Eugene Domingo recalls humble acting beginnings under renowned directors

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Eugene Domingo recalls humble acting beginnings under renowned directors
Before she became one of local cinema’s acting gems, Eugene was a theater stalwart who worked with well-renowned directors like Tony Mabesa, Behn Cervantes and Ishmael Bernal. Her first acting exposure before the camera in 1994 was with the brilliant Bernal in the movie titled Divided by 2 with Charo Santos.
Photos courtesy of Eugene’s GMA show Dear Uge

I love Eugene Domingo onscreen, onstage and in life. She was recently seen in the 2021 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) entry, Big Night, topbilled by Christian Bables.

But before Eugene became one of local cinema’s acting gems, she was a theater stalwart who worked with well-renowned directors like Tony Mabesa, Behn Cervantes and Ishmael Bernal.

Eugene, also known as Uge, intimated that her first acting exposure before the camera in 1994 was with the brilliant Bernal in the movie titled Divided by 2 with Charo Santos. It was produced by the UP Film Center.

“It was the most significant to me up to this day,” said Uge as she began reminiscing about her early years in acting during our conversation on my podcast, Who Are You When No One’s Watching?. “Probably, I was 19 then at virgin pa (laughs). Wala pa akong experience na umaarte sa kamera and Charo Santos (now Charo Santos-Concio) was, of course, already Charo Santos.

“If you’re aware of Filipino films, then you’re very aware of Ishmael Bernal. Ang role ko ay katulong na mag-bibigay ng sulat sa aking amo, kay Charo Santos. Galing sa labas, ibibigay ko sa kanya na may mga dialogue akong masasaya, pa-biba,” she continued.

According to her, she memorized her lines, put on her makeup and wore a floral duster. Then, the actress was presented to Ishmael who, after examining her look, said, “You change. Erase your makeup, change your hair.”

“Tanggalin ko daw yung Spraynet, palitan ko yung damit, tapos sabi change again. Palit ako, darker shade. Galing ako sa pink, red, blue — napunta ako sa brown. Yung buhok ko gulo-gulo. Inayos ko buong umaga yung makeup ko, nawala at dinungisan pa ko kasi kailangan madungis.”

Photos courtesy of Eugene’s GMA show Dear Uge

The scene where Uge handed the letter to Charo was perfectly done. But Uge was surprised at what she saw on screen. “Sa tingin mo ba nakita ko ang sarili ko sa sine? Wala! Kamay ko lang at sulat, hahahaha.”

She recalled that she also needed to cry in the movie but she didn’t know how to cry. “So, iniba n’ya yung blocking. Instead of me (supposed to be seen) cooking, direk Ishma asked me to sit on the floor. He lit a cigarette, took a puff, and blew the smoke right into my eyes, hahahaha, naiyak ako. Tapos sabi n’ya after, ‘Very good!’ I could never forget that, oh my god, yun pala si Ishmael Bernal.”

Another memorable moment for Uge was with Mabesa who was her professor at the University of the Philippines, where she studied Theatre Arts and apprenticed as an actress and production staff under the university’s theater company, Dulaang UP.

“I was his student in Speech Communication 3 and I read a poem. All my classmates read profound poems, while I chose to read The Owl and The Pussycat. So, my classmates were all laughing and then after I read the poem, he was quiet. He was just looking and he faced the class and he said, ‘You know, you are going to be famous. One day, she’s going to be famous.’ I didn’t understand why he said that. Years went by and then, I became a movie star; a celebrity.”

Below are excerpts from my exclusive interview:

Take me to the time when you met Tony Mabesa.

“The first play I did was 12 Angry Men but they changed it to 12 Angry Women, directed by Behn Cervantes. So, I was assistant stage manager and I played the security guard. Ang dialogue ko lang yata ay ‘Come here,’ ‘Thank you,’ and ‘Call me if you need water.’ At nung nalaman kong nanonood s’ya, I delivered the lines na para bang Shakespeare (play) na pagkalakas-lakas na OA (overacting). Ay, napansin ako, sinabi n’ya sa klase namin, ‘Were you the one playing security guard? It’s so big.’ It’s like saying napaka-OA mo, hahahaha. But after that, they trusted me with roles — classic and contemporary.”

What important lesson on acting did you learn from Tony?

“It’s the timing. Timing is the key. Sir Tony was very good with the timing and the pacing, so perfect.”

Your process as an actor. Are you the type who comes to the set prepared and you already know the backstory of your character?

“I tried that once and I was so sad I didn’t enjoy that kind of method. I mean, do not suffer na (kunwari) bukas may drama (scene), ngayon pa lang nakikinig na ng mga malulungkot kasi baka bukas tuyong-tuyo ka na. One more thing, the more you laugh, the more you can cry because your emotions are open. That’s why, we admire actors who can laugh in a scene then proceed to cry in an instant. Or, umiyak tapos biglang tatawa. It’s also (about) surrendering your emotions and being unselfish. Sa akin, palagay ko nabigyan lang ako ng magagandang break (laughs) at magandang timing.”

How do you navigate the “dualities” of your life and career?

“Siguro, I’m very sensitive to the feelings of others like I always cater to what I think you need and most especially, what I think I need now. Sometimes, I’m really hungry for mainstream movies or indie. So, I satisfy my hunger by feeling what is my hunger now. I try to balance so as not to get tired at what I do. I also go back to my roots, which is theater. When I was at the peak, you know, as a movie star, I truly missed theater so I went back to it by doing Bona (the stage adaptation of the Lino Brocka movie).”

What’s your most memorable theater role?

“Aside from the zarzuela directed by Ogie Juliano, the next would be playing Gregoria de Jesus when she was a young girl, as the girlfriend of Andres Bonifacio and then nung mid-age na s’ya, then nung matanda na s’ya. So, tumatanda ako. The next would be playing Emilia in Othello, directed by Tony Mabesa in Filipino. It was just a small role but I got good reviews.”

You are so lucky to have worked with seasoned theater directors.

“You said it right, napakaswerte. I think I’m just one of the lucky ones and I did a film titled D’Lucky Ones, directed by Wenn Deramas. ‘Yun siguro talaga ang nag-bigay ng swerte sa akin. S’ya talaga yung naging angel ko on Earth because direk Wenn gave me unforgettable characters on TV, ang nagdala ng pera sa akin (laughs).”

What’s your favorite performance on TV?

“Siguro yung mga MMK (Maalaala Mo Kaya) kasi ‘yun talaga ang pinaka test nung araw, hahahaha, parang thesis sa TV.”

In films?

“Another one that I did not expect was Kimmy Dora. I was just making fun of Piolo (Pascual) and Joyce Bernal, who were attempting to build their own production company and trying to include me in their dreams. Ako naman, sure let’s do this kasi that’s the first production of Spring Films. It was just part of the talk while drinking. I didn’t expect that it was a serious project at mahirap gawin. Nung kumikita na s’ya at ang daming tao sa sine, ay totoo na ito kaya napakaswerte ko.”

Aside from the material, you have to look at the eyes of your co-actor and drown, you know, like lose yourself in the role.

“Yes. Sometimes, I’m really drowned (because) you’re hearing the same music, you’re in a duet na ang gagaling most of the actors na nakatambal ko. Jay Manalo is very good. Also, Dingdong Dantes. Ang galing nilang sumakay, parang cha-cha na idi-dip kita pero hindi ka madadapa.”

How do you behave in situations where you work with actors who are not as committed as you are?

“Minsan may nakakasama ako na parang nalilito pa sila or hindi sila ganun ka-desidido pa sa gusto nilang gawin. Maiintindihan naman natin ‘yun kasi siguro iba yung purpose nila.”

For young actors, what is the most important piece of advice that you will give?

“Please don’t be ignorant. You have to pay respect yung mga nauna sa ‘yo because you will learn from them. You will be inspired by their stories. Expand your knowledge and please be patient in reading books and in watching classical plays.”

Who are you when no one is watching?

“I am really scared. I’m scared about death. I’m scared about not being free. I like being free.”


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