When it comes to influence in realms both real and virtual, Anne Curtis is second to none. Anne talks about losing and finding confidence, always feeling “half,” and how blurred lines bring out connections.
Being rooted elsewhere, in a place away from one’s motherland, can rouse restlessness, unease, and sometimes, a sense of wonder. Imbibing a new culture and unfamiliar traditions distinct from your previous childhood experiences could incite questions about fitting in. Will I be accepted? Will I be understood?
But for Anne Curtis, moving to another country brought her home.
While the actress was born in her father’s homeland of Wangaratta, Australia, Anne’s parents made sure she understood her Filipino heritage as well. On a visit to the country, when she was five, she recalls being one of the muses in the Santacruzan, a parade held on the last day of Flores de Mayo, one of the most celebrated local festivals. Then at 12, the Curtis family moved permanently to the Philippines. Apart from the language barrier, she has never felt different.
“I got to experience the Filipino childhood,” she tells Vogue Philippines. While she didn’t speak the language then, she had blissful memories of playing jackstones, luksong baka, and patintero with her neighbors in busy Mandaluyong. Right before she turned 13, the actress worked on her first movie, where the producers dubbed over her dialogue because she couldn’t speak fluently.
“I’ve always felt ‘half,’” Anne says. “Growing up in two worlds helped me identify who I really am. It’s not about choosing one, but it’s about embracing both worlds and loving them both. But, I think, after living here for so long, I’d say my home is the Philippines.”
A few minutes into the conversation, she finds the space to ponder on an enduring topic of Filipino identity. As her acting career progressed and people became moderately inquisitive about her lineage, she started voicing out her opinions, when people asked, “Filipina ka ba talaga?”
“You have Filipino blood inside of you. Even if you can’t speak Filipino, what if you identify as a Filipino? It’s a shaky subject,” she says.
In 2017, Anne married French-Filipino content creator Erwan Heussaff and entwined more cross-cultural legacies into her life and that of their two-year old daughter, Dahlia. “I want my daughter to have the same experience that I had,” she says. “I want her to know she has two homes. I want her to know her heritage, her roots, and to experience the different cultures. But you know, at the end of the day, we’re all human beings. We’re all living our lives. It all boils down to everyone just having respect for one another.”
There is one territory where the lines separating distance and localities are blurred: social media. And in that unbounded landscape, Anne Curtis reigns supreme. With 18.5 million followers, she is the most influential female celebrity in the Philippines on Instagram, with 14.8 million followers on Twitter to boot.
The sequence of moments that led to this is not unlike her story of moving away and coming home. It started with one thing, then burgeoned into an entity larger than herself.
First, she was on the social networking site Friendster, then Myspace, another social networking site founded a year before Facebook. Then Twitter came along.
“It was live, instant sharing of random thoughts,” she recalls. In 2009, Anne joined the daily noontime variety show It’s Showtime as co-host, which propelled her into public consciousness. Years later, she started her Instagram account, and quickly, she witnessed the exponential rise of her followers. Her influence skyrocketed.
“All of a sudden, around five years ago, social media just blew up,” she says. “The interaction with my followers changed. And you realize the power your platform holds. I stay true to my roots by not having a curated feed, but of course, work has now come via the platform.” When she got a bob cut in late 2022, for instance, her fans would tag her on photos of them getting the same hairstyle. Social media is, after all, a tool, and everyone selects how to wield this. Anne does so with her electric, inimitable charm. Alongside posts of mommy duties and glam shots, the UNICEF National Goodwill Ambassador also uses her media accounts to spread awareness of relevant social issues in the country.
The gestalt of instant connections and personal interactions may have brought celebrities down to earth’s grounds—it makes them “more human,” as Anne describes it. She remembers those early years in her career when she could only interact with her fans through meet and greet, and through the more traditional fan mail. “That’s what’s great, again, about having this platform. Now, they can see ‘the real you’ even more. It’s a stronger connection.”
The bond made itself more evident when she took a recent two-year hiatus from work to focus on her motherhood. Quiet moments punctuated the privilege of being able to slow down and spend time with family and friends. It also allowed her to balance staying connected with her followers while basking in the sweet silence of a private life.
“Another cool thing about instant communication is that you can find out what your fans like,” she says. “I asked them what they wanted to see from me when I come back so I can see what it is they missed.” Smiling, she admits she stopped at Instagram—but TikTok, she can live without. “I like watching other people’s videos. But the dancing? I don’t know. I tried it. It was fun. But not for me.”
On the other side of the emotion spectrum, the hiatus brought to the fore feelings of insecurity. Beneath the followers and numbers, Anne is a constantly unfolding person.
“I lost the confidence that I had before, in terms of everything,” she admits. “When I came back this year, it’s a whole different world. When I joined It’s Showtime again, I felt I didn’t have that bantering wit anymore.”
Without hesitation, she reveals plans on taking acting classes again before she starts working on a film: “Being where I am doesn’t give me that golden ticket to say, ‘Yeah, got this. I can do anything.’ All the more I feel like I have to be better at my craft, to prove to everyone who’s following me and to inspire them that you’re always going to be a work in progress.”
Thousands of miles away from the land where she was born, Anne Curtis has developed an influence unmatched by anyone in her generation. Influence is a continuing commentary, and therein lies its power. Embracing her plurality, as a cause for celebration, she seems to obliterate restrictions of geography and genealogy.
Through the digital space, Anne blazes a virtual trail, a clear path that shows that we are all linked by the stories we share, the meaningful conversations we have, even with strangers, and by our discoveries. In the end, perhaps what she offers is the possibility that we can all live under the sacredness of genuine human connections.
This story originally appeared in Vogue Philippines’ December-January 2023 Issue. Subscribe here.
Photography: Mark Nicdao, Fashion Director: Pam Quiñones, Stylist: Renee De Guzman, Makeup: Robbie Piñera, Hair: Raymond Santiago, Nails: Extraordinail, Art Director: Jann Pascua, Producer: Anz Hizon, Production Assistant: Adam Pereyra, Photographer’s Assistant: Phillip Nicdao, Arsan Hofileña, Alex Capongcol, Crisaldo Soco, Villie James Bautista, Stylist’s Assistant: Steven Coralde, Special thanks to Justine Arcega-Bumanlag, Garden Barn Inc. and Umbra