Angel Aquino: ‘There are still a lot of norms that hinder women from being themselves’

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Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Angel Aquino spent two or three months debating whether or not she should say yes to “Glorious.”

“There were a lot of uncertainties, and hesitations, reluctance, lahat na,” says the actress. “First of all, because I’m no longer young — but that is the whole story, isn’t it?”

“Glorious” was released exclusively online this month, breaking ground as the initial offering from the newly rebranded streaming service iWant. Aquino plays Glory, who, after recovering from the removal of a tumor, experiences renewed faith and a lust for life. She also meets and enters into a relationship with a younger man named Niko, played by Tony Labrusca.

Within 24 hours of coming out, its trailer, which was described as “steamy” and “passionate,” had reached over eight million views.

“She’s not a young woman,” Aquino says of her character. “She’s in her 50s. She doesn’t feel confident about herself, her body, her being. She’s just walking through life asleep, that’s how it felt, and she didn’t realize that until Niko came along.” Part of her inhibition came from her understanding that Glory was quite a demanding role, in terms of depth and emotion. “I wasn’t sure that I could actually do it. I didn’t think I could fulfill and deliver.”

Photo by JL JAVIER. Dress by THE EDIT.

Deo Endrinal of Dreamscape Entertainment, which produced the film, thought differently. He believed in her and told her as much. “He said, ‘I can’t think of anyone else to do this.’”

In the end, what really convinced Aquino to do “Glorious” was writer and director Connie Macatuno’s vision for the movie and her character Glory. “When I read the script, I said, ‘She can’t just [do that], she has a family!’” she recalls. “We couldn’t just shrug that off.” But Macatuno reassured her that Glory’s complexities would be seen in her nuances — that there was more to it than just jumping into something more reckless and exciting.

“[Macatuno] said, ‘I want this light, ayoko ng serious. I don’t want a sad, serious woman. I want a woman who wants to jump-start her life again,’” Aquino says. “She said, ‘I don’t want body-shaming or age-shaming.’ This is the message that we’re going to give women, that you should never be ashamed of your body or your age.”

“That’s what appealed to me,” she continues. “She’s not a crying mom, or a suffering woman. Whatever conflict this woman has, it’s all internal. But she wants to greet the world with a smile on her face, every day she wakes up.”

When Aquino considers a new venture, she looks at the weight of her character as a person, how well-developed she is, and how she fits into the greater scope of the project. There has to be humanity, redemption, goodness — even for a kontrabida, which most audiences would know is actually something she can pull off with her signature grace and the right amount of unexpected menace.

“I just know when I can’t pass up a role,” she says. “I know it when she means something to the production, and she means something to me.”

In a sit-down with CNN Philippines Life, Aquino opened up about how much of herself she sees in Glory, the importance of art and fiction in social commentary, and perceptions of beauty and womanhood. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

Photo by JL JAVIER. Jumpsuit by ARAW THE LINE.

To start off, can you tell me about your experience shooting “Glorious”?

It was my first time to work with direk Connie. She had directed me as a host, but not as an actress. I think she has interesting stories to tell. I like her vibe. She was very light, she was very straightforward, and I said, “Okay, if I decide to do this, I want everyone to commit. I don’t want any half-baked love scenes.” We all knew that this would require a lot of physical actions and scenes. I said, “Let’s just trust each other.” And I saw that everyone was on the same page. We all just took a leap of faith.

In the beginning they wanted a new actor. And then we said, “Why don’t we try someone who’s not exactly a first-timer, but who’s not so known?” A fresh face. So I gave some names, and luckily, Tony said yes. Sabi ko, “This guy has a lot of potential.” And I saw that — he did not disappoint.

He seems to be building up a good career with the material he’s been choosing to work with.

Yeah. I like the path that he chose. He wants to be an actor, and not just a boy-next-door, or a leading man. So that gives him a lot of versatility, and it’s good for him. At saka, this will give him longevity.

How hands-on were you in creating Glory?

Well, Glory is a lot of different women put together. I see myself in her, I see my mother in her, I see my friend in her. Alam mo ‘yun? Because, women, halos pare-pareho tayo ng pinagdadaanan, and it’s just how we handle things that makes a difference.

I like how she just wanted to feel alive again, so she just took that leap. She bit the bullet and just did it. And I think she did it because, I feel, everybody should really decide on their own happiness and how they want to live their lives.

I always try to be hands-on [with my characters]. It’s you who will be seen on-screen. Ako, I try to make sure I give a lot of input to my character and I create her from the feet up. You’ll be the foundation, so dapat solid.

Photo by JL JAVIER. Dress by THE EDIT.

The trailer for “Glorious” went viral, earning millions of views within days, and your kissing scene with Tony even became a meme. How did it you react to it?

Wala kasi akong social media. I have Instagram, and I don’t know if I’m just really lazy, but I don’t really post a lot and I don’t really review comments. Maybe I should start doing that, but I think that’s how I keep my life simple. Ever since I got into this business, I didn’t want to be affected by what other people say, so I’d rather not know. [Laughs]

But the memes get forwarded to me via Viber, especially the positive ones, napapadala sakin. It’s fascinating. I did not expect it to create this much noise.

There’s been a great shift to streaming-only entertainment these past few years, and the Philippines is slowly catching on. What’s your opinion on this? What does it mean in terms of production, and from the side of consumption?

For us actors, it’s good because it’s another platform. It’s another venue for us, [which means] more employment, not just for the actors, but for the crew and staff also. Before, with movies and T.V., if you’re not [cast], people forget you’re around. But now, there’s a bigger demand for actors.

For the market naman, I think it has shifted because of work schedules. Now we have people who work at night. We all have erratic schedules, and [sometimes] you just want to stay home. I think this can be an answer to piracy. Kasi you can get it on your mobile, you can pause it, if you really like it, you can watch it again, and you don’t have to pay again. You don’t have to line up again or go through traffic. Hindi na siya masyadong hassle, everything’s convenient.

How has it been for you, working on “Ang Probinsyano”? Especially given that it’s such a long-running show that tries to reflect Philippine culture and society as it happens.

I’ve never been on any set like this. It’s alive, I kid you not. It’s a living set and a living soap. I love that I’m part of it, kasi you’re part of the process. You’re not just an actor there. Coco [Martin] would write the scene on set and he would get ideas from everybody, that’s what I like about it. Everyone feels like they’re part of a family, so I don’t know how it would feel to be on another set after it.

Photo by JL JAVIER. Dress by THE EDIT.

What do you think of the current issue it’s facing, where the PNP’s accusing it of painting them in a negative light?

These are created situations that reflect [what we see]. Art imitates life, so what you see there could possibly be happening. Sabi nga namin, batu-bato sa langit, ang tamaan, ‘wag magalit. These are situations that we’ve seen, they have happened before, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re happening now, ‘di ba? Why are they getting so upset? Why do they feel offended or slighted by what we’re doing on the show?

We artists also have our social responsibilities, and this is our way of expressing how we feel about certain situations. Bahala ka na how you want to take that — it’s just so sad that they’re taking it [that way].

It should at least get them thinking.

‘Di ba? It should! It should be a call to action. It’s a way of examining society and how you’re participating in it as a citizen.

You’ve also made a lot of independent films and worked with auteurs like Lav Diaz and Adolf Alix. Do you enjoy being able to move from one area of entertainment to the other? How different are they for you?

The process is different, but with “Ang Probinsyano,” it’s living art na rin, like indie cinema. It’s not like you have a hard copy of a script, and then you go by that. Hindi nagiging mundane ‘yung process because it changes a lot.

And that’s how a lot of indie processes are. You’re just thrown in there, and bahala ka na. You have to be flexible and be able to work with different minds and different styles. I really enjoy being able to flow from one to another, because it keeps your feet on the ground, and also it’s a good exercise for your skill and to see your limits, if you can push the envelope. I like the balance, I like to disturb the water every now and then.

With [Lav and Adolf], you really feel that you’re part of the whole process. So much more is demanded of you — you’re there for a reason. They got you to play this part and be part of this production for a reason. It sparks a lot of fire in you. You get to experiment.

Photo by JL JAVIER. Dress by ARAW THE LINE.

Going back to “Glorious.” How important is a movie like it in today’s landscape, especially in a country like the Philippines? What does it say about womanhood and the agency of women in this day and age?

I think that here, in the Philippines, we’ve come far. Women are [acknowledged as] a powerful component in society, and men are recognizing that and giving way. Which is good, but there are still a lot of norms and judgment that hinder women from being themselves.

I’m happy that this platform gives a little more freedom for filmmakers to tell their stories and to express themselves and their sentiments kasi it will reach people and make them think [about] these things. May ganung disturbance. I’m glad I’m part of that movement, a proponent of the future of cinema, and production, and expression, and the way people view [certain topics].

It encourages freedom for women. Freedom to be themselves, just to be — it’s so important. Women before us had a hard time just being themselves. With that comes a great responsibility also, so let’s hope that women make the right decisions and make good use of this freedom and empowerment.

There have been posts going around with photos of you captioned along the lines of “I can’t believe she’s in her 40s! What water is she drinking?” How does that make you feel?

[Laughs] Of course, it’s very flattering that people think I look younger than my age, I want to thank them for that. It gives me a really nice feeling, but it also puts a lot of pressure [on me], like, “Oh, gosh, I have to keep this up.” I’ve always been the type to just live day by day, and to believe that a smile can make anybody beautiful and look younger, so I just make sure I always smile kasi it’s an instant face lift. It’s all about what’s in your heart and the people you surround yourself with. If you feel good, you look good.

There’s also that idea of, “Why should it be surprising that a woman beyond her 30s can look beautiful at her age?”

Kasi siguro we’re used to women being mothers, and mothers are [seen as homely]. Mukha ka nang nanay, losyang ka na, ganun. I remember, I’ve always seen my mother as a mother, but never as a young, beautiful woman. So when I saw pictures of her from when we were younger again, I never realized that I have a very beautiful mother. Ngayon ko na lang nakikita na ang ganda-ganda pala ng nanay ko. I didn’t see her as an individual. She was my mother, who nurtured me and washed my clothes and prepared my dinner. But now, it’s good that women are seen as themselves, as all the other roles that they play.


Styling by Chica Villarta

Makeup by Avril Seguin

Hair styling by Ivan Deney