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Take Five

The blossoming of Charo Santos continues

Charo Santos-Concio hasn’t really left the ABS-CBN building. Far from it. Although she retired as the Kapamilya network’s president last December, she has stayed on as its chief content officer, aside from being the president of the ABS-CBN University.

She still reports to the office regularly, but has somehow found the time for other pursuits. On top of high-profile endorsement deals, Charo staged what was described by director (and former classmate) Jose Javier Reyes as the “comeback to end all comebacks.”

After a 17-year-absence from the big screen, she returns with Lav Diaz’s “Ang Babaeng Humayo,” which won the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival. “The Woman Who Left” is sooo back.

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In this interview, the usually reserved and soft-spoken actress-slash-network executive turns candid—chatting about the past, the present and the future with surprising humor.

Interestingly, she mentions working with Lav and parasailing in the same breath—as if both activities involve the same amount of risk-taking and derring-do. She is also into more soothing hobbies, like swimming and Ashtanga yoga these days.

For her birthday last Oct. 27, her staff gifted her with ikebana lessons in Japan.

Does she intend to set up a flower shop, too?

The blossoming of Ma’am Charo continues…

What’s life like for you after retirement? I am dabbling in so many things, but I am having fun. It’s not very stressful because I no longer have to worry about the P&L (profit and loss)! (Laughs) There’s no pressure anymore!

How many times do you go to the office? Three days a week, but sometimes I find myself reporting five days a week. When there’s a need to consult on certain matters, I make myself available.

What time do you start and end your day?  I usually wake up at 8 a.m. Then, I have a leisurely breakfast with my husband. That’s the best time for us to talk. I’m usually at the office between 10 and 11 a.m. I hope to go home at 6 p.m., but I sometimes find myself at the office until 8 p.m.

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How much free time do you have? Free time? (Laughs) OK lang, the work load isn’t that heavy, and I am able to do other things. I’ve gone back to Ashtanga yoga. I am taking swimming lessons. I had swimming as PE in college at Saint Paul’s. I used to be scared of the water. But now, I got an instructor, and I am learning the basics.

What are some realizations almost a year into retirement? That, at 60, you can retain your sense of adventure and live life to the fullest. Now that you are not young anymore, you’re no longer as hard on yourself as before. There are fewer expectations. You don’t judge yourself. You love yourself for who you are. As a result, you develop the courage to try new things, like doing a Lav Diaz film and going parasailing. Who knows what I will pick up next?

Ikebana? I don’t know why they enrolled me in ikebana. It was a pleasant surprise. But I haven’t scheduled it yet. Maybe next year.

Do you plan to open a flower shop? No! I asked [ABS-CBN chief operating officer] Cory Vidanes why they thought of ikebana.

Maybe that’s the way they see you? I have a zen-like quality. Very minimalist. There’s not much clutter. You really have to find your peace amidst the noise and distractions in life. It solidifies you.

What are other lessons you can share with fellow retirees? To continue to enjoy life. Life doesn’t end with retirement. In fact, it’s the beginning of so many things. I am doing a lot of traveling now. I have more time to spend with family.

How are you as a grandmom? I am not a spoiler. I am consistent. How I was as a mother to my sons, Francis and Martin, is the same way I am as a grandmother to my granddaughters, Julia and Talia. You have to teach children boundaries. You cannot give in all the time. There’s a third grandchild on the way. We are preparing the two girls to be ates (big sisters) now.

How would you sum up the Venice experience? I try not to think about it too much. I feel very grateful that I am part of a film that won the highest honor in the Olympics of cinema. But I try not to make a big deal about it. I feel so much pride for Lav, for the film, and for our country.

The highlight for me was the standing ovation after the premiere. I told Lav: I don’t think they will stop clapping unless we leave the theater. And the viewers had been clapping for five minutes! The Filipino audience is so much harder to please. (Laughs)

At the airport on our way to Toronto, I bumped into Lav (who was going to Boston). I witnessed how Lav was treated like a rock star by foreigners. Immigration officials congratulated him. Italian fans went up to him, to ask for an autograph.

Will you encourage other Kapamilya stars to work with Lav? Of course! For Lav, cinema is free. He has no rules. He pushes the envelope. As a performer, you are left to your own devices. That means you have to do your homework. You have to study your character. He allows the actors to go into the zone. On the set, you are totally immersed. It’s what they call “Being” in workshops.

How did the visit to the Correctional enrich and inform your performance? I interviewed several inmates. I discovered that even within the four walls, life doesn’t stop. In the end, you create your own prison. If your heart is full of bitterness, anger, hatred and pain, you aren’t really free. And even if you are in prison, you can achieve transcendence.

What did you discover about Lav and his aesthetics? His camera doesn’t move. He doesn’t manipulate emotions. Therefore, he doesn’t manipulate the audience. He just documents the journey of the character based on the context of his narrative.

You got to work with some of the best directors during the second Golden Age of Philippine cinema: Eddie Romero, Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, Mike de Leon. Who among today’s generation of indie directors would you like to collaborate with? Anyone who would present good material. I am not choosy. Maybe Lav’s staff thought I would be a diva on the set of “Humayo.” No! I am used to working in an indie set-up. I was not the product of a big studio. “Itim,” my first movie, was a small-budgeted, independent production.

I also want to work with new actors. I want to contribute in my own small way. Just as I was supported by the likes of Tommy Abuel, Mona Lisa and Mario Montenegro in my first film, I want to help the young ones, too. I also pick up a lot of things from millennials.

How about working with Brillante Ma. Mendoza? Of course! But he has never pitched a project to me.

Is it true that Lino Brocka was your acting coach in “Itim”? No. But Lino was the one who asked me to audition. He saw me in the Baron Travel Girl pageant. He called me up and told me to audition for Mike at the LVN Studio. My audition piece required me to act like a sophisticated city girl who knew how to drink and smoke. But I didn’t know how to light up a cigarette. After four takes, Mike gave up: “Stop with the cigarette… we’re wasting rolls of film.”

Coincidentally, my thesis in college was on “Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag,” which had Lino as director, and Mike as cinematographer.

But you also got to work with mainstream directors? I made movies with Fernando Poe Jr. and Dolphy. As an actress, I was directed by Manuel “Fyke” Cinco, Pablo Santiago, Mike Relon Makiling, Armando Herrera, Carlo J. Caparas, Luciano “Chaning” Carlos.

I had an interesting journey as an actor. In production, I worked in Regal for two years. We churned out 35 films per year. We had to open a movie every 15 days! Our movie had just premiered, and we were already brainstorming for the next project with Tatay Chaning.

You straddled both the indie and mainstream worlds back then? I am embracive of all that is cinema. I asked Lav about this. He said that there should be no division between mainstream and indie. There should only be one cinema.

Cinema is about shaping our culture. It mirrors us. It mirrors our country. If we want to produce citizens who are more discerning about certain issues, there should be a venue to show indie films, as well. Distribution is key.

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TAGS: ABS-CBN, Ang Babaeng Humayo, Charo Santos-Concio, Comeback, Independent Cinema, Lav Diaz
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