Ah, what love can do! It can change Angelica Panganiban and turn her into a more open, less defensive person.

The Angelica who used to turn off press people because of her bouts with "amnesia" and attacks of snobbishness is gone. Now, she sits beside you and talks more, smiles more, holds back less and less.

Boyfriend Derek Ramsey has done wonders to broaden her perspective. The London-raised hunk is outgoing where Angelica can be painfully shy. He goes out of his way to call up press people and explain his side when an issue arises. He greets everybody, from the highest to the lowest in the cast and production crew.

"I'm afraid people will ignore me," Angelica says. "That's why I don't initiate conversations."

Derek has taught her to take risks in dealing with others, to trust in their willingness to make friends and put themselves in her shoes.

Now, Angelica is less afraid to let people peek into her thoughts, her feelings.

"My brief separation from Derek has done wonders for both of us," she begins. "I realized I can be my own person. I can go out on my own."

Now she knows what she's been missing all along.

When you're with somebody you tend to make him the center of your universe. The few weeks of separation made me find myself, appreciate myself," adds Angelica.

In other words, she discovered the inner strength she thought she never had. And it's making her grow - and glow.

She was in her element as she talked about the reason behind her new look: A beribboned headband and a peasant gown that accented her figure.

"I play Scarlet dela Rhea-Castillejos, the woman everyone loves to hate in the teleserye Iisa Pa Lamang (weeknights after I Love Betty La Fea)," she recounts. "Scarlet may seem bad, but it's only because she has reason to. The challenge is to show her vulnerable side."

One of the ways is to make her look like someone you'd like to meet on the street. That's why Angelica thought of wearing a beribboned headband the way today's teenaged icon, the Gossip Girl in the favorite series, does. This will not only make Scarlet more reachable, it will also make viewers look for something new each time the series airs on ABS-CBN.

"Hopefully," Angelica muses, "the fashion statement will add more excitement to my character and the series as well."

Not that she, or Iisa Pa Lamang, lacks this element. The series has been running for several weeks and Angelica, true to form, is getting good feedback for her role.

She's also getting more sleep, more time for her family and loved ones, thanks to a more relaxed work schedule.

"I enjoy the balance between work and family that it gives me," she relates. Now, she has more time to cook her specialty in the kitchen: Spaghetti. She can plan that trip to Europe that she's been longing to take after Wowowee allowed her to rekindle ties with her cousins in the US.

"I've been super blessed lately. I had Maging Sino Ka Man: Ang Pagbabalik. Then A Love Story came along," Angelica says. "Other actors don't have work these days."

There are offers to pose for other men's magazines after she made the men's eyes pop out of their sockets as the cover girl of FHM and Maxim Philippines. But Angelica is not biting.

"Enough. I want to retain an air of mystery," she explains.

Or is Derek keeping her from doing so?

Angelica may be more open about herself. But she's not ready to bare all about her private life just yet. Let the mystery, as she puts it, remain. She'll have more time to reveal other things about herself - layer by layer - at the proper time.

For now, it's enough that the previously oh-so-guarded Angelica is opening up, and letting us see what's inside, not only her mind, but her heart as well.
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