“Are you sure you meant to cast me?” was former ABS-CBN president and CEO Charo Santos-Concio’s incredulous reaction when celebrated filmmaker Lav Diaz first described her role in Ang Babaeng Humayo (The Woman Who Left), now the winner of the highly coveted and prestigious Golden Lion Award at the 73rd Venice Film Festival.
Recalling how her return to acting came to be—following a 17-year “hiatus” from the camera whilst one of Philippine television’s most powerful executives—the ever composed and ever elegant Santos-Concio was refreshingly candid and relaxed as she led a press conference to announce Humayo’s commercial showing in the country on September 28.
On Wednesday, the influential showbiz denizen eagerly related her journey to become Humayo’s central character Horacia—from Diaz’ casual question whether she would like to return to film, all the way to her transformation as a convicted criminal who vows revenge on the man who wronged her.
“It was during a gathering for Hele Sa Hiwaga ng Hapis—Diaz’ eight-hour long obra released in March 2016] when Lav asked me if I wanted to do a movie,” shared Santos-Concio. “When I said yes, he emailed me a 20-page script the next day, and I knew I had to do the film, Ang Babaeng Humayo.”
In their next meeting, the visionary director told her exactly how he wanted Horacia portrayed. A woman who had spent the last 30 years in prison, she is uncertain as she returns to the life she once knew, but bent on avenging her former lover who framed her for a crime she did not commit.
To pursue her plan, Diaz has Horacia take on a disguise.
“Lav told me, ‘Charo, Horacia turns into a tomboy by night—she’ll put on men’s clothes and move like one.’ That was when I asked him if he meant to cast me!” the stunning 60-year-old burst out laughing at her recollection.
“Honestly, that was when I suddenly felt nervous about the whole idea, but in my desire to work with Lav Diaz—to experience his vision behind the camera that is not bound by any rules—I embraced the role of Horacia with a lot of help.”
Before shooting with Diaz, Santos-Concio took a workshop with noted acting coach Malou de Guzman, specifically to help her portray the roughness Horacia had to exude in disguise. She also spent half a day at the Correctional Institution For Women in Mandaluyong City to immerse herself in the life of a prison inmate.
“I had to learn to sit with my legs apart, with my arms lose, and my movements unpolished, so I told Lav, ‘Direk, if you see any of my fingers moving in a delicate way in any scene, scream cut’!” she laughed again.
But one of high society’s best dressed women succeeded in her deglamorization as Horacia, swept away by the compelling story of a woman hungry for justice, by “Lav Diaz’ brilliance,” and a cast and production team whose “love for filmmaking is instinctive.”
“All I did was make a movie,” Santos-Concio said in gratitude. “And here we are with a film that has brought the country pride. God is so good.”
She continued, “I appeal to everyone to watch Ang Babeng Humayo because I really believe that Lav Diaz movies deserve a bigger Filipino audience. At the Venice Film Festival, the film won for its own merits—no one knew who we were. No one watched the movie thinking she was the former president of ABS-CBN, or that John Lloyd Cruz is a multi-awarded actor in his country. But the international audience appreciated the movie and its story, which simply shows that goodness is innate in people, no matter how much hardship and pain life brings them.”
Touted as Diaz’ “most accessible film” length-wise as it is only three hours and 35 minutes long, the movie comeback of Santos-Concio—who herself had been a critically acclaimed and awarded actress from the late ‘70s all through the early ‘90s—is indeed something that should not be missed. For after all that she has done for the entertainment industry outside her passion as an actress, long set aside for a bigger calling, her talent in front of the camera truly deserves to be seen.
Ang Babaeng Humayo is co-produced by Cinema One Originals and Sine Olivia Pilipinas, and distributed by Star Cinema.