The Future Is Bright for Young Star Francine Diaz
The teen sensation-turned-local showbiz's next top leading lady talks about turning 18 and taking on her first lead role in a series
Francine Diaz, freshly 18, is a self-proclaimed old soul. The debutante and rising leading lady had recently received a vintage typewriter for her birthday last January 27. And as she gushed about the machine that has now found a home on her desk, her eyes glittered and her face lit up.
Francine, you see, is a writer of sorts—a devout chronicler of something that many teen girls, since time immemorial, have been known to write about: her feelings.
“Mahilig po kasi akong magsulat,” Francine reveals during our cover shoot with her. “[Mostly about] what I feel. Para siyang poetry, pero hindi ko shine-share. Sa’kin lang siya.” Her carefully guarded writing is different from her diary, she’s quick to specify, as she also keeps journals, along with the piles of notebooks she’s accumulated throughout her young life.
Francine also has a deep fascination with Al Pacino and his works, falling in love with the actor’s iconic portrayal of Tony Montana in Scarface. She soon found herself falling down a Netflix rabbithole of other similar titles, including all three Godfather films, Scent of a Woman, and even the Ocean’s movies.
A lover of books (she cites Jane Eyre, The Little Prince, and Anne of Green Gables as some of her most recent reads), Francine’s old-soul tendencies began when she read Binibining Mia’s I Love You Since 1982, a Wattpad novel published by ABS-CBN Books that led her to appreciate Filipino craftsmanship, history, and culture.
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For many girls in the Philippines, turning 18 is a celebration in and of itself—it’s the age that one is often considered to be a woman: the age where wearing pigtails and playing hopscotch or Chinese garter with friends after school becomes passé.
Turning 18 signals a shift, a farewell to the callowness of childhood and an unmistakable hello to the responsibilities and duties of a growing adult. For Francine, there’s a certain kind of pressure in turning 18, especially for someone growing up in the spotlight. “Medyo may pressure kasi mas ine-expect na nila na magiging magaling ka na sa mga [bagay-bagay] pero in reality, nagle-learn ka pa lang kung paano ba ma-master [’yung mga ’yun]. Minsan nakaka-pressure lang na, ‘O, malaki ka na, ganyan dapat,’ na gusto ko na lang sa Neverland with Peter Pan, para di na ako lalakí,” Francine says, a reassuring laugh not too far away.
She’s a contradiction in the very best way, in the way only teen girls can be: an old soul who never wants to grow up, who wants to be a child for as long as she possibly can. While the future excites her, there’s no doubt about it, she does have a few fears about growing older. “Siguro ’yung makalimutan ko ’yung pagiging bata,” Francine muses. “Ayun ’yung ayaw ko, kasi ang saya-sayang maging bata.”
Francine’s very first appearance on national television came by way of 2015’s Pasión de Amor, where she played a young Sari Elizondo (later played by Ellen Adarna) alongside other young actors, including a then-unknown Belle Mariano.
From there, a string of other roles in more teleseryes blessed Francine: young Pinang (Erich Gonzales) in Be My Lady; young Gloria (Sylvia Sanchez) in The Greatest Love; young Bianca (Kim Chiu) in Ikaw Lang Ang Iibigin; and young Rhian (Angel Locsin) in The General’s Daughter.
But it would be her 2018 role in Kadenang Ginto that would catapult her to fame: Cassie Mondragon, the kind-hearted daughter of Romina Andrada, played by Beauty Gonzalez. Francine, alongside her co-star Andrea Brillantes, became one of Philippine television’s newest teen drama queens, showing off her acting chops and capturing viewers’ hearts with every new episode that aired.
Kadenang Ginto changed the trajectory of Francine’s career—and life—forever. The third child in a family of six siblings, Francine recalled coming to the series’ taping with nothing more than a few hundred pesos as her baon for the day. “Enough na para ’pag nagutom ako,” Francine explains, “p’wede akong magpabili ng something na food, or kung gusto naman ng ganitong inumin, [like] milk tea, mabibili.”
Four years later, she has become one of the top young stars in the industry, making waves with her contemporaries—from Andrea to Belle to her best friend Jayda Avanzado and more. Her success in Kadenang Ginto also led to the founding of the phenomenal group called the Gold Squad, a teenage quartet made up by Francine and her co-stars in the show, including Seth Fedelin and Kyle Echarri. Altogether, they also starred in the 2021 drama series Huwag Kang Mangamba wherein she played the role of Joy Cordero, a rebellious teen.
Their group was so successful it even led to the formation of a sub-group called the Squad Plus. More and more rising stars had been added to the group, who are set to topbill several new shows and movies for ABS-CBN.
She treads lightly when it comes to her success and all that she’s made for herself, choosing to prioritize humility, grace, and gratitude over anything else—and most especially over material things. “Siguro po kasi dahil sa pinagdaanan din namin dati,” Francine begins, “alam ko na dapat kung anuman marating mo, kung may makuha ka mang malaking bagay o maliit, dapat humble pa rin and maging grateful.”
“Kasi ’yung meron po kami ngayon, wala kami noon dati,” she continues. “Ang dami ko pong ipagpapasalamat sa meron kami ngayon. And looking back, talaga namang masasabi kong ayun po ’yung nakakapagpa-humble sa’kin, kasi ayoko pong isipin na, ‘Oh my gosh, eto na ’ko, meron na kaming ganito, ganyan,’ kasi once na maisip ko na ’yun, na pumasok na siya sa utak ko, ibang tao na ’ko and ayoko pong mangyari ’yun.”
Francine, first and foremost, pursued showbiz as a way to help her family, while hopefully ensuring a good future for herself. She spoke about the challenges that come with being in the industry, how difficult it can be to spot people’s intentions, which aren’t always well-meaning. “Kasi hindi mo alam kung totoo sila ’pag kaharap ka at ’pag nakatalikod na sila sa’yo,” she says. “More on, sino’ng pagkakatiwalaan mo? ’Yun po ’yung pinakamahirap sa’kin na part. Kasi sa trabaho po, pwede ko ’yun matutunan eh. Pero ’pag sa tao, ’yun ’yung pinakamahirap na challenge para sa industriyang ’to.”
This year, Francine is set to star in a new limited series called Bola Bola, with acclaimed director JP Habac at the helm. Bola Bola, an iWantTFC original, marks Francine’s first lead role in a series without her Gold Squad co-actors. It is a coming-of-age story that deals with body positivity, cooking, and love.
Francine will play Thea, a 220-pound girl who loves to cook, especially for her brother’s friend, whom she has feelings for. It’s a role that Francine instantly found a connection to, because she has experienced being made to feel inferior because of her physicality: hairy arms, a chubby face, the works!
“Gusto ko lang din na i-portray si Thea,” Francine tells Metro.Style, “kasi nga nakaka-relate ako sa kanya and I think marami namang makaka-relate, kasi sinasabihan din siya na, ‘Ang taba mo, ang panget mo, walang magkakagusto sa’yo kasi mataba ka, hindi ka na magbabago, you’re a pig.’ And gusto kong malaman din ng ibang tao, na ma-realize nila na hindi dapat ganu’n. Kasi sobrang laking impact ng mga words talaga sa isang tao.”
Bola Bola will see Francine working with a varied group of new gen actors (Vance Larena, BGYO’s Akira Morishita, and KD Estrada), as well as seasoned artists like Arlene Muhlach and Gardo Verzosa. In the future, Francine dreams of working with Judy Ann Santos-Agoncillo and Kathryn Bernardo—two actresses that Francine admires for their acting prowess.
“’Pag napapanood ko ’yung mga dati nilang serye, ang galing [nilang] umiyak,” Francine says. “Ang galing [ni Ms. Judy Ann] magbitaw ng linya, and kay Ate Kath, ’yung mata niya, nangungusap. ’Pag meron nang ‘something’ sa mata mo, hindi mo na kailangang mag-add pa ng maraming movements or lines. Na-fi-feel mo na nasa mata eh. Kasi in real life, ’diba kapag talagang galit ka, kahit hindi ka magsalita, namumula ’yung mata mo, naiiyak ka na sa galit—ganu’n ’yung gusto kong ma-achieve.”
Francine has been acting for seven years out of her eighteen. She knows she still has a long way to go, a million things to learn and do, especially in her job as an actress. For many teen girls, 18 is a milestone—and it surely is one for Francine, too. But for a lot of other women, 18 is only the beginning. Thankfully, the future looks bright for Francine—and Francine’s star.
Photography by Seven Barretto
Creative direction by Chookie Cruz
Sittings editor and interviewer: Grace Libero-Cruz
Makeup by Denise Go-Ochoa
Hairstyling by Brent Sales
Styling by Drew Lacia, with associate John Erick Reyes
Clothes by Michael Leyva and accessories from Uber Finds Fine Jewels
Set design by Dindo Pangalangan and Che Katigbak of Rooster Production Design
Videographer: Pat Buenaobra
Cover story by Renee Nuevo
Shoot coordination: Geolette Esguerra and Ceia Ylagan
Shoot assistant: Patrick Santos
Photographer's assistants: Claude Villahermosa and Dariel Miraflor
Special thanks to Star Magic