MANILA, OCTOBER 1, 2012 (PHILSTAR) By Jose Paolo S. Dela Cruz - From Cleopatra to English Queen Elizabeth I, all the way down to the peasant healers of Europe (later dubbed as witches) — it’s easy to see that the world has not always been kind to women who oppose societal archetypes.

That is until history redeems them for what they truly are — women with a strong voice, women of power.

I’ll kill for my career,” says actress Gretchen Barretto, before breaking into laughter on the day of her cover shoot with PeopleAsia.

The statement (delivered in jest, of course) was her humorous way of describing how she reacts to the dog-eat-dog world of show business. For all it’s worth, though, that simple quip seems to sum up a lot of things about this woman of style and substance.

As many showbiz followers would know, Gretchen’s image isn’t all peaches and cream. Unlike many actresses, she is a woman of very few words. She is succinct as she is straightforward with her press statements.

She guards her privacy with the ferocity of a lioness. “I know I come from the world of entertainment and it’s brimming with ‘plastic’ people. I’m not one of them. When I have something to say, I say it. I show it,” says the outspoken diva.

And like the powerful women of the past, Gretchen’s strength of character hasn’t always earned approval from everyone. She has been called vicious names in tabloids for being brutally frank, often being placed in the center of innumerable intrigues that usually pit her against actresses of her caliber. Yet, she takes all of these in stride.

Gretchen claims that she has long succumbed to the fact that her refusal to fit into the mold of the spineless celebrity might land her into trouble.

All she cares about are the lessons these bring her. “I’ve learned to say no. I don’t play games. When I want, I want with all my heart. When I don’t, that’s it. I believe in life and choices – it’s one of the greatest gifts and I don’t intend to waste it.”


Gretchen’s no-nonsense attitude and uncharacteristic transparency can easily be misinterpreted by the world as haughtiness. But in person, one would realize that it’s actually a result of professionalism.

Having worked as a model since the tender age of 12, she values her time and is in constant pursuit of excellence. When she walks into a room, she switches into work mode.

She expects the same from everyone else. Gretchen is areglado to a fault. Tell her what you expect from her and she’ll deliver it in a snap of a finger. It’s all understood. That is, if you did your homework too.

The actress’ public persona could also be the result of her onscreen characters rubbing onto her, blurring the line between what a scriptwriter has penned and what she has written for own life.

Whether it’s her hit turn as Victoria Valera in the ABS-CBN fashion series Magkaribal (Rivals), or her villainous character as Lady Behati Rinpoche in the ongoing series Princess and I, Gretchen plays the role of a conflicted, ambitious woman flawlessly and effectively.

You just want to slap her and wish her characters a slow, painful death by the end of the series. But at the same time, you can’t help but tune in. Even as the embodiment of evil, Gretchen is ratings gold.

“My acting range has to be wide. With Princess and I for instance, I have to be more subtle and regal, not just all out kontrabida. It’s very different from say, Magkaribal, where my character has a kinder side and my Maalaala Mo Kaya (MMK) roles, which were anything but glam,” she shares.

Speaking of which, her turns in MMK and Magkaribal have resulted in three Best Actress awards from the Philippine Movie Press Club (PMPC) Star Awards.

But not everything’s roses for Gretchen and acting. While her comeback role in MMK immediately earned praise, her turn as “Victoria” in Magkaribal didn’t immediately click – contrary to popular belief. “I remember reading some write-ups where they said I was all clothes and no acting. That challenged me,” she claims.

Now, Gretchen has a trophy – not to prove her critics wrong – but to prove that she listens. “Like I told you, I’m tough. Pinch and poke me and I’ll come out stronger. I’ll make you eat your words by striving to be better. Criticism is actually better than empty praises, because the latter can put me in a complacent place – which I hate.”

When asked if critics should be afraid of her now that she has taken acting to an all-new level, Gretchen answers gamely. “Maybe they are. Maybe they should be!”

Too tough a cookie?

Not exactly. Gretchen admits that she, too, has a softer side, although she tries to keep it out of sight. “I’ve become tough because of the rejections, a lot of pain, sorrow and grief that I’ve been through. Even now, I’m not a tough cookie 24 hours a day, but even my vulnerability, I have learned to embrace.”

For starters, life didn’t exactly give Gretchen everything she has on a silver platter. Regardless of what other people may think, everything that she owns was acquired through years of hard work, sweat, blood and all. Directors have shouted at her and critics have deemed her talents no-good more than once. But she never gives up.

“Everyone might think, ‘Yeah, Gretchen lives a charmed life,’ but what they don’t see is that I work hard for it. I stay up late until two in the morning. I sacrifice sleep. It may be glamorous on TV, but it takes a lot of hard work to get there,” reveals Gretchen.

Strong will and determination are her best accessories in her journey, both as an actress and a woman. “From the moment I started in showbiz, I always dreamed of being this big. I always wanted it. I wanted a better life. Whether it’s through singing, acting or modeling I was focused on achieving the goals I have set early on.” Yes, it’s hard to imagine that these thoughts have been running in Gretchen’s mind, even back when she was a young girl, turning heads in the ’80s with her ads for clothing store Cinderella and the popular orange soda Mirinda.

[PHOTO -Gretchen Barretto is a Filipino actress from the Philippines. She has two younger sisters, Marjorie Barretto and Claudine Barretto, who are also actresses. Barretto released her second album entitled "Complicated" WIKIPEDIA]

Red Carpet Royalty

These days, the only thing that rivals Gretchen’s star on TV is her iconic stature as red carpet royalty. Even naysayers would attest to this diva’s commanding presence when she walks down the crimson aisle with her armada of couture gowns and accessories. She was one of the first local actresses to strut a Lanvin in the Philippines, even before the famed French fashion house’s renaissance in Hollywood a few years back.

No matter how perfect her red carpet debuts are though, Gretchen is quick to remind that taking fashion too seriously annoys her. “I only dress according to how I feel. If I get a craving for comfort food in the middle of the night, I’ll step out in jeans and a polo. I can even step out of the house with my hair soaking wet and with my pajamas on!”

True enough, Gretchen walked into PeopleAsia’s set in her pajamas, with a silken robe over them.

Despite her elegant style and impeccable bearing these days, Gretchen is every bit a sport when it comes to her yesteryears’ lookbook, particularly as the big-haired, nose-lined, shoulder-padded girl who rose to fame in the ’80s. “I never regret that I wore this or that, specifically because it felt right at that time. Whether it’s a fashion decision, a relationship, a movie, a rumor or a friendship I couldn’t be in anymore – I don’t regret. I only accept. I am grateful that it’s all been a part of my life.”

The only thing that has changed, according to Gretchen, is her purchasing power. “Ever since I could remember I’ve always dressed to please myself, not anyone. Well, I guess the best part is that I can afford the things that I like now because I’ve worked so hard!”

Feared and revered, Gretchen indeed epitomizes what it is to be a woman who speaks her mind, a person unafraid of being herself despite the public’s discriminating eyes. Will she walk the plank for her boldness, or will history celebrate her as a woman of power? Whatever it is, one thing’s for sure. Just like the fabled females of history, she won’t go down without a fight. “I want my place in the sun. I want many things. And at age 42, I’m just about to start.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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