Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Cherie Gil has decided to take a break. “This is a stage where I decided to ... slow down,” she says.
But you probably didn’t notice she’s on a break. And you wouldn’t notice too, if she didn’t say it outright. There’s a good reason for that.
The 56-year-old actress is a presence. That’s a testament to her commitment as an actress and how she has resided in our pop cultural consciousness as the quintessential Filipino kontrabida. Cherie Gil is the standard by which we judge our kontrabidas — onscreen and, perhaps, even in real life. It feels like she is always there, inflicting terror on countless onscreen heroes and heroines, even when she isn’t.
Case in point: In August, Cherie had a meniscal tear surgery on her knee. “I am now rebooted and given a clean bill of health along with a new pair of knees ready to face the next marathon of this new chapter of my life,” she wrote on an Instagram post after the surgery.
“Maybe it’s the universe telling me to slow down,” she says, months after the surgery.
Yet, Cherie didn’t really slow down after the surgery. Or, at least, not in the way you might normally define “slowing down.”
Three weeks after her knee surgery, she proceeded to shoot “Tia Madre,” an entry in the recently-concluded Cinema One Originals Film Festival that won Best Cinematography.
“Tia Madre ” is the debut film of director Eve Baswel. It is about a young girl named Camille (played by Jana Agoncillo) living with her mother (played by Cherie) who suddenly becomes violent and distant towards her daughter. It’s a horror movie that touches upon Pinoy folklore and, as film critic Philbert Dy puts it, violence and how it conflates with “the mystical aspects of living in the Philippines.” Gil met Eve at a filmmaking camp, where the actress was an acting teacher and the director was a student.
“The reason I did it is because I was curious to see how Eve can deliver what she visualized in the first place and how the young kids now work,” Gil says about working on the film.
She does not shy away from saying that filming the movie wasn’t easy. She was still recovering from her operation during filming, after all. And the shoot for the film was done out of town — in a location that requires a bit of a trek to reach — for three days straight. This isn’t common practice here, as T.V. soap operas and mainstream movies often do their shoots at least every other day.
But “Tia Madre” was an independent film — which means time and budget were limited — so the tight filming schedule was also expected.
“That’s my own personal journey,” she admits. “But I don’t know, maybe the universe just [chose] to throw everything at me all at the same time. As in major challenge.”
The actress says there were moments when she was tempted to “step in and interfere” and give the filming crew “my two cents’ worth.” She didn’t, because doing so might further complicate the filming process.
“So I decided to sit back and let them follow through their process,” she says.
Then, as one might expect from the Cherie Gil, she adds: “Of course, I would call out certain things that could have been different, hoping they could learn from it.”
At the end of it, though, she is just happy and proud of her director for what she has accomplished with “Tia Madre.”
“Personally, I believe in her potential,” she says of Eve, adding she makes it a point to support young female filmmakers. And young filmmakers and artists in general. “I think it’s a wonderful thing to support young artists because it gives us old-schoolers an opportunity to pass on [our knowledge],” she adds.
Surgery aside, 2019 has been an interesting, fruitful year for Gil. She won her first Gawad Urian, a Best Supporting Actress award for her role in “Citizen Jake,” a movie where she only did one sequence.
“After ‘Citizen Jake,’ all I got naman was cameo roles, puro one sequence!” she quips, referring to her roles in the two movies she appeared in this year: “Just A Stranger,” starring Anne Curtis and Marco Gumabao; and “Unbreakable,” starring Sarah Geronimo. The roles are basically cameos, but they are nonetheless memorable. “Sometimes, I just have to rise above the material,” she says.
Her “break” — “I decided to go back to what I can do without having to be too physical because of my surgery,” Gil says — has also allowed her to enter unchartered territory in her career as an artist.
She wrote a book.
As she announced on her Instagram page, the book is titled “Kontrabida Contradiva,” a play, of course, on the words that she’s built a career on. It’s an easy-to-read book, she says.
“They wanted me to come up with a memoir. And I said, wait, wala pa akong ending! I’m just starting my third chapter,” she says. “I just wanted the book to be fun.”
She initially wanted to write a textbook on acting — inspired by her stint as a judge in the GMA-7 talent competition show “Starstruck” and Ricky Lee’s own newly-released scriptwriting text.
“My background in learning my craft has been reading Konstantin Stanislavski, Lee Strasberg, reading Eric Morris, attending workshops in New York. What can I relate to these up and coming hopefuls in “Starstruck”? I can’t tell them to read Stanislavski! I can’t tell them to fly to New York and study Lee Strasberg. Hindi ko ma-explain ‘yung gusto kong sabihin!” Cherie says. (The show’s producers, who she says would often remind her to speak in Filipino instead of English, probably wouldn’t allow her to reference Stanislavski and Strasberg anyway.)
She further explains. “Sorry kung mayabang. Pero totoo naman. It’s not like I’m being a snob but that’s how much I have access and blessed to have access to that because I love what I do.”
So that became her inspiration to write a book — an Acting 101 manual for aspiring Filipino actors.
But when she talked to her publisher, writer Katrina Stuart-Santiago, to brainstorm the form of the book, Gil realized she has so many ideas. “What my publisher decided to do was create chapters on all of those topics as an initiation to the longer version,” she says.
While this textbook on acting is put on the back burner for now, she says the writing process of her forthcoming book has allowed her to think about her place in the industry as an actor.
For one, it made her realize her voice as a product, as the “kontrabida that I’ve brought myself to arrive to.”
“The journey of writing the book has come to that journey — from me knowing my brand to me understanding the difference,” she says.
“An actor should be most aware of her own being and her own growth, her own process. Otherwise, how can I penetrate any character I need to penetrate?”
Basically, this is what Cherie Gil is saying: there is a difference between Cherie Gil the brand and Cherie Gil the person.
When she is a kontrabida onscreen, or when she chides young actors for being unprofessional on set, or when she tells people not to call her tita in a now-viral social post — that’s Cherie Gil the brand.
But she is also Cherie Gil the person — the Cherie Gil who wants to wear her tsinelas instead of designer shoes and just be a “cowboy” and have fun.
“The person still has flaws. Everybody thinks I can be constantly the feisty, fierce bitch. But I play that and I kind of get that in my roles. And I kinda get that way in real life when things are not right and I think I have arrived to a place in my life where I can speak my mind. I don’t know it all, but I think there are certain things I can impart,” she explains. “Now, I do have my own vulnerabilities, my own weaknesses. I still have a part of me that is a woman who yearns. I am single. I have my children away. I am a mother. I’m still a person — I get sad, I get lonely, I also have doubts.”
She can compartmentalize between her two personas. “Because of that brand and because of how the people look up to me in that regard, I feel like I represent a certain generation of women my age who should not stop trying. We rise!”
Quoting the Helen Heddy song “I Am Woman,” she says: “I am woman, hear me roar!” It’s the first song she learned when she was 10 years old, she adds.
“The disadvantages now I think is having to keep up with that sort of brand. I’m beginning to come to a place in my life where I feel — how do I say this — that I can impart more of my experiences as a person playing an actor or playing Cherie Gil.”
“Cherie Gil is a role I have played. Cherie Gil is a part I have played and maybe I want to change the role na?”
Still, Gil reiterates that she wants to slow down. Besides the release of her book — the date of which will be announced soon — she has nothing in the pipeline.
She is set to do a movie with a major independent film company, though nothing is final yet. She also recently turned down a movie that required her to play a grandmother. “I don’t want to play a grandmother!” she says. Turning serious, she explains she is looking for something “more progressive” now, a role that’s empowering for women but is also in line with the brand people are used to seeing her.
“Now, I’m still looking for that next big step,” she says of her career.
“I try not to plan anything anymore. I just let things come as they come,” she adds. Apart from acting, she wants to explore other ventures that don’t require to be present all the time. She is on a break, after all.
“Maybe find some business? I don’t know. I’m at a respite at the moment,” she says.
She wants to spend time with her children — she has three, all living abroad. “I would love to take a break and be with the kids for a while.”
“They’re beautiful. They are amazing. In fact, they are growing so fast, maturing way ahead than I. Despite the distance, I try to get in touch with them. They know when I’m busy and I know when they’re busy, so I don’t push it. We know when we’re needed,” she says of her children.
She’s “purging” some of her belongings, too — something she hasn’t done since her separation from Roni Rogoff, her husband of 20 years, more than 10 years ago. “Now it’s my turn to fix things,” she says.
Gil also just got her house renovated. “So I’m just enjoying my house first. Finishing the little touches. Nesting,” she explains.
Then, as one would expect from Cherie Gil, she continues: “I hate it. I realize, hindi pala ako pang-homebody. I felt by renovating my house I’ll find myself nesting, staying home. No, I need to move.”
“I’m a gypsy. I don’t let the old woman in.”
Cherie Gil is on a break, but we’ll probably see a lot of her soon.
Styling by CARL PABILONA/QURATOR STUDIO
Makeup by TOR TORRE
Hairstyling by REY ARCIAGA
Video by SAMANTHA LEE
Produced by PORTIA LADRIDO