Gretchen Barretto has had a pretty bad week parrying intrigues, the fallout of a very public family feud with mom Inday and sister Claudine.
Ironically, only days before the horrific controversy broke, she finished work on her big-screen comeback, “The Diplomat Hotel,” a horror movie by Christopher Ad Castillo—an entry in the New Breed section of this year’s Cinemalaya.
At press time, she has not broken her silence in the face of pointed attacks, but neither has she acknowledged the defense put up by siblings who have taken her side. In any case, it seems the congenial atmosphere on the movie set gave her strength for the brewing storm.
As colleagues, cast and crew tell it, food overflowed every shooting day, as Gretchen constantly sent them all sorts of yummy treats.
She filled the pantry of coactor Mon Confiado’s trailer with cups of instant noodles. (Mon lost 40 pounds in a month for his role, and nearly gained it all back.)
“Gretchen is so generous and fun to be around,” Direk Chris said. “Because she knew we were working long hours in chilly temperatures in Baguio City, she also sent us a lot of coffee. The crew felt how much she cared that we were working so hard.”
Prior to the scandal, Gretchen told the Inquirer why she laid out the hearty feasts: “I work best on a happy set.”
Friends regularly sent her fruits, cakes, pastries and barbecue, she said. She merely decided to share the goodies with the team. “We all enjoyed the food. That’s how artists bond during break time.”
She obviously had a blast. Seiko producer Robbie Tan said Gretchen had long wanted to do an indie film. “She’s serious about acting,” Tan related. “During our Seiko days, she always came to the set prepared and asked the right questions about her role.”
She’s been a regular at Cinemalaya screenings over the years, accompanying longtime partner Tonyboy Cojuangco, main patron of the independent film festival, which is in its ninth edition this year.
And this year, Gretchen finally took the plunge, accepting a Cinemalaya project. She explained: “Only time constraints kept me from doing this in the past. When the project was offered to me, I had just finished a teleserye (ABS-CBN’s “Princess and I”), and I could finally say yes. Plus, it’s a good movie.”
It’s a dream come true, she swore, but it could have been a nightmare. “I’m not a big horror fan,” she admitted. “I easily get terrified. I actually turned down this project because I was afraid of filming at the abandoned Diplomat Hotel in Baguio, which is known as a haunted place.”
Fortunately, she was spared from spooky encounters. “I thank God that I had no extraordinary supernatural experiences during the shoot,” she said. “I prayed a full month before filming began, for protection and for a swift shoot.”
Portraying Veronica, a disgraced reporter grappling with inner demons, was challenging, Gretchen admitted.
She elaborated: “It’s fresh. I had no peg for the role. I just embraced the character and enjoyed every minute of the shoot.”
To prepare for the film, “I studied the script and the character. The rest just flowed.”
She described working with Direk Chris as “intense but fun, almost carefree.” She added, “It’s a great honor to work with such a dedicated artist. His love for his craft is simply contagious—which did all of us a lot of good.”
In turn, her coworkers collected only fond memories of the actress.
“Gretchen fully captured her character’s nuances and added her own dimensions to it,” Direk Chris said. “It’s not an easy role. It’s dark…but she performed admirably.”
Producer Alemberg Ang was equally impressed. “She hates wasting time. She values efficiency and efficacy—values I admire in coworkers.” The producer recounted that he immediately thought of Gretchen when he read the script.
Gretchen said it felt like a duty on her part to make an indie film. “I wanted it to be my contribution to Philippine movies. I couldn’t say my career was complete unless I had done an indie film. It’s payback time for me. I truly love this industry.”