COVER STORY

The comic chemistry of Judy Ann Santos and Angelica Panganiban

The two actresses share their experiences while making “Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes,” a film that seeks to widen the perspectives of its audiences regarding the LGBTQ community.

 

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Walking into a conference room-turned-makeshift studio in the offices of Star Cinema, Angelica Panganiban is a commanding presence, but one that radiates warmth and grace. Judy Ann Santos follows, sipping from a Starbucks cup that’s now perhaps a bit too red and festive for mid-January. She sits on one of the stray office chairs and takes a breath. “Sorry,” she says. “Hindi kami kasi sanay na may [work] ng Sundays.”

It’s the early afternoon, and following an appearance on variety show “ASAP” and our photoshoot, the two actresses are off to a couple of mall shows to promote their new movie, “Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes.” But Panganiban’s bubbly energy is infectious, and as she and Santos exchange banter and laughter, they appear only to be having the time of their lives.

In “Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes,” directed by Jun Robles Lana, Santos and Panganiban play a pair of wives who find out their husbands (JC de Vera and recent “Deadma Walking” star Joross Gamboa) are having an affair and decide to work together to get revenge. Rounding out the cast is Santos’ longtime friend and “Mara Clara” co-star Gladys Reyes, who, this time, plays her best friend — the furthest thing from a kontrabida.

Lana’s previous film, “Die Beautiful,” also explores LGBTQ-related themes, revolving around the life and death of a trans woman and her dreams of conquering the gay pageant circuit. It was an entry to the 2016 Metro Manila Film Festival and premiered at the 29th Tokyo International Film Festival, taking home Best Actor and Audience Choice Awards from both organizations.

ECD 5.jpg In “Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes,” directed by Jun Robles Lana, Santos and Panganiban play a pair of wives who find out their husbands (JC de Vera and recent “Deadma Walking” star Joross Gamboa) are having an affair and decide to work together to get revenge. Photo by SHAIRA LUNA

Part of filming took place in Taiwan, and according to Santos, shooting in a different city allowed her to get to know her fellow actors well. “Kapag nag-shoot ka sa ibang bansa,” she says, “dun mo malalaman ‘yung characters ng mga kasama mo.” It may have only been two or three days, most of which they spent traveling and walking around, but she stresses: “You learn so much. So many new things sa mga artistang kasama mo, kung hanggang saan sila pwedeng pakisamahan.” 

Reading the script, she instantly noticed that there’s a lot more to the story than the punchlines. “‘Dapat talaga, nandiyan ako, eh,’” she remembers thinking. “‘Yun ‘yung dating sa akin ng pelikula.” Marking her return to Star Cinema, and working with a major production company in general, after five years, “Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes” turned out to be a worthy experience. “Thank God,” Santos says. “Hindi siya trauma. Hindi siya ‘yung, ‘Ayoko muna yatang gumawa uli ng pelikula. Last na muna ‘to, after five years na ulit.’” She laughs. “Hindi naman. In fairness, nag-enjoy ako nang sobra.”

Working with Lana allowed them to figure out how to best flesh out their characters and how they would react to certain situations. “Kalmadong-kalmado siya,” says Panganiban of the director. “Sasabihin niya ‘yung gusto niya, straightforward siyang direktor. Hindi siya magpapaliguy-ligoy.

May mga moments na alam mong iisa kayo ng isip,” Santos adds. “Ang maganda sa kanya, may free will, ‘yung hinahayaan niya kaming magkaroon ng parang free-flowing banter ni Angelica.” This led to many improvised and thrown-in lines. “Marami!” she laughs. “Kaya ang hirap mag-dub! Hindi kami makasunod, eh.”

Being in front of the camera with Panganiban was fun and unpredictable for Santos, who prefers a more natural approach to comedy. “Sa kanya ka lang huhugot, eh,” she says. “‘Ah, saan papunta ‘tong salita na ‘to? O, dun din ako.’ Sunud-sunuran ako sa kanya pagdating sa punchline.”

To which Panganiban, funny even on her feet, quips: “Papabayad ako sayo, a.”

IMG_1139 copy copy (1).jpg “Ang maganda sa kanya, may free will, ‘yung hinahayaan niya kaming magkaroon ng parang free-flowing banter ni Angelica,” says Judy Ann Santos on Jun Robles Lana, the director of “Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes.” Photo by SHAIRA LUNA

The comedic timing of the actresses bounces off the two of them, whether they’re commenting on the look for the shoot (“Parang pang-[fabric conditioner commercial],” Santos points out) or on each other’s answers (“Napabilib mo ako, ah!” Panganiban tells her co-star). Both, of course, had grown up in the limelight as child stars. Panganiban observes that both of them are open books. “Ang tagal na namin sa industriya,” she says. “So na-witness [na ng mga tao] kung ano talaga kami.”

They last worked together 16 years ago on the 2001 teleserye Sa Puso Ko Iingatan Ka.” At the time, Santos recalls, “Bata pa si Angelica. Wala pa akong family noon.”

Now, with a lot of life experience between them, and playing characters that are able to reflect their emergence as well-adjusted adults who are nonetheless still trying to figure it all out, Santos shares that she believes Panganiban has come into her own. “Napanood ko ‘yung journey niya, eh,” she says. “Kung paano siya nag-transition from a child dramatic actress to teenage star to comedian na bume-Best Actress. Ang sarap panoorin.

Ito dapat ang maglabas ng libro,” she continues, nudging Panganiban. “Naku, siguro talagang napaka-kulay ng libro nitong tao na ’to!

Tsaka marami raw, parang Harry Potter,” Panganiban says.

Ganun, may magic?”

Hindi!” Panganiban laughs. “Maraming part! ‘Yung series.”

When I ask what makes “Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes” stand out among the projects and movies they’ve done before, Panganiban singles out the writing, which she calls smart and sharp. “Hindi siya ‘yung basta-bastang drama na mapapaiyak tayo, hindi siya ‘yung comedy na typical na napapanood natin,” she says. “Talagang alam mong pinag-tuunan ng pansin ng mga taong nagsulat.”

The film hinges on its interesting premise, in which two very different women are united by this situation they’ve found themselves in. But it also handles the other side of the story — particularly the LGBTQ aspect — with empathy.

Photo-11 (14).jpg Panganiban singles out the writing, which she calls smart and sharp. “Hindi siya ‘yung basta-bastang drama na mapapaiyak tayo, hindi siya ‘yung comedy na typical na napapanood natin,” she says. Photo by SHAIRA LUNA

 

 

Dito makikita kung paano ‘yung independence ng isang babae,” Panganiban says. “Kapag iniwan ka, paano ba? Paano ba bumabangon ang isang babae?” It was important for their characters to be able to display not only strength, but also compassion. “[Tinatanggap nila] na ganun ang mga asawa nila [at] hindi nila kailangang magalit sa lahat ng mga bakla,” she adds. “Talagang ang point lang naman dito, ‘Niloko niyo kami.’”  

Santos lauds the film particularly for its sensitivity. “In all forms, ha, hindi lang sa babae,” she says. “Sa lahat ng gender. You’d really understand where everybody is coming from.” The script doesn’t seek to offend, but to offer insight: “‘Ah, OK, oo nga naman, may point.’ Kasi nagmamahalan.”

Working on the project became an important learning experience for its leads. “This is how we should understand the LGBT community,” Santos says. “Marami siyang layers na kailangan mong intindihin.”

She wants to do away with the basic presumption of “girl, boy, bakla, tomboy,” and is glad to note that the concept of being transgender has entered a wider consciousness in the country. She is quick, however, to insist that it’s not enough. “Hindi lahat alam ang difference ng transgender sa transsexual, sa bisexual [at iba pa],” Santos observes. “Isa ’yun sa mga in-explain [sa pelikula]. Nakakatuwa kasi,  Na-educate kami in so many ways.”

Mas lalong tumaas ‘yung respeto namin [sa LGBT community],” Panganiban adds.

ECD 2.jpg Working on the project became an important learning experience for its leads. “This is how we should understand the LGBT community,” Santos says. “Marami siyang layers na kailangan mong intindihin.” Photo by SHAIRA LUNA  

Santos hopes that “Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes” widens the perspectives of its audiences regarding the subject matter. “Huwag masyadong mababaw ‘yung pag-iintindi,” she says. “Hindi naman namin hinihingi na, you know, ‘get an encyclopedia and look it up.’”

The actresses go on to say that the film may even warrant a second viewing. “May mga punchlines silang mami-miss for sure [the first time around],” Santos says. “It’s just that you have to feel the movie for you to understand the punchlines.”

Panganiban anticipates that the movie will be the type that stirs a conversation. “Ito ‘yung pelikulang ‘pag lumabas ka, gusto niyong mag-kape after o iinom kayo after dahil pag-uusapan niyo.

Santos agrees, but she predicts something on a grander scale. “Magiging classic siya,” she declares, unwavering. “You’d still want to watch it over and over again.”

Oo,” Panganiban nods. “Ito ‘yung after mga ilang years, babalikan mo na, ‘Itong pelikulang ’to, ang ganda nga talaga.’”

 

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Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes” opens on Jan. 17 in cinemas nationwide.

 

Credits: Makeup by Mikka Marcaida for NARS  (Angelica Panganiban) and Juan Sarte (Judy Ann Santos).