An­gel Aquino is a woman of a cer­tain age (and that age is 42)

Esquire (Philippines) - - ADS - PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY JOSEPH PAS­CUAL

Sarge Lacuesta talks to An­gel Aquino about grow­ing up ugly, ag­ing fear­lessly, and her fa­vorite four-let­ter word.

At seven­teen, An­gel Aquino was dis­cov­ered by a pro­duc­tion de­signer while she was loi­ter­ing at an out-of-the-way mall. “No one goes there,” shes said. “You’ve never heard of it.” She tells me the name of the mall and I pre­tend to have heard of it, and that the story of her dis­cov­ery is unique.

She tells me thhat she grew up an ugly girl, a plain Jane. “I was the dark-skinned oneone. I had un­ruly hair. Bata pa lang ako, I was al­ways told—you’re not that pretty.” The ugly duck­ling-turned-swan—it’s not an un­com­mon back­story, ei­ther. And nei­ther is the la­bel so of­ten lazily at­tached to her, along with the kind of posed head­shot mod­els like her were fa­mous for in the ’90s. Model-turned-ac­tress: the ep­i­thet in­vok­ing some form of split, of strug­gle, ex­ter­nal and in­ter­nal, from one end of the crazy celebrity-slash-so­ci­ety spec­trum to an­other.

To­day she is at both ends. In the morn­ing she was at a Shen­gen visa in­ter­view at the Ger­man Em­bassy in prepa­ra­tion for an up­com­ing trip to rep­re­sent Ang Hele sa Hi­wa­gang Hapis, her lat­est film, which screens in com­pe­ti­tion at the Ber­li­nale. And then, while wait­ing for our ap­point­ment, she killed time at her fa­vorite hair­dresser, com­ing out of it look­ing re­mark­ably un­touched, and un­touch­able, so that the moth­ers and ma­trons at the mall can’t help but look at her—hair achingly per­fect, cheek­bones im­prob­a­bly high, cheeks flush with im­pos­si­bly youth­ful me­tab­o­lism.

She re­mem­bers her first film, Butch Perez’s-Mum­baki. “The first time Butch Perez spoke to me about it, I was preg­nant with my se­cond child.” When they started film­ing, Thea was al­most a year old al­ready. “It was a small role but it was also close to my heart be­cause it was in the moun­tains. I was so scared that I would be sent home—they’d find out I couldn’t act.”

At that time, she was liv­ing in Baguio with her hus­band and two chil­dren. She had got­ten mar­ried while at­tend­ing col­lege, the con­se­quence of a teenage preg­nancy. The mar­riage ended 10 years later. She sin­gle­hand­edly brought up two daugh­ters with mod­el­ing money and show­biz money.

“I never make long-term plans,” she says—it’s a de rigeur state­ment in th­ese parts and just as well—but she has dreams: one of them is to live in Europe, to go to mar­ket on a bike, in a sum­mer dress. Per­haps this is a con­nec­tion to her youth, and at the same time an es­cape from it—when she was young she tagged along to Farmer’s Mar­ket ev­ery Sun­day with her father, where he would pick the in­gre­di­ents for the week­end fam­ily meal. “He would choose the chick­ens with eggs in­side them—preg­nant chick­ens!” Both are or­di­nary in­stances, to be sure, but look at her: pic­ture this par­tic­u­lar woman ped­alling hard in a dress, imag­ine the threat­en­ingly beau­ti­ful gamine in the kitchen, degut­ting an an­i­mal.

She is 42 now, and perches com­fort­ably in the middle of ef­fort­less and com­posed, ac­com­plished and promis­ing. She looks eas­ily 20 years younger, but wears a grownup lux­ury watch on her wrist; she’s won se­ri­ous awards for her act­ing, but won’t say no to non-stu­dio films.

By now she’s un­guarded enough to con­fide a par­tic­u­larly hair-rais­ing per­sonal tragedy. She gives gravid de­tails—“parang comics, na hor­ror story, na parang pe­likula!”— and at­tempts to give the episode some per­spec­tive, as though she’d been watch­ing a

tele­serye her­self, with its own kon­tra­bida, and is thank­ful for the time that has passed that now al­lows her to make light of it.

There’s no trace of dark­ness in her hu­mor, no re­morse com­ing from her end of the ta­ble. She is 42, af­ter all. What comes is the

kind of au­then­tic­ity and full­ness of man­ner that comes with hav­ing ev­ery­thing a real per­son should have by a cer­tain age: cel­e­brated ac­com­plish­ments, tan­ta­liz­ing se­crets, brief dark episodes, and a sense of hu­mor: “If I didn’t have to go through all that, ang baduy

na­man!” Do you feel like you’re in midlife? “I’m start­ing to feel it,” she an­swers, af­ter some thought. She laments the self-con­scious­ness and the nec­es­sary van­ity. She con­fesses stretch marks and un­sightly breasts.

The can­dor, of course, is part of the en­ti­tle­ment that comes with her age. “Of course it gives you a sense of au­thor­ity,” she ad­mits. “Now ev­ery­one is younger than me.”

But An­gel was al­ways more com­fort­able be­ing with some­one younger. “I’ve never been with an older per­son. For some rea­son I feel they’re go­ing to con­trol me.”

She adds: “I’m not with any­one now. I en­joy hang­ing out more than go­ing out on a date,” she says. She’s un­at­tached again, and the idea of go­ing to Europe thrills her. “Maybe I’ll meet a man,” she says, half-jok­ingly. “Or a woman!” That ex­cite­ment, borne on a midlife reck­less­ness, is gen­uine, but she’s never re­ally hooked up with any­one the way younger peo­ple do to­day. At most, a kiss: “Kiss­ing! It’s some­thing I can reck­lessly give away!”

The dis­claimer quickly fol­lows, un­nec­es­sary but em­phatic: “—to peo­ple I want to give it to.”

It’s part of this age, too, the em­brace of one’s own au­thor­ity and the re­jec­tion of it in oth­ers, the give-and-take-back, the open se­cret kept se­cret.

“I en­joy be­ing a woman. I en­joy my body. You know what word I find great? Cunt.” I keep my si­lence, but the word spells it­self out in my head. “Isn’t it?” she ex­claims. “It’s strong, bold, un­apolo­getic!” She claps a hand on her mouth—maybe too much has been said. There’s play­ful re­morse now, and em­bar­rass­ment, which she also at­taches to cer­tain mem­o­ries: filch­ing money from her father’s wal­let when she was a child, buy­ing porn at one of her mod­el­ing trips to Tokyo—“it was anime—at least dito walang na-e- ex­ploit!”

Em­bar­rassed over be­ing em­bar­rassed, re­morse­ful over the most un­re­mark­able things—a gen­er­a­tional quirk, I of­fer. She of­fers to pay the bill. Time’s up—there’s still the rest of the liv­ing day, and we’re al­most past the middle of it. She’s nei­ther model nor ac­tress now, just an­other mother pick­ing up a daugh­ter at school, the head of a house­hold, the fam­ily de­ci­sion-maker, the com­mon homemaker. Just don’t look at her.


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