Our MEGA February 2020 cover star Nadine Lustre brings the heat to the sweltering streets of Rio de Janeiro in fiery fashion, no less.
The furor over the news was necessary. There were tears, literal ones and in emoji. There were cries of unbelief, rumors of cheating and hashtags—many, many hashtags. Memes culled from movie stills and GIFS of JaDine’s beloved teleserye, which united a nation at primetime, animated our timelines.
The duo, Nadine Lustre and James Reid, sent out a joint statement late in the night and by breakfast people were hashing out their theories. The collective mourning was modern grief spilled all over the internet. Their message was clear, succinct, but the fandoms believe that there’s more to the news than the text or even the subtext. They search for clues in Instagram posts, in follows and likes, in videos, song lyrics. It’s all there, scattered in plain sight, so the simple, straightforward words from their idols will never be enough. They need answers to a multitude of questions. And they need it now.
In front of us, Nadine Lustre is curled up into herself. Her slender, taut frame seems even more delicate clad in a button down and cut-offs. Her hair is pulled back smooth, her makeup light, and beneath the winged liner, visibly red-rimmed eyes. We don’t need to ask her what happened, what was said behind closed doors the day before. It’s only 7 AM but Nadine, as beautiful as she is, already looks like she’s lived through several lifetimes. We gesture for her to sit on the bed. It’s a sleepover we tell her lightly, as she pulls a pillow near her. On camera, solitary, she looks frail. Can we just talk about other things, she asks us. Of course, we say. And our eyes meet. She sighs. How are you, we ask. She looks unblinking, resolutely at the camera and begins to speak.
A LOVE STORY
It’s the first day of Making MEGA in Rio. In 2013, the magazine made history and headlines by coming up with Making MEGA in South America, a colossal shoot that spanned two countries—Brazil and Peru—and countless locations. The issue resulted in iconic covers of Anne Curtis in colorful, traditional native headgear and another by the famed Escadaria Selarón. This time around, the magazine is back, hoping to come full circle, closing out this beloved tradition of sorts with Nadine Lustre, undoubtedly one of the brightest and hottest stars today. This is her second Making MEGA. The previous one was a fairytale set in Greece with James. In the golden light and deep azure waters, everything was picture perfect; their love, giddy and abloom, was inescapable. That was four years ago.
“Four years,” she says now, inside the hotel room, clutching the pillow near her chest. “That’s still something.” For many, and perhaps for the two, it was everything.
It’s mid-afternoon and the entire Philippine delegation has just arrived from a mind-boggling 35-hour flight that included several plane changes and time zones. Everyone is a little out of sorts, but determined to make things work. The fashion team has dressed Nadine in a teeny-tiny sheer white dress, which showcases her beautiful tanned limbs. Her makeup is likewise golden offset by a glistening nude lip courtesy of her latest collection of Matte Lippies and gloss from Lustrous; her hair is sleek and straight and somehow humidity proof. It’s 36 degrees and sheens of sweat cling to everyone and everything it seemed. Nadine is her usual self: quiet, focused. Across from her, several flights of stairs down, is her erstwhile love, James Reid and a few of their friends. The vibe is casual and professional, but one can feel a magnetic pull between the two of them, even if one has eyes solely for the camera and the other is nursing an iced coffee and taking in the neighborhood. Rio’s residents are a colorful lot, and an equal amount of people pass by the shoot quietly without saying a word as those that gawk at the sylphlike beauty dressed in all white.
The vibe is casual and professional, but one can feel a magnetic pull between the two of them, even if one has eyes solely for the camera and the other is nursing an iced coffee and taking in the neighborhood. Rio’s residents are a colorful lot, and an equal amount of people pass by the shoot quietly without saying a word as those that gawk at the sylphlike beauty dressed in all white.
The work is pretty steady until someone suggests that we shoot James and Nadine together. Suddenly things pick up and there’s a touch of electricity in the air. It’s clear why the duo’s reel and real life love team has garnered such a passionate following. A shared smile between them has sparks. Even if we’re not quite sure what the score is, it’s obvious that the connection between them is strong. They exchange jokes. They help each other out with the poses. When Nadine climbs up a balcony and stretches out on a ledge, we watch from the corner of our eyes as James starts filming her. Later that night he posts the seconds-long video on his Instagram and the internet erupts.
A lot has happened since that time in Greece, to say the least. Nadine’s career flourished, resulting in plum film and television roles, a flourishing music career and her own makeup line among other things. In the few short years, she became one of the biggest names in the industry and most in-demand endorsers. Her legion of fans follow her every move, her every social media post. Everything, it seemed, was coming up roses.
Then, in 2017, a family tragedy. In the wake of their loss, Nadine took up mental health as an advocacy. This decision of hers, like many others, would somehow result in a lot of tongue-clucking from people, many of them hiding behind anonymous handles, some from bylines. True to her nature, Nadine didn’t take this sitting down.
“They’re taking mental health [issues] so lightly; they’re throwing it out like confetti, like it’s nothing. What my brother had gone through wasn’t a joke. I can’t even imagine what was going through his head when that was happening to him,” she says. “Until now I still wish I pushed him a little bit more so he opened up to me and I could’ve helped him. I could have done something. Up until now it’s still in my head.”
“Now I’m concerned about the people who are going through it, who need people to lean on. Not everyone gets a person na makikinig sa kanila no matter what. Trust me—there are people na if you open up to them, they’ll think you’re crazy. They think that it’s too much, or they’ll tell you it’s nothing, that you’re just feeling that now, [but] you’re going to be okay tomorrow. That’s happened to me before. It’s not funny.”
“I’m just really lucky that I have a good support system and I think that’s what everyone needs. They need someone who will just listen to what they are going through. It helps a lot. It helped me so much,” she says.
“I really want to start working on something; I really want to help people. That has always been the goal, ever since that thing with my brother happened. We’ll see if I get to do something this year,” she says, pausing a beat before she continues. “I still need to do a lot of stuff for myself first before I’m ready to help out other people.”
Straight talk is something Nadine is known for. Ask her about those photos and videos floating around of her smoking, drinking, partying. Bring up the countless risqué bikini photos she shares on her Instagram. She fires back, thoughtful and candid.
“I like being myself. I don’t like it when people tell me what I should be doing. I don’t like it when people try to fit me in their own mold. When people don’t understand what I’m doing or they think what I’m doing is not normal for them, they feel that I’m rebelling,” she says. “People say that to me all the time…they say… mahilig ako pumarty or lasinggera ako. I just want to have fun! I want to party and de-stress. I want to enjoy [time] with my friends. With regards to the bikini naman—am I not allowed to use a bikini at the beach? It’s the beach for Christ’s sake!”
On the second day of the shoot, we start early. It’s a balmy Sunday and the streets of downtown Rio are empty, save for the remnants of the previous night’s revelries strewn all over the place. The pastel colored colonial architecture is given a violent facelift via bold graffiti, a modern art form that Rio’s artists have taken to a new level. Dressed in a black bikini top and red pants, Nadine runs her hands along the golden necklace wrapped like an ouroboros on her neck. This is the Cartier Panthère, feline grace and ferocity in one exquisite band. Against her throat, the gem-studded head glistens with knowing danger. When we unclasp the necklace, she breathes in deeply. “It’s so sexy,” she says.
For the next look, she slips her fingers and wrists into several Clash de Cartier rings and bangles. The latest collection from the jewelry house is right up Nadine’s alley: a little rebellious, a little unexpected, but always alluring. Posing in a dingy backstreet, she lights up a cigar. It’s her first time and the crew instructs her how to do it. A few coughs and she’s got it. Some of the team cheer her on. Some are wary. Nadine is having none of it.
“I don’t know if people are going to be happy about that but I don’t really care anymore. People saw a video of me smoking and they all said I was a bad influence,” she says back in the hotel.
“I just thought it was a cool idea. Para siyang BDE. If you don’t know that means—look it up!” She says with a rueful laugh. “You know how Rihanna does it?
Nadine readily admits that last year was daze for her. (“I felt like I was just floating.”) She found herself unhappy and unfulfilled. Changes had to be made. Fears had to be overcome. One by one she made a choice, until she got to the last one. That one. The one.
It wasn’t easy, to say the least.
“James is the security blanket. He’s the first person to come and rescue… I’ve learned so much from him. I’m always going thankful that that guy came into my life, no matter what happens,” she says slowly. There’s a tremor to her voice but she looks straight at us.
“He’s very optimistic. When it comes to dealing with life in general, you’re never going to see him worrying or down. He’s not afraid of uncertainty. He has 110% trust in the universe. Everything that is happening to him is a part of his journey.” She pauses. “[Meanwhile] knowing that I can’t tell what’s going to happen scares me a lot.”
Nadine grows quiet for a while. She lets her words fill the room and dissipate. After a while she strikes a smile, a brave one, a genuine one, with only a shadow of sadness.
“After going through a lot end of the year last year, I felt like I was pushed off a cliff. There was no way out, there was no way I could save myself unless I changed how I think,” she recounts.
“I gave myself an ultimatum: 2020 will be your year; you have to get back up and start working. I wasn’t myself. I know myself and that wasn’t me. I knew that. I gave myself a couple of months, time to feel it, to just be in that space and be miserable or sad. I let myself be like that because after a few weeks of being in that place, I will be in a better one. And this is the better place. Ito na yung space na mag-gro-grow na ako and restart.”
“For this year, [the] first few months I’m going to be releasing a lot of music. That involves a lot of writing and conceptualizing. I also want to do a lot of photo shoots. I don’t have to be in front of the camera,” she says, gesturing to the sleek Vivo S1 Pro near her, the latest phone she’s been toting around to take her photos. “I can also be behind the camera, creative directing.”
When it comes to her baby, Lustrous, Nadine has grand ideas. “My goal talaga for Lustrous is to go international. But we still have a lot of work to do. I really want to focus on the look of Lustrous. Our first two collections were super thematic, so I feel like for the next collection, we want it to have a standard look. I’m sure we’re going to have a lot more collections [coming], but I just want it to be cohesive.”
The more she talks about her plans, the more animated she becomes. Far from the fragile girl at the start, Nadine and her energy start to the fill the room and it’s positively intoxicating. This is why she’s a star. The possibilities aren’t just endless—they’re all going to happen.
“When we were shooting, it was like we were dancing with danger at the same time. It gives you a rush… This whole thing made me realize that there’s beauty in danger, in taking risks.” She pauses again. It must noted that she said all those things seemingly in one breath, the words spilling out from somewhere deep inside.
“Oh my God it applies to my life right now!” She says with a laugh, one that lights up the entire room.
She pauses for a breath again and looks away from the camera for the first time. Her expression is a mix of wistfulness and excitement. “It can’t always be flowers and sparkles and clear blue skies. It feels different when you’re in a place that teaches you that being risky is also beautiful, that being dangerous is also beautiful. That kind of experience, when you get out of it, you’re a different person.”
“How I see uncertainty now is starting to change because of what I just said. It’s just really amazing and I’m just realizing it right now.”
We wrap up the interview. Hugs are given. Tissues are thrown away. The red in her eyes is still there, but it’s offset by a smile, a knowing one. She’s going to make it. It’s going to be a struggle, but it will be a beautiful one.