Model and actress Janine Tugonon ‘s career path was supposed to be straightforward: At 20 years old, she’d go into the medical field like her grandmother, mother, and aunt before her. But while studying pharmacy in her native Philippines, her classmates entered her into a school pageant, and in no time at all, she was winning national competitions.
After visiting America for the first time in 2012 to compete on the world stage — where she won first runner-up — Tugonon fell in love with the U.S. and decided to leave the Philippines to pursue acting and modeling. Now, she splits her time between New York and L.A., going wherever work and acting classes take her.
Leaving behind the recognition and job security she had in a pageant-loving culture was a big risk for Tugonon, but she also had to contend with the even greater challenge of breaking into two fields in which Asian representation is still lacking. So far, it’s paid off — she became the first Filipino model in a major lingerie campaign, and you might’ve also spotted her in ad spots for other big-name retailers. In partnership with Toyota — whose all-new 2020 Corolla was built on the principles of perpetually evolving and doing the unexpected (sound familiar?) — we talked to Tugonon about finding a career she’s passionate about, the future of Asian representation, and why she never takes the easy way out.
When you were growing up, who inspired you to be an actress?
“I feel like it’s always been there in me. But when I was in the Philippines, with my family, going into acting was not always the number-one option. We were all in the medical field, so it’s something I just put aside and didn’t even think of pursuing. When I moved to the U.S. in 2013, that was the first time I ever did acting, even just going in front of people and doing a script. So then I studied, and I really loved it. I wouldn’t say there was one particular person who inspired me; it was just me watching a movie and doing what they were doing that stuck in my head, like, That’s really cool and challenging, and I want to do it someday. “
Asian representation in American media has grown rapidly in the past few years, but there’s still a long way to go. What do you hope to see in the future?
“My first struggle when I moved here was with modeling. Yes, they liked my beauty, but in general, if [brands] get Asian representation, it’s usually [someone who is] Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. Some [models] have darker skin tones, but I feel like [brands] got used to Asians with lighter skin tones. So a lot of the Pacific Islanders, the Asians down in the islands who have darker skin tones, are still not globally known or widely used [in campaigns]. I would get some jobs that would put me on hold and then release me, because my target …read more