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Interview by Rachel C. Barawid and Jaser A. Marasigan
Photos by Ivy Baraquia and Jozel Esguerra
Manila Bulletin, May 13, 2012
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MOVIE QUEEN MUM
EXHAUSTED after arriving from a late-night taping of her soap "Walang Hanggan, veteran actress Susan Roces could have easily rushed to finish our afternoon interview and returned to bed to catch up on her sleep.
But the gracious host, who even had a sumptuous adobo and spaghetti lunch prepared for us at her Greenhills abode, gamely answered all our questions and happily shared precious stories of life, career, family and even her recipes for this Mother's Day interview which extended way beyond 60 minutes.
Most people may know Susan, who is Jesusa Purificacion Sonora in real life, as the Queen of Philippine Movies. Loyal followers may even remember her as that gorgeous lass from Iloilo, the movie fan who became a movie star herself and went on to become the wife of the King of Philippine Movies Fernando Poe, Jr.
But not much is known about her as a mother to Movie and Television Review Classification Board chairperson Mary Grace Poe-Llamanzares and a doting grandma to three grandchildren.
An adopted daughter, Mary Grace said her parents gave her all the confidence necessary and treated her like their own. An excellent listener, Susan would always be too happy to hear stories from her daughter. The eager mom also made sure to support her in all her endeavors.
As "Mama Susan" to her apos, she didn't like being called a lola and would rather have her grandchildren treat her as a friend and confidante. As such, she wouldn't bore them with stories of the past and give unsolicited advices. Instead, she would patiently wait for them to ask.
Susan also disclosed that she is neither a spoiler nor a "ceremonial lola" who would require Sunday lunches and dinners with her children. "I do not require Sunday lunch or dinner every week. My grandchildren have their paternal grandparents (too)! They are professionals who have just Sunday off. Ako, flexible ang profession ko. Mas marami akong oras na available. I would rather have them around when they want to, not because I'm their grandmother but because I want them to be my friends. Kasi (pag) grandmother, parang sapilitan o obligasyon," reveals the 70-year-old actress.
She may not love to cook and be in the kitchen like some typical mothers but Susan knew very well her role, and performed well the responsibilities that go with it. What is most admirable about her is that point in her life when she gladly gave up her successful career to become a full-time housewife and mother to her husband and daughter.
"Mahirap ang role ng housewife. It's a profession that does not pay. Walang suweldo pero ang daming trabaho! Dapat may rights (rin) ang mga nanay. Tapos pag nagkamali pa ang anak, sinisisi pa yung nanay." observes Susan.
But instead of boasting her achievements as a mom, Susan chooses to recognize other mothers, especially her daughter and her own mother's efforts and excellence in raising their children. She particularly takes pride in how Mary Grace is able to excel at being a good mother, wife and career woman. On the other hand, Susan says she got her strength from her mother who was a good homemaker and yet, proved to be ahead of her time.
These days, Susan is not just reinventing herself as an actress with the revival of her career, but is also becoming more relevant to the youth. When not mentoring her fellow young actors, she meets up with her fans who've immortalized her heydays by putting up the Susan Roces Facebook fan page and several blogs and websites.
In this rare interview with the movie queen, we learn not just the secrets to longevity in showbiz or the recipes of a good, sumptuous kare-kare and adobo, but also why she is continuously loved and adored by her children, grandchildren, relatives, friends and the fans that have remained true and loyal to this day. (Rachel S. Barawid)
STUDENTS AND CAMPUSES BULLETIN (SCB): We were surprised to find a Susan Roces fan page on Facebook! It seems you have young fans too?
SUSAN ROCES (SR): Yes. I've met some of them. They have included me in the internet. They featured my old movies, clips of some interviews, pictures from pictorials during my early days in the movies. What interested them they said, are the movies that we did before. They also are affected by the love stories. Well, love knows no age (laughs). It's the same in every generation.
SCB: So you do use the Internet?
SR: My nephews and nieces have introduced me to the internet and some gadgets. Now I can link up with them better. I still miss the old sentimental ways of receiving love letters. I have kept all my love letters, cards that have been sent to me by friends and suitors.
What's nice about the present is that you get things done faster, as though everything is urgent. However, the romance is gone (laughs).
The handwriting of the person who's sending the letter, and the words in it come from the heart.
CBL: Were you surprised that you have these younger fans? It probably helped that you're in a soap opposite these younger actors.
SR: Finding myself in the internet was a pleasant surprise. At first I couldn't understand why I was there. I said, did any member of my family put me in there? Then I found out it was a fan who has been following my career. And there are younger members of the Susan Roces internet...
SCB: Fan page?
SR: I don't know what to call it (laughs). Sometimes they link me up with my other leading men.
SCB: How about Twitter?
SR: No I'm too busy for that. I'm not too happy about what I'm hearing about via Twitter. Sometimes it feels like you're writing on a page, a diary. It's just between you and the paper you're writing on. However, this is different. A lot of people get to read your sentiments, about your thoughts, and everybody differs in opinion and sentiments.
So it's more likely that others who have the luxury of time would just dwell on that subject and then there will be a fierce exchange of words. You have to be careful with what you tweet about. On the other hand, there are very innocent messages there that other people misinterpret.
SCB: Don't you miss those days, nung mas simple po ang buhay, no cellphones?
SR: There are many things I cherish about the past, however, we don't live in the past. I appreciate what's happening now. This is the world we live in.
SCB: Do you tell that to your apos? That during your time it was like this...
SR: I made it a practice just to wait until they ask. Because I remember as a young person, I always heard the phrase "Noong panahon namin." That's how my relationship is with the younger members of my family, especially my grandchildren.
I'm not the type of lola who you would call lola. They call me Mama Susan. When the grandchildren started coming, Ronnie didn't want to be called lolo. So bakit naman ako magpapatawag na lola (laughs).
DETOUR FROM TEACHING TO ACTING
SCB: How did you get into acting in the first place?
SR: When I was a high school student in La Consolacion College, they first introduced acting as a subject, Speech and Drama. I participated in many stage plays. Most of the parts that I played were male because it was an exclusive girls' school and I was quite tall for my age.
Eventually, my teacher said why don t you take up Speech and Drama and teach in this school because there was a need for it. And so, when I came to Manila, I wanted to take up that college course and be a teacher. It was the summer of 1956 and Sampaguita opened its doors to the fans. And I was a fan of Gloria Romero. I also loved Nida Blanca movies. I was not for the love team, it was strictly for Gloria and Nida. I was at the Sampaguita studio and I was admiring the actors and actresses whom I asked autographs from. And unknown to me, Dr. Jose Perez, the producer was also searching for new faces. That's how it started.
SCB: You were discovered?
SR: Yes, maybe it was destiny.
SCB: What was your first job?
SR: During that time they were in search of a new face for the role of "Boksingera ", penned by Mars Ravelo. They already negotiated for the story but Alicia Vergel, the actress for whom the role was intended, left the Sampaguita Studios, so they were left with a project without a star. So they thought of searching for a new face to portray that role — and I landed the role. However when they previewed the finished product, they realized I wasn't credible for the role because it needed a tough lady, a serious action actress. So they made it "Boksingera Daw." They shelved it. It took several projects before I was accepted by the audience.
SCB: Your plan really was to graduate and teach? Did you ask permission first from your parents?
SR: Of course. My mom had dreams of being an actress when she was young. My dad, a doctor, was in the States. When he found out, he didn't get mad. He appreciated movie actors, he was a lover of beautiful pictures. That's how he met my mom. He was having his graduation photo taken at a studio and he saw a picture of a young lady in costume displayed there. Sino yan? The studio photographer said the name. Someday I hope to meet her, he said.
SCB: Have ever done or played serious villain role?
SR: They tried for me to portray that in "Babaeng Hampaslupa." Later on, sabI ko,why isn't she as bad anymore. Sabi nila, nagrereklamo ang ad placements, ayaw nilang salbahe ka. I still look forward to a character like that. One that is for real. Wala naman talagang sobrang sama or bait.
SCB: Have you done your dream role yet?
SR: It's happening now. There are roles that I wish I could have done when I was younger and lighter in weight (laughs).
SCB: Sexy roles?
SR: Oo (laughs). But it can never happen (laughs). Hindi nila ma-imagine!
SCB: What is it in acting that you love so much?
SR: As a person, I've always been curious how each and everyone feels, more than what they're wearing. Curious ako palagi kiniss siya, anong nararamdaman niya? Sinampal siya, iiyak ba 'yan? As a kid, I would tag along with my dad to the hospital. He was a doctor in Lepanto Mines. I could see in the emergency ward that he had to attend to everybody. Sa mina, kung ano-anong aksidente ang meron. Siguro doon nag-umpisa ‘yun.
SCB: What was your childhood dream?
SR: I wanted to be a flight stewardess, ang gandang tignan, naka-uniform at may bitbit na attache case, may sombrero, nagbibyahe sila, they see the world and they get paid doing it. I also wished to be a doctor because of my dad. A ballerina too, because when I was five years old, from the windows of our house in Iloilo, I would see pretty young girls wearing tutus and toe shoes. I wished I could take up ballet too. But we could not afford it.
THE SECRET OF SUCCESS
SCB: Did you have to work to support the family?
SR: Most of us. And I believe that's the reason for our success. The secret of success is when your intention is not for yourself, but for others. Gusto kong magtrabaho, gusto kong mag-artista at makaipon ng pera para mapatayo ko ng bahay ang nanay at tatay ko, mga kapatid ko.
Karamihan sa amin ganun. Magbigay kayo ng mga pangalan ng artista. Malalaman ninyo. Nora Aunor is one of them. Gloria Romero also. Not that we have or we were forced to work for our family, maybe it's God's way of answering everyone's prayer. Maybe our parents were praying hard too na sana naman maging maayos ang buhay namin, na we can provide better for our family. My father was working as a doctor, although he was working abroad. My mom was busy looking after all of us. Lima kaming magkakapatid, I was second in the family. When I joined the movies I was 14.
SCB: Did you have a happy childhood?
SR: In Negros, yes. We lived most of the time in the hacienda. Food was plenty, I also experienced going to school in the Mountain Province. I lived in many places and studied in many schools. We've been moving from one house to another. It's a constant change. My parents were a young couple searching for where they should establish themselves.
During the war, my dad had to join the USAFFE, the one taking care of the medical needs of the soldiers. He saw to it that we were secure in his hometown in Negros.
SCB: Did you ever get to build that dream house for your family?
SR: Yes. Sa Wilson St. Maliit lang. In 1960, we started building our house. My parents saw to it my income was invested in land, in real estate. I wish to share this with the youth. Salary wasn't really big but it was good. And value of money was good. My parents saw to it that I purchase my first property on installment. Maski ano, basta kayang tapusin ang bayad, hulog-hulogan. My mother was very good in budgeting. She said, everybody must cooperate, don't look for anything that's not within the budget para matapos nating hulugan itong lupa.
Food was plenty, food was good, but simple. Wala 'yung mga hindi kailangan na mga outing or party.
SCB: You started in showbiz at 14, you didn't feel that you missed out on your childhood?
SR: I was very fortunate in my generation because there were only four major studios. In the Sampaguita lot, we enjoyed our teenage days. We had picnics. We interacted with our friends outside and within the movies. But we were not allowed to interact with other actors from other studios. Bawal din ang ligawan.
I'm lucky also to have parents, especially my mom, who was broadminded. She allowed us to accept visitors in our house. Nakatapos ka na ng high school, nagtatrabaho ka na, may nanliligaw sa'yo, sabi niya, ayoko ng makikitagpo ka kung saan-saan. Bukas ang bahay natin. Dito sila pumunta.
SCB: What keeps you going? It seems you still have the energy to do soaps, etc..
SR: I'm going to a different phase of my career. In the past, focus was really more on glamour, looks, stardom, popularity, romance, to link you up with this love team, who is better than who. I was assigned to do more of the goody-goody-goody thing, over sugar-coated stuff (laughs). It’s the fantasy stuff, rags-to-riches, everything positive. There was no negative role for me.
So now, this is what excites me. As they say in our showbiz lingo, mga totoong tao. Nobody has a monopoly of being bad or being good, mixed. Now also, we can be heard. Before, being under contract, it’s dictated upon by the producers, do this, do that, no questions asked. Ngayon iba na, puwede mo nang sabihin.
MEETING DA KING
SCB: Si FPJ po ba artista na rin during that time?
SR: Yes. Pero hindi pa kami magkakilala. Magkaibang studio kami. We only got to see each other and became aware of each other because of the activities in the movies that we both had to attend, like FAMAS Night, 'yung ganyan.
SCB: Was there instant attraction?
SR: Our first meeting was during the birthday of Romeo Vasquez. I made my first movie outside of Sampaguita, "Daigdig ko'y Ikaw" in his production. They offered for me to team up with him. Ganun lang, artista lang.
SCB: May boyfriend po ba kayo at that time?
SR: Ah marami akong naging boyfriend (laughs). One thing I can share with the youth is that love is a wonderful feeling. But you must take care not to mistake it as something very permanent when you're young.
So your attraction for the opposite sex varies, man or woman, differently according to your age. Sa pagiging totoong tao lang, sometimes its physical attraction, or infatuation. Iba-ibang feeling, iba't ibang age, akala mo in love na in love ka na only to realize, hindi pala. When you reach a certain age and you look back at the photos and you say "Ha, na-inlove ako diyan!? Yuck!" (laughs).
SCB: Si FPJ po ba nagpunta ng bahay niyo para manligaw?
SR: Ah yes, kinailangan. Hindi puwedeng hindi (laughs).
SCB: How long did it take you to say yes?
SR: Siguro mga three years.
SCB: Ang tagal!
SR: No, three years before we got married. But we got to like each other when we're working. Love hate, love hate because he didn't put his best foot forward. It was that way for us.
We're very fortunate we are from the same profession so we understand our professions. We were not just husband and wife, we were partners in our careers. So it was easy for us to understand late night taping or shooting. But because I already achieved what I wanted in my career, I was 27 when we got married, my career became a second choice. My main goal was to be a good wife, a good mother. I could only do that if I set aside my movie career. However, I realized although it was not asked of me, I volunteered to do it. It was not good because an idle wife is a jealous wife (laughs).
SCB: When we interviewed your daughter Grace, she told us that when FPJ was still alive, maraming pumupunta sa bahay niyo, humihingi ng financial na tulong, etc. Ngayon po ba, ipinapagpatuloy niyo pa rin 'yung mga advocacies niya tulad nun?
SR: You see, Ronnie and I had experienced how it was to be in need, how it was to be on the receiving end. So it's our way of reciprocating with people who had been kind enough during our times of need, when we were young and helpless. Life is like that. Prayers are answered through other people.
SCB: How do you instill that value of working with other people in your children and grandchildren?
SR: Nakikita naman nila by example. Tapos natutuwa din sila kasi nakikita nila.
SCB: What do you miss most about your husband?
SR: Many things. They ask me how come you still live in the same house and you haven't rearranged anything inside your room? Because I still feel him around. He built this house and we made it a home together, from the time we married. So I cannot imagine living anywhere else.
I miss a lot of things. Being able to share important moments. Doing things that I got so used to doing with him, like having coffee in the morning; discussing matters while having coffee; and making yabang to each other about our achievements. Kami lang naman ang puwede magyabangan eh. Siyempre sa iba, hindi. It will really sound like mayabang. Otherwise kung kami lang, "uy ang galing ko" (laughs). Going to the movies together, having our meals. Simple fun, just lazing around. It was a luxury for us already that we're able to just be at home with the family. We had lots of laughter. Well, of course, what every wife misses is when you wake up in the morning, there's this face in front of you. Marami, marami. But like my mom, I'd cry some and laugh it (laughs).
FPJ was very thoughtful. As far as I can remember, there was never a Valentine that he missed, sending me flowers. Like Daniel in "Walang Hanggan," he made his presence felt. There was a time he made a heart with crepe paper. Kawayan na pinagawa dun sa art department, tapos dinikitan ng craft paper na Happy Valentines. Dahil 'yung shooting namin, somewhere where he couldn't buy a card (laughs). Mga hara-harana.
SCB: Have you ever thought of building a museum for FPJ’s works?
SR: FPJ's memorabilia are all in the FPJ studios. My personal museum is the living museum. It's a resthouse in Batangas, that's where I plant fruit trees. It's not a very large property. It houses all my memorabilia and personal souvenirs since I was a kid.
MOTHERHOOD SHOULD BE A PROFESSION
SCB: What kind of a mother are you?
SR: It's a very difficult role to be a mother. Iba-ibang personalities ang hinahandle mo, lalo na kung marami kang anak. There are many mothers I admire so much. Among them is Mrs. Aquino (Corazon), Elizabeth Webb, what she had to go through and her dedication to her son and the rest of the family. The Virgin Mary.
SCB: Are you a spoiler grandma?
SR: Depende sa mga pangyayari at sitwasyon. 'Pag tinanggihan na ng magulang nila, huwag na silang lumapit sa akin. Sasabihin ko sa kanila, "can't do anything." Pero 'pag inuna nila ako, maybe I can spoil. Ganun ang usapan namin. Kasi baka sabihin mas bida ka kesa dun sa parents. Pero ang sabi ko naman, I'm not a ceremonial lola. I do not require Sunday lunch or dinner every week.
What I want is quality time, that they want to see me, they want to be with me, not because I'm their grandmother but because I want them to be my friends. I want them to be able to tell me what's happening to them. Ayoko ring magsabi na bawal o anong itong naririnig ko na may nanliligaw sa iyo (laughs). Eh napagdaanan ko rin yan.
SCB: What can you say about Grace's work at the MTRCB?
SR: Well. I'm glad to hear positive comments about her. Natutuwa naman ako pero siyempre sabi ko sa kanya mahirap na trabaho, you're always under scrutiny. Mabuti naman at diyan ka naassign sa movies. Kasi part of her growth was also influenced by the movies.
SCB: What are the qualities that you got from your mother?
SR: She was the best mom in the world. She was more of a friend, she was ahead of her time. What was important for her was hindi kami tatanga tanga, alam namin kung ano 'yung papasukin namin. Whatever strength I have, I got from my mom. She was a very practical person. She'd cry some and then laugh it off.
My mom was a diabetic. So she had also glaucoma. One eye had to be removed to save the other. So she was wearing a false eye. One time, when she was sewing, it dropped. Siyempre, 'yung pangyayaring 'yun saddened her. She picked it up and cried. She went to the bathroom and cleaned it, then put it back. And then she laughed. Sige pag salbahe kayo, aalisin ko ito (laughs). She was a character!
SCB: And the best lessons you learned from her?
SR: She told us, experiments are to be done here at home, not outside. You want to know how liquor tastes? Sige mag-inuman tayo (laughs).
When we go to a party, she'd tell us, "Oh kids, handa na 'yung pagkain, kumain na kayo." "Eh di ba party 'yung pupuntahan?" "Ayokong pagdating niyo sa party, para kayong gutom na gutom. So kumain na kayo. At maghintay kayong alukin kayo pagdating niyo doon. Hindi 'yung dahil gutom na gutom kayo, after saying hello, diretso na kayo sa pagkain."
She also told me when I wanted to help her in the kitchen. "Mag-aral ka para makapagtrabaho ka para mayroon kang pangsuweldo sa cook at sa pambili ng iluluto (laughs). So when I got married, she told me, "O ipinagluluto mo ba ang asawa mo? "Ma, mayroon akong cook!" "Iba naman siyempre pag ikaw ang nagluluto.” "Ma di ba sabi mo!" (laughs).
SCB: What are you most proud about Grace?
SR: My daughter is a good mother, more than anything, and a good wife to her husband. She is also being kind to herself and being able to practice a profession. Mahirap kasi lalo na itong modern age, masyado kang magiging dull kung housewife ka. Pero mahirap ang role ng housewife. Dapat may suweldo!
SCB: It is a career!
SR: ‘Yun ang isang subject for Mother's Day. When you fill a form that says profession, in lieu of a career, you put housewife. But it's a profession that does not pay. Dapat may rights ang mga nanay. Masyadong abused. Tapos pag nagkamali pa ang anak, dahil 'yung nanay ko ganito, ganyan! Sinisisi pa yung nanay. Naalala lang sila pag matanda na sila at kapag Mother's Day.
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