The Philippines’ best actress is someone you may have been sleeping on

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Shamaine Buencamino has over 94 T.V. and film credits, and it still doesn’t account for all of her work as an actress. She’s been a mother on screen to John Lloyd Cruz, to Bea Alonzo, to Julia Barretto. Her film "Sunshine Family" is currently in cinemas. Photos by JOSEPH PASCUAL

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — If you think you don’t know who Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino is, take a closer look. Her IMDb page runs a total of 94 T.V. and film credits, and it still doesn’t account for all of her work as an actress. She’s been a mother on screen to John Lloyd Cruz, to Bea Alonzo, to Julia Barretto. She’s been a fixture in beautiful indie films such as Loy Arcenas’ “Niño,” Lav Diaz’s “Ang Babaeng Humayo,” and Gian Abrahan’s “Paki.” She’s played parts in many successful running T.V. series, from “Tayong Dalawa” to “Ang Probinsyano.”

Now at the age of 54, Buencamino is brimming with even more possibility. She just finished her highly acclaimed role as Adela in the second run of Floy Quintos’ “The Kundiman Party,” which critics have said is one of her best performances to date. Her new film,  “Sunshine Family,” is out in theaters now. It is a mostly Korean-run production made in collaboration with Spring Films (the production studio behind “Kita Kita”), starring an entirely Filipino main cast.

In the film, Buencamino stars opposite her real-life husband Nonie. They portray a husband and wife with two kids who are set to head back to the Philippines after five years in South Korea. But as luck would have it, Nonie’s character is involved in a hit-and-run, and the rest of their time in Korea is spent trying to cover up the unfortunate incident. “It’s a story about OFWs, but it’s not your typical OFW story, because it’s pretty crazy,” says Buencamino with a laugh.



On the variation of media

If there’s anyone who’s familiar with stages and screens and the nuances of each one, it would be Buencamino. When asked what makes each medium challenging and endearing, she says quite candidly, “T.V. pays well. You know how it is. You keep saying the same thing over and over, especially if you’re on the outskirts of the main storyline.”

“Theater is our church as actors; it’s where we go to pray. It’s where we get in touch with ourselves. It’s ours,” she says. It reminded me of the time I saw her in Floy Quintos’ “Ang Kalungkutan Ng Mga Reyna.” Buencamino played Philippine dictator Yolanda Cadiz, who was enlisting the help of a royal hairdresser to turn her into a fitting monarch. She had a speech enlisting the reasons why a poor country needed a queen, and she was so beautifully convincing that many of us in the audience almost agreed with her. The stage truly was hers. Buencamino adds, “You’re creating every step of the way, and in that way, it really feeds your soul.”

Film, she says, immortalizes you. “Theater, once it’s done it’s gone. But in film you can go back and see yourself, what you looked like 15 years ago and how bad you still were. That’s something I treasure.”

One particular role she looks back on is the title character in Sigrid Andrea P. Bernardo’s “Lorna.” Released back in 2014, it was Buencamino’s first ever lead role, and one which required her to appear nude opposite Lav Diaz. “I didn’t realize how busy you are as a lead character, especially because we were making a full-length film in nine days,” she says. “I was already worried that I might not be giving enough in every single scene, and then I also had to be naked at this point in my life and career.”



On mental health

Much more vulnerable than just being physically naked, the last four years have shed a tough light on Buencamino and her family after losing her 15-year-old daughter Julia to undiagnosed depression. They started The Julia Buencamino Project, which provides resources for both carers and those suffering from mental illness, especially among the youth. In 2018, The Julia Buencamino Project staged two shows based on drawings and written work left behind by Julia, with an after forum featuring personalities battling mental illness and licensed psychiatric professionals.

In one of the shows, she interacted with voice recordings of Julia as a way to explore the mental state, to understand both as a mother and as a human being who’s never dealt with the intricacies of mental health. “I don’t know what it’s like to suffer like that or what that feels like, so it had to be in Julia’s voice. It had to come from Julia.” She adds, “Many of the kids we encounter are scared to tell their parents because they’re worried that it will be dismissed as arte or that mapapagalitan sila, so it’s important that we also get the adults to understand that this is real and it’s an illness.”

The rest of her family, says Buencamino, is on their own separate journeys. “My family is a little stressed that I’m doing this because it’s a very painful and private experience. But we’ve always been able to talk about Julia when it’s just us. I’m just the one who’s so open about it and I do discuss it casually, like this,” she explains.

“One of my sons, he understands that this is the way I heal. My husband and my daughter feel stressed for me. Every time we have a show, I get emotional and I go through her work, I cry more, and it’s only when I’m done that I’m able to release it.”.

She adds, “I feel that it’s a need. I need to do this. She left her work, and she went through that pain, and what she left made us understand what she was going through. And if this can make other people understand, then why not?”

Shamaine Buencamino on the set of "The Kundiman Party." Photo by JOSEPH PASCUAL

On age and possibility

Much of the feedback about Buencamino’s ability to harness emotion is that it seems to be sitting right at her chest, and she pulls it out with ease whenever she needs it. But she says her experiences in the last four years have brought her to a whole new spectrum of feeling.

“Before, when you’re working all of these different roles at different times, you had to squeeze out some emotions. May sense of piga,” she shares. “But now, I have to hold it in. You’re in so much pain that it’s easy to go overboard, and there’s a sense of trying to find balance.” She adds, “There’s always something to discover. You can’t say your lines the same way again and again from memory; you have to create where it’s coming from.”

She says the creative process has also turned into a much more enjoyable one with age. “I used to feel like I always had to prove myself. But as you mature as a performer, you realize that the challenge is in creation, not in performance. So your focus becomes creating, not in trying to please or impress the audience. Which makes it more productive, I think, because you’re working on what you can control. Whether an audience likes you or not is beyond your control.”

Buencamino pauses thoughtfully, saying, “When I was very young, I thought the most exciting part about doing a play was when you feel validated at the end by applause. But when you grow older, the validation comes with being able to enjoy your work.”