PHOTOGRAPHY AYA CABAUATAN
And, Scene — Andrea Brillantes Breaks Through The Lens And Sees Herself In This Unfiltered Revelation
It would take someone really experienced to stay grounded once they get to a level of stardom and fame. But for Blythe, aka Andrea Brillantes, experience wasn't much of a problem.
Andrea has been in the industry since she was seven years old. Still, 10 years later, with her face plastered in billboards everywhere, appearing in commercials, and booking shows and movies left and right, she details and defines what it's like to be Andrea Brillantes and having to set aside her childhood to become the household name she is now.
"Can I take a picture with you?" Asks a sly stranger as Andrea sat at a shaded waiting area at Ngurah Rai International Airport last year. Even with a low profile and her head tucked underneath her arm, her young and instantly recognizable face doesn't easily dissolve into shifting masses. Click. The stranger thanks her, and we're off to our destination.
Fast-forward to a year later, Andrea and I are on a Zoom call, and she expresses her frustrations about how quarantine makes her miss the outside world and seeing people face-to-face. So, instead, we start reminiscing about the old times. "May isang beses, eight years old po ako and wala pa akong stage name 'nun. May tumawag sakin, 'Blythe! Pwedeng magpa-picture?'" she recalls, mimicking the shocked expression on her face. "Sobrang kinilig ako hanggang pag-uwi! Hindi ko makakalimutan 'yun."
Grinning and all aflutter, her childlike laughter and off-guard demeanor suggests that she has both seen it all and seen nothing at all. She slips so readily into unfiltered openness that it's no surprise that a two-hour-long car ride in Bali a year ago was our door to familiarity with each other. In that car ride, we talked about her dreams, how she wanted to experience high school, and be picked up by her crush after school. We talk about boys. One boy. At that moment, we were just two girls on a roadtrip, giggling about the mundaneness of love and life.
I ask her if she ever felt like she missed out on a normal childhood. "Sobra!" She says without hesitation. The feigned smile followed a heavy scoff––as if carrying that weight on her chest for years. "[More than] kalahati ng life ko, artista ako. Ten years old ako nag start maging breadwinner. Kaya pagdating sa pera, ayoko alamin kung magkano kinikita ko. Hindi ko talaga siya inaalam," she reveals, stating that it was her way to preserve the little childhood she had left. With bills to pay and the pressure to keep her family afloat, to her, ignorance was bliss. "Recently ko lang po inalam ano TF ko kasi siyempre adulting na."
Andrea Brillantes has had multiple successful TV shows up her sleeve, her breakout lead roles being in Annaliza, and more recently, Kadenang Ginto, where she played Marga, the misunderstood antagonist in the show. She went to taping every day when the show was airing, and in her free time, she would star in magazine covers or appear in talk shows. She has a cosmetic line under her belt, Blythe Cosmetics. And now, she's prepping to shoot for her next movie. It's hard to catch a free schedule with this child star these days. Even during the height of the pandemic, Andrea was working non-stop.
“After ng quarantine, may gagawin kaming movie dapat,” she says, thinking at the time that the lockdown was only going to last a month. “So sobra akong naghanda. Nag-work out na ako. Honestly, kung hindi nangyari 'yung quarantine, wala akong fitness sa buhay ko... Pero dahil nga akala ko magwo-work na ako, na-pressure ako kasi lahat ng kasama ko sa batch ko mapayat. Eh ako, may pagka-chubby talaga ako kumpara sa mga kasama ko.”
I ask her if her weight has always been an issue, and she nods. “Pinaka nahirapan ako kasi may part na sobra kong prinessure 'yung sarili ko. Nung two months ng quarantine, naging fit ako. Sobrang naging hardcore na siya. Naging too much na. Lagi ko sinasabing hindi pa ako okay. Hanggang sa napuno ako sa kakarinig kay Chloe Ting magsabi ng, 'Hey guys, welcome back to my channel!'"
She then takes a moment to breathe, pondering. "Looking back, sana pala sinabi ko na lang sa sarili ko na: 'You're okay. You look fine. You look great," which she does now.
With a competitive industry where looks will make or break your career, Andrea's long battle with her weight is far from over. She still catches herself trying to hold restraint with her food intake. Often, she would need someone checking in on her so she doesn't eat too many snacks in between meals. "Insecure talaga akong tao," she says. "Talagang work ko 'yung nagpapa-push sa sarili ko. Mas confident kasi si Andrea. Kaya nung nakulong ako sa sarili ko [as Blythe], everyday, nakikita ko 'yung mali sakin."
She opens up about experiencing an eating disorder, though hesitant to share the nitty gritty details, she says, "'Nung nagsta-struggle ako sa image ko, sa insecurities ko, nagkaron ako ng konting eating disorder." She goes on, "Tapos 'nung nag let go ako, na-realize ko na pagkain lang talaga nagpapasaya sakin."
Blythe escapes herself through Andrea Brillantes; when she works and plays a role that isn't her. "Pinilit kong 'wag na bumalik sa corner na 'yun. Kumain ako kasi 'yun 'yung nagpapasaya sakin. Minsan, iiyak ako. Nagka-problem din ako sa hormones ko," she says.
Even with her youth stripped away early from her, the break she had during this quarantine was a reminder that she was still young, growing, and, most importantly, human. While some who go through adolescence shut the world away as they mature, Andrea didn't have that choice with her career path. All eyes were on her, so the Andrea she presented at work was determined, persevered, and doesn't take any breaks. There was more than one occasion when she chose to skip a meal to get all her shots done before she would reward herself with food.
"Mas baby ako sa bahay," said Blythe, who still sleeps in one room with her mom and older siblings. "Kaya ako may pagka-baby kasi nagki-cling pa ako eh. Nagdalaga kasi ako agad. Tapos bago ako mag 15, bigla ako nag breakdown," she says, realizing that she wasn't going to be a teenager forever. "Nung nag 15 na ako, hindi na ako nagme-make up. Okay na ako sa tint and blush-on. Mas naging simple ako ngayon.”
Andrea Brillantes is careful of her reputation, underscoring how it's important to keep her 10.3 million Instagram followers feel her presence. How going out in public means being on her best behavior. And staying relevant even when she isn't working is vital for her career. It's not easy being active on social media, especially as a minor who's always subjected to hate and watchful eyes. So, I ask her if the hate ever gets to her and she answers, "Ang malungkot na part dito sa showbiz, na-normalize na kapag artista eh, kailangan mo na lang tanggapin."
She says that in the early days of her career, she was more sensitive towards hate, especially when the hate is projected towards her family. "It takes a lot to swallow 'yung galit na 'yun," she says. "Since ang tagal ko nang artista, parang immune na ako. Lahat 'yan, narinig ko na. Medyo malungkot siya kung iisipin mo, pero may pagka-manhid na ako...'Yun 'yung pang-protekta ko sa sarili ko eh. Kaya every time na pupuriin ako ng tao, masaya ako pero hindi na ako kinikilig tulad ng dati. Ayoko kasi yumabang."
Far from a wilting flower plucked too soon from her roots, Andrea Brillantes is budding with life in the spotlight. She has been called the next Kathryn Bernardo, the similarities begin at how they both started acting at a young age, (and a loveteam with Seth Fedelin who has been compared to Daniel Padilla on a few occasions).
Those who have been keeping tabs on Andrea’s romantic trail may be excited at her simmering connection with Seth. She conveys a Gen Z's openness at the expectation that she ought to settle upon with regard to the personality she displays in public. Andrea is girly, she loves makeup and working non-stop. Meanwhile, Blythe loves video games, being outside, and going on adventures. “Sobrang thankful ako sa kanya [Seth] kasi bumalik 'yung dating ako, 'yung Blythe na hindi artista. Nung dumating si Seth, siya nagbalik talaga ng pagiging adventurous ko.”
As one of the youngest and most successful child stars leading the next generation of actors, Andrea Brillantes remains at her most motivated, but she's still discovering herself. She'll make mistakes. She'll learn from it. And she'll continue to grow.
In four months, Andrea will turn 18 years old. The house she has been saving up for is almost finished, and her next goal is to learn how to drive and buy her own car. Besides that, she vows not to make any more plans. With uncertainty looming over everyone's fate in the world, Andrea wants to preserve her energy by not setting anything into stone.
"Gusto ko tumanda ng graceful," she's quick to say. "Kapag may gusto ako, go big or go home ako. Kaya pag gusto ko ang isang bagay, BDO ako eh. I find ways. Hindi ko pa nare-reach 'yung gusto ko. Ang dami ko pang gusto gawin," she said.
It was half-past seven in the evening, both our tummies were rumbling. It was unspoken, but we both had one thing in mind, which she is quick to puncture through with another revelation of herself. She says she's excited to make her own food now. Something she learned during quarantine as well.
"Gusto ko mag-isip ng nakaka-inspire na sasabihin. Yung mapapa-aww 'yung mga tao," said Blythe, which I thought was quite telling of her generation, which is being aware that everything they say is on the record. So, whereas many teens would be word-vomiting when given the chance to speak about what makes them happy, Andrea wanted to choose her words wisely, but eventually apologized for not giving a carefully thought-out answer.
After a beat and breath, she says, “Parang ayoko pa tumanda. Kasi hindi mo siya mapipigilan. So, bakit mo pa ira-rush ngayon? Isang beses ka lang magiging bata."
As Andrea Brillantes makes her mark to lead the next generation of actors, she’s moving forward with knowledge of life’s joys and pains. And though her heart is guarded from the years of passion labored, she keeps her head up with confidence as she makes the little moments of youthful exuberance count. “Hindi ko man na-experience 'yung normal childhood, pero nararanasan ko na ngayon 'yung pagiging teenager.”
And just like that, she is completely and truly herself.
Creative direction ANGELO RAMIREZ DE CARTAGENA
Art direction KENNETH DIMAANO
Photography AYA CABAUATAN
Fashion and beauty direction, styling LYN ALUMNO
Makeup RAFFY SO
Hair MONG AMADO (using MIKKI GALANG HAIR)
Video CHINO VILLAGRACIA assisted by EN ENCLONA
Fresh flowers by Amor Blooms