Soft-spoken and with the kind of bright-eyed allure that any ingénue would covet, Carla Abellana brings a sweetness to the TV screen—even when her characters find themselves in situations that are anything but.
Carla Abellana walks into the hotel suite, exuding demure femininity in a floral dress, a shy dimpled smile, and just a hint of sleeplessness in her eyes. “I only get a day off if a miracle happens,” she later explains, shrugging it off casually in a way that shows she’s understood and accepted that the fact comes with the job. The job, of course, has become a little more demanding since the success of the controversial My Husband’s Lover, where she plays a conservative woman whose husband turns out to be in love with a man. The show tackles themes that have never been so directly addressed on Philippine television, and has catapulted its stars into new heights—something that should be noted when you consider acting wasn’t Carla’s first choice of a career.
Although she counts actress Delia Razon as her grandmother and 80’s matinee heartthrob PJ Abellana as her father, show business didn’t seem immediately appealing to Carla. “It was never part of the plan,” she shares, sharing that though she started modeling at 12, she was instead more inclined to more scholastic pursuits. Driven by her mother’s mantra on the importance of education, she admittedly took her studies more seriously than most might expect. “I was a nerd in college,” she confesses. “After school, I went straight home to study some more.” That’s, of course, not to say that there weren’t any admirers—her natural good looks would often merit date invitations, which she would graciously turn down. It was worth it though, when Carla graduated cum laude with a degree in psychology.
She’d taken a job in human resources before her mother and grandmother’s support convinced her to try a hand at acting. Carla had auditioned for the role of one of the leading ladies on GMA’s Zorro, when the producers saw her potential and instead cast her in her own show—a remake of the popular 90’s telenovela Rosalinda, originally portrayed by Thalía. “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” she admits. “It was difficult because there were no warnings or crash courses. Everything I learned, I learned the hard way.” Channeling the same perseverance she’d had as a student, she filled her already busy schedule with dancing, singing and acting lessons to continuously hone her craft.
Since then, Carla’s appeared in TV shows and movies in a variety of roles that showcased her acting chops, while also hosting variety shows that allowed her charm to shine through. And it’s not just the fans that have been taking notice—she was nominated at the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences as best actress for her role as a mobster’s wife in Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story in 2011, and a Luna Awards Best Supporting Actress nominee for My Neighbor’s Wife, a film that studies marriage, friendship and infidelity. She’s clearly not one to shy away from the more emotionally provocative roles, something that’s reinforced when she played Lally in the recently concluded My Husband’s Lover, her biggest role to date.
Critics have been raving over her turn as Lally, a character whose emotions are subtly but visibly bubbling beneath the surface. Carla gives her a nuanced personality—making Lally someone who the audience will sympathize for her predicament, but who never actually calls for pity. “It was about time,” she says when asked about her reaction to the role. “We knew that it would be controversial and different, but we had no idea that it would this big and that people would receive it with such warmth and support.” The show is something she considers a blessing, even more so for the people she’d had the opportunity to work with. “God really put them together in this soap opera. You can just imagine all the fun that we had,” she laughs.
Admittedly, though, she considers herself among the old-fashioned types. “The wife should take care of the husband, and should do anything for the family,” she says, something that she shares with her character. There’s the desire to be a perfect wife, but when Lally sees it as swallowing her own sadness and dissatisfaction for the sake of harmony, Carla thinks there should be some room to be a little selfish. “It’s so hard to imagine, to believe that there is such a person. I wouldn’t be like that. I would give myself respect and dignity. The pain has to stop at some point.”
Fortunately, her own love life is less than dramatic—at a press conference for the show, she’d slipped some details of her relationship with Geoff Eigenmann who “has been nothing but supportive of my success.” The couple had recently celebrated their third year anniversary with a simple dinner and exchanging gifts, echoing their usual date nights of staying in and watching a movie while Carla makes him dinner. “He’s so persistent in making an effort and making sure we grow together,” she gushes, sharing that he’d gotten her a pair of shoes she’d been wanting for their anniversary.
It was obviously a good choice, as Carla confesses to a love affair with shoes. At the photoshoot, she brought along an arsenal of Christian Louboutin, Louis Vuitton and Manolo Blahnik pairs, among others, collectively embodying a style of classic sophistication. Off-duty, though, she prefers to slip into a girly maxi dress, making no qualms about the names on the labels. “As long as it’s comfortable and it fits me,” then she’d put it on. Of course, being a celebrity comes with a certain scrutiny on her appearance, so she makes it a point to shop at least once a month.
Those trips have become increasingly rare as Carla’s recent success has filled her schedule with shoots, tours and appearance that have left her little time for herself. But when she does find some hours to while away, she chooses to spend it with her biggest supporters, her family. “I have two nieces who I adore, so I try to spend as much time as I can with them,” she shares. “I cook for them, or take them out to eat somewhere nice.” She also makes it a point to travel with them once a year, having a certain wanderlust that she’s inherited from her mother. Bohol is a favorite destination, though she also loves shopping in Bangkok and spending time in Toronto, which reminds her of New York. “I would love to go to Santorini in Greece or see the Northern Lights in Alaska,” she says of her dream destinations, although she’d already scheduled a family European cruise once My Husband’s Lover wraps.
The same constant movement can be said for Carla’s career—already she’s working on a romantic comedy opposite Tom Rodriguez, another horror film, and a TV role. “I don’t think I’m in the position to choose,” she jokes about her next projects. “If there is, I leave it to the hands of my manager and my network. I’ll do whatever they see me doing. I’m giving them my full trust.” The earnestness of the words is matched with her doe-eyed friendliness, and we’re all the more charmed by the sweet vulnerability. As she makes her way through the lobby after the shoot, the groups of fans that start buzzing excitedly at the sighting prove that we’re not the only ones.
by Catherine Castañares sittings editor David Jones Cua photographer Filbert Kung stylist Charmaine Palermo assistants John Rufo and Samantha Chan (www.stylePH.com) makeup Dino Lazaro (MAC Cosmetics) hair Felicity Son locale Solaire Resort and Casino