(STAR) By Kap Maceda Aguila (People Asia) (CoverPhoto - Photography by Jun de Leon)

It’s easy to see the Anne Curtis that is larger than life in a world of glitter and glamour. While she can lay claim to that and more (even to that curious title of “Princess of All Media”), Anne shines brightest because of her appreciation of the opportunity that’s been given her—and that she’s not really all that different from you or me.

We begin our story a few minutes after Showtime, the immensely popular ABS-CBN noontime Pinoy talent showcase.

A light drizzle defies yet another obviously botched weather prediction and slicks the landscape with a moist sheen—as usually happens nowadays. My escort stops at a nondescript door inside the studio.

I am outside a dressing room, waiting with a group of eager fans toting a point-and-shoot. The interviewee is within reach but is presently indisposed; Showtime colleague and good friend, comedian Vice Ganda, is having a chat with her.

When the door opens moments later, out goes the tall comedian, and Anne Curtis peers out shortly thereafter. She spots me and apologizes for the delay, then obliges for a couple of clicks with the aforementioned fans. “Anne! Anne! Anne!” comes the excited chorus from the audience members who are surprised to see her just a couple of meters from where they stand. Anne proffers a ready smile and waves to them.

“Ang ganda ganda mo naman (you’re so beautiful)!” gushes an elderly lady, who then asks for a kiss. Anne goes to her for one. “Thank you po!” she says, smiling. How does that cliché go? Just another day in the life of...

Born in Yarrawonga, a town in the Australian state of Victoria, Anne Ojales Curtis-Smith could have been making a name for herself on the balance beam and uneven bars.

“When I was five or seven years old, I wanted to be a gymnast because of Nadia Comaneci (the great Romanian gymnast who made history by being the first to register a perfect score),” shares Anne. “I adored her. My dad had a VHS tape of her and every day after school, it was either that or E.T. that I wanted to watch.” Anne would put on a green swimsuit and imagine herself as Comaneci.

That early ambition eventually gave way to wanting to be a lawyer. “Just the influence of my dad, I guess, and being exposed to his office and the people around him. And then I always knew that I’d have a job right after working for his firm.”

But we all know how fate often scoffs at our design—before it promptly turns it on its head.

The Curtis-Smiths had always made time to connect with Filipino relatives in Pangasinan. They’d visit the Philippines every year. After Anne turned 12, dad James thought of relocating the family here altogether. “My dad wanted to try the school system here in the Philippines,” says Anne. “But it was not a permanent decision; it was more like testing the waters.”

So the family moved to Mandaluyong, a place a heartbeat away from EDSA. It was a new adventure for the Australian-born Anne. She had fun riding tricycles and eating Pinoy fast food.

Indeed, after a family meal at the Jollibee branch on the corner of EDSA and Boni Ave., they were approached by a lady who claimed to be a talent scout of sorts. She made a pitch to Carmen, Anne’s mother, to allow the young Anne to do commercials.

James wasn’t too thrilled. “My dad said, ‘No, you never know who these people are. It’s a scam.’ But my mom was a frustrated actress who wanted me to join Little Miss Philippines. She was also (cast as) an extra in Pangasinan for Ang Pinakamagandang Babae sa Balat ng Lupa.”

So Anne’s mom prevailed. Soon, Anne was appearing in commercials and ads for everything from petroleum companies to Batman and Robin apparel. That same year, a movie role was finally dangled. Carmen agreed—but only after Anne’s classes.

“I remember it so clearly,” Anne says of her audition for her first film project, the 1997 fantasy flick Magic Kingdom. “When we got there, it was starting to get dark. I was in the back of the line because we were late, so they were choosing girls na lang to show to Direk Peque (Gallaga) and Direk Lore (Reyes)—maybe because they were doing it all day already. So I was in my (Colegio de Sta. Rosa) uniform and may gravy pa ’ko noon sa shirt ko (I had gravy on my shirt). Then they selected me and then I went in. I was asked to act like a princess.”

“And then Direk Peque said, ‘That’s her, she’s the princess.’ So that’s how I first started—when I didn’t speak a word of Tagalog. Hindi ko boses yong sa movie (That’s not my voice in the movie),” Anne reveals.

Of course, she had to learn the language. Anne says, “My mom was there to help me. It became a rule not to speak in English. And that’s how you learn. Even if it sounds awful, you’re still learning it. So you could see tumatabingi pa din yung mouth ko sa movie (my mouth was contorted in the movie) because it was awkward.”

Anne Curtis remembers her Magic Kingdom stint so well not just because it was her first celluloid project, but for other significant reasons. “It was a big step for me because it was part of the Metro Manila Film Festival,” she explains. “I was nominated pa. Although at 12, you really don’t think much of it. It was so fun to be on the float! We actually found old video tapes that we transferred onto DVD. You could see the coaster and mothers of the boys from Magic Temple (another film). Magic Kingdom was after that, and you can hear them in the background saying, ‘Oo, makikilala din yung anak mo pagkatapos nito (Yes, your kid will also become famous after this)’.”

No truer words. In a way, Magic Kingdom was the golden ticket to the magic kingdom.

A long showbiz career—piggybacked on 14 years with Viva Films—has succeeded that auspicious debut for Anne. “We did Ikaw na Sana which was a Bobby (Andrews)-Angelu (de Leon) teleserye. I was like the probinsyana (country girl) na hindi bagay kasi naka-duster pero slang mag-Tagalog (but that didn’t fit because I wore a duster yet spoke Tagalog with a foreign accent),” she grins.

TGIS on GMA-7 would be the crucial vehicle to truly launch Anne Curtis into stardom. “That’s when my parents said, ‘Okay, this is a regular thing for Anne now.’ So we moved here permanently, though my dad could not stop working, of course. So he would travel every six weeks to visit. My mom and my sister were based here with me.”

Expectedly, as Anne’s career flourished, her studies sputtered. “It took me forever to finish high school because of my erratic schedule,” Anne laments. “I had to keep changing schools. Colegio de Sta. Rosa said they did not accept actresses, though it helped us find the DECS home-school program.”

It was well and good for a while, but Anne felt she was short-changing herself because she was missing out on a life experience of being in school. “In my third year, I enrolled at Angelicum. That’s where I also got into cheerleading,” she says.

It took her six years, but finish high school Anne did. “From then on, I lived in Manila. My mom and everyone else moved back (to Australia). So at a very young age, I became independent,” she maintains.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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