MANILA, Philippines – Her ability to convincingly portray a giddy teen, a battered wife, and then a grown woman in love in the same series was a gift foreseen by management when it decided to cast Julia Montes as Katerina in ABS-CBN's top-rating series "Walang Hanggan".
"Management knew Julia could handle a role as big as Katerina's," said Nina Ferrer, the Star Magic handler of the 17-year-old Montes.
"As Clara, she showed such a wide range of emotions that the producers knew this girl could do mature roles. Plus, she looks older than her age," Ferrer told women's lifestyle magazine Cosmopolitan in its October 2012 issue.
An alumnus of kiddie gag show "Goin' Bulilit", Montes portrayed angsty teenager Clara in the 2010 remake of the 90's hit soap, and in 2011, carried over her tween team-up with actor Diego Loyzaga in the teen drama series "Growing Up".
In the same year, she reprised her on-screen rivalry with actress Kathryn Bernardo in the film "Way Back Home", where, for a third time in a row, she donned a high school uniform for a leading role.
As Katerina in "Walang Hanggan", which is down to its last five episodes, Montes transitioned from a giddy teen haciendera, to an abused wife forced into sex, to an adult who weds the man she truly loves.
Because of this, her most popular portrayal yet, "some people forget I'm just 17. Minsan 'di sila makapaniwala. Sasabihin nila, '17 ka lang?' Insulto ba 'yon?"
Even in her early teens, Montes had to grapple with the same "problem." She would miss out on roles because she was either too tall, or too mature-looking; and for some shoots, she would always be cautioned against looking too "sensual" for her age.
"Fifteen palang ako, photographers would tell me not to smile at the camera because I looked sensual daw. I always had to be extra careful of what I wore, because on me things looked sexy," she said.
As her post-"Bulilit" career unfolded, this "curse" became a "blessing" for Montes, as this afforded her biggest role yet as Katerina. But according to the young actress, being inexperienced in romance in real life, she would find challenging some scenes which required her to act as a grown woman.
"Parang ‘pag hahawakan ka pa lang, kikilabutan ka mula paa hanggang ulo. Dinadaan siya sa side [ng mouth]. Pero, ayun, dumidikit siya kahit papaano," said Montes, whose leading men in the "Walang Hanggan" are Coco Martin and Paulo Avelino.
FHM's sexiest list
However, proving she's done her role justice-- that is, shedding her tween star image--Montes recently debuted at number 68 in the "Sexiest Women in the World" list of men's magazine FHM.
Referring to the "achievement," Montes said: "I bought a copy and ako na ata ang pinaka-pa-sweet doon. Nakakatawa. Voting ba talaga 'yon? Nakakaloka! Kahit ganito ako? Anong meron? Nakakatakot!"