CHAPTER 8 COVER STORY
Richard Gutierrez and Sarah Lahbati open up to Preview contributing editor and kin Raymond Gutierrez about their careers, love and life, and future plans as husband and wife.
Eavesdrop on our convo with Sarah Lahbati and Richard Gutierrez as they set off on their newest adventure yet.
in Philippine show business, where a network transfer is akin to a proverbial rising from the ashes, real-life lovers Richard Gutierrez and Sarah Lahbati are ready and raring to reach new, respective career highs. Sarah, once only known to be a pretty face and dance-floor threat, is slowly but surely building her acting resumé under the tutelage of local cinema’s best. Chard, former TV prince and fictional winged warrior, is back from a three-year hiatus and is lording over an army of vampires in primetime TV’S newest, hottest teleserye, La Luna Sangre.
In this intimate catch-up with the couple, led by Preview contributing editor and Chard’s twin brother, Mond Gutierrez, we discover Sarah’s chance of potentially landing the movie villain role of a lifetime, Richard’s new normal post-hiatus, their recent engagement and wedding plans, and growing up with #Ziontheyounglion. Listen in as witnesses to a love story far greater than any other professional milestone.
MOND: Both of you are on a high, careerwise. Sarah, you just finished working with Erik Matti and got amazing reviews for the film Ang Pagsanib kay Leah Dela Cruz. You also have your book True Beauty. You’re so busy! Is it also true that you might play Valentina in Darna?
SARAH: Thank you. I honestly would love to play Valentina, but I also don’t want to expect because there is an audition process and there are many other great talents. There are many of us waiting and wanting to play Valentina.
CHARD: But I think she really fits the role. M: It’s a kick-ass character! C: It is. And Sarah kicks ass. I taught her how. S: Excuse me, I started boxing in Switzerland! M: How does it feel to be working with Erik and everyone praising you?
S: I’m still on a high because this movie showed a totally different side of me. It felt surreal shooting Ang Pagsanib because I had so much freedom to tackle my character and give life to her past, present and future. I think this is the proudest I’ve been with a project!
PREVIEW: You were deglamorized for that role. S: It was very raw, realistic and a different character. It revealed a side of me that I’ve never confronted before, so it was very special. I just hope that I get to work with the same team again—direk Katski Flores and Direk Erik Matti—so yes, I messaged Direk Erik: “You know I’m just here, Direk. Nandito lang ako!”
M: But then everyone else still sees you as a beautiful and fashionable person on Instagram. S: [Sometimes] that’s [all there is] to it, no?
M: There’s nothing wrong with that because that’s also a whole marketing strategy that not a lot of celebrities have.
S: But it’s also frustrating as an actress.
M: Because sometimes they can easily pass you off as “just a pretty face?” S: Exactly. C: I told her also that as an artist, you get in touch with the dark side that nobody talks about. It’s taboo to talk about dark things in public, but when you create your own character, tapping the dark side allows you to explore. It becomes okay.
M: Agreed. It adds layers to your character. Now I wanted to ask you, Chard—and I know you took a three-year break—but before that, all of your roles were title roles and all of them were on the good side of things.
C: Yes, and I’m finally happy I finally went to the dark side.
M: What made you say yes to this specific offer from ABS-CBN? Within those three years, there were other offers, but you declined them, chose to be a dad, and traveled. What made you sign?
C: I’m so thankful that ABS sent me the character profile of Sandrino or Supremo for La Luna Sangre. The moment I read it, I was like, “Wow, I want to do this!” because [of] the layers of the character. He has a backstory, a direction, and he impacts the entire story. Plus I’ve always wanted to play a villain.
M: How many shows did you do where you were the good guy? C: A dozen? M: It was a welcome change for you to be on the dark side, then.
C: At the same time, I felt like it would be a good comeback—transferring to ABS-CBN to be a villain. Hopefully, I make an impact. I also felt that the move is for my longevity.
M: How does it feel working with a younger batch of stars now?
C: Good. I see myself in Daniel [Padilla] and Kathryn [Bernardo] when I was their age. It’s refreshing to see younger actors work, and work with them, too.
M: Was it also a factor that Angel [Locsin] was part of La Luna Sangre? You guys worked for 10 years and have a strong fan base. I mean, even Kathryn and Daniel said they used to watch both of you in Mulawin.
C: The first thing Kathryn told me when I met her was, “Nahihiya po ako sa inyo.” And I was like, “Bakit? Huwag kang mahiya sa’kin!”
S: Well, you are quite intimidating! [Laughs, then looks at Mond.] But when you know him, he’s so chill and nice. If you don’t, he has quite a strong presence. [He has] this stance, like he wants to attack someone. M: That’s his resting bitch face. C: [Laughs.] Tapos sabi ni Daniel, “Sino bang hindi nanonood ng Mulawin dati?” It was just nice that at one point in their lives, they watched my work, too.
M: There was a time you and Angel were the king and queen of GMA, and now you are both in a different place. How was it working again with her after a decade?
C: Weird in a nice way, kasi nga it was a reunion, and we’re in a different network working with different directors. Mas mature na kami ngayon, pero ’yung nuances ni Angel, alam na alam ko pa. You know that feeling?
M: You’re also working with her and Angelica Panganiban on a movie. That was the first thing that was announced even before the soap. What’s the update on that?
C: I think they’re still making revisions to the script, though I’m kind of thankful that it’s a bit delayed. M: Because of your schedule? C: The soap opera is taking up a lot of my time.
M: But you told me nga na you’re so ganado with the soap, that you really want to focus on it, and you’re super into your character. And that’s good—you’re motivated to go to work every day and not dragging yourself out of bed.
S: [Looks at Chard.] He’s really passionate about what he’s doing now.
PREVIEW: Do you guys have any plans of working together? You’re in the same network now.
C: If we were given an opportunity to work together, that would be ideal. At least we’d have the same schedule.
S: That would make our lives really easy, but I also think it’s good to work separately because you also don’t want to be packaged too much together.
C: But the last project we had was a really long time ago: In GMA five or six years ago?
M: You should enter La Luna as a vampire! A queen vampire!
S: Actually, they call me Suprema now on social media! Every night they’re like, “Suprema, bakit ba laging galit si Supremo? Pumasok ka na sa show kasi ikaw lang ’yung weakness ni Supremo!” But of course, calling the shots is out of my power.
R: But if working together happens, we’ll bring Zion on the set.
ON LOVE AND LIFE
M: The two of you planned a trip to Switzerland—sarah’s hometown and Zion’s birthplace—last June. Was the timing perfect for you to pop the question, Chard?
C: I was already planning it for a while and was just thinking of the right time because I wanted it [to be] special. And I knew this trip was coming up, so I really told myself it was time. I just didn’t want to rush things just because people were like... M: Egging you on? C: Yes, telling me what to do or how to do it, so I was like, let me just do it at the right time.
M: So why [was] the Switzerland trip the right time?
C: I feel like we’ve grown together and Zion’s at the right age.
M: Sarah, did you expect it? S: Honestly, I didn’t want to expect at all. I just wanted to enjoy and have fun because he’s been so busy and I’ve been, too. Switzerland was our chance to just relax. But at the same time when
we were in Manila, when I would have meetings with Tita Annabelle, she would wear the biggest rings! She would just be like, “So Sarah, kamusta ’yung project mo ngayon?” and I’m like, “Why are you flashing that in my face?”
PREVIEW: Tita Anabelle hinted on it? S: Every week she would wear a different one, a different size and color. I [was] like, “What is wrong with her? What is she doing?”
C: She was trying to get hints [about] what Sarah likes.
S: ’Cause I always compliment something she wears that I appreciate myself ! But I just kept brushing it off since I didn’t want to expect anything.
M: Chard asked me [about] what he thinks you’d prefer, like what style. And then I told him to make it as big as my eye! S: Then Chard also stole one of my rings. C: Oh, yes! We were leaving for Switzerland and I still had to buy the ring, right? I called up every single jeweler, but they didn’t carry the big ones. They had to order it and it [wouldn’t have arrived] until a month and a half after—and I only had a month left. So what I did was steal a ring I gave her before from her jewelry box and showed it to a jewelry designer for reference. I wanted the ring size [to be] precise. M: Did you notice that he stole it? S: No, but I noticed something else. I saw a nice quote that I found uplifting and wanted to write it on his phone as a reminder, but the first thing I saw on his phone’s notepad was “ring size, 16.” This was before Switzerland, so I was like, “Don’t’ freak out, it’s nothing.”
M: Chard, did you know exactly when and where to propose within the three weeks that you were there?
C: I wanted to do it in Zermatt where we were staying for a week. M: Take us through that day. C: The weather was sunny and we hiked up to a restaurant and bar in the middle of the Swiss Alps. Behind the restaurant is the perfect view of the tip of the Matterhorn, and this was the only day you can see it clearly. By the time we got there, we ordered drinks and decided to just relax, but they were playing alternative rock. I thought to myself, “This is not very romantic.”
S: And I was complaining about the music, too!
C: I was like, “Okay I’m not gonna do it here.” I had to look for a better spot that still had a good view without the music.
PREVIEW: Sarah, are you sure you still did not have an idea? Didn’t you dress up for it?
S: No! I was literally really wearing hiking boots, a hoodie and a backpack. I was super casual.
After some walking, I told her to stop while I set up my camera and tripod.
M: It’s a normal thing for you to carry your camera and tripod around, right? I mean you do that all the time in all your trips. S: That was not out of the ordinary. C: I just usually put my camera on timer mode when we’re in a nice place so we can have many photos together.
S: But he was taking forever and out of nowhere asked, “Can you play music?” M: Which was? S: “I Feel It Coming” by The Weeknd. [Laughs.] PREVIEW: Prophetic! But still no idea? S: None! C: I went to her and I was like, “Okay, smile!” and then we kissed. That was when I knelt and showed her the ring. And then she started crying.
S: I was ugly-crying for five minutes. I was punching him the whole time!
PREVIEW: Did you say yes right away? S: I did, right? [Everyone laughs.] M: Do you have any plans already for the big day? I know everything is still so fresh.
C: We’re torn because we both have huge families, but we also don’t want a big celebration.
M: But you guys are such adventurers and globetrotters. Are you thinking of having it abroad?
S: That’s an idea we’re considering. Somewhere cold in the springtime. M: What about your dress? C: She already has pegs. S: I already had pegs even before he proposed. M: What’s your fantasy wedding dress like? S: Honestly, something that’s comfortable, not heavy and non-poufy. I want it relaxed and beautiful and classic-looking. M: Any designer in mind? S: None yet. It does not matter if the designer is foreign or local as long as it’s beautiful, it’s the design I want, the fabric I want, and it’s gonna make me happy forever. M: Chard, what are you going to wear? C: I don’t know yet. [Laughs.] M: I’m gonna have a mood board for you. S: That’s where you come in. M: Was there ever a point where it was just like, it’s cool, we’re in a family, but we don’t need to get married just like Brangelina at the start? Did you ever think about that or did you already know that you’ll marry one day? C: That has always been in my head.
PREVIEW: How about you Sarah? Did you also want to get married?
S: For sure, yes. But I also get the Brangelina idea: a mindset that we’re stable, happy, satisfied and don’t need to do something to prove our love.
PREVIEW: Sarah, you’re fairly young and a lot of women nowadays marry much later. How did you know that you were ready?
S: I started working at such a young age, so I matured really early. I knew what I wanted in life: a steady job where I’m happy and doing what I love. I also knew I wanted a family as long as I had those considering and making sure—that both of us don’t have work at the same time. Just the thought of being away from Zion or the future baby scares me!
M: And I know, Chard, you’re building a house also.
C: Yes, that’s another thing. The house is actually top priority since we’ve started working on it. That’s one of the things that I also wanted to ensure before I asked her for marriage—to secure the house.
M: This stage in your life, when you just proposed, started building your home and transferred networks, does it feel like starting over again?
C: Yes, it’s a fresh start for me and my family. We’re looking forward to it. We’re really excited and we’re planning like, you know, what kind of dogs to have.
M: For Zion, aside from him in the future telling his friends that he has the coolest villain parents in the world, what else would you like him to say about the two of you?
S: That we supported whatever passion or craft he’s into. I think the most important thing as parents is to support your chil,d whether he wants to be an astronaut or a musician. You offer your 100 percent.
C: We want to figure out his strengths and his passion and concentrate on whatever he likes doing. Right now, he’s into music, so we’ve put him in piano classes. He enjoys it.
S: And I’m so happy that he’s into music because it’s something close to my heart. I grew up singing and play a little bit of guitar, too.
M:would you be okay if he decides to enter show business in the future? S: Our priority is his education. C: Yes, we want him to have a solid education first.
PREVIEW: Is there one thing that you admire more about each other now that you’ve both grown as parents and partners?
S: I would always admire—forever admire—his unselfishness. Not a lot of people know this, but he’s so unselfish and always willing to help out anyone. He puts other people first before himself. He has a huge heart. PREVIEW: And how about you, Chard? C: The way she devotes her time and love for me and Zion. I can seriously see that she’s willing to sacrifice anything for us. And her love for Zion— I see it for myself every day. M: Okay, I now pronounce... [Laughs.] C: Let’s save that for the wedding!