Sunday 23 December 2018
Ruffa knows all about being gutzy. Photo: Kim Mun

The trade-off of being a celebrity is usually privacy; that’s a given, even expected. What information is meant for the public and what happens behind closed doors becomes murky and one must be able to navigate, manage and sometimes, pivot just to get through the day.

Ruffa Gutierrez is the star of the hit show It Takes Gutz to be a Gutierrez which also focuses on her family. The programme from the Philippines is a ratings darling and has just completed its fifth season. The Gutierrez name has been famous long before the TV show as Eddie Gutierrez, Ruffa’s father, is a famous film actor. Over time, the show became very popular and it permeated the collective consciousness of the region, and that is not an easy task.

For a show about a family’s adventures, and sometimes misadventures, to be loved by such a broad audience certain says something about the show. “Everywhere I go, people come up to me and they are like, ‘Ruffa we are from Malaysia, or Cambodia, or Singapore and we love your show!’ To me it’s a different level. They appreciate me and they are not even Filipino,” Ruffa says, amused and intrigued by the unexpected attention.

Tears, tantrums, squabbles and touching family moments, it wouldn’t take much to draw a line between this show and Keeping up with the Kardashians. Being compared isn’t a revelation to Ruffa who thinks it’s flattering. “First of all, the Kardashians are iconic, whatever it is that people say about them; they are ultimately smart. They won’t be where they are right now if they were not smart. Kylie (Jenner) is like the youngest billionaire and that came out of a reality show, so they must have very good business sense. If they are comparing us in that sense then yay!” she says, clapping her hands over her head.

“But we are our own family, our own people,” she adds. The only commonality Ruffa sees between the shows is that they are both focused on a prominent family. The genesis of the Gutierrez show is also different. “We had so many different offers from different networks but we decided to produce one on our own and partnered with E! Asia,” she remembers.

But before all that Ruffa spent her early years in America and only returned to the Philippines when she was 13 when her father was offered to make a comeback. The Gutierrez exodus also created opportunities for Ruffa who was thrust into stardom. “A producer told my father, ‘Oh my god, your daughter is so cute, let’s make her an actress and then boom, I had to go for makeup, blow dry my hair and was thrust into an entertainment programme called That’s Entertainment,” says Ruffa.

“I did my first movie without knowing how to speak Tagalog, and I also didn’t know how to act.” But that seemed immaterial as her screen presence and natural charisma transcended the rudimentary skills. And as proof, Ruffa has between 60 and 70 films and TV shows under her belt.

“I did a lot of movies as a teen star and I was already quite popular when I joined Miss Philippines; people were telling me that I was so tall and should become a beauty queen.” That she did and went on to win the pageant. At 17 she was picked by John Casablancas, the founder of Elite Model Management to compete in New York as a model. “I wasn’t even a model, but at the time my waistline was 22 inches, very far from my waistline now. I joined and that was the training ground for me.”

An old Polaroid picture of her time there showed the teen looking every bit like a model of the times with big hair and a small blue swimsuit. “By the way,” Ruffa adds, “Everybody there was 6’2’’ and skinny, and I never felt so short in my life. At 5’10, I am a giant in the Philippines but in New York I am a dwarf, but with boobs.”

Ruffa and her daughters visited a Malaysian theme park earlier this year and before the day ended netizens from Malaysia and the Philippines were talking about it, but not in a good way. While at the park, Ruffa and her teenage daughters Lorin and Venice were harassed by a group of men who followed them, took their pictures and catcalled them, according to news reports. The video of the incident went viral and a discussion on safety became a topic of discussion on social media.

“I am not going to blame the entire nation for what ten goons did,” Ruffa says with a smile. But the incident did traumatise her daughters. However, rather than focusing on the incident, Ruffa turned it into a teachable moment for her children. “I think they are still living in their own little world and not out there yet in the real world, that’s why they get traumatised over such things. I have sheltered them in a way that they are not worldly children, just normal sheltered kids,” she says with a chuckle.

Sheltered yes, but both of them are featured in the family’s reality show, so her motherly duties and the life lessons she imparts would necessarily be different. She would have to teach them to not be affected by what people say, or not crave affirmation from their peers.

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“I have taught my kids to have thick skin, I say to them that it’s okay to have a couple of people who are not your real friends, or not true to you, it’s okay. You will find true friends.” Also, they have to be careful what they do on social media. “I always tell them to be careful with what you post or what you say on social media. ‘You are not like your friends who may only have three followers. No one cares about your friend, sadly.’ If they have four followers and walk around in a bikini, only four people will mind.” Which may sound brutal but ultimately true.

While Ruffa tries to help her daughters navigate through the minefield that is social media, she remembers that her own mother, Annabelle – who is prominently featured on the show – was more strict with her when it came to social interaction, meaning dating. “My mum was worse. My mum said I couldn’t have a boyfriend till I was 18 and then it became 21, and even until now… and I am not going to tell you my age, she still cares. I think I started pretty late because I couldn’t leave the house alone,” she says.

Growing up in the limelight must be difficult but was it more difficult for her or is it tougher for the next generation of Gutierrezes? Ruffa ponders on the parallels of her youth and that of her daughters. “Well, I grew up in the States and I didn’t come back until I was 13 and when I came back there was no social media, there was no Internet. I used to do things that kids nowadays probably won’t enjoy,” she says. Certainly having a phone has changed the way children act and react to the world.

Ruffa didn’t give her daughters phones until they were in their teens. Perhaps without the devices, her children would be able to enjoy doing kids stuff instead of yearning for likes on Instagram. “I was able to have a nice childhood and I want them to experience that as well.”

On her show and even at the UNRESERVED photoshoot, Ruffa is never far from her phone. And her presence on Instagram is strong with a steady stream of posts showing her daily adventures to over a million followers. Sharing so much of her life must chip into her private life. Or does she have one when so much of her is posted online? “Believe it or not, I only share what I want. It’s not like when I wake up and I go, ‘Hey guys, I just woke up in bed!’ People think they know everything about me and I’m like, uh uh, you don’t. I still keep things to myself.”

These controlled posts are a necessity for Ruffa who feels that they can be helpful in different ways, including advancing one’s career and creating more opportunities for oneself. “Or it can destroy you, so you have to be very careful with what you post,” she cautions. Privacy almost seems like a misnomer when it comes to Ruffa. Yet, even with her prolific posts, there is a part of Ruffa that her followers do not see.

She likes to stay home with her dogs and the people she loves. To truly get away, she goes away and travels. “What people don’t know about me are my little quirks or when I am sad, I don’t need to share that with people. I don’t like sharing negativity. But I am human, so of course there are days when I am upset or depressed, and I don’t share that,” Ruffa says.

Then who does she confide in? Her mother. Except, sometimes what they talk about gets ‘leaked’ to the public by her mother. “She will tell ten of her friends and that ten people will tell another ten. So I can’t tell my mum anything, she can’t keep a secret,” laughs the author of the bestselling Truth & Lies My Mother Told Me. When information does get out, and when trolls get their hands on it, negative comments then start filtering through.

While Ruffa says that these days she doesn’t get a lot of ‘Internet bashing’ she still believes that having thick skin is important when you’re a public figure. “When someone bashes you online, why should we take time to answer them? Just delete or block them, who cares? Why should we give in to their whims?” she says. And it is true, take away the reaction from a troll and they are powerless.

But Ruffa is committed to her fans and thankful for their devotion to her and her family. The limelight has certainly been kind to her and letting fans in to parts of her life and making the best out of her career is her way of showing that gratitude as she summarises almost poetically, “We come from a showbiz family to whom much is given, much is expected,” she says with a smile.

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