In accepting the lead role of GMA 7’s new series, “Onanay,” newbie actress Jo Berry wishes to prove that there’s more to “little people” like her in show biz than playing supernatural creatures, providing comic relief, or being used as mere variety shows props.
“I hope to remove that stigma. There’s nothing wrong about doing comedic roles, but I know that we have the capability to portray serious roles, too,” she told reporters at a recent press conference for the show, which airs on Aug. 6. “Sometimes, when I see little people being made fun of on television, I get sad.”
“Although they do want to make viewers laugh, I know that they do it mostly because they have to earn money and to support their own families,” said Jo, who worked at a business process outsourcing company prior to being discovered by the Kapuso network through the Little People Association of the Philippines.
By giving little people positive representation in media, the 24-year-old talent believes that others would eventually stop seeing them as a novelty.
“I hope that, by doing the series, I can convey the message that we lead normal lives and that we’re deserving of respect,” said Jo, who stressed that people with dwarfism prefer to be called “little people”—not “midget,” which they find demeaning.
Jo, who is 3 feet tall, isn’t the only one in her family who has dwarfism; her father and eldest brother has the same condition. Her mother and two other siblings, on the other hand, are normal in size.
Jo described her childhood as being “typical.” She had a lot of friends. She did experience bullying, but thankfully, she said, it was all verbal and never physical. “Because my father and brother are the same way, I didn’t feel I was different growing up,” she said.
“I didn’t have to accept who I am because I was never in denial in the first place. I didn’t blame God nor asked Him why he made me this way,” she said.
“I didn’t pity myself. Because once I do, others will, too. I would like to think I was shaped this way because I have a purpose to serve,” added Jo, who plays Onay, a woman born with achondroplasia—a genetic disorder that impeded her growth.
Onay has two normal-sized daughters—the kindhearted Maila (played by Mikee Quintos), who stands up for her; and the arrogant Natalie (played by Kate Valdez), who is ashamed of her. Yet, she gives nothing less than unconditional love to her daughters.
“I don’t have any experience in acting, besides having a brief appearance in a documentary. And suddenly, here I am, playing a lead role in a heavy drama. I feel overwhelmed and nervous … I have to give my best, because GMA 7 took a gamble on me,” she said.
Acting has never occurred to Jo. She was about to ink an employment contract with another company prior to “Onanay.” But after seeing the script, she decided that it was an opportunity worth taking.
Making things even more nerve-wracking for Jo is the formidable roster of artists she’s working with: Gina Alajar, her director; Cherie Gil, her screen tormentor; and Nora Aunor, her mother.
“I was so intimidated. But they all made sure to put me at ease,” she related. “Miss Nora … teaches me how to deal with people. She always reminds me to stay humble. She even lets me call her ‘nanay.’”