MANILA -- Fourteen years of single-blessedness is something that award-winning actress Janice de Belen seriously enjoys – apparently to the hilt.
Since the break-up of her marriage with John Estrada, with whom she has four children, De Belen doesn’t look for a relationship. She remains happily single to this day.
“Maybe my love life is the last of my priorities,” De Belen told ABS-CBN News. “What else do I need to prove? I have five children [including her eldest, Luigi Muhlach].
“I was already married. I had failed relationships. I got separated. I had a relationship after that. I don’t want to get married again. I might have initially worried thinking that I might grow old alone.
“Even if you have someone, when he dies, you will also be alone. I don’t want that to be an issue. Then, maybe when I started working and working, I stopped thinking about it. I enjoyed my independence. I don’t think I can still adjust to be with a partner now.”
However, De Belen is not willing to work again with Estrada even on TV or in the movies. Although they are cordial to each other when they bump into each other in showbiz events, it’s a different matter when they work together again.
“We might just inconvenience the people we will be working with, so it’s better na huwag na lang,” she said.
Kids and dogs
De Belen stays in her Parañaque home with her dad, Philip de Belen, her children and eight dogs, two of which sleep inside her bedroom.
“Weirdly, I enjoy being alone,” De Belen said. “At night, I don’t get lonely. I enjoy my independence for a long time now. I forgot about having a partner already. Sometimes, I ask myself, ‘Walang nagte-text sa akin?’ But somehow, you’ll snap out of it. I don’t think kaya ko pang mag-adjust to be with a partner.
“This pandemic, all my kids are with me. My worries were how to stay healthy and how to survive the pandemic, because I was busy cooking for the kids. They were eating non-stop.”
Starting in showbiz in 1978, De Belen is looking forward to her golden year in the business in six years (2028). She got her first award in 1991 for Chito Roño’s “Kailan Ka Magiging Akin?,” where she starred opposite Gabby Concepcion.
“When you’re younger, you think of a dream role which will showcase your talent,” De Belen admitted. “That’s where you’ll know whether or not you’re really a good performer.
“But after a while, you realize as an actress, no matter how big or small your role is, it’s your job to make it shine. There are roles that are impossible for me to do at this point. Hindi na ako bagets.
“Age wise, hindi na. Body wise, definitely hindi na rin. I’m realistic. Whatever roles that come to me, if they are in my gain, I will do it. Contravida, hindi contravida, mayaman, mahirap. Basta maganda siya sa pandinig ko, I think I can do it.”
Working with the masters
When she was nine, De Belen worked with director Mario O’Hara in the afternoon drama, “Ulila,” starring Rosa Rosal. “That was the first time napagalitan ako ng director,” De Belen recalled.
“When we were told namatay ang nanay namin, kailangan palang umiyak. Yumakap ako sa tatay namin, tapos ngumuynguy lang ako. Lumabas si Mario O’Hara tapos nagmumura na.
“After that, I promised myself, never na akong mapapagalitan o masisigawan ng director. I worked with Direk Mario many times again after that. I don’t remember na napagaltan ako again.
“I’ve also worked with [Ishmael] Bernal, [Lino] Brocka. I cannot be like that to newcomers, because I was also once a newcomer. Although, I can feel it when they get intimidated. So, I try to help them also, as much as possible.
“Pag sobrang hirap ng scene na kasama ko sila, I try to make them feel comfortable. If they can’t act, mahihirapan din ako if I don’t help them. Kahit very light lang. Everything else is in their hands. Magka-eksena kami. The scene will suffer.”
Through the years, De Belen’s favorite among the films that she has done is Laurice Guillen’s “Rosenda” (1989). She also finds her Peque Gallaga and Danny Zialcita films as memorable.
“Even ‘yung ‘Tiyanak’ with Gallaga, I enjoyed doing it,” De Belen admitted. “Who will forget that, very iconic kasi? I’m sure I have other favorites na kahit na hindi acting pieces, nag-enjoy akong gawin.
“My ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ with Bernal was my first with him . Even if hindi ko nai-intindihan kung ano ginagawa ko sa ‘Pridyider’ at that time, when I was told na yakapin mo ang pridyider, ginawa ko lang.
“Ang description sa akin ni Bernal, ‘Init na init ka lang.’ Hindi ko alam na sexual na pala ang interpretation ng tao noon. That was the whole logic and explanation. Much later ko na lang na realized.”
'Sugat sa Dugo'
At this point, De Belen disclosed she has no more dream roles. “In passing, I thought pwede pang maging Mafia leader parang si Song Joong-ki as Vincenzo. Pero hindi na.”
De Belen snagged her first international acting award last year. She bagged the Best Actress trophy in the International Film Festival Manhattan Autumn 2021 for her portrayal of a mom of an AIDS victim in “Sugat sa Dugo (Wounded Blood).”
The dramatic film also took home the Independent Film Award for Producing for first-time producers Bambbi Fuentes (executive producer) and Cristine Areola (associate producer) of Dragon Entertainment Productions, who bankrolled their maiden project.
Years ago, De Belen watched a film about AIDS, “It’s My Party,” starring Eric Roberts. “He wanted to go out with a bang,” she said. “He called his friends, celebrated his birthday and gave a party. The next day, he was gone. That was very clear to me.”
De Belen enjoys doing cameos. “I should because that was where I won an international award,” she said. “When you win an international award, may expectations that grow. At may pressure.
“Hindi ka naman normally pressured when acting. But my feeling, you get introduced pa lang na ‘award-winning,’ you feel the pressure already. I don’t want to get pressured. I just vowed to do my best always.”
Tapping De Belen to portray the mom in “Sugat sa Dugo” was a no-brainer for celebrity hairdresser and make-up artist Fuentes. The actress is one of her early clients even back in the nineties, along with younger sister, Gelli.
“Bambbi called me up and simply asked me, ‘Pwede ka bang mag-cameo?’,” De Belen shared. “I only had to devote one whole day to shoot. Around five sequences. Even after I said yes, we couldn’t shoot right away because I was doing ‘It’s Showtime’ then.”
When the news reached De Belen that she got an international award for “Sugat sa Dugo,” that left her wondering for a long time. “After a while, I still wasn’t sure at that time whether or not I won,” she said. “It was unexpected. I was still asking why I won.”
The same thing happened when she bagged the best supporting actress award from FAMAS last year for Jun Lana’s comedy-drama, “Big Night,” where she merely did three sequences.
Throughout her four decades of acting onscreen, De Belen emphasized she never worked for an award. “For me, do your best and give your best always,” she said. “Whenever I do anything, I don’t think of an award.
“If you keep on working for an award, what will happen if the film was not entered into a competition where it had to be judged by a jury. Expect nothing. If you win an award or given an accolade, then that’s just a bonus.”
Even while Fuentes was still writing the screenplay, she already had De Belen in mind to portray the absentee mom in “Sugat sa Dugo.”
“Janice was perfect for the role,” Fuentes maintained. “But she was really busy. When she learned that ‘Sugat sa Dugo’ is an advocacy film, she agreed right away.
“I was really happy when she said yes. We were all the more overwhelmed when Janice won best actress in the Manhattan Film Festival in New York. Her fellow nominee was even Hollywood actress Jessica Chastain.”
De Belen recently finished the first cycle of the lock-in taping for the new teleserye, “Dirty Linen” on the Kapamilya Channel. In three weeks, she is expected to return for the second cycle.
“Hinay-hinay lang ako when working,” she allowed. “Hindi na bata si madam.”