Kathryn Bernardo is taking forever. That’s what her crew seems to think, as they wait for Kathryn inside her makeshift dressing room, an airconditioned tent with two dressing tables and several lounging chairs. The young actress is shooting a few episodes of long-running fantasy series Wansapanatym at a sixties-era double story home, and her scene is running longer than anticipated. In a bid to save time, her mother is in deep discussion with one of the production managers over the next scene, particularly on the topic of Kathryn’s outfit. Does the teal camisole suit the scene’s party scenario better than the vest top in orange sherbet?
Before they can negotiate over which sparkly clutch should go with it, Kathryn steps into the tent, a petite teenage vision in loose bermuda shorts. The small crowd waiting for her perks up at her presence, each one waiting to be given Kathryn’s time of day. But Kathryn’s chief focus isn’t on getting her hair redone or cuddling with her niece, the toddler sitting in a corner and happily munching on a biscuit. Her eyes are trained on the young man waiting by the door, hands shoved in his pockets and looking hopeful. Daniel Padilla has paid her a visit.
“O, andito ka pala,” Kathryn jibes. She’s clearly delighted at the surprise, not at all expecting that the other half of her love team would take a chunk out of his day to see her. He reaches over to give her a hug—messy, casual, and sickeningly sweet—and she asks him what time he arrived. She is worried that he had been waiting for a while. He assures her that it was no trouble.
“First time ‘to ah,” Kathryn announces when they sit down, her knobby knees resting against Daniel’s.
“Hindi kaya first time,” Daniel teases back. “Dami na.” “Sige, second time,” Kathryn relents.
He teases her that perhaps she did make him wait awhile, but something in his voice says that he would’ve waited a little longer. Daniel Padilla probably would’ve waited, even if she took forever.
It was a Kathniel meet-cute come to life.
If you don’t know what Kathniel is, you are either living under a rock or dead.
Surely the brains behind this love team expected a modicum of success to come out of it. But no one, not even Kathryn and Daniel themselves, expected their celebrity to shoot up so quickly and so high.
“Wala kaming expectations. Wala,” Kathryn admits. “Kasi ’di naman din namin in-expect na tatanggapin kami, yung Kathniel, ng mga tao ng ganun ka-solid. Lahat ng nangyayari ngayon, unexpected talaga kasi never namin na-imagine na magwowork talaga ‘yung love team namin.”
Yet in just two short years, with only two television serials and one movie under their belt, Kathniel became the one of the biggest love teams in Philippine showbiz. Maybe even the biggest.
This is no easy feat. In a time where illegal downloads and piracy are rife, there are only a handful of actors who can still rake in the profit, attention, and fan devotion like Kathniel can. It now begs the question of why that is so. What is it about this manufactured brand of romance that has titillated an audience of millions—one, in particular, that includes humble jeepney drivers and titas living in three-bedroom condos at The Fort?
Individually their fame makes sense. Kathryn and Daniel have done enough time as Star Magic artists to prove themselves as solid and bankable stars. Much has been written about young Kathryn traveling to and from her native Cabanatuan City with her mother just to make it to casting calls in Manila. Coming from a family of actors may have opened doors for Daniel, but he still had to start out with bit roles in teen drama anthologies—one of which birthed the possibility of Kathniel.
At 18 and 19 years old respectively, Kathryn and Daniel have become an indomitable force. This is despite the fact that their last major project as a love team was She’s Dating the Gangster, which came out months ago. Other than that, they have yet to work on any significant film or television project together, choosing to build on their individual careers for the mean time: magazine covers, endorsement deals, even pop songs.
The duo’s unofficial, unspoken decision to focus on their solo careers for the mean time make it difficult for them to be interviewed together. According to their handlers, it hasn’t been easy to put Kathryn and Daniel in the same room lately for no other reason than their own pressing commitments.
Kathniel, it turns out, is a love team that cannot find time to be one.
The characters that Kathryn and Daniel have had to play may be young but are constantly challenged, either by foes, geography, and on one occasion, even amnesia. But these characters have always found a way to beat the odds and champion their romance. In a way, the Kathryn and Daniel of real life have had to do the same; despite their professional and personal responsibilities, they still try to find their way back to each other.
When the novelty of Daniel’s visit dies down, Kathryn invites him to join the interview even though he is scheduled for a later date. Perhaps she is a little grateful to not have to go through it alone; if that were the case, it doesn’t show. Where Daniel can be cool and aloof, Kathryn is his polar opposite, sweet and courteous albeit distantly. She may not have time to learn your name, but she will spare a few moments to notice small details about you. (“Ay, ang cute ng case niyo,” she says when the phone’s mic closer to her.)
That isn’t to say that Daniel brings nothing to the table. He can be every bit the snake charmer like his famous dad and uncles, shifting closer to you and caressing your back when a question eludes him. “Ano ulit yun?” he would ask, not unkindly. He speaks slowly, as though to a child. But any deference Daniel gives off doesn’t seem to come out of shyness. His sense of pride comes from his humility, an ability to meet everyone at their level and appeal across a range of taste and sensibilities. It may be how he has been able to endear himself to millions, including Kathryn.
“Na-enjoy ko talagang kasama si DJ,” Kathryn says, calling Daniel the nickname used by those close to him. “Dami kong natututunan sa kanya… Swerte ako kasi ‘yung ka-love team ko kaibigan ko rin.”
The comfort and the closeness wasn’t always there. Kathryn and Daniel began their working relationship as 15-year-olds and acted accordingly: like two high school students learning how to slow dance at the prom. Their marching orders dictated that they should’ve been on the brink of falling in love, but at that point they were still figuring out how to be friends.
It was only a matter of time for them to find their stride; it happened in their first primetime teleserye Princess and I, after constantly taping scenes together. What they didn’t foresee, however, was how their audience would react to them. Daniel was particularly surprised.
“Siguro noong simula siyempre hindi madali,” he explains. “Dahil nga biglaan lang din naman akong pumasok (sa showbiz). Pero nung tumatagal nagtataka kami kung bakit—ako pala— nagtataka ako parang wala nang nagagalit sa ’kin. Usually nakikita ko sa Twitter, galit sila parati eh.”
“Bashers,” Kathryn pipes in to clarify. Daniel goes on to discuss that he used to get a lot of flak pre-Kathniel from folks who happily nitpicked at things he would say or do onscreen. With their fan base growing each day, they admit that their critics grow too. But Daniel says that they weren’t as vicious as they used to be, or that he’s simply gotten better at ignoring them. For what it’s worth, it seems that his love team with Kathryn is a civilizing presence—not.
This article was originally published in Benchmark Issue 5, December 2014