Award-winning production designer, writer just won Best Actress trophy
Raquel Villavicencio, multiawarded production designer (“Himala”) and scriptwriter (“Batch ’81”), was caught by surprise when she won Best Actress for Jeffrey Jeturian’s “Bisperas” in the Directors’ Showcase section of this year’s Cinemalaya indie film fest.
It was Villavicencio’s first major acting trophy after three decades in the biz, said the seasoned actress, who often plays supporting roles in GMA 7 shows like “I Heart You Pare” and “Una Kang Naging Akin.”
“It’s an affirmation,” she described the award. “I feel it’s for all the unsung performers who are not given the chance to shine in the mainstream.”
She previously won Best Performer for another project of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Gawad CCP Para sa Alternatibong Pelikula at Video, for Manolet Garcia’s short film, “Tisyu.”
“That was way back in 1990s,” she related. (She shared that trophy with costar Shamaine Centenera who, coincidentally. presented the award to her at this year’s Cinemalaya.)
In spite of that citation, she continued playing “best-friend roles” in mainstream movies and TV shows.
“Then I graduated to aunt and mother roles,” she quipped. “It can be frustrating. We hone our craft for years, only to be bypassed by younger and more popular stars.”
For those same reasons, the Cinemalaya recognition came completely as a shock to her – although a pleasant one.
When she won, Villavicencio recalled, she might’ve looked a bit “dazed and confused” to the audience.
She recounted, “I was backstage and had no idea what was happening onstage. I didn’t know what the award was for. I had to ask Shamaine, who was the presenter.”
It’s because she had two entries – the other being Loy Arcenas’ “Niño.” (Shamaine, her “Niño” costar, won Best Supporting actress in the New Breed section.)
She is thankful to indie filmmakers “for giving character actors meaty roles that we don’t usually get to tackle onscreen.”
She confessed that one could easily get jaded in the biz. “There’s the danger that you’d end up just waiting for the next job, the next paycheck. You lose your soul as an artist. In indie films, we are allowed to tell stories that are close to our hearts.”
In this year’s Cinemalaya, she plays “two totally distinct women: a conservative middle-class housewife (in “Bisperas”) and a worldly and bitter balikbayan (in “Niño”).”
“At one point, I was shuttling between the two sets for an entire week,” she recalled. “I was scared… I had to make sure that I was not confusing the two characters.”
She would wrap up work on the set of “Bisperas” in Philam Homes Village, Quezon City, at 6 a.m. and then move to the “Niño” set in Pandacan, Manila, where she would work from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Then she would motor back to the “Bisperas” set.
“I didn’t go home and didn’t see my family for three days,” she gasped.
Fortunately, her directors guided her every step of the way.
“Direk Jeffrey and Loy couldn’t be more different,” she said. “Jeffrey is very calm and introspective on the set, while Loy has an exciting energy.”
Both are very meticulous, too.
“The final dining-room scene in ‘Niño’ must’ve taken over 1,000 takes,” she said. “In indies, we are allowed to experiment with our performances.”
It was her first time to collaborate with both directors, she said. “But Jeffrey worked as production designer in some of the movies that I wrote. Loy naman was the director and I was in the chorus of a stage play, ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona,’ in the mid-1970s. It’s like Shamaine, Loy, Jeffrey and I have come full circle this year.”
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