By Gerard Ramos / Lifestyle & Entertainment Editor
Born on Valentine’s Day circa 1985, it’s no surprise that she was named “Love Marie” by her parents, Reynaldo Evangelista Ongpauco, who belongs to a Filipino-Chinese clan that owns and manages the Barrio Fiesta Group of restaurants; and Maria Cecilia del Gallego Payawal, from a family that owns a sugarcane plantation in Camarines Sur and a granddaughter of a Spanish governor in the Bicol region, this according to Wikipedia.
And it is love that brought Love Marie—more popularly known as Heart Evangelista, multiawarded multihyphenate—under the withering glare of the celebrity spotlight she began courting in her teens, from her star-crossed romance with actor Jericho Rosales, which was met by her parents with disdain; to her surprising pairing with Sen. Chiz Escudero, regarded as a political maverick, which was also regarded with parental disapproval.
On both occasions, Love Marie fearlessly ran counter to what was expected of a young woman from her privileged background, choosing love despite its volatile uncertainty over the comforting cocoon of family.
Unlike her relationship with Rosales, however, Love Marie found in Escudero not just another romance but, more important, a husband. They had a lavish wedding at an über-exclusive resort in Balesin, Quezon, which drew a guest list of a who’s who not only in politics but in business, media and society, as well. Not surprisingly, her parents did not attend the wedding—but, more important, as Love Marie later revealed, they did give her their blessing.
After months on the campaign trail in support of her husband, who ran unsuccessfully for vice president, Love Marie is back on national TV, starring opposite Dennis Trillo on GMA’s newest prime-time offering, Juan Happy Love Story, a surprisingly hot and sexy series that “will excite viewers as they learn to appreciate their own love stories through Juan [Dennis] and Happy’s [Heart] journey: How a man and a woman, worlds apart in their views on life and love, find themselves in a whirlwind romance.
“In the series, Juan and Happy have a whirlwind romance, and eventually marry. Their life will be tested when they find out they can’t bear a child. As a solution, they decide to adopt. The lovers will then find Katkat, a 6-year-old bubbly girl, but problems continue to hound their marriage, and they separate. However, since it will be easier for two parents to adopt a child instead of a single parent, Happy asks Juan to live with her again so that the social-welfare agency will grant their application for adoption. Juan agrees, vowing to win Happy back.”
Joining Love Marie and Dennis in Juan Happy Love Story, which premiered on Monday, are cinema legend Gloria Romero and Nick Lizaso as Juan’s grandparents; Gardo Versoza and Lotlot de Leon as Happy’s parents; Ericka Padilla as Happy’s older sister; Dominic Roco as Happy’s brother-in-law; Vincent Magbanua as Happy’s youngest brother; Rob Moya as Juan’s bestfriend; Leanne Bautista as Juan and Happy’s adopted child; Arianne Bautista; Koreen Medina; and Vince Gamad.
Juan Happy Love Story airs on prime time after Once Again on GMA (www.GMANetwork.com).
You’re back at work. How was what’s been reported as a second honeymoon in Balesin? Was this planned whatever the result of the elections?
Our Balesin trip wasn’t really a honeymoon. It was just a little break, and we usually do that from time to time, and it was a much-needed break after the campaign. Maybe the honeymoon would have to wait till after my new series.
Speaking of your new prime-time series on GMA, Juan Happy Love Story, what was it about your character Happy that appealed to you?
Well, it’s just different from the other characters that I’ve played. It’s usually a drama, and usually I have to cry all the time, but this one is very light. It’s a side of me that people haven’t really seen, and when the pilot episode came out, a lot of people, you know, looked at me differently—and in a good way. So, it was just the whole story and every character in it that got me. And the romantic-comedy genre is such a break for me compared to doing just dramas.
Given your husband’s place in politics—a popular senator who at the time you accepted the role was running for vice president—did you have any concern about the sexual flavor of some situations depicted in Juan Happy Love Story, even if these were played for laughs? Was it a concern enough that you had to discuss it with your husband? What was his reaction?
Chiz would always tell me you just have to be who you are, you don’t have to pretend to be anybody else just because you’re in politics, and it’s the same with me. I’ve been an actress way before I met Chiz, and he’s also been in politics for a long time, and it shouldn’t really change anything. Also, I think, you know, people actually appreciate I’m not nakiki-alam, that I’m not involving myself in politics and I’m just doing my own thing. As an artist, this is what we do, we play different characters.
You’ve achieved more prominence of late as a visual artist. What is the satisfaction there? Is the level of satisfaction different or the same with what you get as performance artist/actress?
When it comes to my art, I feel really good about it. I think it’s really different from being an artista, and I think down the road, like when I start to get a bit more serious when it comes to my life like having a baby, I do plan to just paint. Being an actress is something that isn’t really forever for me, and there’s absolutely so much more to do in life, and painting is definitely one thing that I will do till the day I die.
Is another solo exhibit something that you look forward to and dread at the same time? What do you find informs your work these days when you pick up the brush?
I’m set to do two exhibits. One is for my hand-painted Birkin bags, so that will probably go first. Then next year, I’m already working on my next exhibit, which is all floral, all blossoms. I don’t find anything stressful about it. I think, I love painting because it relaxes me. It’s different from what I’ve been doing for 18 years now, and it’s something I truly enjoy.
Needless to say, your artworks have been well-received. Still, do you sometimes struggle with the feeling other people—visual artists, art chroniclers, art connoisseurs—regard you as something of a dilettante given that you have this other more high-profile, more time-consuming career?
You know, at some point, you kind of have to stop thinking about what everybody thinks or what everybody says. At the end of the day, you live your life and you live it the way you want to. So I want to paint; if they don’t like it, then they don’t like it. I enjoyed making them, and that’s what I will do—I will enjoy my life and I love to paint, so I will paint.
Which visual artists have greatly influenced you?
I love Paul Klee, Frida Kahlo, I guess also Gustav Klimt, Vincent van Gogh and a whole lot more.
You’ve been in show business for many years. What is it you find most tiresome and insufferable about it?
There are things that I have to finish; there are things that I need to get rid of, like certain what-ifs, and I can move on to the next. That’s exactly why I’m getting into designing my own bag label, getting into painting. I’m also collaborating with certain brands when it comes to my art and my brand “Love Marie”. And, I think, not so far from now, I’ll be saying good-bye when it comes to showbiz. I think, I’ve had my fill, it’s been 18 years. I have had a good run and, I think, it’s time to concentrate on other things.