Mano Po Ate Vi!

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L ast but definitely not the least. The Mano Po series by Regal Films closes at the 2004 Metro Manila Film Festival with Mano Po 3: My Love, following Mano Po 1: My Family and Mano Po 2: My Home, again with Joel Lamangan at the helm (Mano Po 2 was megged by Erik Matti). And to celebrate the culmination of Local Movies’ only successful trilogy, sustained with a big cast and astronomical budget, Regal Matriarch moved heaven and earth to enlist Vilma Santos, The Star For All Seasons, as lead actress opposite Mano Po “veteran” Christopher “Boyet” de Leon, marking the loveteam’s 23rd movie together since 1975. Funfare/Conversation’s Toronto-based “international correspondent” Ferdinand Lapuz has listed down (chronologically) Vilma and Boyet’s starrers:

1975 – Tagulan sa Tagaraw (the first movie of Alma Moreno)

1977 – Masarap, Masakit ang Umibig (with Mat Ranillo III)

1978 – Ikaw ay Akin (with Nora Aunor); Nakawin Natin ang Bawat Sandali

1979 – Pinay American Style (with Bembol Roco and Cocoy Laurel); Disco Fever (first film of Rio Locsin); Magkaribal (with Alma Moreno)

1980 – Gusto Kita, Mahal Ko Siya (with Romeo Vasquez, shot in the US)

1981 – Pakawalan Mo Ako (with Anthony Castelo, with Vilma winning her second FAMAS Best Actress trophy); Karma (with Vilma winning as Best Actress at that year’s Metro Filmfest)

1982 – Sinasamba Kita (with Lorna Tolentino and Phillip Salvador); Relasyon (with Vilma scoring a Best Actress grand slam); Haplos (with Rio Locsin)

1983 – Paano Ba ang Mangarap?; Minsan Pa Nating Hagkan ang Nakaraan (with Eddie Garcia); Broken Marriage (with Vilma winning her second consecutive Urian trophy)

1989 – Imortal (with both Vilma and Boyet winning as Best Actress and Best Actor at that year’s Metro Filmfest)

1991 – Ipagpatawad Mo (with Vilma winning her fifth Urian trophy, after Relasyon, Broken Marriage, Sister Stella L. and Pahiram ng Isang Umaga)

1993 – Dahil Mahal Kita, The Dolzura Cortez Story (with Vilma winning as Best Actress at the Manila Filmfest and second Best Actress grand slam minus the FAMAS which elevated her to its Hall of Fame in 1988)

1994 – Nagiisang Bituin (with Aga Muhlach)

1997 – Hanggang Ngayon Ika’y Minamahal

2002 – Dekada ’70 (with Vilma winning her fourth grand slam; she scored her third with Bata, Bata, Paano Ka Ginawa? in 1998).

There. Twenty-three all in all (including Mano Po 3). Count ‘em.

From Oct. 4 to 8, Vilma and Boyet, together with the other stars of Mano Po 3 led by Mother Lily, were in Beijing for a photo shoot (both for the press releases and the movie’s MTV) with Raymund Isaac. The STAR’s contributing celebrity photographer Richard Chen was a member of 50-strong entourage.

Two days after they came back, Vilma sat down for a free-wheeling Conversation.

Why Mano Po 3 of all the offers? “Something new kasi, e. I want something that will make me look good naman for a change, ‘yung maayos naman ako. In my previous movies (Bata, Bata, Paano Ka Ginawa?; Anak; and Dekada ’70), I played a housewife forever wearing a duster. The public might get used to seeing me in duster, so I want a movie whose plot suits me and a role which requires me to wear nice clothes.”

You started shooting the other day. Have the “issues” been ironed out?  “There was really no issue except in the casting. But Mother (Lily) has the last say on that. Well, it’s already Sheryl (Cruz) in the final cast, so that’s it.”

What about your talent fee? Have you settled that (minor) issue?  “No problem. Mother knows how much I am worth.”

How long are you shooting for the movie?  “Supposedly 25 days. I can shoot three days a week, mostly on weekends.”

So you didn’t shoot any scene in Beijing?  “Mostly pictorials and some shots for the MTV.”

During your four days there, did you have a chance to see the sights?  “Not much, not many. In a way, yes, I was able to visit the scenic spots because we did our pictorials there, like the Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall which are the places tourists go to.”

I heard that you walked in The Great Wall. You had such stamina, huh?  “Oh, yes, I did walk. I was in rubber shoes. But during the pictorial, I changed to high heels because I was wearing cheongsam(s). Since we moved from one spot to another, I would sometimes walk on high heels.”

Fit na fit ka, huh!  “Because I exercise regularly… at least twice a week, no matter how tired I am. I do the treadmill and Taebo as soon as I go home from work.”

And your diet?  “I eat anything but in moderation. I seldom eat rice.”

Which of the scenic spots in Beijing impressed you the most?  “Of course, The Great Wall. One of the wonders of the world, isn’t it? Correct me if I’m wrong but I learned from the tourist guide that it took many, many years – I’m just not sure how many years – to build The Great Wall. And they used clay to start building it!”

Is it true that you’re planning to build a Great Wall around Lipa City?  “Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!”

It’s good that you were able to go on tour.  “A bit. We were tired but we were happy. We were a good company; walang killjoy. Mother saw to it that we were comfortable. She booked us in a nice hotel; the food was, wow, talagang masarap! She really pampered us.”

It was your first time in Beijing. Don’t you have any plan of going back as a tourist, maybe with your family?  “I’ll go back – definitely! It will purely be a holiday, no work at all. The goods are very nice – the tablecloths, pillowcases, etc. But I hardly bought anything because we were busy with work. Besides, where would we put those things? We brought several suitcases, all right, but they were packed with our costumes, most of them bulky. Next time, I’ll go there to relax and enjoy.”

Did you study Chinese for your role?  “I did. Every member of the cast was taught how to speak Fookien by a tutor. Two days before we flew to Beijing, hayun, I could already speak some Chinese, such as ni hao ma? (Are you okay?), shi-shi (Thank you) and chay hui (Goodbye).”

Did you and the other members of the cast have time to bond?  “Oh, yes, we did. Actually, our Beijing trip was the start of our bonding. During the presscon last month, not all of us knew one another very well, especially the bagets (new faces) in the cast. Nag-bonding talaga kami doon. Everybody was professional. We enjoyed each other’s company.”

How many times have you worked with Boots?  “Tita Boots… let me see. A few times but the last time was years ago. I think I was very young then.”

Eddie Garcia?  “Oh, several times already! He even directed me in some pictures. Our last project together was Imortal.”

Jay Manalo?  “My first time with him and my first time, too with direk Joel and Sheryl (Cruz).”

Let’s make it clear. Sheryl is playing not your daughter but your sister-in-law (Bernadette).  “That’s right. In the story, Bernadette is the one member of the clan who’s always with me. Later on, we clash. Sheryl and I have confrontation scenes. Sheryl’s character is close to me but when she learns that I’m seeing the character of Boyet, she fights with me. Bernadette, the sister of Jay’s character, is a stickler for Chinese customs and tradition and when she realizes that I’m breaking some, she really fights with me.”

Bernadette is the same role originally intended for Judy Ann Santos, right?  “Or so I heard.”

Either Sheryl or Judy Ann would have been okay with you?  “Okay lang kahit sino sa kanila. I’d rather not comment anymore about it.”

Among the bagets cast, you’ve worked with only Carlo Aquino (in Bata, Bata, Paano ka Ginawa? which won a few awards for him) and Angelica Panganiban (in Lipa Masssacre). Of course, the other bagets must be “intimidated” to be working with the Vilma Santos.  “I hope they are not.”

How do you reassure them?  “It’s also my first time to work with Karylle, Dennis (Trillo), Angel (Locsin), Patrick (Garcia) and John (Prats). When we met, they greeted me, all right, but I noticed that they were somewhat shy. So I embraced them and asked, ‘Kumusta na?’ Dennis is the most quiet of them all, so I told him, ‘Why are you so quiet?’ I touched his face and asked him to join in the fun. By and by, they were relaxed na and comfortable with me.”

You really have a way with the young ones, like Piolo Pascual, Marvin Agustin, Carlos Agassi and Danilo Barrios who worked with you in Dekada ’70.  “Until now, they get in touch; they call. I call them anak and they call me Mommy. They call me regularly. We talk about their work and their problems. With them, I’m just Vilma Santos, their friend, and not Vilma Santos the actress or the Mayor. Ordinaryo lang ako sa kanila.”

Of course, you and Boyet have worked on 22 movies already (with Mano Po 3 as the 23rd).  “I think Boyet and I are the longest-running loveteam in Philippine movie history.”

Amazing, ‘no, considering that there’s no love angle between you in real life.  “Ibang klase ang chemistry namin.”

Has Boyet ever tried to court you (when you were still both single)?  “A, basta. Platonic kami. Whether kami o hindi, what’s important is that the public loves us and believes in us.”

In Mano Po 3, you don’t play husband and wife…  “…No, we don’t. Jay plays my husband but Boyet is my first love. We did have a relationship when we were young (played by Carlo and Angelica), pero di kami nagkatuluyan because of the Chinese custom which paired me off with Jay. Then, Boyet and I meet again when we already have respective families.”

As lolo and lola?  (Knocking on wood) “Not yet. Not now!”

Of the 22 movies you’ve done with Boyet, which three would you consider most memorable?  “Relasyon, definitely (The movie, directed by Ishmael Bernal, won a Best Actress grand slam for Vilma. – RFL). Tagulan sa Tagaraw because it was our first (in 1975, directed by Celso Ad. Castillo). Ang dami! All of them are memorable – Broken Marriage, Ipagpatawad Mo, Dolzura Cortez Story, Dekada ’70, all of them!”

If you and Boyet were a real-life couple, who would you be?  “Who do you think? Which couple ba is interesting and colorful?”

You and Ralph.  (Laughs and laughs) “Not yet. Marami pang sequels at subplots ang buhay namin. Many things can still happen.”

Twenty years from now, what’s the ideal film for you and Boyet?  “Something like On Golden Pond (starring Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn). Ang ganda! When we are old and grey and we’re still a loveteam, Boyet and I should do a movie like that.”

You’re turning, well, 51 on Nov. 3. What are your thoughts on growing, ehem, wiser?  “Ano, e…First, I’m not scared of growing old, especially if you learn many things as you mature. I still don’t feel that I’m 50-plus; feeling ko I’m only 38.”

How do you preserve your looks?  “Attitude. I’m a very positive person. I don’t store up negative feelings. It’s unhealthy, di ba? I take good care of myself by exercising regularly and eating the right food.”

Aside from Eskinol, what do you apply on your face?  “As much as possible, I don’t apply anything on my face. I have a sensitive face kasi; maa-allergy lang ako. What’s important is not to sleep with make-up on. I put hot compress before I sleep para bumukas ang pores ko and cold compress before I put on make-up para sumara ang pores ko. Besides that, I don’t apply anything else.”

Haven’t you ever thought of any “enhancing” surgery?  “Like lipo? Thank God, I don’t need it yet. I’m not against it. Maybe someday, why not? But not now.”

So every part of you is natural.  “I don’t need that kind of thing yet, not even Botox. Maybe someday…but not yet, not now. All of us grow old and nobody can stop it. What’s important is to grow old gracefully…and still be pleasant to be with and pleasing to look at.”

What’s the best thing about being a Golden Girl?  “That you’ve learned a lot, you’ve learned your lessons and you have a purpose in life. That’s the most important thing. Now that I’ve matured, I begin to realize that, in your later years when you look back, what really matters is what good things you’ve done and what kind of legacy you’re leaving behind and not how much money you’re leaving behind.”

How would you sum up your present state of being?  “Heaven!” – Source: “RICKY LO CONVERSATIONS: MANO PO, ATE VI!” by Ricky Lo, Philippine Star, Oct. 24, 2004

RELATED READINGS:  Christorpher De Leon – Vilma Santos screen Tandem
Wikipedia’s Christopher De Leon    Vilma Santos and Christopher de Leon reunites but not in film

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