Gabby Padilla is making power moves

Gabby Padilla is making power moves

The 24-year-old Ilongga actress has been quietly killing it in some of last year’s biggest local films.

For a normal person, it’s always extremely flattering to have one of those rare haba ng hair moments where someone asks you, “Haven’t I seen you on TV before?” Unlike us though, actress Gabby Padilla has the kind of filmography that gives her the right to be completely serious when she says, “Yes. Yes you have.” You might recognize her as the artist Liza Soberano’s character discovered at the Guggenheim museum in last February’s Alone Together.

Or maybe you caught her as Emma during last week’s cinema run of coming-of-age drama Billie & Emma. Did we mention she was also in Goyo?

You’ll see Gabby on the big screen again this week, this time as a Catholic schoolgirl alongside Bea Alonzo and Charo Santos-Concio in director Mikhail Red’s horror offering Eerie.

The theater-turned-film actress has been quietly slaying in the background of some of the most buzzed about local films shown this past year, but she tells me that she really didn’t expect that this is the track she would be taking.

“I don’t know, I think it’s a combination of luck and just being at the right place at the right time. And then suddenly it built momentum and then I was doing a film, and then two films, and then I met Sam [Lee], and then I auditioned for Billie & Emma and it all just happened,” says Gabby of the whirlwind of opportunities that she’s been blessed with.

This girl is on fire: Gabby Padilla has quietly been killing it in some of the biggest local movies in recent history from Alone Together to Goyo.

When I meet the 24-year-old actress on a sunny afternoon in a bustling cafe, she is exactly the sweet-yet-determined girl-next door-type from her films (minus the bangs, of course), but with a self-awareness that I don’t expect from someone who’s starting out in the industry.

This can be attributed to a major fact about Gabby: she’s been acting for some time now, in a different but related industry: theater.

Growing up in Iloilo, Gabby took to musical theater at a young age — a trait she picked up from her late father, a Broadway musical and jazz lover. Her face lights up as she tells me that she was the typical musical theater nerd, the kid who memorized Les Miserables and Miss Saigon (Lea Salonga is one of her idols). Her dream roles include Sally Bowles from Cabaret, and she counts Audra McDonald’s portrayal of Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill as one of her favorites.

The interest was mostly cultivated at home though, since she studied at the academics-heavy Special Science Class of Iloilo National High School, which didn’t really have any theater clubs. It wasn’t until it was time for her to pick a course that she even considered acting as a career option. Moving to Manila, she majored in Theater Arts and Media Education at Assumption College San Lorenzo. At Assumption, she met her mentor, theater veteran Ana Valdes Lim, from whom she owes her path to straight acting, which eventually led to opportunities in film.

Her acting training was also strengthened through the traditional theater route — in 2017, she had a stint in Repertory Philippines’ Children’s Theatre (a rite of passage for many in the local theater scene), which she did at the same time as Rep’s end of season offering.

“I would do Hansel and Gretel two, sometimes three times a day, and then rehearse for A Little Princess at night,” she remembers. Not the greatest idea to do both at the same time, she says, but it was definitely a learning experience.

Future perfect: Though the actress has been making an impact on the big screen, Gabby plans to stick close to her roots in theater.

When I ask about how she feels about consecutively getting parts in some of the biggest films of the year, she’s honest with me in saying that even though she knows she’s worked hard to get where she is (she auditioned for all the roles she’s gotten thus far), there are times when she wonders why it’s all happening to her.

“It’s crazy. I realized how lucky I am. Because I know so many talented actors. There are times when I’m like, what makes me so deserving of these opportunities?” says Gabby humbly. “I always make a conscious effort to look back and think about all the people who helped me get here. I think when you find that you’re in a place where you have achieved certain goals or you find that you’re in a place that you’ve prayed for or like declared to the universe, I think it makes you even more grateful for the people who brought you here in the first place,” she adds.

 

“We need to re-examine what we’ve normalized for so long things that we think aren’t a problem, actually is just the syndrome of all the sexism. We’ve normalized everything so it was just best to question everything, to re-examine everything, because we have so much to unlearn.”

 

Out of all the characters she’s portrayed, Gabby credits her first leading film role to be one that changed the way she looks at acting. She pushes our conversation in the direction of feminism and gender politics — something that she learned a lot about from Billie & Emma director Sam Lee.

In the film, Gabby plays Emma, a pregnant teen girl who falls in love with the new girl in school. She auditioned for the role because of how it tackles different issues, of LGBTQ+ acceptance, and of teenage pregnancy. After doing the film, she says that she realized a lot about herself, especially given the privilege she had as a sheltered young adult.

“And I see how so many young adults have to go through so much. Especially the LGBTQ+ community, like it’s hard enough to figure out who you are without having to hide your sexuality and be ashamed of it,” she says.

Gabby then goes on to tell me about how it’s a societal problem, that Sam taught her that we need “to re-examine what we’ve normalized for so long things that we think aren’t a problem, actually is just the syndrome of all the sexism. We’ve normalized everything so it was just best to question everything, to re-examine everything, because we have so much to unlearn.”

“You appreciate when actors and writers are able to write women in a way that’s real. Empowering and real and just honest,” she continues. It’s this answer alone that makes me think her FAMAS Best Actress nomination alongside industry giants like Angelica Panganiban, Judy Ann Santos, and Glaiza de Castro well-deserved.

Red-blooded woman: On female representation in film, Gabby says: “You appreciate when actors and writers are able to write women in a way that’s real.”

Next on Gabby’s list: the teenage heist thriller Dead Kids from Eerie director Mikhail Red. The film, which is about teenagers who kidnap the kid of a narco politician, also stars artistas Khalil Ramos, Sue Ramirez, and Markus Paterson.

Right now she’s experimenting and dabbling in different mediums, and is thankful for whatever opportunity comes her way. This May, she’s also excited to go back to her musical theater roots in an upcoming production from Atlantis Theatrical.

As for long-term goals, the fresh-faced Aries is just taking it as she goes along, with “an openness to what the universe has in store.” She just hopes to use her position as an actress to effect more change in the film industry, hoping for more diverse characters for women, men, and more representation for the LGBTQ+ community.

With a major acting award and experience working with some of the country’s best directors under her belt, we’re calling it: you’ll be seeing more of Gabby Padilla, and you will know her name.

Photos by KITKAT PAJARO
Styled by MAGS OCAMPO
Hair and make-up by SLO LOPEZ
Produced by MAINE MANALANSAN
Sittings by GABY GLORIA, JAM PASCUAL, NEAL P. CORPUS, GIAN NICDAO, and BEA AMADOR
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