Celeste: Diva in a duster—and in the buff
In true diva fashion, singer-actress Celeste Legaspi grudgingly suffered for her art, appearing totally deglamorized in Denise O’Hara’s Cinemalaya entry, “Mamang,” where she portrays the titular character, a woman on the verge of dementia.
“The role demanded complete honesty,” she told the Inquirer. “I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup. No lipstick. No mascara. No eyebrows!”
To compensate, her wardrobe was quite extensive. “I had 50 costume changes—from one ugly duster to another.”
As her “Larawan” character, Doña Loleng, and her amigas would surely exclaim, in thunderous soprano: “Que barbaridad!”
Celeste was initially reluctant to accept the role for reasons beyond the costuming and cosmetics, though.
She felt the story, which centers on a lonely woman in her twilight years, hit too close to home. “It reminded me of my mother, who had suffered from Alzheimer’s before her passing in 2005,” she admitted. “It was too painful for me.”
But then, she realized that she owed it to the writer-director’s uncle, the late great filmmaker Mario O’Hara, to do the indie film.
She considers Mario, Rolando Tinio and Lino Brocka as her acting mentors. She recalled that she had met Mario through Lino, who was her director in the 1970s television drama, “Balintataw.”
They worked on several projects and even played partners in Lino’s 1971 film, “Stardoom.”
Most notably, Celeste and Mario costarred in the original staging of the play, “North Diversion Road,” in 1988.
“It was fabulous,” she enthused. “Nonon Padilla was our director and it was staged at the Huseng Batute Theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.”
During rehearsals, Mario told Celeste that he would attack the role as if he were big-screen Lothario Romeo Vasquez. “That gave me an idea, and I played the scene as if I were Rita Gomez!”
He also hired her to act opposite the stellar likes of Nora Aunor and Gina Alajar in the 1987 movie, “Tatlong Ina, Isang Anak.” “He got me for some TV shows, too,” she recounted.
One TV-movie, the title of which she couldn’t even remember, proved to be disastrous. “It was about comfort women,” she volunteered. “For some reason, he got Tommy Abuel, who is older than I am, to play my son.”
Celeste couldn’t wrap her head around the casting implausibility, so in one dramatic scene, she ad-libbed, jokingly singing a line from a Freddie Aguilar ditty to Tommy: “Anak, ba’t ka nagkaganiyan?”
“Mario got mad! He said I shouldn’t have done that… breaking the suspension of disbelief,” she related. “On hindsight, that was part of his mentoring.”
In 2010, two years before Mario’s death, they crossed paths again, at the CCP. “I was in the English version of the play ‘American Hwangap.’ And he was in the Filipino version.”
That was why working with Denise and the other members of the O’Hara family was a sentimental journey for Celeste, as well. “Denise will go a long way in the industry.”
Celeste was reunited with another old coworker, Ketchup Eusebio, in “Mamang.”
Ketchup traces his theater beginnings in plays produced by Celeste, including “Alikabok,” “Sino Ka Ba, Jose Rizal?” and “Saranggola ni Pepe,” where he played one of the lead roles.
Celeste recommended Ketchup for the pivotal part of Ferdie in “Mamang.” “Our relationship has always been maternal. So it was smooth sailing from the reading to the last shooting day.”
She looked back: “I particularly enjoyed Ketchup’s habit of playing good music before difficult scenes. Listening to his music helped me focus and truly identify with my character.”
Alex Medina, Celeste’s other young costar in “Mamang,” was “another story,” she quipped. “I have never worked with Alex, and our scenes could’ve been awkward if not handled correctly.”
Particularly tricky was a sequence shot in the bathroom, which required both Celeste and Alex to be in the buff. “It was hilarious. I will leave it at that….”
Good thing that Celeste and Alex had “established good rapport” from the get-go.
Cinemalaya will be held at the CCP and selected Ayala Cinemas from Aug. 3 to 12.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.