Solenn Heussaff: Sexiest Woman Alive 2013
This was originally published in our February 2013 issue.
SOLENN HEUSSAFF has not slept. Not really. She managed to catch one hour of sleep this morning, during a small window between movie shoots. Shoots. Plural. Movies. Plural. She had barely managed to close her eyes before she was being shuttled off to a set, getting ushered into makeup, and placed under lights to finish a scene for a movie that’s coming out entirely too soon.
It is now evening. She is on the set of the other movie she’s working on, Seduction. She sits alone in the dim light of a hallway corridor, dressed in a soaking wet evening gown, a towel around her shoulders. Her last scene called for her to be sitting in a bathtub in the said evening gown, waiting to be rescued by the film’s hero.
"Look at me, I'm not like, sexy."
“It’s really hard to get into this dress,” she says. That’s why she’s still wearing it, damp as it is. She’s got more scenes to shoot, and too much time has already been spent fiddling with the gown’s ornate construction. She sits in the hallway, still soaked to the bone, avoiding the air-conditioned interiors, occasionally checking her phone for messages telling her what else she has to do this week.
Her eyes show the lack of sleep. “It’s a good problem to have,” she says cheerfully. “If I’m always busy, then that means I’m doing well. And besides, I’m really having fun.”
Her eyes might object. She doesn’t look like she’s having fun. But there is no doubt that she is. This is the secret to Solenn Heussaff: she seems to be genuinely up for anything, and she takes every opportunity that she can while she is being offered them. She doesn’t complain about long hours or having no time to sleep. And she can still look amazing while wearing a damp gown in a dark hallway. The stress is visible, but it can’t seem to stop her.
* * *
"Look at me, I'm not like, sexy." This is, of course, ridiculous, but we’ll humor her for now. She says “sexy” while making a face like she had just swallowed a bug. She gestures at what she is wearing. She has just arrived on set, and she is still in her street clothes.
Solenn has trouble articulating her concept of what it means to be sexy. She names Blake Lively and Emma Stone as examples of people that meet her criteria of sexiness. But she struggles to give specific qualities that make them so great. She just says that they’re really cool, and that she likes the way they handle themselves.
Solenn genuinely doesn’t seem to care about being perceived as sexy, and that is what makes her so entirely appealing. It is just her natural state, a byproduct of her actually enjoying what she does for a living.
“I don’t really know how to be sexy,” she says. “In a movie, when I’m supposed to be sexy, that just means they’re putting me in a bikini.”
“Sometimes, when I’m all made up, and they’ve gotten some stylist to really fix me up, I can look at myself and say, ‘Yeah! Sexy!’” She makes another odd face to accompany the word.
“It’s really hard to know what people mean, anyway,” she says. “Like here, when reporters ask me how sexy I’m willing to go, they just mean how much am I willing to show.”
“And I’m like, is that it? If I show my boobs, that makes me sexy? I think there are other ways people can be sexy.”
“I just like to make fun of it.” She says this more than once throughout the day, referring not just to the perception of her being sexy, but to almost everything else. She says the word “fun” a lot, making it out like her life is just one giant playground.
And this is exactly what makes her sexy. It is a cliché, but it isn’t any less true. Solenn genuinely doesn’t seem to care about being perceived as sexy, and that is what makes her so entirely appealing. It is just her natural state, a byproduct of her actually enjoying what she does for a living.
“I never really thought I’d be in showbiz,” she said. “I’m going with the flow. I was just offered things after doing Survivor. I never thought I’d get this far.”
“This far,” is on set with legendary director Peque Gallaga, in a dramatic role opposite Richard Gutierrez. It’s a departure for her previous outings. Since her movie debut in 2011, she’s mostly been cast in big ensemble movies, or in comedies where she’s made to play the generic hot girl that inexplicably falls for the goofy protagonist. Rarely has she been called on to show any emotion beyond looking sexy.
“I was worried at the start,” says Gallaga. “I even told my staff to handle all the production details, because I thought I needed to concentrate on the acting.”
“But she really surprised me. It wasn’t long before I was back working on the production design, or the cinematography. She didn’t need the help.” Gallaga was in fact so impressed with Solenn that he shot another short film with her while waiting for other actors to get on set. “She’s just so game for everything. And we had some time, and I thought I can’t waste this.”
“She has this breakdown scene,” he says. “I don’t subscribe to the idea that crying is the best form of acting, but this was special.”
He mentions that the breakdown scene was especially remarkable because it’s somewhat known that Solenn usually can’t cry. “I cry maybe once a year,” she says. “It takes something really bad. Like maybe if I lost someone close to me.”
“I was really loud until I was five. My parents told me that I’d keep them up. And then, it just stopped.”
“I don’t really know why,” she says. “I just got quiet. My brother and my sister would be fighting, and I’d be the quiet one trying to make peace. The middle kid.”
But she cries in this movie. She talks about it like it was a really foreign experience, like she doesn’t know where it came from either. “I surprised myself,” she says. “Usually I’m just having fun on set, hanging out with my friends. But suddenly I was crying. It all just came out, and I couldn’t control it.”
It’s hard to imagine it, sitting with her. It’s hard to think of her losing her composure, because she has so much of it. The one crack she’d shown all day was being reminded of this interview, having completely forgotten that she was to be on the cover of the magazine, another thing on her already loaded plate. But then she recovered quickly, made a joke about being stalked on set, and went back to being completely put together.
It’s amazing, and oddly effortless. Crying is a very distant possibility.
Evening has given way to night. Solenn is still in her wet clothes, waiting for her next scene. She thinks about catching a nap, but she’s informed that she has to get ready to meet the press, who are visiting the set.
* * *
Before that, though, she shuffles off to the street where Gallaga is shooting several exterior scenes. She had heard that several extras had been dressed up as drag queens to act in the background. Solenn didn’t want to miss out.
“Oh my God,” she exclaims when she sees them, several men who clearly have no business being in dresses. The sole exception is the young actor she worked with in the short film Gallaga was talking about earlier. He looks remarkably good as a woman.
“See,” Solenn says. “That’s sexy.”
For the moment, the lack of sleep has left her eyes. She is standing in the middle of the street, still in her damp gown, taking pictures with the drag queens, clearly having the time of her life.
She has other passions: she studied to be a designer, and she’s really into painting. She’s a little too quiet, and a little too self-aware to really buy into the absurdity of the industry. But she somehow makes it look natural. Even stranger, she makes all of it look fun.
She is led to a function room where the press is waiting. They ask all the questions that the entertainment press are expected to ask. She is asked several times how daring she got in the movie. And to her credit, she does not roll her eyes. She instead talks about how her idea of daring might be different from what other people consider daring.
She manages to have some dinner between questions. After the press has been sated, she quietly walks back to her room. She lingers in the hallway for a little bit, pecking at her Blackberry, dealing with the various fires that such a busy schedule naturally brings. And then she finally gets to take the nap that she’s been planning for so long. She doesn’t bother getting out of the dress.
It is an odd existence. She confesses that she doesn’t see herself doing this forever. In many ways, Solenn doesn’t seem cut out for a showbiz life. She has other passions: she studied to be a designer, and she’s really into painting. She’s a little too quiet, and a little too self-aware to really buy into the absurdity of the industry. But she somehow makes it look natural. Even stranger, she makes all of it look fun.
“I like to make fun of it,” she said. Perhaps it is just her way of coping with all the work, of dealing with all the headaches that come with becoming a star. Or maybe that’s who she really is. She will laugh in your face when you call her the sexiest Filipina alive. But that’s what makes it true.