Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Journey

Every star has that moment when she knows that the journey has begun. For Judy Ann Santos, that came when her idol Julie Vega died. When she learned about the soap opera star's death, Judy Ann disappeared, first into her room, then into the bathroom. She turned the doorknob quietly, pushed the door shut and stood in front of the sink. She looked at herself in the mirror -- then she cried.

In a strange yet funny sort of way, it confirmed for Judy Ann that she would become an actress. She was upset over Vega's death, but at the same time, couldn't stop watching herself in the mirror as tears rolled down her chubby cheeks. The little girl was mesmerized by her own reflection. "Umiiyak ako talaga, tapos bumalik ako sa kwarto ko, at umiyak ako. Tapos pumasok ako sa banyo at tiningnan ko yung sarili ko sa salamin habang umiiyak ako. In short, uma-acting ako."

But the journey of Judy Ann Lumagui Santos goes back much farther than that. Growing up in Antipolo, this baby of the family -- she had two older siblings, Jeffrey and Jackie -- had to make do with very little. Their family was cash strapped, a grocery they had owned folded up, and the separation of her parents split their meager resources even further. Growing up, she didn't have many toys, but she relied on her imagination and her resourcefulness to make things fun. Rummaging through the stock of unsold goods from their defunct grocery, she pulled out unsoiled packs of starch, and sold them to neighbors. The money she earned, she gave to her mom to help her make ends meet. She kept only enough for herself to buy a rootbeer. Then she would pretend to get drunk. "Doon ako sa puno sa likod ng bahay namin. Naglalasing lasingan. At feeling ko, talagang nalalasing ako sa rootbeer. Nahihilo hilo talaga ako. Parang totoo."

As the family's little girl, Judy Ann was especially close to her mother. Her brother and sister were closer to their father. Judy Ann was extremely possessive about her mom, and tried, in her own childish fashion, to keep her mom's affections for herself. She wanted to stay wrapped in that protective cocoon forever -- and if that meant shutting out her mother's suitors after her parents broke up, then so be it, Judy Ann told herself. She didn't care. When she grew up and started to become an actress, her directors would use that episode in her life to motivate her and make her cry. "May nanliligaw noon kay Mommy [nang magkahiwalay sila ni Daddy] na hate na hate ko. 'Yun ang ginagamit na motivation sa akin na ngumalngal ako talaga, kulang na lang magpapadyak ako."

Mommy Carol tried to understand her youngest child, but at times, no matter what she did, Judy Ann stuck to her feelings. No one else, not even her beloved mother, could make her feel any differently. "Hindi naman naloka si Mommy Carol," she laughs. "Naiintindihan naman niya kung bakit ako ganoon, pero sinusubukan niya akong i-console, 'yun nga lang, hindi ko mapigilan 'yung emosyon ko eh. Hindi talaga. Hindi ko maitago." This unrestrained show of emotions would help her much later in life as she drew from it to take on challenging acting roles. "Selfish ako pagdating sa nanay ko. Ayokong may iba. Bunso kasi ako kaya ayokong may iba."

Even in her younger days, there were already indications of the actress that Judy Ann would become.

Of course, their trip together through life has not always been blissful. The mag-ina would go on to have their tampuhan, then when Mommy Carol left the country to work -- because of which she missed out on a great deal of Judy Ann's pre-teen years -- it gave them a chance to step back and take a good look at their relationship. "Sa lahat ng mag-iina, the time comes na nagkakaroon talaga ng misunderstandings at tampuhan. Ang katumbas ng tampuhan namin ni Mommy, pag nangyari, ligwak ang buong araw ko. But these things happen for the both of you to have a deeper relationship.

"Mommy and I, we had a lot of catching up to do, because most of my pre-teen years, wala siya. Kaya minsan, nasa proseso kami na nagkakatampuhan kami. Kaya pinagdadasal ko lagi is for us to have more patience and more understanding with each other. Dahil kapag magkasundo kami, ang saya-saya namin.

At home with her sister Jackie, Judy Ann grew up in Antipolo, where she first went to school and made friends.

"Anak lang ako. Di ko alam kung ano ang nagagawa kong tama o mali. Mas higit ang takot ko sa kanya, di ko alam kung paano ko siya i-a-approach. Minsan, nag-de-debate kami, na ang ending, mag-so-sorry ako. It pains me when she cries, pero proseso 'yon ng paglaki naming dalawa. Baby girl niya ako, bunso pa. So she's really very protective. Pero hanggang ngayon, kahit matanda na ako, I still long for her touch, her hug, her comforting words. When we were promoting Ploning, ang dami kong kinausap, sobrang pagod at stressed ako. Pagkakita ko sa kanya, naiyak na lang ako. Pero pagkatapos n'on, puwede na ako humarap sa mundo. Iba talaga ang yakap ng ina. Sila lang ang puwedeng magbigay ng ganitong klaseng pag-aaruga."

Taken from Starstudio magazine: Judy Ann Santos special issue

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