Vilma Santos: The triumph of the ‘bit player’


Vilma Santos Photos by Mike de Juan

It felt like she had won her first best actress award all over again.

This was how the longest-reigning box office queen of Philippine Cinema, the multi-awarded actor Vilma Santos, described the sensation of bagging the Best Actress plum at the 9th Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival for her title role in the film Ekstra.

While Santos, who is also a noted public servant and incumbent provincial governor of Batangas, had won the top honor at the festival’s awards night on August 4 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, it was not until Thursday, August 8, that she received her colorful trophy from her producer Atty. Joji Alonzo of Quantum Films at ABS-CBN’s Dolphy Theater.

Quantum Films

Quantum Films producer Atty. Joji Alonzo, Gov. Vilma Santos and Director Jeffrey Jeturian Photos by Mike de Juan


The afternoon event served as a victory celebration-cum-news conference to announce the commercial run of Ekstra, Cinemalaya’s official top grosser, which will begin on August 14 under the distribution and co-production of Star Cinema.

“Nung sinabi sa akin na nanalo ako sa Cinemalaya, parang first time kong nanalo ng best actress award!” exclaimed Philippine show business’ revered Star for All Seasons.

“Ang dami ko nang nakuhang best actress awards pero yung lapit kasi ng indie [independent film], naging nakakatakot para sa akin.


Cinemalaya’s Best: Vilma Santos with the unsung heroes of Philippine cinema–the ‘ekstras’


“Maraming nagsabi na itataya mo ang career mo diyan dahil ang indie film iba; ang indie film limited ang audience; at ang indie film, ibang grupo yan.  Iba daw ang criteria nila—hindi yung may nasampal ka lang best actress ka na!” she added laughing.

“At totoo naman, this is the first time I had met the group behind the CCP’s Cinemalaya, so you can imagine the fulfillment of being able to say ‘Best Actress na ako ng Cinemalaya ngayon’.”

‘Grand Slam Queen’
Often dubbed the “Grand Slam Queen” at the peak of her career in the ’80s and through the mid-‘90s—meaning she would sweep the best actress trophies of every award giving body for her outstanding portrayals—Vilma Santos has an incredible total of 89 international and local movie awards to date, including her very first honor for Cinemalaya. (Wikipedia)

She was only nine years old when she won her first Famas (Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences Award) Best Actress Award in 1963 for Trudis Liit, which also happens to be her initial foray into show business.

A niece of a cameraman for Sampaguita Pictures, Santos obediently followed her uncle’s advice to try out for the movies.  She bagged her winning role in a studio audition where the young girl impressed a panel of film experts for her ability “to sing, dance and cry on cue.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

As movie awards go Santos is a Famas Hall of Famer, with the most number of best actress honors in the organization’s history, along with her contemporary Nora Aunor, and the late Charito Solis (The three actors have five awards each).

She also has eight Gawad Urian Best Actress Awards; and four Luna Best Actress Awards from the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP), which together with the Famas, make up the major mainstream movie award giving bodies in the country.

Sure win
With such a stellar and storied career in show business, there were murmurs that Santos’ fellow best actress nominees for the 2013 Cinemalaya had said they had no hope in winning the tilt, what with the celebrated veteran actress in the lineup.

To this, the Star for All Seasons patiently reacted, “Kami hong mga artista, ang pagbabatayan po namin ng galing namin sa pag-arte ay hindi yung huling award na na nakuha namin, kundi yung huli naming pag-ganap.

“Ang dami ko na ding ginawang palpak!  At doon pa ako nanalo,” she added, eliciting laughter from her adoring audience at the Dolphy Theater.

“Doon naman sa roles na ipinagmamalaki ko, doon naman ako talo!

“Sa madaling sabi, 50 years na po ako sa industriyang ito at may pulso na ako sa business. Mahirap pong sabihin na dahil Vilma Santos yan, siguradong yan ang mananalo.”

Speaking candidly, Santos conveyed, “Box office man akong artista, marami din akong naging flop na pelikula. Yung Sister Stella L [one of Santos’ most critically acclaimed films], kasabay ipinalabas ng Bukas Luluhod ang Mga Tala ni Sharon Cuneta.  Talaga namang pinaluhod ako ni Sharon sa takilya pero best actress si Sister Stella, at laging nakadikit sa pangalan ko bilang artista ang role ni Sister Stella.”

It is for this very unpredictable temperament of the movie industry that Santos advised younger actors to have faith in their talent and to continue striving for excellence.

“Walang dapat ikatakot ang ibang artista because even in my 50 years in show business, everything is still a learning process,” she admitted.

“Hanggang may matututnan ka pa, tuloy tuloy lang dapat. Pag naging complacent ka na, mamahinga ka nalang because in everything you do, wala nang progress if you think you know everything.”

Long live the ‘Ekstra’
Long vocal about her hesitation to star in an indie movie, Santos had always said she would conquer her fears of trying out the genre given the right script. And yes, Esktra truly got it right.

Not only was the Star for All Seasons highly entertained by the amusing yet touching storyline about the travails of a bit player for television—an “ekstra” in showbiz jargon—she was also extremely challenged as an actor to portray the role of Loida Malabanan, and on a much higher level, inspired to pay tribute to the countless and nameless faces she has worked with in the last five decades as a movie star.

“Ang pinakamalaking challenge ng role ni Loida Malabanan ay kung kaya ko bang magmukhang at maging isang ekstra sa pelikula,” Santos explained her approach on the Jeffrey Jeturian gem of an indie. “Yun bang hindi ako puwedeng umangat; yung ma-de-glamorize ka na magulo ang buhok mo, ang lalaki ng suot mo; at yung hindi si Vilma Santos ang makita mo kundi isang ekstra.”

She gave credit to her director and producer for implementing a solid plan on how to turn her, the movie star, into a genuine bit player, beginning with how her fellow actors respond to her onscreen. The cast being bit players themselves, Jeturian and Alonzo made sure they got over being star struck by “the” Vilma Santos from the onset, and brought them together as early as Santos’ test shots.

“Nagsama-sama na kami noon palang para magamayan ko na sila and vice versa,” she recalled. “Nag-kukuwentuhan muna kami bago mag-take at unti-unti ko pang nalaman ang mga sariling storya nila bilang mga ekstra.

“Sa tulong nila at sa napaka-galing na guidance ni Direk Jeffrey, I was able to deliver how it is to be an ekstra at naputayan ko na kaya ko maging ekstra,” she proudly added.

Santos then proceeded to talk about how very fitting it is that on her 50th year in show business, her first indie film allowed her to shine the spotlight on the unsung heroes of the industry.

She excitedly shared a story on how her “double” (a bit player who “doubles” for the star in certain scenes) for one of her iconic roles as Darna in the 1980s and her more recent movie, The Healing, now has a daughter who doubled for her in Ekstra.
“Isipin mo yon!” she gushed. “Anak na siya!”

Santos, who starred in the movie for free, went on to lament the truths that Ekstra presents with regard to the ruling system that goes on in showbiz productions—be they for movies or television—and how oftentimes, marginalized laborers are exploited.

“Alam naman po nating lahat na kaming mga artista, spoiled pagdating sa production,” Santos admitted. “Mataas ang bayad sa amin, may tent o kuwarto kami, sagana kami sa pagkain. Ang mga ekstra, sa bangketa lang nag-me-makeup.

“Nung dati, nakikita ko isang pandesal, isang itlog at kape lang ang ipapakain sa
kanila sa magdamagang 12-hour shooting. Kami bibigyan agad ng Lipovitan [an energy drink].

“Pati sa pagiging fan nila, binabawalan, tulad ng pag-papakuha ng litrato.

“Whether we like it or not, alam natin lahat yan, and through the years, in my own little way, may ginagawa ako para sa mga nakatrabaho kong ekstra, pero hindi na kailangan pang pag-usapan yon,” she said, self-effacingly.

“Pero hindi ko man maibigay and lahat sa kanila, isa-isa ang mga pangangailangan nila, ang importante ay nirerespeto ko silang mga ekstra bilang bida ng pelikula.”

Thus, Vilma Santos, one of the biggest stars of Philippine Cinema proudly dedicated her Cinemalaya Best Actress Award to every single man, woman or child in a crowd scene; the passersby; the helper; the double.

“Ekstra is my tribute to them,” she expressed. “For without extras, a film or a TV soap will never be complete.”

Fittingly, the Star for All Seasons ended her message with a rousing cheer for the reason and the inspiration of her latest success.

“Mabuhay ang Pelikulang Pilipino!  Mabuhay ang mga ekstra ng Pelikulang Pilipino!”


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