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On her own terms

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“Of course we all know where I came from,” she says of being the private child of a very public figure.

The camera loves Lovi Poe, and she loves it back.

We are shooting her at the Mind Museum grounds in Taguig, where Lovi’s dusky skin is set off nicely by the oxidized iron of the massive Lor Calma sculpture she is posing against in the afternoon light.

As a photographic model, she’s a natural. The six-inch heels on her fetish wear pumps don’t slow her down as she contorts her sinuous, slim-hipped figure in a sequence of alluring poses, flashing just enough leg for the PG crowd that has begun to gather to watch the shoot.

Construction workers in hardhats abandon their jobsite across the street in droves to gawk. Passersby stop dead in their tracks. Traffic slows to a crawl as drivers roll down their windows to rubberneck.

“She’s a Barbie!” says a mother to her little girl who is pointing excitedly at Lovi as the photographer snaps away at her.  “You’ll have to go on a diet if you want to look like that.”

Half the crowd pulls out cellphone cameras and begin to click away in an orgy of digital shutterbuggery.

No doubt some geek is sending out a Tweet on his smart phone at that very moment: “Lovi Poe pictorial at Mind Museum.  Schwing!”  Twenty-five other geeks are “liking” it.

What’s not to like?

“There are times when you have to open and close the gate.

Lovi is primo eye candy and she makes no apologies for it.

“I enjoy it, I really really do,” she says.  “If I were richer I’d just be a model.  But of course, I also have to work.”

A couple of well-timed men’s magazine spreads helped Lovi break away from the bland, generic teen star image she first came out in, and reinvent herself as a sexy—but—wholesome pinup queen.  Scores of print ads capitalizing on her lissome form followed.

“Since I was a kid, frustration ko na ’yon [modeling].  I used to check out all the magazines. And I was a huge fan of Britney Spears.  I was so insecure when I was younger—why don’t I have abs?  Bakit ang laki ng cheeks ko (why are my cheeks so rounded)?”

Of course it helped that her mother, Rowena Moran, was a former model

“She taught me how to wear high heels when I was still in sixth grade,” Lovi recalls.

“I want to focus on acting-that’s my main objective in this business.  But doing shoots like this is something I really enjoy—it’s like dessert for me.”

A just dessert, if you’ll pardon the pun.

But with a name like Poe, a career in films was sort of inevitable.  Although she debuted as a recording artist, people really began to take notice after she won numerous acting awards, including Best New Movie Actress for 2008 at the PMPC Star Awards.  2010 was a watershed of sorts: Lovi won as best actress for both the mainstream FAMAS Awards (for “Sagrada Familia”) and the independent Cinemalaya Film Festival (for “Mayohan”).

Since then she has gone from strength to strength. At 23, Lovi seems to have reached another career peak on her journey to the summit.

“Legacy,” the GMA-7 primetime soap in which she garnered praise for her portrayal of Natasha, the bitchy sister, wrapped up June 1 but the next epic telenovela is already in the works.

She has just appeared in a tastefully sexy photo spread in the Mexican edition of Esquire magazine.

More to the point, she has just finished shooting “Thy Womb,” a film helmed by indie darling Brillante Mendoza that pairs her with acting heavyweights Nora Aunor, Bembol Roco and Mercedes Cabral, and which could turn out to be just the calling card she needs for an international breakthrough.

She’s come a long way since her teenybopper days, and she’s done it largely on her own terms.

Her father might have given her his genes and his name, and they no doubt helped get her foot in the door, but everything else Lovi had to get for herself.

Ironically, things started working out for her when she stopped trying to be what she thought Fernando Poe Jr.’s daughter ought to be.

“In the beginning, I wanted my image to be of this girl who was very proper, sweet, naïve, because of the expectations that people had of me, because of who my father was,” she says.

“Everybody knew him.  Everybody loved him. He was a legend.  But I guess there was this moment in time when I realized: I’m not that girl.  That’s not who I am.  I’m a bit more on the edge, edgier.  I had to be true to myself.”

Ironically, it was on the anniversary of her father’s death that this realization came, just as she was getting a tattoo in commemoration.  Inked in cursive script just below her sternum are the words “Quiet Child.”

“It’s like a scar that’s going to stay with me forever, that’s why I got it on his death anniversary,” she says.  “I’m his quiet child.”

Lovi may not seem like the quiet type, but the phrase has layers of personal meaning for her.

“When I’m with my friends I’m also kalog and crazy at times, but when it comes to my personal life and relationships with people, I’m very quiet,” she says. “That’s why people tend to misunderstand. They always say that I keep on denying things. It’s not that I want to deny things. I just want to keep things private. I like to keep things quiet when it comes to my personal life.”

On a deeper level, the phrase has a more painful meaning.

“Of course, we all know where I came from,” she says of growing up with the knowledge that she was the “private” child of a very public figure.

“It didn’t come from a right thing, but I didn’t take that against anyone,” she adds.

“It was hard,” she admits.  “I went through a lot.  There’s no overcoming it. Kasi hindi ko naman itinatak sa utak ko (because I did not imprint on my mind) that I was an illegitimate child.  Of course I know in the papers that’s what I am.  It’s not something I look at negatively. I’m actually happy that I am, because I wouldn’t have gone through these things, through the hardships in my life. Kung hindi ko napagdaanan lahat ng ’yan (If I had not undergone all that), I wouldn’t be able to act.  I wouldn’t be able to do all of those things, like when you see me cry on TV, if not for what happened to me.  It made me stronger.”

She says she used to dig into these past wounds whenever she needed to act out an emotional scene.  But lately, she says, it doesn’t work anymore.  She takes that as a sign that the wounds have begun to heal.

“It’s nice that I’m over it,” she says.  “There are times when you have to open and close the gate.”

Lovi gives a lot of the credit for her strong character and independent streak to her mother.

“My mom taught me well, she taught me to be independent,” says Lovi.  “Being a single mom, I really look up to the way she did it. Me and my sister: She brought us up to be strong, spontaneous and fun.

“Of course, I had to learn other things the hard way at times,” she hastens to add. “For me, life has no workshops-the best training is to go through it.”

Acting for Lovi becomes a way of channeling her emotional baggage and making it pay off.

“That’s why I love my character Natasha in  ‘Legacy,’ because she did everything: She’s bad, she’s good, she’s tried everything.  I had so much fun in my role as Natasha that the months just flew by.”

Just how much of her own personality did she project on Natasha?

“A lot,” she admits.  “Natasha is bitchy pero nasa lugar (but properly so) because she knows what’s right and she’s the boss.  It would be so nice if I could be the boss.  When I read my script, I try to picture the girl I want to be.  Everybody wants to be the boss.  Everyone wants to act like a bitch, but not everyone has the ability—or the balls, actually—to do it.  That’s what I love about being an actress: You get to do things you can’t do in real life.”

In real life, Lovi has pretty much followed her heart and her gut.  Her past boyfriends like Jolo Revilla early on, and former Ilocos Sur congressman and convicted drug felon Ronald Singson, weren’t exactly mother-approved.

“With my mom, as long as hindi sya nagkukulang sa pagpayo sa akin (she didn’t lack in advising me), that’s good enough for her.  She knows that I have my head on my shoulders, and she lets me because I’m the type who learns her lessons either the easy way or the hard way.”

Perhaps because their breakup seemed to have been precipitated by Singson’s serving a prison sentence in Hong Kong for drug possession, rather than any personal rift, rumors persisted until recently that the couple were still seeing each other on the downlow.

Lovi has continued to deny it, saying her status is “single and dating.

“When it comes to the breakup, it was also my choice,” she says.  “Let’s face it—I won’t be in my twenties forever, and being in this position it’s nice to focus on my career first.  I have to admit that I’m not the type of person who can balance [career and love life] really well. Once I’m into something, I’m intense on that aspect.  When I’m into my love life I’ll be intense in that.  When I’m into my career, I’m equally intense and focused, and that’s where I am right now.”

It’s a good place to be.  Lovi’s work in movies and network TV has established her firmly in mainstream entertainment and sealed her celebrity status, but she has managed to retain enough indie cred for artier and more “serious” projects, the Brillante Mendoza project being a case in point.  Indeed, although the production details have been kept largely under wraps, the heavyweight company she kept in “Thy Womb” seems to have stepped up her game, as far as acting is concerned.

“At first I was really nervous for like months when they told me I was going to work with (these big stars), but when I got there they were really, really nice people,” she says of the experience of working with the cast in Tawi-Tawi.

“Of course Miss Nora Aunor is our one and only superstar, but she didn’t make me feel she’s that at all, she’s very humble.  And she’s also very sweet. Hearing such sweet words from her means everything to an artist like me.  With Direk Brillante, it’s also so nice that though I do other things in the mainstream, someone like him recognized what I did before in indie films.”

Like the rest of the cast and crew, Lovi won’t reveal much about the film, except to say that filming it was a very different experience.

“It was so cool because Direk Brillante told me there would be no script at all because he wanted it to be as raw and spontaneous as possible,” she says.  “We only found out what’s going to happen before the scene, how we’re going to act it out. That’s how I do it sometimes in my movies.  I don’t read the script that well if I want it to be spontaneous, so when I get there I get surprised and I act as naturally as possible.”

On the network drama series, of course, with its vast ensemble cast, it’s a different story, but that’s just fine with Lovi.

“I’m happy I get to do both,” she says.  “It’s not nice to do the same thing over and over again.  I get bored easily.  I love roles that bring out something different in me.”

The exact details of her relationship with her late father is one of the things that she would rather keep quiet about.  But she remains mindful of his legacy as the King of Philippine Movies.  She seems to have reached a place where she can be both herself, and her father’s daughter.

“Everyday in my work I meet a lot of people he got to work with,” she says.  “So that simple thing na may kwento bawat tao (that everyone has a story about him) inspires me to do well, to do better and be good to everyone.  He was this amazing person and it wouldn’t be good for me if I ruined it.”

Right now, there’s the work.  Apart from “Thy Womb,” Lovi has a studio film slated for release, “The Bride and the Lover” for Regal Films.

To decompress from the demands of work, Lovi prefers to hang out with her lifelong friends from grade school days.

“It’s what equalizes things for me,” she says.  “I really need the right people around me because they keep me sane.”

She says she will continue to model, but not necessarily for men’s magazines.

“Having a sexy image is not my priority,” she says.  “I don’t mind not being called a sex goddess, although it’s fine, it’s flattering.  But I want to be called an actress more than anything else.”

Photos by Andrew Tadalan

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