Charo Santos on FPJ, Dolphy, and other icons of PH cinema 2
Still image from the 1977 film "Tisoy!" Courtesy of ABS-CBN Film Restoration

Charo Santos on FPJ, Dolphy, and the many icons she’s worked with thru the years

The actress-producer-host got to walk down memory lane on her recent birthday where she talked about working with PH cinema’s finest
RHIA GRANA | Oct 31 2022

Multi-award winning film and television actress and producer Charo Santos-Concio has a ton of stories to tell about her life in cinema, and not only because she’s starred in so many noteworthy projects. She’s also worked with some of the country’s most acclaimed actors and directors since her first foray into film back in 1976 thru Mike De Leon’s “Itim.”

Concio was 20 and had just graduated from college when she was prodded by a friend to join the pageant Baron Travel Girl. Let’s say it was quite serendipitous because famed movie director Lino Brocka was watching among the audience. The following day, she got a call from the director, telling her she could fit the lead role in “Itim,” De Leon’s directorial debut. But first she had to go thru an audition. 

Charo Santos Concio with her parents
Concio with her parents Winifredo and Nora Santos on her graduation day. Screengrab from ABS-CBN Film Restoration video 

A self-confessed movie fan, Concio asked permission from her parents to try out for the role. “Siyempre ang tatay ko na very traditional, very conservative, said no. But my mother was finally able to convince him. I told him, ‘Audition lang naman ito. Hindi naman ibig sabihin na pag nag-audition ka, ikaw na ang mapipili.’ So pumayag [ang tatay ko].” 

The actress recently shared recollections from her over-40-year career in an interview with ABS-CBN Film Restoration head Leo Katigbak in an episode of Sagip Pelikula Spotlight. The virtual chat was shown on the occasion of Concio’s 67th birthday last Thursday, October 27, right before the streaming of the digitally restored and remastered 1982 Frank Gray, Jr. movie, “My Juan En Only,” which is starred in by Concio and the King of Comedy, Dolphy.

With Mona Lisa in Itim
With Mona Lisa in "Itim". From ABS-CBN News

For the “Itim” audition, Concio was asked to play the character of a rich, spoiled woman who knew how to drink and smoke. Which she wasn’t. She was a probinsyana who grew up in Calapan, Oriental Mindoro. “Ni hindi ako marunong magsindi ng sigarilyo. Laging napuputol ang posporo,” she recalled, laughing.

But it turned out De Leon was actually looking for a probinsiyana to play the lead in his movie. “I think that's when he finally made the decision: ‘Ah, okay, hindi siya sosyal. She's really a simple girl at heart.’ And that’s Teresa in ‘Itim,’ a simple provincial lass who unearthed the mystery behind the disappearance of her sister.”


Working with great directors

Concio considers De Leon as one of her great mentors. “Everything that I learned about filmmaking, I learned from Mike De Leon because he would not only talk to you about the process of filming,” she said. “In other words, it's not just about the scene. It's not just about the blocking. It's not just about your character. Even after production proper, he was there to teach me about editing, scoring, even dubbing and sound design. Not every director will do that to his artists, right? He was truly a mentor for me.”

According to the actress, De Leon is quiet, disciplined, and exacting. “If there is such a thing as perfection, you have to give perfection to him,” said Concio.

In succeeding years, Concio would have the privilege of working with other brilliant directors. She worked with Ishmael Bernal in the comedy “Tisoy!” topbilled by Christopher de Leon. The shoot went smoothly because everyone was punctual. Bernal was notorious for his temper when an artist comes in late on the set. “Kasi ang pet peeve niya talaga is if you're late. Maghihintay yan ng dalawa, tatlong oras na hindi dumadating ang artista. Pero pagdating na pagdating ng artista, lilipad ang silya niya and he’d pack up the shooting. I've seen those incidents,” said Concio, who later served as producer for a number of his films including “Himala.” 

Eddie Romero, who Concio got to work with in the period drama film “Aguila” with Fernando Poe Jr., struck her as a very patient director. “Siguro ganoon na talaga ang karakter niya, mapasensyang tao, walang temper. Chill lang and he's able to transcend the moods of other people on the set,” she observed. “Si Eddie as a director always sees the milieu as part of the character of the film. The backdrop is also part of the of the narrative.”

Gumapang Ka sa Lusak poster
Playing support to Dina Bonnevie in Brocka’s "Gumapang Ka Sa Lusak." Photo from Video 48

Concio described Lino Brocka, who she worked with in “Kontrobersyal” (with Philip Salvador and Gina Alajar) and “Gumapang Ka sa Lusak” (with Christopher de Leon, Eddie Garcia and Dina Bonnevie), as an actor’s director. “Talagang sasabihin niya sa iyo kung anong emosyon ang hinihingi ng isang eksena,” she said. Brocka was also a theater actor and Concio thinks this was was why it was natural for him to act out certain scenes when he’s directing his stars.

He placed a very high importance to his film’s narrative and social backdrop. But on the set he can also be quite playful, makuwento, and mabiro

Marilou Diaz-Abaya—director of “Brutal,” which Concio starred in along with Amy Austria and Gina Alajar—is a perfectionist. “Before she finally shoots a scene, she will do, like, 12 rehearsals,” said Concio. “Minsan nga dumadating sa point na naibigay ko na [ang lahat ng emosyon sa rehearsal], [naisip ko] ano pang ibibigay ko sa actual take?” Diaz-Abaya also strived for technical perfection. “Pag nag-stop ang camera dito, doon mo sasabihin ang linya mo kasi ganito na iikot ang camera,”Concio remembered her director saying.


Instinctive actor

For Concio, she had a very good relationship with her directors because she’s very committed to her work and takes it seriously. “I value hard work so wala akong minamani. Wala akong minamaliit kahit na isang simpleng role lang yan o isang malaking project, it doesn’t matter. When I give my word and I give my commitment, I am there.”

For the most part, Concio said she simply follows her instinct when playing the different roles given to her. After understanding her character, the backdrop of the story, the narrative, her character’s relationship with the other characters, she gives her own interpretation to the role and discusses it with the director. “There's a very curious side of me na hindi ako natatakot magtanong. Bakit niya ginawa ito? Bakit ito ang nararamdaman niya? So instinctive din yun [sa akin],” she said in the interview.

Concio believes her natural curiosity may be born out of her being a movie fan. “Pagkabata ko pa, nakikinig na ako sa radio dramas, nagbabasa ng komiks, nanonood ng TV, nanonood ng mga pelikula. And much of my understanding of acting, of being another character also came from my watching movies every day on television and every weekend in the theaters,” she offered, pointing out the fact that there were no acting workshops yet back when she was starting.

She said she learned a lot from watching the great Hollywood actors as well as the stars of LVN Pictures, Sampaguita Pictures and Premiere Productions. “Lumaki talaga ako na humahanga [sa mga artista] and then I create characters in my head. I remember them. I fall in love with them. I get engaged with them. I journey with them. [So when I started making films, I realized] ay ito pala ang ibig sabihin ng acting. So it’s very instinctive.”

What also makes working in the movies fulfilling and exciting has been the chance to work—both as an actor and producer—with the cream of the crop of movie stars. 

Concio described Fernando Poe Jr., who she got to work with in a number of action movies, as a great storyteller. “Magaling siyang magkuwento,” she said. “Di ba may nagkukuwento na detached ka. Pagkatapos nakalimutan mo na. Si FPJ pag nagkuwento parang leaning in ka. Hawak niya ang karakter niya. Alam na alam niya ang hero’s journey. Instinctively he knows how to tell a story.” She also remembers FPJ to be very maalaga to her costars, very professional, and makwento. He loved to read and watch movies.”

Vic Silayan, as audiences have witnessed in the movie “Kisapmata” morphs into the character he’s playing. “You forget that he’s Vic Silayan, the actor that you know. You just see the character on the set. Yung sarili niyang persona does not get in the way of his interpretation of a character. Vic Silayan is a very intelligent actor.”

Dolphy and Charo Santos-Concio in 'My Juan en Only'
Dolphy and Charo Santos-Concio in "My Juan en Only". Still image from the movie

Everyone will most likely agree with Concio’s opinion of Dolphy. “He was a natural comedian. Iba ang timing niya. Iba ang sense of humor niya. He doesn't have to try hard at all,” she said. And despite his stature as Comedy King, he remained one of the most humble actors in the industry, the actress added. “He knows a lot of stories about the industry. He will inspire you with his stories of hardship and hard work and his road to success.”

Charito Solis was a gem of an artist and a fearless woman, said Concio. She was open to portraying dark roles. And while she may have appeared feisty and strict, she was actually a very jolly person. “Mabiro at saka ang sarap niyang tumawa. Pag tumawa na yan, naku tawanan na lahat sa set. The set is a happy set with Chato around. She loves making kuwento.”

Kakabakaba Ka Ba?
Poster of the 1980 musical comedy "Kakabakaba Ka Ba?"

Concio was Christopher de Leon’s leading lady in the Filipino musical comedy “Kakabakaba Ka Ba?” and also in “Tisoy!” She admires de Leon’s professionalism and gentlemanliness. “Mabait na tao, magalang, marespeto. Noong mas bata siya may kapilyuhan but he always delivered. Never nagbigay ng sakit ng ulo yan sa akin,” said Concio.

As for her “Kisapmata” screen partner Jay Ilagan, Concio said he’s a “gifted” and “very intelligent actor.” Which is no surprise since both his parents were also from show business—his father Ángel Esmerelda was a director and her mother Corazón Noble was a Sampaguita star. “Talaga namang may pinagmanahan. Magaling,” she said.


Always a movie fan

Not too many people know that Concio started working behind the scenes pretty early. Five years into being an actor, when acting projects were hard to come by, it was production work that paid the bills. And she didn’t have qualms at all doing the dirty work, even when she was already a star in her own right.

In the early to mid-80s, Concio was tapped to become a producer at the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines (ECP), which was behind highly acclaimed works as “Oro, Plata, Mata” (Peque Gallaga), “Himala” (Ishmael Bernal), “Soltero” (Pio de Castro III), “Misteryo sa Tuwa” (Abbo Q. Dela Cruz) and “Isla” (Celso Ad Castillo).

She was a producer under the wing of Lily Monteverde’s Regal Films during the glory years of Tito, Vic and Joey movies. “Everything that I know about commercial filmmaking, I learned from Mother Lily,” Concio said. She would personally be screening the scripts and presenting them to the Regal matriarch. “As in literally binabasa ko yung mga linya sa kanya. Tapos makakatulugan niya [ang pakikinig],” Concio recalled, laughing. 

Charo Santos and Jay Ilagan in Kisapmata
With Jay Ilagan in "Kisapmata." Photo from an ABS-CBN announcement on the recent Bologna screening of "Kisapmata."

Or so she thought. Because as soon as Concio left the room, Mother Lily would call her again and be asked to pick up where she left off. “O pagkatapos, dun sa sequence na tumakbo si Maricel [Soriano], ano’ng nangyari?’ Alam niya kung saan nag-stop,” Concio said, laughing.

From Mother Lily, who has produced nearly 300 local films since the early 1960s, she learned the business side of filmmaking. “Yan talaga ang factory kasi every 15 days may release. Kunwari, opening ng Tito Vic and Joey. [During the] opening, we’re already discussing another movie. Nagsisimula ka pa lang, pinaplano mo na ang promotion. And si Mother is a very intuitive business person and she's also a fan so nakikita mo ang passion niya for films.”

Concio joined ABS-CBN when the company reopened in 1986 and played an important role in the creation of Star Cinema in 1993 and the establishment of ABS-CBN Film Archives in 1994. Having made many movies in her career, she believes in the value of preserving our cinematic treasures. “I guess it's again coming from the fact that I'm a movie fan,” she said in the interview. “Dapat talagang ayusin at i-restore ang pwedeng irestore for future generations because sumasalamin yan ng ating kultura at sa pagbabago sa ating lipunan.”