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Eugene Domingo: On top of her game

CEBU, Philippines - “A buffet of surprises,” was how Eugene Domingo described the sequel to her 2009 smash hit comedy Kimmy Dora: Kambal sa Kiyeme, an independent experiment that altered her course from consistent sidekick to a top-billing star.

Three years after that launching film, Eugene reprises the roles of the hilariously dysfunctional identical twins in Kimmy Dora and The Temple of Kiyeme, now showing in theaters nationwide. The sisters Kimmy and Dora Go Dong Hae, both portrayed by Eugene, get into more misadventures via a script still penned by Chris Martinez and executed by director Joyce Bernal.

After a series of supernatural events, Kimmy and Dora join their father (Ariel Ureta) on a trip to his homeland of Korea, where one of them has to marry a member of a Korean clan. It was their dad who broke a long-time custom of arranged marriages between the two families, and so the twins must pay the price for his non-conformity to tradition. The sisters of course refuse, because they’re in love with their respective boyfriends played by hunk actors Dingdong Dantes and Zanjoe Marudo.

“Kimmy and Dora have to discover on their own why this is happening to them all of a sudden. Why are their love lives at stake because of this? It becomes a matter of life and death. Expect also more daring and sweet love scenes from Dingdong, Zanjoe and me,” said Eugene to local entertainment writers during an interview before her promo show at Gaisano Capital, Tisa.

It was again a most grueling task at filming as she played two disparate characters: The highly-driven business tycoon Kimmy; and the kindhearted, but slow-witted Dora.

“Direk Joyce specifically wanted Kimmy to be cruel again to Dora. Because at the end of Kimmy Dora 1, di ba peace na sila? So what happened na bumalik ulit yung galit ni Kimmy kay Dora? That you have to see. And Dora here is even crazier,” Eugene pointed out.

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Unlike the first movie which was strictly laugh-out-loud comedy, the sequel is a mix of horror, comedy, fantasy and action. “The production is bigger and more expensive. We tackled the drama in the family. It’s more heart-warming. Comedy is permanent; we just offered a new layer. As for my experience as an actress, it is really lovelier shooting it the second time around,” she said. “We did not imagine that we would finish the sequel. And then after six months, here it is. It was a long journey but we made it, so we’re excited to show it to everyone.”

The multi-awarded actress, whose most recent victory was bagging the People’s Choice at the Asian Film Awards, regaled the Cebu media with anecdotes of her experience shooting in Seoul, Korea — the Europe of Asia, as Eugene herself would describe it.

“It’s very romantic. Every five minutes, there is a café. But their weather is, I think, as stubborn as those in Europe and America. Their winter was minus -20 degrees Celsius, but we had to finish sequences in the temple on the mountaintop covered with snow. That was very beautiful and cinematic. We had to shoot there for the sake of showing the beauty of winter. Kahit parang natatanggal na yung mga tenga namin sa lamig, we had to finish.”

She was also fascinated that they were able to shoot in traditional Korean houses and in their Universal Studio where some of our well-loved Koreanovelas are being made. With that, she has high hopes that their supervising producer will find a way for Kimmy Dora to be screened in Korea. “Hindi naman masamang mangarap. Tutal, we are slowly and surely trying to conquer Asia,” Eugene declared.

Already, a part three to complete the Kimmy Dora trilogy is in the can. While there is apparently less anxiety on her part on whether this second installment will rake it big at the box office, Eugene would recall she wasn’t this confident with Kimmy Dora 1.

“Medyo reluctant pa ako noon because it was supposed to be my launching film. Mababaw lang naman ang kaligayahan ko. Magkaroon lang ako ng pambayad buwan-buwan sa tinitirhan ko, masaya na ako eh. But then, when you recall the story of how Spring Films called me up and said they wanted to launch me, they asked me what concept I wanted and they gave me the freedom to suggest the writer. Kimmy Dora was born and it was successful. This time around, I was more than a hundred percent willing to do the sequel. We just waited for three years to have the right material.”

No slowing down

Eugene has been a rare example of an artist that has successfully transcended the network wars. She values her freedom and refuses to be tied down by any exclusivity contract. She does not even employ a talent manager. It seems to work in her favor, because high-profile projects are still pouring in non-stop.

“I don’t want to be exclusive. Siguro kaya wala akong boyfriend eh, ayokong maging exclusive,” she deadpans.

When asked who manages her career, she quickly retorts back “The Lord!” and added in jest, “At si Lord walang komisyon.”

Turning on a serious note, Eugene said that having full handle of her talent fee is not her main reason for going solo. “Maybe because hindi ako nasanay na meron, although I’ve already experienced having a manager. I’m also very comfortable handling my career on my own. I just need a team. On my own, I know what I want. I have a goal for the year. For this year, my goal is for Kimmy Dora and all my projects to make it big in the box office.”

After Kimmy Dora 2, Eugene will wrap up scenes for her next film, I Do Bidoo Bidoo: Heto nAPO Sila under Unitel Productions. Paired here with Ogie Alcasid and with a story also written by her good friend Chris Martinez, they will feature the classic hits of APO Hiking Society in this comedy-musical.

Then it’s back to her first love. She will later this year be seen in PETA’s (Philippine Educational Theater Association) modern adaptation of Bona, the 1980 film which originally starred Nora Aunor and Philip Salvador. Moreover, she will also star in an MMFF entry, a dark comedy with the working title of Tuhog.

“I love doing movies and I love that I can go back to theater at least once a year, or every two years. It was a good offer to do the stage version of Ate Guy’s Bona. This will be a very good opportunity for people to go to the theater. Kasi minsan ang tingin ng mga tao sa theater, suplada di ba? I want to encourage more people to experience theater by bringing material that’s familiar to them,” said Eugene, whose was active in the theater scene during her student days at UP Diliman.

The cerebral and versatile actress has essayed out countless incarnations on screen, but which famous persona would she love to play out in a biopic?

“If we will be able to get the most wonderful make-up artists for cinema, like the ones who made Iron Lady [starring Merryl Streep], maybe you can give me the role of Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago. That is, if she allows. With her consent. Her life story, where she came from, her childhood…she’s very interesting and very impressive. You can see that she always has a point.”

Harvest time

She has often been asked where her gift of humor came from. It is God’s gift, she said. “We all have gifts from God. And God is really fair. Yung meron sa iba, wala ka. Yung meron sa iyo, wala sa iba. In this way, we are able to appreciate our differences and our strengths. I’m 40 now, so I know what I can do and what I can’t. I’m very realistic.”

It is this great gift, coupled with her perseverance, professionalism and love for the craft that has brought Eugene from being simply happy at scrounging up enough bills to pay her monthly rent, to the much more secured life she leads now.

On how comfortable she is presently financial-wise: “Siguro hindi na ako magugutom hanggang mamatay ako. At balak kong mamatay kapag 100 years old na ako.”

Eugene rewards herself for working like a horse by “Eating! Going to the spa. Living a day like a pig. Super hilata.”

While she’s not big on material things or nightly escapades, she admits to splurging on her one other passion: Traveling! And where will she be off to next? By the end of June, her hit indie film Ang Babae sa Septic Tank is up for exhibition at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in Czechoslovakia. It is category A when it comes to international film festivals, much like the filmfests of Berlin, Venice, Tokyo and Cannes, according to Eugene. “So, I’d like to experience that, plus I’ll do a side trip to Prague,” said Eugene.

She relishes these breaks abroad, because she can freely do things that are impossible to do so back home, being the famous face she is. Such as? “Matulog sa park. Masarap matulog sa park. I did that in Rome. Ang fresh, ang daming puno…humiga lang ako ng sandali, hindi ko alam tulog na tulog na pala ako sa park. Daldalan lang ng daldalan diyan yung mga Italians, sleep lang ako ng sleep. At ang sarap to walk around kahit wala kang ayos.”

For making Filipinos roll in laughter countless times with her on-screen antics, Eugene Domingo more than deserves such simple luxuries.

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