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Cherie Gil: The strongest force in me is that of being a mother

DIRECT LINE - Boy Abunda - The Philippine Star
Cherie Gil: The strongest force in me is that of being a mother
Cherie looks gorgeous on the February cover of MEGA Magazine where she flaunts her shaved head.

I had an interesting conversation with Cherie Gil on Who Are You When No One’s Watching? Season 2 several days before she left the Philippines and moved to New York. She was the guest on the final episode of my podcast’s very special limited series of conversations with some of Philippine Cinema’s finest actresses.

It was only recently when I got to see a photo of her on the cover of MEGA Magazine where she flaunted her shaved head. She looked gorgeous. In the cover story, she revealed that her new look is part of “a rebirth of sorts.”

Cherie is a dear friend of mine and I’ve been witness to how she has touched people’s lives both as a person and as an actor. Her acting career is full of shining moments, with numerous awards and impressive character portrayals.

The seasoned actress attributed her talent to artistic family genes. Cherie is the daughter of showbiz luminaries Eddie Mesa and Rosemarie Gil. Her brothers are Michael de Mesa and Mark Gil.

“It all began, I think, from my mother’s womb (laughs),” said Cherie who began acting at nine years old. “The fact that my mother, Rosemarie Gil, is an amazing actress and has been doing it since she was 18. My father, he’s also an amazing powerhouse on stage. So, picture the atmosphere we experienced at home — from parties to dramas that happened in our real lives and parties where we had to entertain the guests. We were actually encouraged to do it because we didn’t have (acting) schools. I didn’t attend theater. I didn’t attend any kind of training. Now I understand and it’s making it a part of who you are.”

Despite acting in front of the cameras for many years, Cherie admitted to still feeling anxious on the set. “Well, it depends on the director and co-actors. When I do, I’m always on my toes. Actually, this theater really broke the mold for me to feel that I’m growing and evolving as an actor. I’m just so happy that the door was opened to me in that regard — to walk into theater and discover a whole new, different milieu and different ways of learning and playing amazing roles.”

She was 15 when she had her launching movie, Problem Child, under Regal Films and directed by Elwood Perez. Since then, Cherie has gone on to establish a reputation as one of local showbiz’s finest actresses. She starred in films under such well-known directors as Ishmael Bernal, Mike de Leon, Maning Borlaza, Peque Gallaga, Lore Reyes, Marilou Diaz-Abaya, Laurice Guillen, Gina Alajar, among many others.

Cherie with her children Jay.
Photos from the actress’ Instagram account

Her brief appearance in Citizen Jake was my equivalent to Judy Dench’s eight-minute performance as Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love. I was curious about how Cherie portrayed her character.

“I was scared of Mike de Leon (laughs). It was shot from morning ‘til night. I don’t know how I did it. I guess because we started the morning with Mike throwing a tantrum so I was already scared. I had a line there cursing, ‘mga p---ng ina talaga nila’ so I felt it, kaya lutong na lutong. I guess I felt it so much na parang napasa sa akin kung anuman ‘yung kinaiinisan n’ya nung araw na ‘yun (laughs). I love Mike and I connect with him. He’s a Gemini, so I get him (laughs).

“But we had to move many angles so that’s another thing. That’s a technique that actors need to understand also and that happens with the director who moves many angles and once you do it over and over again, you must have stamina, to be effective physically and mentally. What an amazing profession! It’s something I can do, hopefully, for the rest of my life.”

As much as possible, Cherie doesn’t watch herself on the monitor “because I will always have that sense of not being good enough or I’d say to myself, ‘Oh, maybe I could do it this way or that way.’”

She is used to getting her every scene done in just one take.

“Because of that old style of learning, nasanay na kong bumigay sa first take pa lang. Now the young directors I’m working with, they want to do it (scene) again and again at nauubos ang oras. That’s a whole different discipline, to discover ways to do it differently and still be fresh which to me comes from my theater experience. So, I would love to have that kind of process as well to see how far it can play and how much more you can give.”

It was interesting to know straight from Cherie about her experiences working in films with directors from whom she learned so much as an actor. Below are excerpts from my conversation with her.

Let’s go to your film Sonata. How did you prepare for that? How was your collaboration with Lore and Peque?

“It was very close to home, Boy, kasi I have to keep going back to my own life’s journey to be able to be clear as to how I’m able to come to that point of rendering Regina Cadena (character). Twelve years was when I left the business and, in those 12 years, I was able to see a different life, a different world and be away. In fact, it was in these 12 years when I learned so much about myself in relation to the world outside of the Philippines. My mom would always tell me, ‘You just belong to the speck of dust in relation to the rest of the world,’ which is true. So, had I not gone away, I would not have been able to do Regina nor would I have been able to portray Maria Callas (her character in Master Class).”

Cherie with her children Raphael.
Photos from the actress’ Instagram account

What was your dynamic like with Peque as a director?

“Constant. Bottomline with Peque, he was like my lifesaver. He picked me up every time I was just about to fall. He just knew when to take me up again. From the time I did Manila by Night to Oro, Plata, Mata, Champoy then, Sonata and everything in between — workshops — he knew everything. Peque was a parent. You know, the best directors become parents to their actors. They are the people you look up to and learn from. Peque was a major, major force not just in my life as an actor but as a person.”

I didn’t know that you worked with Laurice.

“Yeah, once (in) Ang Bukas ay Akin.”

What do you remember?

“She’s strict. She was straightforward, strong. I mean, c’mon Boy during those days, we hardly had women directors — just Laurice and Marilou and it was just great. I don’t know what it is but I always have this sense of intimidation when I have to work with women directors even up until now when I did Onanay with Gina Alajar, especially because they’re actors. So, may kaba factor ‘yun.”

Bakit?

“Hindi mo p’wedeng mabola (laughs). They know when you’re trying to act (laughs), they know when you’re not believable. You know, they’re the hardest to affect (laughs).”

Cherie with her children Bianca.
Photos from the actress’ Instagram account

Talk about you and Gina. I don’t understand the takot.

“Oh my gosh, malaki! Idol ko ‘yan, e. First of all, Gina is my ate. She was my brother’s wife. I’ve known her since I was nine years old. I was part of her movie, Cofradia, in which she already had her leading role and I was just a guest.

“Ang husay n’ya. I watched Salome, Brutal and, then, finally we got to work with Marilou Diaz Abaya in a TV special. We were working on a script by Rolando Tinio (National Artist for Literature who founded Tanghalang Pilipino). You know me and my tongue when it comes to Tagalog. Gina is an amazing Tagalista actor and so, I got the chance to work with her on a TV special. It was the first and only time I got to work with Marilou.

“I went to 13 takes. We had so many takes not because she wanted to explore but because I was making a lot of mistakes and I was just so in awe of Gina’s work. And I did Onanay with her recently. She was the director and Nora (Aunor) was my co-actor. So the first day pa lang  pagbaba ko ng van, I went to Gina and hugged her. I haven’t seen her in a while at that time. I said to her, ‘Gosh, I’m nervous,’ and she said, ‘Ako din.’ (laughs). Lahat naman kami may takot. You know, actors are the most insecure species. I think people don’t know that.”

You also worked with Carlo J. Caparas.

“Yeah, it was my very first award (Best Supporting Actress) ever for God…Save Me! Carlo was a chill kind of guy on the set. He would give you a sense of trust and little did I know that it would come to the point of that kind of freedom that would result in a critically-acclaimed performance which, at that time, made me trust myself more. Kumbaga, it was a good time to find out that I was slowly being set free of my own.”

People talk about Cherie Gil and many actors because of the film Oro, Plata, Mata. What do you remember?

“Peque guided me a lot. At the same time, he also knew that the role which he said he wrote for me was something that I could portray yet I was scared. But at the same time, I was a teenager and I took it as an adventure. Again, Peque has had a vision for his shots to be able to capture those feelings. So, there were times when he would tell me, ‘Cherie, don’t look down because it’s too sharp. Just turn around, look straight.’ It was technical. So, aside from the experience of shooting the amazing scenes that were surrounded by amazing actors, I just felt taken by them. I felt shallow among these greats and I just allowed Peque to take me by the hand and it was my first experience in learning how to work with the camera.”

The iconic Manila by Night.

“That one was my gift to myself (laughs) because this was the first time Bernal set me free. He didn’t execute any scenes for me, I guess, because I was playing a dike. Again, Kano was created by Peque. That’s where I learned how much of a character can be developed through physicality. Also, the movements. I grew up with two brothers and I was a tomboy (in the film) so everything I did was based on what I picked up from my brothers’ antics — from lighting a Zippo lighter to talking in the most ‘porma’ way. I was at home with Kano so, most of the time, he (Bernal) would let me be and there were times I would ask Peque, ‘How come he’s not directing me? Am I doing anything that’s not right? I need to know.’ Maybe I was dependent on how I’m supposed to do a scene and this time Peque said, ‘No, Cherie. That means, there’s nothing to change.’ It was the second to the last film I did with Bernal.”

Your launching movie was Problem Child with Regal. How was it?

“Oh, my God, that was a disaster. That was not exactly fun but at the same time it was like, uhm, I don’t know how to explain that film. A great turning point for me to learn what I was getting into, there were a lot of pains in making that film. (It was) six months in the making and I was only 15, doing things that I was asked to do that was contrary or opposite to what I wanted to do but at the same time I was taking on the challenge. It was a very, very strange period.

“Up to now, my mom would not want to watch that movie because it was somehow related to the time of my life as a teenager. My life at that time was an open book and I was not behaving in real life (laughs). Kumbaga, ginamit ‘yung mga experiences ko, in-apply sa pelikula. But you know Boy, looking at it now, as I went through it, I was proud at this point in time of my life to look back and say, hey, that was the first time a movie was showing teenagers getting drunk and having free love, sex. It was a time of rebellion and in a way, it was my time, my era, my generation.”

Elwood is also a storyteller.

“Galing n’ya. I had done two more films before Problem Child both with Elwood — Sugar Daddy and Beerhouse. At that time, you just do what the director tells you. You have no idea about shots, you don’t know about angles, you don’t know the visual impact of it. But watching his films now, ang galing n’ya. Ang galing ng mga shots n’ya and how he composes everything and weaves them together as a filmmaker. Elwood is truly an amazing storyteller.”

When people talk to you now, Miss Cherie Gil as an actor, does it still bother you that there are a lot of people who go back to the “second-rate” line. (“You’re nothing but a second-rate, trying hard copycat!” Cherie’s famous line in Bituing Walang Ningning.)

“How funny you ask me that now because I had just done taping Daddy’s Gurl and in that comedy (show), there’s this scene that I have to bring that line out. Hanggang ngayon in my comedy guestings (laughs). Chris Martinez was the director and we were chatting and reading. Then I said, talagang pinasok pa rin yan and then, Chris said, palitan natin? Alisin na natin? Cherie, anong gusto mo (laughs)? It’s been two or three decades since and I said, you know what, ‘yan ang gusto nila. I’m gonna give it and I’m still continuously grateful for it because if not for that, I guess, the relevance would not have continued and children were not even born yet that time. I’m amazed they know that line. Even my children now know that line.”

What one or three tips on what one should do to be an actor?

“One should be able to observe, to listen, to imagine and to communicate. All that is so important to be able to deliver as an actor.”

Things that the young actors shouldn’t do.

“Drugs. The rest is okay like, fall in love, hit your head on the floor, experience, explore.”

And the things they should do.

“Save money, ‘yun talaga. It may not be the means and end but it is necessary for us to be safe, stable and secure so we can continue to grow.”

Who are you when no one is watching?

“Complex (laughs). I talk to myself a lot. I’ve made friends in this quarantine with all the people that I’m with. But I think the bottom line, each day I wake up, the first thing I look at on my phone is if I received a phone call or text from my children. At the end of it all, what happens to become the strongest force in me and the strongest energy is that of being a mother.”

CHERIE GIL

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