Diana Zubiri didn’t expect to make it big in show biz.
A little over a decade ago, she almost flew to Japan to work as an entertainer, but opted instead to take her chances as a sexy starlet with Seiko Films. As her family’s breadwinner, Zubiri initially became known for showing off skin. Eventually, she landed more wholesome roles and took on family-friendly gigs.
Fast-forward to ten years later: Zubiri, now 27, is preparing for her third year in college. The former FHM centerfold is currently studying Applied Arts-Theater in a Quezon City-based university, whose name she is unable to disclose because of an agreement with school officials.
She never saw herself studying in that school, which is near her family home. “I thought that they wouldn’t accept me because I was a sexy star,” Zubiri says in Filipino. “And it’s a Catholic school.”
Zubiri, a.k.a. Rosemarie Joy Garcia to relatives and schoolmates, appreciates the irony. After passing a few colleges’ entrance exams, she ultimately decided to enrol in the Catholic all-female university. She reveals that aside from its safe environment, it offered the course she’s really interested in.
“I was motivated by my friends’ suggestions,” she says. “Right now, I’m not very visible, but I’m busy. In the future, I know that I can use the knowledge (I’ve gained).”
Zubiri, the second of three children, recalls being tutored in singing and dancing at a talent agency before being discovered. “I was about to leave for Japan. I wanted to find a way to study. Then I was given the opportunity to enter showbiz. I was a Seiko ‘baby,’ one of Tito Robbie Tan’s talents.”
Going the sexy route was a no-brainer, she admits. “Tito Robbie was direct to the point. ’Which would you rather do, this or go to Japan?’ You can’t be with your family there. In Japan, you’ll have to work nightly; here it’s only ten shooting days. And you’ll even be famous.”
One of her more notable sexy shoots was for FHM Philippines, where she posed in a scanty swimsuit atop a flyover in late 2002. The shoot literally stopped traffic.
Later, after appearing in a couple of Seiko films, including “Itlog” and “Bakat,” the so-called “flyover queen” decided to try something different. She is grateful to her manager, Jojo Gabinete, Zubiri says, because he continues to guide her career path after ten years.
“He got me ‘Eat Bulaga!’ I performed opening numbers twice a week, Wednesdays and Saturdays. After that, I started appearing on ‘Bubble Gang.’ GMA-7 also gave me a big break with the fantaserye ‘Encantadia.’ I played Danaya; it was a good role. My classmates now were still kids when it was shown. They tell me, ‘Ate Joy, dati, nanonood kami ng ‘Encantadia!’ Parang ’di ka tumatanda!’”
Zubiri revealed that being part of “Bubble Gang” was enjoyable, as most cast mates considered her “the baby, the younger sister” of the group. As for her role, she knew that she was there to attract viewers. “My sexiness was used to make people laugh,” she says. “The sexy part, it’s just acting. Projection lang iyon.”
Her real acting skills she has showcased in the indie film “Bahay Bata,” which won the Jury Prize in France’s Deauville Asian Film Festival last March. She was also recently nominated in the 35th Gawad Urian’s best actress category.
“My character Sarah is a nurse in a bad hospital,” she expounds. “She knows how bad the service is for mothers who give birth. And then she finds out that she’s pregnant.”
Zubiri devoted several Sundays to shooting the movie, and the hard work paid off. “I recently won a best actress award for ‘Bahay Bata,’ given by the Young Critics Circle. Kung kailan ako nawala, (dun ako) nagkaroon ng award. My teachers are proud of me. They ask me about my work. They’re all good to me.”
Adjusting to school life many years after graduating from high school took some time. But the actress easily became friends with her much younger classmates. “Sometimes, we eat at my house. In turn, I get invited to their debut parties! They’re very helpful, especially when I miss subjects because I have to work.”
Zubiri says she still accepts TV roles, but she has to ask permission from school authorities first. She had roles in “Nita Negrita” and “Amaya” during her second year. Friends from show biz are impressed that she’s still able to work while being a full-time student.
“They’re proud of me,” she enthuses. “Even if I rarely speak with Kuya Bitoy (Michael V), I get to talk with Kuya Ogie (Alcasid). He keeps saying, “Keep it up. Continue studying. That’s good. It will be helpful to you. Sandali na lang iyan.”
Zubiri has gotten used to the school routine as well. She finds the course and subjects easy, especially since she’s had previous experience with acting and performing. One of her favorite projects required the students to create a play. She describes it as the one time when she really felt that she belongs there, and that she had something significant to contribute to the endeavor.
“I was part of the production design team. I’m really proud of our work. We didn’t have any assistance from the teachers. It was a real team effort.”
Although used to the stress and pressure of shooting days, Zubiri discovered early on that college is demanding in its own way. Now that she’s about to start her third year in a four-year course, Zubiri finds academic life a bit daunting, though still exciting.
“This third year, I need to know if I should focus on directing, scriptwriting, or acting. I honestly don’t know my capacity yet. But the course is easy, and I’m really serious. I’m just not sure where I should concentrate. I was wondering, why not do make-up or wardrobe? Actually, I really want to do those behind-the-scenes jobs, just to do something different from acting.”
Zubiri is happy that she’s able to pursue her studies at last. After many successful years in show biz, she finds returning to school an opportunity that shouldn’t be wasted.
“It’s a real option,” she emphasizes. “Some people say that a career in entertainment isn’t forever. But for me, it can be different. I can focus on an acting career again after I finish my studies. I’m glad that my course is connected and related to entertainment. And I can improve my acting and do other things once I finish my course. That’s how I’ve been thinking lately.”