Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Andi Eigenmann didn’t quit being an actress. She only quit the forced artista part that she’s learned not to subscribe to through the years. She still wants to be in films (she’s still in contract with Viva Artists Agency and ABS-CBN), as she clarified in a candid conversation one Monday afternoon, a week after reports of her quitting showbiz circulated on news sites and social media.
The whole thing seems to have started with an incident where Eigenmann refused to take a picture with a fan who approached her at an airport.
“The thing was that the articles that you saw online were picked up over a conversation [on Instagram] between a stranger. I didn’t even know who that person was,” says Eigenmann. “I just felt the need to defend myself because it was actually a topic that I’ve always been affected by. But in terms of quitting showbiz, I just want to clarify that I’m not leaving the film industry, that’s something that’s already a part of who I am,” she says.
“I was born into the film industry and acting and filmmaking is something that I’ll always be passionate about. It’s just that I feel that I grew out of that whole showbiz stigma, I don’t want to force myself to be perceived as a person [who] I’m really not,” says Eigenmann. “I just want to be known for what I do as an actor and not be defined by who they think I am based on the news. Being an actor is something that I’ll always be. [But] ‘yun, I don’t want to be a star,” she adds, laughing.
Though Eigenmann has had significant roles in major T.V. shows and films, such as “Camp Sawi,” “Dyesebel,” and the award-winning “Ma’Rosa” in which her mother, Jaclyn Jose, won Best Actress at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival (and also landed Eigenmann a Best Dressed nod for walking the Cannes red carpet from Vanity Fair, alongside Charlize Theron, Kirsten Dunst, and Juliette Binoche), she feels like her body of work hasn’t proven her mettle as an actress.
In fact, “Ma’Rosa” — where she played Jose’s daughter scrambling for money to get their parents out of jail — seems to be a special film in her career. “‘Ma’Rosa’ is something that I actually connected to. I understood, kung baga ako ‘yung audience niya. And it's something that I believe I can talk about to people.”
The subject of film and filmmaking gets her going. After a lengthy conversation about her controversial decision to quit being a star, we wound up talking about her mom’s films (“‘Itanong Mo Sa Buwan’ was ‘Gone Girl’ before the book and the movie came out! Ang ganda ‘nun!”) and the kind of roles that Filipino actresses usually get (“Before, if you did a sexy movie, you were just an actress, ngayon, if you do that sexy star ka na.”) while confessing that she hasn’t been able to watch current films since classic Filipino films fascinate her more (“Ang gaganda ng roles noon!”).
Eigenmann has always been outspoken about what she thinks about the industry, and it has, most of the time, gotten her into trouble. A quick Google search yields articles about her bitter custody battle with Jake Ejercito over their five-year-old daughter Ellie, items about a person she’s referring to in a tweet, or responding to criticisms online.
In a 2013 Rogue Magazine cover profile on her, Eigenmann has been described as such: “Local tabloid press have labeled her rude and haughty (the accusation thrown at most articulate artistas), boy-crazy and possibly promiscuous (she’s a single mom!), ungrateful and impatient (how dare she not dignify their below-the-belt questioning). But the one thing no one can say is she’s not forthcoming.”
She says, “I didn’t even give myself a chance to be known for what I like to do. I used to play basketball for nine years, I also do martial arts, and I love to surf. But nobody cares. All they care about is the way that I look and that I will look good enough in society’s eyes; that I can be a leading lady that they’ve always molded or thought that I was. I’m no star; I’m just a normal human being who wants to fight for what I believe in.”
“In short, hindi naman sa iniiwan ko ‘yung film industry pero ayaw ko na ng showbiz,” Eigenmann adds.
Over coffee, CNN Philippines Life sat down with the actress who talked about how she made this decision, how she found herself in the midst of controversy, and what she’ll be doing next. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.
Was this decision a long time coming? That you want to quit being an artista, and focus on your career as an actress?
It’s been two years since I was brave enough to go into my manager’s office, Viva Artist Agency, and tell them that, and lumabas talaga sa bibig ko na I’m not happy anymore. I felt like I wanted to take a break from it.
Between then and now, what happened?
I feel like it’s because I was born into the industry, having parents who are actors. I was raised with that mentality that this is where I belong. I got into it at 17 years old, even more, I [have not] gotten to know who I really was. All I knew was that I was gonna apply for film in UP Diliman and before I was even able to enroll, they hired me for a launching T.V. show. And because filmmaking is the only thing that I was sure of, that I was interested in, why would I say no to that? It was an opportunity to get myself in the industry and be known.
From the time you started acting until now, did you ever have a chance to realize that dream?
No. Not even. Just because I was never brave enough to do so. I felt staying in your comfort zone is the way to go. That’s all I know how to do. It’s been 10 years since I’ve been in the industry and that’s all I’ve known. It resulted to me being depressed, not really being happy. I’d always get into trouble; I’d always be on the news, which is something people thought I liked. That’s a common misconception about me. I don’t know why people like talking about my personal life when I don’t really like people meddling in my personal life. Being depressed and wanting to alienate myself from that whole … thing … allowed me to give myself the opportunity to try and explore.
I didn’t do any T.V. shows for two years up until last year. Those two years was just me traveling, soul searching, finding myself. [But] I still found my way back. I felt like maybe now that I know who I am, it’ll be easier. But it still wasn’t.
During the whole time you're in showbiz, did you think that you didn’t have an opportunity to develop as a person because there’s pressure and that you’re the daughter of famous actors?
Yes. Exactly. And to be a star, it’s very different from Hollywood. This is me. This is who I am — I have curly hair, I have lots of freckles, I popped my pimple, and I have tattoos in my arms. But that’s not how you should look like if you want to be a star. It’s because I was launched before figuring out who I was as a person, it wasn’t so hard for me to say yes to everything. To allow them to dress me up, to be the person that people will idolize. That typical .. star [laughs] with big, long hair.
I was not allowed to step out of my house without makeup. If it was time for mall tours and [I] see my fans, they would ask me, “Ba’t ganyan itsura mo? Ikaw talaga!” Because I will not be idolized anymore if people see that this is the way that I look like in real life, like this, that I don’t like to dress up and wear revealing clothes. I like to be comfortable but that wasn’t accepted in the industry. They said, dapat ganyan, dapat kang makinig.
As I grew older, I realized that I don’t want to force myself into this anymore because it just doesn’t … it doesn’t really abide by my values as a human being. And I’m all about being myself. I don’t want to pretend that I enjoy being a mistress on T.V. [and movies] when I’m a feminist who thinks that the most shallow thing is to watch us on T.V. fight over a guy. Why is that the only topic there is that people would seem to buy into? Sabi ko, ayaw ko na. Ayaw ko nang ipilit ‘yung sarili ko.
How did that create a strain in your career? You’re at this breaking point where you don’t like what you’re doing, so how did that affect your work?
I feel like, first of all, I was 22 years old when I gave birth to my daughter Ellie, but because people couldn’t get in on every detail of that bit of my life, I was in the wrong. Because I have a daughter, a party girl, probably a rebel, or whatnot. I had a daughter because I was in love and that was the fruit [Laughs]. Yeah fine, but I didn’t expect [...] I faced ridicule because of it. Because we live in a patriarchal society where a woman with no man cannot stand by herself.
People blamed me for wrongfully accusing my first boyfriend of being the father when I never went on the news to say that he was. I was crying on the news because nobody wanted to be there with me and say that he was the father. I was crying on the news because I was physically abused but nobody made him apologize to me, when everybody makes me apologize to him for losing his career. It’s so ironic when these are the same people that say, ‘Hey, you have to be grateful that you have us because if you don’t, you will be nowhere.’ But how come I’m at fault for taking the career of Albie [Casiño]? Only me?
You know, these people in my past, I don’t hate them. I love them. I’ve forgiven them. They were a part of my life for a reason. And maybe they’re also [instrumental in] how I’ve become the person who I am today. But it’s the people around, ‘yung mga sawsawera, ‘yun ‘yung mahirap. And that is brought to me by showbiz [Laughs].
What do you think was the most unfair thing that was said about you?
It’s all the sexism in the industry. Na, wala akong karapatan na i-idolize ako ng mga tao, na i-admire ako ng mga tao because nagka-anak ako out of wedlock. Because in this society, it’s modesty that gets you to be admired by everyone. How come a woman can’t be admired because she’s strong? Because she’s so flawed, and amid her flaws, she can stand by who she really is and she can fight for what she believes? How come a woman can’t be admired because she has a mind and she is where she is because she wants to inspire?
I don’t want to inspire based on the way that I look [or] because I want to pretend that I’m the next Mother Teresa. I want to inspire based on what I can do. I don't want to just entertain people. I'm not here because I want to become rich. I don't need that. I'm in this industry because I want to be able to share, to express myself through art, and allow people's hearts to be touched by what we do, as filmmakers. I'm not going to compete for the spot at the top because I want to have everything, I want to be famous. No. I was never in it for that and that's one thing people never really realized about me is that I never wanted to be famous. I'm a quiet person [Laughs]. I do not like to be the center of attention. I just really love the art.
But somehow, I don't deserve to be recognized for it because I don't know ... because I've made mistakes? Because I'm a human being and because I'm not afraid to filter out my authenticity to the public, diba? [Laughs]
Sobrang excited ako for this by the way because it's the first time that I'm actually going to be interviewed for who I am. Like, dati tanong lang sa'kin, paano ka pumayat? ‘Yun lang ‘yung generic question.
And every time you’re doing interviews or covers, it's always related to something that you're doing.
Yeah, exactly. It's always related to a project that I'm doing now, na walang kinalaman, connection sa'kin or sa issue or may controversy na naman about me. Now no one cares about me, now I'm irrelevant because I live a peaceful life with my boyfriend and my daughter, now no one cares, diba? And I don't mind [Laughs]. But it's sad because it talks not about me but about the people.
So what are the films that you’ve done that you hold dear to your heart?
I heard that it really was a turning point in your life, in your career, to know that these are the kind of movies that you wanted to do. So after “Ma’Rosa” what were the steps that you took toward making the same kind of films?
Well, actually, I'll go backwards, the steps that I took to get to “Ma’Rosa” kasi wala pa naman akong ginagawa since then, but I want to clarify also that I really am proud of “Ma’Rosa,” not because I think that it's the only good movie that I did or it's the only thing that I believe in, [but] because everything is art in its own form.
And I feel like I wouldn't even have gotten that if not for my mom. As much as I want to take steps [...] I don't know, nobody seemed to care because I can only bag roles that are connected to what they know of me and what they know of me is not really what I want to be defined by as an artist … so ang hirap.
Like, I'll give you an example. There's this film that's set in an island that they were filming and they inquired for me to portray the role of the lead. Inquiry lang. But when I read it, she's like a blogger who doesn't really know how to surf, who's exploring and finding herself. And I'm like, I cannot really relate to this person, to this character at all. But I read there was another character of a surfer. It was a secondary role but it wasn't the one that was offered to me but it's what I wanted. But they never made me an option for that. They never got back to me but they also never made me an option for that role when in reality, that's more me. That's more bagay for me.
I feel like I wasted so much time trying to conform and trying to please other people that it's now time to start making myself happy. So I want to be able to let the world know who I really am and who I want to be as an artist.
How do you think this will affect your career?
I think, probably I'd have nothing after this. [Laughs]. I don't know. I really don't know. Honestly. I made this decision knowing that I don't know what the future will bring but I know that it's always going to be better to just believe in myself, to just listen to what I want. Changes sometimes, it could be good. And my life isn't going to be the same. I'm not gonna live as glamorous of a lifestyle but I never ... I was never like that in the first place. Now my life is so much simpler. And I couldn't be happier.
Even if people are just going to say “Ayaw mo na mag-artista kasi laos ka na.” Why is it that if you're not famous anymore, it seems that the person should be damaged? Fame is not the key. I don't understand why people think that the solution to become successful in this country is to become famous. No, the solution to become happy and to be successful in life is to work hard for what you believe you love to do, diba? Kainis. [Laughs]
What kind of roles do you really want to do?
Feeling ko I wouldn't be able to choose. It's just more of I just want storylines that I really believe in. Kahit pa isang eksena lang ako diyan, okay lang, basta maging part ako ng production na talagang pinapaniwalaan ko, na ‘yung art form naiintindihan ko. Example, maybe action is something that I want to get into just because I love martial arts. Maybe I want to do something like example “Kill Bill,” that's a dream role or something like be a superhero in Marvel.
If I'm going to take on really making a film, what speaks more to me [are] coming of age films and [dialogue-driven films] where I can portray women as real people, not real as in they're smart or that they are strong, as in how women really are — that they're not just about being pretty.
I also want to do something that talks about the skater kids in manila or grommets in surf spots. Something like “Lords of Dogtown”!
How did your actual fans support you throughout?
I am thankful and I love them and I am grateful for them. And I'm happy that most, some of them are actually still there. They may not see me on T.V. but they're still there. And there's this one fan of mine, she even commented on one of those bashers and said, “When you get a picture with her, do you even know what her next project is or what her film or anything about her filmography? Do you even know her personality, or what food she likes to eat? So you can't really be saying that you're a fan that's been disrespected because maybe you're doing that [because] she's an actress and you can post it on Instagram to show the world.” Sinabi ‘yun ng fan ko and sobrang ako, wow ang galing na naisip niyang sabihin ‘yun.
Hindi ako galit sa kanila, dun sa mga taong nagpa-pa-picture lang and hindi naman talaga fan pero ‘yung sa ‘kin is, malamang I care more about those who care about who I am, who approach me because they admire what I do, not because I look pretty and I'm an artista and they can get a picture with me. I even get shamed for not dressing appropriately. They're like, “Ano ba yan ba’t ganyan naman ‘yan, anong klaseng artista ‘yan?” Why? Because I owe for you to what? Kailangan ma-accept ko ‘yung standard mo of beauty? I don't care. Don't go on my Instagram page. I don't need you supporting me because I don't need a quantity or for everybody, you can't please everybody in this world. I just need for people to admire me, for people to be there for me because they like me for who I am.
Are you actively looking for film roles now or are you just taking your time and enjoying your life?
I'm just an employee so I have no choice but to wait for someone but I really hope, no? I have friends and I really hope that somehow there will be something for me that I can really be proud of, just like my parents. Ang dami kaya nilang magagandang pelikula tapos ‘yun ‘yung pinasok sa industriya eh, ‘yung ganon. Wala pa rin akong nagagawa, 'wag mo sabihin [na] kabit lang ako lagi. Maghihintay lang talaga ako pero parang ginagawa ko what I can, what I have control over like I'm launching a website, a blog, “Mermaid Wanders,” so I'm going to become a lifestyle blogger. I'm going to talk about how it is living in the islands in the Philippines because that's more where I am now, not so much here in Manila. And other than that, maybe sa tourism makakatulong. ‘Yung mga ibang tao from around the world, it will help them get to know the Philippines and the beauty of the islands more. It's also more about raising awareness for people who actually live in these islands.
What kind of message do you want to tell the showbiz industry with your quitting of the artista culture? What has the response been like from your fellow actors?
It’s not really to say that there is something wrong with the industry. I guess, it’s just more of realizing that I don’t fall under the category if I’m being myself, in that case, I’m also hoping for more diversity. For them to allow more types [of] actors to get the chance to be seen and heard. Like, the older ones for example. It seems you won’t really hear of newbie actors who are already in their 40s here in the country. We mostly just have veterans who have been around [for a long time].