Heart Evangelista used to come off as the highest-maintenance girlfriend in the world.
Undoubtedly one of the loveliest faces in local tinseltown, she was a deadly china doll, flawless as porcelain and just as impenetrable.
Who could tell what was really behind that hundred-carat smile? Like fluffy pink carnival cotton candy, spun from pure white sugar and some kind of dollhouse fantasy, Heart Evangelista the artista was all image and no real substance.
Now we know this was largely by design: Her handlers—that is to say, her “mommyger”—kept a tight rein on her public persona and the image she projected. What you saw was what you got. She really wasn’t allowed to be more than just a pretty face.
(This reporter, for one, was once asked to submit a list of questions before an interview was granted. Several topics, specially her then blossoming romance with Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero, were explicitly off-limits. When the editor balked at these restrictions, access was denied.)
This was just before the storm that shook local showbiz circles last summer, a very messy and very public rift with Heart’s parents that saw both sides air their recriminations in the media. The parents apparently had very strong reservations over their daughter’s relationship with the senator and minced no words about it. The conflict, one of the juiciest stories of the year and a reality check for everyone concerned, saw the young star walking out of the family home to strike out on her own.
Numerologists also had a field day with the controversy, which began just after Heart turned 28 on February 14: In numerology, 28 years is the duration of a person’s stay in a house, and age 28 indicates the end of one life cycle and the beginning of a new one.
In any case, it was pretty apparent after Heart Evangelista breezed into our hotel room for her hair and makeup session prior to SIM’s photo shoot—right on time, we might add—that she was no longer that person, if such a person as the old “Heart Evangelista” ever really existed.
“Ask me anything!” she said, dewy-eyed and fresh-faced from what we assume was a very effective beauty sleep. Sans makeup, her striking Eurasian features seem animated by a palpable joie de vivre. She was willing, even eager, to talk.
“I’m in a really good place right now,” she admits. “So happy. Tired but happy. And learning so much.”
Just a few months ago, she moved into a new house in Quezon City, on her own for the very first time in her life.
“It’s been a journey,” she admits. When she was still living in the family home, everything was pretty much taken care of for her. Now she has to manage her own finances, make career decisions and take care of the nitty-gritty details of daily living that most ordinary people take for granted.
Chiz, she admits, has been a rock during this transition, providing advice on everything from personal finances to legal matters.
“He helps me by not really helping me, so I’m forced to learn on my own and be independent because that’s the whole thing,” she says. “I wanted this and he’s so supportive of that. I’ve learned so much from him.”
Heart’s emancipation also seems to have revitalized her career. She is busier now than she has ever been before: She currently headlines the GMA teleserye “Magkano Ba Ang Pag-ibig?,” co-hosts the weekend variety shows “Startalk” and “Sunday All-Stars,” and is in the midst of shooting “My Trophy Wife” for Viva Films which, if the scuttlebutt were to be believed, will be her breakout movie as a sexy and mature dramatic star and should complete the break with her past life, which began with a revealing Esquire magazine cover earlier this year.
“Just the other day, actually, I felt kind of—not naman traumatized, but I was a bit shocked—by the torrid kissing scene I had to do with Derek Ramsay for ‘My Trophy Wife,’” she says. “I was, like, shaky, because I’ve never done anything like that in my life.”
“But you know, I’ve never thought of myself as staying forever with what I’m doing,” she adds. “I just want to do everything that I’ve ever wanted to do now, before I decide to maybe step away a bit, if I do. It’s scary but liberating. It’s all just working for me.”
As if on cue, a team from an advertising agency drops in for a last-minute pre-production meeting. Heart is cheery, gracious, professional—a far cry from the snooty isnabera that people used to think she was. Ever since The Great Emancipation, endorsement offers have been flowing in, not just for the usual beauty products, but stuff you wouldn’t have associated with the old Heart—like, in this case, cheeseburgers. Thanks to a more visible profile since the rift, she is more “bankable” now than she’s ever been before.
This would seem to support the speculation that her overprotected situation had been holding back her growth—both as a person and as an actress.
In a way, leaving her parents was the first “real” thing she’s done.
In fact, just before the break, Heart admits now that she was close to burnout.
“There really was a time when I felt I was so over it, that I didn’t want it anymore,” she says. “I was scared about how my life was turning out. I didn’t know where to begin. I had no gana (appetite). I couldn’t even work.”
She seems to have regained that lost spark now. “I guess there’s a reason for everything,” she says philosophically.
“When I went against my parents, I was really scared that people would say I was just rebelling,” she says. “But people saw through the whole thing. People understood and even admired what I was going through. And I even got an endorsement deal because of what I stood for—independence and believing in yourself and facing the world. I did five commercials after that. It’s very nice to have all these people backing you up, telling you ‘you can do it.’”
On the downside, her newfound popularity finds her keeping a grueling schedule: 18-hour shooting days three days a week for her GMA soap, just as lengthy shoots for her movies in between, and live broadcasts on the weekends, not to mention commercials and promotions.
“I’m so busy,” she says. “Sometimes I really want to go crazy. I’ll go home and I’m so tired. But life has never been this good to me. I’m so happy.”
To decompress, Heart will sometimes just stay home and veg out to a “Game of Thrones” DVD, play with her dogs or, if time allows, have dinner with her boyfriend.
Now, about that…
The politician and actress wife/girlfriend is such a Pinoy cliché, and there has been no shortage of mostly negative role models for the paradigm. Add to that the suspicious timing and titling of Heart’s current movie project “My Trophy Wife.”
“Thank God I’m not a trophy wife!” she exclaims.
Luckily, Sen. Escudero hasn’t done anything to make us hate him (yet), so the couple has largely sidestepped any fallout from the previous summer storm, despite the brutal mudslinging that Chiz suffered from Heart’s parents in the press, including accusations of drunken and disrespectful behavior. In the end, it boiled down to he said/they said, and public sympathy inevitably fell on the side of the lovers because, really, who could resist the made-for-telenovela plot?
In reality, as Heart sees it now, it was her previous love life that was scripted. She has always been linked with the usual showbiz pretty boys, from John Prats to Jericho Rosales to Brazilian model Daniel Matsunaga.
“Yes, pretty boys,” she says. “I really can’t be blamed because this was the only world I knew. Whoever I was dating was there because I didn’t know anything else.
“I always wanted to please my parents and make them happy,” she adds. “It would always become a problem in my past relationships. (My parents) never wanted me to be serious. They never wanted me to commit. They wanted me to keep dating. But once I started dating someone, I would end up seeing just him because I’m really not the type to date a lot of people at the same time.
“But that was what (my parents) preferred—they wanted me to see the world before I settled down. But I’m done seeing the world, I have a long list of guys that I’ve dated, and it sucks already. I feel that I’ve reached a certain point in my life when, okay, I’m the woman I’m supposed to be, and this is what I really want. I really get along with this guy. I’ve had enough of seeing the world.”
This guy. A.K.A. “The Lucky Basterd.”
Despite the fact that he’s not such a pretty boy (at least compared to her previous actor beaus), is 15 years older, and has the additional baggage of a previous failed marriage and two kids, Chiz is pretty much, for Heart, The One.
“I always had a crush on Chiz,” she confesses. “I first saw him in 2007 or 2008. He was in a restaurant. He was wearing preppie shorts and a T-shirt. I knew he was some sort of politician. I said, ‘Who’s that guy?’ He didn’t have a single security guy with him. He was so simple. I was struck. He was my ultimate crush for four days. But I didn’t know I was going to end up with him.
“It’s not an effort to make (the relationship) work because he’s such a normal guy,” she continues. “To be honest, I really forget that he’s a politician, to a fault. I feel like I can drag him anywhere, bring him to a mall and go shopping, or have a vacation. I sometimes forget that, oh my god, he’s got so much responsibility. Because he doesn’t act like the typical politician that you see, always on the phone conniving against someone, or arriving with so many bodyguards and escorts.”
Most of all, she says, she appreciates the fact that he allows her the freedom and the space to be herself and to express herself, a luxury she says she seldom experienced while she was under her parents’ wing.
“I was very sheltered in a way,” she says. “I’m not saying that I wasn’t able to go clubbing or dating. But sheltered in the sense that in interviews with press people, I couldn’t really express myself because there was always somebody making bantay (guarding me) when it comes to the questions. ‘O, you can’t answer that.’ So people thought I was snooty.”
Leaving the nest was, to say the least, a totally liberating experience.
“But now, I’m like, this is my life, I’m not hiding anything, this is who I am. So I can answer anything spontaneously, like today. Ask me anything and I’m excited to answer. Everything is so breezy. I can breathe easy now.”
The novelty of this newfound freedom hasn’t worn off yet, and Heart is running with it. That includes tackling more substantial, and more mature, roles which call for steamier scenes than she would have been allowed to, back in the day.
“When it comes to my work, sariling diskarte ko,” she says. “Whether it’s a bit more of a daring role that I need to do. I can’t stick to the teenybopper thing, being independent and everything. It’s kind of a level up. (Chiz has been) very supportive. He lets me decide on my own.”
Of course, being with an elected official, Heart is very much aware that show business and politics aren’t really such strange bedfellows. Both involve being in the public eye, where perception often trumps reality, and a misspoken word or a regrettable act can reverberate in cyberspace for eternity.
“To be honest, I really love my job, but his is a lot harder than mine,” she says. “Your values and principles really have to be intact in order to be someone who’s worthy of a vote. With everything that’s going on in politics, it’s really a dirty world.”
More than just his support, the one thing that Heart values most about her relationship with the senator is the freedom it allows them to be themselves.
“I don’t want to be tied to the idea that I have to be somebody I’m not just because [I’m with him],” she says. “I am who I am and he is who he was before we even met. There’s no need for pretensions.”
At the same time, she feels no rush to settle down.
“I do think about it,” she says. “But I’ve only just begun to be independent and to do my own thing. Chiz also knows that he needs to give me just a little more time. Although, whenever we talk, we’ve decided to stick together. I don’t think anyone else will be good enough. I’ve found my dream guy, in short.”
With Christmas fast approaching, thoughts turn to family, and the possibility of healing the rift between Heart and her parents.
“My dad visited me at my new place,” she reports. “He sees that I’ve been doing a lot on my own, so he knows that I’m in a good place now. He lets go.”
As for her “mommy-ger,” things seem to be a little more complicated.
“I think it really takes more time for that,” she says. “I’m still undecided where I’ll be this Christmas.”
Even in the world of unreality that is show business, there are opportunities to acquire a little life wisdom. For Heart, it’s better late than never. Now, after 15 years in the business, she’s at a point in her life when she can look back at the person she used to be, and smile.
“Oh my gosh! When I look at myself and think of how I was when I was still hosting MYX, I cringe, because, oh my God! Nakakahiya (It’s embarrassing)! What was I saying? What was I doing? I was very maarte. I was very girly. I didn’t know anything else except makeup, shoes and bags and smiling in front of the camera.
“I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life. I would even say that I hated myself at that certain moment in my life when I did certain things that I thought were stupid, or when I was seeing certain guys that I shouldn’t have been seeing.”
“But what was in my heart was good naman, so I can’t totally hate her,” she says. “Maybe I didn’t like myself because I did go through a rebellious time. I did become impatient with my independence like any teenager, because my parents were very strict. But I don’t blame myself because it made me who I am. I choose not to regret because I ended up loving myself more.” •