JUDY Ann Santos won best actress for “Mindanao” in the A-lister Cairo International Filmfest so a lot of people are now saying that she’ll also win best actress in the Metro Manila Filmfest where her film is an official entry. “Naku, hindi ko iniisip 'yun. Every actress has a fair chance. Nanalo na rin naman ako sa Metro Filmfest but for a comedy, ‘Kasal Kasalo Kasali’ in 2007. Pero itong ‘Mindanao’ is special as it offered new acting challenges for me.
“It’s my first film with internationally acclaimed director, Brillante Mendoza, at doon pa lang, proud na ako. Dream ko talaga to work with him, so when he called me and told me he has a story for me, answered prayer 'yun for me. Physically and emotionally draining ang role ko as Saima Datupalo. Physically, kasi lagi kong buhat-buhat 'yung batang anak ko, who’s 7 years old, as she’s afflicted with cancer. We really walked long distances na karga-karga ko siya and thankful ako as I lost 10 lbs while doing the movie.”
How is it emotionally draining? “Emotionally, mahirap 'yung pinagdaraan ni Saima as a mother with a terminally sick child, tapos, 'yung husband niya, sundalo pang nasa digmaan. And then, I’m playing a Muslim character so I have to be sensitive to their beliefs and their culture. I have to study how they dress, how they move, how they talk kasi ayokong magkamali and offend them. I put myself in Saima’s position at parang sasabog ang puso ko. Dala ko 'yung emotions niya hanggang sa bahay ko.”
She’s grateful that the MMFF chose their movie as an official entry. “Now, I pray naman that viewers would support it. Hindi siya 'yung feel-good movie because it tackles serious issues, pati 'yung problems sa Mindanao. But they’re something we all need to be aware of for a better undertanding of our Muslim brothers. It also shows how our kababayans in the remote areas lack access to cancer treatment. Talagang eye-opener din ang ‘Mindanao’.”
Didn’t she find it hard working with Mendoza who has no written full script? “He provided me naman with my lines. So I just have to really trust him. After a while, nakuha ko naman ang style niya. He will give you some guidelines, tapos bahala ka na. In fairness to him, kalmado lang siya. Di sumisigaw, di nagmumura. Sabi niya, you don’t have to stress yourself out just to come up with a good movie. Talagang sobrang inalalayan naman niya ako all the way throughout the shoot. Very clear lagi what he’s expecting from me, from the nuances of the character to the manner he wants me to execute them.”
Direk Brillante was very watchful when she’s on camera. “Tinanggal niya 'yung mannerisms ko na ako mismo, I’m not even aware of. He really helped a lot in polishing my characterization. We shot the film for 12 days and from the start, nilinaw niyang when he shoots, dire-diretso.
"And I really appreciated that kasi you could really focus on your role and finish the whole thing nang hindi mo na kailangang iwanan o bitiwan ang character mo at kumawala pa sa emotions mo. Kasi si Saima, gagawin niya ang lahat para mapahaba ang buhay ng anak niyang maysakit and ease the pain her child is experiencing. That’s very relatable to viewers, specially those who are parents na.”
She says 2019 is a very good year for her.
“Nakabalik ako sa soap with ‘Starla’, then we put up our own business, our restaurant Angrydobo, with the first one on Taft Avenue 8 months ago at kabubukas naman ng branch namin ngayon sa Alabang.
“Then this movie came. I never thought I’d win an international award for this. When I won, I was cleaning the floor of our restaurant when Direk Brillante texted me from Egypt. Hindi nag-sink in agad sa’kin, e. I didn’t even know na nominated pala ako and the only who has won it from us pala was Ate Guy 24 years ago. Sayang nga I wasn’t there to receive it myself. But things happen for a reason. Baka kung nandun ako, nag-collapse na lang ako even before I get on stage.”
She’s hoping 2020 will be an even better year for her.
“I have another challenging project, the biopic of Mother Lily Monteverde. When she told me she handpicked me to play her, I can’t understand it, but siyempre, she was the one who gave me a break in the movies in ‘Sana Naman’ with the ‘Mara Clara’ cast, so I cannot say no to her. I love her and maybe she sees something in my that I don’t.
"But I trust Direk Erik Matti and I know we’ll have fun doing it. Aside from this, I’m supposed to do another movie with him so 2020 will be really busy for me.”
What’s her Christmas wish?
“Wala na siguro. Baka sabihin naman ni Lord, sobra na ako. Ito lang best actress win sa Cairo is already a big Christmas gift na for me. If ever, my wish naman is panoorin sana ng mga tao ang ‘Mindanao’ para makabawi sa takilya yung producer namin. After all, nagustuhan nila ito sa screenings abroad and sana, bigyan naman ng chance ng local viewers at suportahan din nila.”