP.ph, Katrina said that to pull off the sampalan scenes, it helped that she had a good working relationship with Aiko.

"Sanay ako sa fantaserye kaya yung mga suntok, mga action scenes ko, di tumatama. Kaya nung napunta ako sa drama, nasanay ako pag nananampal, fake talaga siya.

"Pero mahirap din yung fake dapat kailangan dalawa kayo aarte. So minsan, sasabihin ng director, 'Ayoko ng fake! Totoo na, para isang take lang.'

"Kami minsan ni Ms. Aiko, 'O, sige.' Minsan totoo talaga kaming nagsasampalan.

"Pero okay lang din naman. Alam mo sa sarili mo na nagtratrabaho lang kayo and wala naman kaming issue."

Off cam, they call each other "Sis."

Katrina added, "Minsan kapag nagbabatuhan kami ng linya, masaya, e. Ako, yun ang hinihintay ko, pag lumalaban na si Lillian kay Kendra. And I'm sure yun din hinihintay ng mga tao."

The latest update on Prima Donnas was that the cast and staff had met for the pre-production of Book 2.

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ON KATRINA's MENTORING STINT AT STARSTRUCK 2017

Back in 2017, Katrina had come full circle when she agreed to mentor Shayne Sava in StarStruck Season 7.

Katrina allowed Shayne to visit her on the set of her taping to show her work process.

Then she also gave her useful acting tips that helped Shayne pass an acting challenge in StarStruck.

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"Yung mentoring ko, hindi naman talagang nandun ako to guide her. Pero tinuro ko sa kanya yung ibang techniques na ginagawa ko. Yung eksena kasi nila bida-kontrabida.

"Tinuro ko pag kontrabida ka act proud, dapat confident ka. Pag bida ka, yung confidence mo waley. The way ka magsalita ibabagay mo rin.

"Okay naman. Nakikita ko may future si Shayne. Mabait and sumusunod naman."

In the end, Shayne won as the Ultimate Female Survivor in the reality talent search.

"Siyempre nakaka-proud na siya talaga yung naging Ultimate Survivor," said Katrina.

What's her advice to aspiring stars?

Katrina answered, "Kung tatanungin mo ako ano yung ginagawa ko, love ko yung trabaho ko.

"Kaya siyempre pag love mo trabaho mo, makikita yun ng tao na nag-e-effort ka.

"Kasi makikita mo ring yung, 'Ano bang ginawa nito? Parang di naman nag-effort?'

"Pag mahal mo trabaho mo, mamahalin ka rin ng work mo. And kailangan marunong ka makisama sa tao. Yun lang din sinasabi ko."

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TV SERIES

  • Bitoy's Funniest Videos (2004-2009)
  • Joyride as Vicki (2004-2005)
  • Forever In My Heart as Jannelle Bernabe
  • Mars Ravelo's Darna as Carol/Black Darna (2005)
  • Majika as Juno (2006)
  • Atlantika as Princess Ruana/Helena (2006-2007)
  • Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang: Ang Prinsipeng Unggoy as Princess Ameris (2007)
  • Lupin as Veronica Arkanghel a.k.a. Ashley Calibre (2007)
  • Marimar as Senyora Angelica Santibanez / Angelica Adarna (2007-2008)
  • Marimar: Rewind as voice of Angelica Santibanez / Angelica Adarna (2008)
  • Sine Novela: Pablo S. Gomez's Magdusa Ka as Christine Salvador Doliente-Henson (2008)
  • Rosalinda as Fedra Perez (2009)
  • Dear Friend: Magkaribal as Kim (2009)
  • Mars Ravelo's Darna as Serpina/Babaeng Anakonda/Valentina (2009-2010)
  • Carlo J. Caparas' Panday Kids as Amazona Wenoa (2009-2010)
  • Langit sa Piling Mo as Aurora Ty (2010)
  • Beauty Queen as Dorcas Rivas (2010-2011)
  • Spooky Nights: Ang Manananggala: Battle of the Half-Sisters as Stella (2011)
  • Party Pilipinas as co-host/performer (2010-2012)
  • Munting Heredera as Lynette Sarmiento-Montereal (2011-2012)
  • Spooky Valentine: Masahista as Noemi / Melissa (2012)
  • My Beloved as Emilia "Emmie" Montecastro (2012)
  • Indio as Burigadang Pada Sinaklang Bulawan (2013)
  • Magkano Ba ang Pag-ibig? as Margarita "Margot" Cruz (2013-2014)
  • Niño as Hannah Sagrado-Ibarra (2014)
  • The Rich Man's Daughter as Maria Louella "Wila" Mateo (2015)
  • Destiny Rose as Jasmine Flores (2015-2016)
  • Sa Piling Ni Nanay as Scarley Morato-Mercado (2016-2017)
  • Wagas (2017, 2019)
  • Tadhana (2017, 2019)
  • Dear Uge (2017)
  • The Stepdaughters (2018)
  • Imbestigador (2018)
  • Prima Donnas (2019-2021)
  • Magpakailanman (2013, 2019, 2020, 2021)
  • Prima Donnas Book 2 (TBA)
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MOVIES

  • Kilig... Pintig... Yanig (2004)
  • Sablay Ka Na Pasaway Ka Pa as Raven (2005)
  • Gigil as Chynna (2006)
  • Super Noypi as Annys (2006)
  • Shake Rattle and Roll 9 as Engkanto (2007)
  • Romantic Island Korean Movie cameo (2008)
  • One Night Only as Jasmine (2008)
  • Sundo as Kristina
  • Dalaw as Daisy (2009)
  • Child House as Rose (2015)
  • Higanti as Dolly (2016)
  • Mga Anak as Iyong (2018)
  • KontrAdiksyon as Dir. Yvonne Acosta (2019)

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Katrina Halili recalls, "Sa StarStruck naman, kaya ako lagi napapagalitan kasi hindi ako nagpa-participate." But it was not because she was pasaway. She continues, "Mahiyain kasi ako."
PHOTO/S: @erickamaanio / @katrina_halili Instagram
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