Above the Crowd (Celebrity, October 15, 1979)
Artworks by Nonoy Marcelo
“But I’m such a big, fat pic,” she protested when the idea of a Celebrity interview was first broached to her. She was deep in rehearsals for Nick Joaquin’s Mga Ama, Mga Anak, where she was playing her first stage role, and I had gone to see her at Philamlife Auditorium one evening. She did look much heavier than she does in the Lux commercial, particularly around the waist and hips, but otherwise she looked gorgeous.
Hilda Koronel went out of circulation soon after making her first supposedly bold movie, Hayop sa Hayop, and soon after rumors floated about her reconciliation with one-time beau Jay Ilagan. There were subsequent rumors and nasty gossip in the movie press – about a pregnancy, which wa confirmed in June this year by news of the birth of a baby girl.
I had intimations about the state of affairs in the Koronel and Ilagan households when I called up the Ilagan home at about that time to arrange for an interview with Jay Ilagan. A little girl volunteered the information that “Ay, hindi na dito nakatira si Tito Jay, kina Tita Susan na,” although a male voice promptly took over the phone to correct whatever wrong impression that little girl may have conveyed. Not true, he said, sounding flustered, Jay was staying in his own home. I had been calling the Ilagan house many times before then and had spoken to the actor’s mother often enough to recognize her voice anywhere. I was positive it was the same voice I heard when I called Hilda Koronel’s home three months later, but not wanting to seem too forward, I had desisted from asking the older woman if she was indeed Mrs. Ilagan. She saved me the trouble, however, by identifying herself. But the next time I called and, as per instructions the day before, asked for Mrs. Ilagan, I was told, “Aling Mrs. Ilagan?” Aha, I thought, so there were two Mrs. Ilagans. I asked for the older Mrs. Ilagan.
Hilda Koronel lives in a Spanish-style house near the end of a Cubao street that is lined with apartments and unpretentious-looking homes. There is no doorbell at her gate and it is a long time before anyone opens the door, so I have time to, as they say, case the joint. A black MSR Manta with seats upholstered in black and white checks is parked in the driveway. Among the clothes hanging in the driveway to dry, I make out red jogging pants and black leotards.
After about 10 minutes the first head, a boy’s, pops out of a side door. He prompty puts his head back in. Then a woman comes out, takes a look at me and disappears. Nothing happens. A middle-aged woman in a white uniform, perhaps a yaya, comes towards the gate but she only wants to check whether the clothes on the line are dry. Noticing me, she asks what my business is. Then she enters the house and the first woman comes out again and invites me inside.
The living room is incredibly tidy; the granolithic flooring looks unstepped on. I sense a conscious effort to carry over to the house’s interior design the Spanish influence of its exterior. There are two sala sets: one, heavy and richly carved and upholstered in deep red; the other, a more cozy set in moss green. There is a profusion of blown-glass floral and fruit arrangements on the marble tables and a huge plastic potted plant stands at the archway leading to the dining room. I wonder, with all the children whose voices I now hear, how the house could be kept so neat.
The children – there must be four or five of them – look at me curiously as I sit on the green sofa. Two pretty little girls take turns peering at me and then look at each other amusedly. A curly-topped little mestizo is not so friendly; he leers at me from the top of the stairs and makes faces and then blurts out, “Galit kita, punta-punta ka pa ditto.”
Hilda Koronel finally comes down wearing a flowered housedress in ice blue and oversized green and white bedroom slippers. I can’t help noticing several deep lines around her neck, the kind that overweight during pregnancy can bring about. She says she weight 188 pounds just before her delivery and, thanks to almost daily workouts at the Mandarin’s Hatch and Reed gym and squash and tennis and a strict diet, she is now down to 130, which is still 20 pounds in excess of her normal weight. Hatch and Reed is “very effective, but it’s up to the person really. If you don’t put your heart in it, it won’t work. I think in anything it is like that.”
I am to find out, as the interview progresses, that that statement might as well explain Hilda Koronel’s astounding self-development not only as an actress but also as a woman. Eight years ago, I passed up a chance to interview her, then Lea Productions’ hottest property, for a national publication. Interviewing Nora Aunor and Vilma Santos had been ordeals in themselves and so, when my editor suggested I do Hilda next, I said no thank you, without a second thought. I was not sorry I declined the assignment. The writer who eventually took it came back to the office after interviewing Hilda, spewing invectives because the 14-year-old Lea star had only one word in her vocabulary: “okay.” It was all the girl could answer, Ninotchka Rosca fumed.
Today, Hilda Koronel, way past her Lea years, has blossomed into a very articulate and self-possessed young woman with a mind and a will of her own. At
, where she is an international studies senior, the teachers concede that she has “a good mind” and regret that her energies have to be dissipated in so many activities. Hilda herself says that if she had all the time in the world, school would be so easy. Maryknoll College
In this very candid interview, Hilda Koronel, who is known to be a very person, speaks of her film career, the movie industry, school, the men in her life, Jay Ilagan and her children, including three-month-old Leona Paula, who has “her Papa’s eyes.”
Where does Hilda Koronel end and Susan Reid begin?
I know where my Hilda Koronel ends and where my Susan Reid starts. My private life is really Susan. I give the public just a little part of me. Of course, they’re used to Hilda Koronel. When I was just starting and people would call me Hilda, hindi ko maalala. Even in school nobody calls me Hilda, nobody. I feel I’m a person there, hindi idol. I forbid it. Even my checkbooks carry the name Susan Reid. Sa movies lang talaga ang Hilda. But even my movie friends calle me Susan. When I call the parlor for an appointment, I use Susan. Sanay lang and public na konti lang Hilda Koronel ang alam. I really treasure my privacy. I keep a dividing line.
Which is why people say you’re a snob.
Yes, but that’s not true. I give them only up to a certain point. Otherwise the whole system will swallow me up. That’s what I was telling Lloyd (Samartino, her co-star in Nick Joaquin’s Mga Ama, Mga Anak). Lino and I and the rest of the cast were telling Lloyd about the star system, that you have to put up with a lot of things if you’re a newcomer. And I said, Hala, if you’re not strong, they’ll just swallow you up and you become a part of the system and then you’re nothing afterward. Dinaanan din naming.
You started in the movies at 14?
No, I started when I was 12 in 1969. I didn’t get into the movies through “Nightowl Dance Party.” We had relatives in Channel 11. I started in “Nightowl” when I was seven, eight, and every year I would win. I won second in the finals. Jessica (the former bomba star) ws first. I was well developed at an early age. It was fun winning. After a while I stopped. Then we had a friend who headed a recruiting office for extras. We usually went to the studios to watch shootings. Once we went to LVN looking for this woman and a film editor saw me. He asked if I wanted to be in the movies. I said yes, out of curiosity, and he took me to Lea, where they shot my picture. The following week I was in a film. It was fast, there was no time to think about it. Matagal na din iyon – 10 years. Siyempre, when I was young, halo-halo ang views, ideas. My guiding factor was Lino (Brocka). I met him when I was 18. When I was 13, 14, I didn’t know I was making mistakes. I would do taping, I was so young, ang mga tao nasasaktan ko pala but I didn’t know and he would come to me and say this is wrong. He would explain and I would cry kasi hindi ko naman sinasadya. So eventually I realized ito tama, it hindi. He was setting parang guidelines, this is what you should do. Parang nandoon na ang structure, but he was guiding me along that line. He was a father, a brother, a friend, everything. Parang we grew up together in the movies kasi sabay ang discovery naming sa Lea, and then as persons. Maybe he saw the potential.
Where did you grow up?
. I grew up with my Mom’s sister in a very violent place in Manila . There were gang wars. The environment was not very good. That’s why my friends ask how come I was not psychologically affected by my environment. Usually, hindi ba, they say you are what your environment is. But what happened to me is the opposite. I don’t know how I was able to distinguish right from wrong at the time. The people I grew up with had different ideas and opinions from me. My uncle was very strict – black was black, you couldn’t argue. Go to church every day, you could not look at boys, that was a sin. I told myself I couldn’t let my own children grow up that way. My friends say dapat naging ganoon din ako. But I don’t understand why I turned out this way. No one was guiding me. I didn’t see my father that much. Then he and my mother split up. So most of my life I had no father. But I’m not bitter. Hindi naman ako lumaking masama. Wala akong hang-ups. Pasay
How many movies have you made?
Ang dami-dami na. I don’t remember. My first movie was a screen test, Leslie, with Boots and Liza. After that, tuloy-tuloy na. Maybe it was fate. It all happened so fast. They asked me, you want to be an actress. Tapos, screen test. Tapos, starring role na.
But you always wanted to be a movie star.
No. But when I was small, people always told me, “A, mag-aartista ang batang ito paglaki niya.” Me, because laging inuulit sa akin, I hated the idea. Wala akong hilig umarte. There were plays in school and every year, Santacruzan sagala, but I hated it. I entered the movies out of curiosity.
You were advanced for your age.
Yes, I was. When I was young, 12, I had the mind of a 17-year-old. Now I feel 30-plus, 40. That’s why when I was 19, I couldn’t date boys my age. Even now, when I was separted before, I couldn’t date boys my age because my mind was so far advanced, more mature, hindi kami nagkakaintindihan. They were young, fun-loving, they loved to dance, my mind was somewhere else. I love to read books and I like to discuss things I read, the movies, a little of everything, and you can do this only with an older person. I would go out with men – not 40’s, DOM na iyon. When I was 19, I would go out with men mga 28, 33. The youngest I went out with was 27 or 26. The best age gap for me was about 14 years. They knew how to treat women and magandang kausap. Mahilig din akong sumayaw but I can’t do it every night. I wanted something deeper – marijuana, drink, they all end, hanggang doon na lang. There must be something beyond those.
What role affected you most deeply?
Maybe Insiang. It was a very good role, it was really made for me. I did it on television when I was much younger and Lino thought it would be a good vehicle when I reached a certain age of maturity. I think I was 14 when I did it. He said I was not mature enough then – hindi pa kaya sa character, hindi pa masyadong developed. He promised me when I got to be 18 he would do a movie for me, really for me.
With what role did you identify most?
With dramatic roles in general. When you mention my name, people think of that.
While role has given you fulfillment in terms of performance?
Dramatic roles. During my Lea days I used to do comedies pero hindi maganda. I feel I can do them too but they have to be done well. My sense of humor is different – not the Dolphy type, but siguro Mang Nano type. Maybe sarcastic.
I did not see Hayop sa Hayop…
Neither did I. I was in KL as a film festival delegate. When I arrived, wala na. Yes, in a way, I feel I’ve missed something when I don’t see my movies. Pero wala akong magagawa. Pero pag alam kong pangit ang movie, I really don’t see it. It’s frustrating. Siyempre minsan hindi mo maiwasan – you get a good script but the director is not so good. Siyempre hindi mo naman alam, you have to give everybody a chance, and it’s also work. And then you find out hindi mahusay ang director so hindi maganda ang execution ng movie.
I saw stills of Hayop sa Hayop that showed you in the nude.
Supposed to be. Did you see the one in Expressweek? The pictorials were much more bold than the movie. In the movie it was just my back that was seen, so people said harang. I was wearing a bikini. I took off the top and I was submerged in water and sitting on a rock. Then there was a waterfall overhead. Then the kissing scene. That was all. The bikini top had to go at the end because nakikita pa rin. So we taped my breasts and I was covering them with my arms. I never let go kahit nagsasabon. Ang tagal naming ginawa iyon.
Ang daming offers after that movie, about 13 offers for bold movies. Iyong iba maganda ang story, pero takot ako sa director. Hayop I did because of Lino. Otherwise I wouldn’t have done it. I’m too scared sa ibang director, nagsasamantala. With Lino, I’m not scared. I’m willing to work with other directors, but I’m very cautious. I ask for the script and I mark the parts that are questionable. We discuss. We do it in a contract, to be safe. I say, ano ba itong eksenang ito, I cannot do things like this. And I talk to the director.
How did you develop yourself as an actress?
My training ground was television and there again it was with Lino. I had no formal training. My TV show. Hilda, was a weekly thing and ran for almost five years. Every week it was a different role. Lino would teach me body movements, that by doing things with my hand I could convey certain emotions, even tension, in a scene. He would explain it to me piece by piece until I got it.
Movies I watch for enjoyment. Kunyari a Glenda Jackson movie – she’s really a fantastic actress. I notice her acting but I don’t copy technique. I don’t dissect movies because then I wouldn’t enjoy them. Dito sa atin kailangan maganda ka muna, hindi kailangang marunong umarte.
Why did you leave Lea?
When my five-year contract was about to expire, I couldn’t stand it anymore. They were leading my life for me, ‘yung dates mo sila ang mamimili. I couldn’t go out kung hindi naka-makeup kasi ganoon daw dapat ang artista. You couldn’t blame them – that was their concept of a movie star then. You had to look stunning, you had to be nice, at marami pang reasons, personal reasons.
It was not easy leaving them. I had learned to love Mrs. (Emilia) Blas – I have a certain respect for her and Miss Santos – parang magulang ko na pero magulang na mahigpit. I was living with them, together with my mother. They were training me in the wrong way – I was growing up and I realized something was wrong with my life. I was learning to be dependent. So we talked about it. For almost a year I did not have work. They said they would allow me to make movies for other companies pero sila ang makikipag-usap as producer. But Lino was always there to help kasi siyempre hirap na hirap kami.
Then, after the contract, it was like starting again. Parang bagoong pasok na naman sa pelikula, parang you had leprosy, nobody wanted to touch you. I got that feeling. Kasi siyempre producer sina Mrs. Blas. Then, after a while, siguro sa tiyaga lang, freelancing. Movies were hard to come by noon. Lino would help, at first with bit parts in his movies. It was a slow work, but I got there.
At least now I’m stable – I’m not up, I’m not down. That’s the position I want. I’ve proved my point. It was a big thing; I worked hard for it. Now they respect me kahit papano. Pag ako ang kausap they respect me at alam nila kung sino ang kausap nila. They know how to treat me, hindi katulad noong araw. They’re very careful with me. I’m very nice to them, but iyong niceness ko lang, hindi na ko puwedeng sumobra doon.
What is your asking price per film today?
When I left off last year, it was already P110,000. Nung bumalik ako ngayon I’m asking for the same thing. Some producers say bakit naman, e matagal kang nawala. I don’t think that should make a difference. And for that price I’m not doing any bold scene.
What do you think of the local film industry?
I don’t go to social functions and parties. I don’t enjoy them. Hindi naman ako nagmamalaki pero there’s a lot of hypocrisy. I can only stand some people, iyong mga nakakusap ko, but the others I cannot stand. I am basically that kind of person – I cannot talk to people I don’t like. Hinda nila nakikita ang real value. I hate it when people are nice to me but when I turn my back titirahin ako.
When I was much younger, in Lea, it was like that. I was taught kailangang lahat ng pangalan ng reporter alam mo, lahat sila babatiin mo pag nakita mo, you have to be nice, Kya like this. I hated it. I used to do it because I was under contract. I have friends in the movie industry, including writers, but I don’t go beyond…oy, like this, like that, making tsismis and all. Parang hypocrite ka na rin. Kaya sinasabi nila ang suplada ko daw. Kung minsan nahihiya naman ako kay hindi ako kumikibo, but I say hello. I think that’s enough. You don’t have to make arte which you don’t mean naman.
Meron diyan mga reporers, grabe ang pagkabakla, lalapitan ka, oy, ineng, balita ko, etc. etc., aasarin ka. I hate that kind of talk. If someone talks to me sensibly, kahit ano ang gusto mong itanong, sasagutin ko. When I give my opinions, I’m very blunt. Some misinterpret what I say, so masasaktan naman ang mga kasama ko. I don’t want to do that. I just want to be myself. Hilda and Susan are one and the same person. Maybe some people in the movies think I’m mayabang kasi hindi ako nakikihalo. Why should I go somewhere if I don’t enjoy myself?
Are you aspiring for superstardom?
No, not superstardom. Maraming sakit ng ulo. And you have to do so many dumb things which I cannot swallow because before I do something I have to think first – is it logical, is it reasonable? I don’t have a manager. I hired Boy de Guia as PR only because after Hayop, medyo maraming ng offers so Lino said I need someone at least to schedule pictorials. But as for managing my own affairs, I do that myself. I tell Boy to schedule, hindi siya ang magsasabi. That’s why they don’t control me. Nobody can run my life for me.
Do you keep an alalay?
I have an alalay. Hindi mo maiiwasan kasi marami kang gamit. She’s been with me for years and when we have no shooting she works at home. I don’t like fans coming here. They used to. I would go out, sign autographs and then go inside. I don’t let them stay here.
I’ve done certain things na hindi magawa ng superstars. Nobody dared – ako pumipili kung sino ang kakausapin ko. I can say things I want to say. At first medyo naiinis sila, but I got away with all these things.
Maybe I was getting few offers for a while partly because of the image I created, partly because, especially when it comes to movies, it’s hard to talk to me. Hindi mo ako pwedeng lokohin. Kaya nahihirapan ang mga producers makipag-usap. Tatawaran ka pa. When I give you my price, that’s it. I won’t give you a certain amount to give you a chance na makatawad. And when I say something, I do it. And when I say no, kasi alanganin ako, ayoko talaga dahil ayokong mapahiya.
How important is acting to you?
It’s very important. I love doing movies but the industry is so frustrating now. The income is okey but only up to a certain time. Malalaos ka rin, you have to be practical. And this is a very ungrateful business. I hate to see the day na like iyong nakikita kong old stars, still working but subordinate sa mga superstars and they would wait. Ayokong maging ganoon. That’s why I want another career for myself, so kung medyo alanganin na ako sa movies and they don’t make good movies anymore, and Lino’s not there anymore, I guess I’ll concentrate on something else. I’ve been asked why I didn’t take mass communication. But I know that already. I may not know the theories but I know how it works.
How are you doing in school?
I’m doing very well. If I had all the time in the world, school would be very easy.
I really enjoy school and the competition is there all the time. I really love to study. Sa movies, alam mong marunong ka. Sa school, you get zeros, minsan hindi ka makasagot, natatalo ka once in a while sa debates, nakakamali ako.
How do the other girls take you?
The first year was terrible because the girls did not know me. The seniors would bully us. I would answer them back, minsan napapaaway na ako. But you show your character, tapos barkada ka na. I get no special treatment; in fact, I always have to prove I know something, like if I have a new teacher. I never take advantage of my friendship wth the permanent teachers.
Somebody described you to me as a free spirit. Is that true?
Yes, I’m very independent in everything and very headstrong, that’s why madalas ang conflict. But I’m very reasonable and if your reason is very logical, I give in. Pero pag hindi ko talaga kaya ang ni-reason sa akin, ay, imposible.
As an only child, I learned that I have to do things on my own most of the time. Of course, I need people pero kahit wala sila magagawa ko. You cannot put me down. Madadapa ako but I always stand up. I crawl back. Sabi nga ni Jay minsay para daw akong munggo, kahit saan itapon, tutubo. Sabi niya kahit mamatay siya he won’t worry about me and the children because para akong munggo, magus-survive kahit saan.
How do you feel about compliments paid to your beauty?
Nakakasawa nang pakinggan. Okey lang. I know I look good, but looks to me are not important. A person should also be nice and kind. Like my boyfriends before, I would be teased, and pangit-pangit naman, like that. Ang ganda-ganda ko raw, pero… Sabi ko hindi ako tumitingin sa hitsura ng tao. What is important to me is the character of the person – is he nice, thoughtful, intelligent and a romantice like me, which you hardly find nowadays. I love romance. Take the romance out of my life and I’ll die. It’s so difficult for me to look for a guy na makakatapat ako. I like dinner by candlelight, nice music, nice setting, and you talk about a lot of things. I swoon over romantice novels, like Gone with the Wind and
. Wuthering Heights
Have you had a lot of boyfriends?
After Jay, I had only about four, and they lasted a long time, about one or two years. Pag medyo alanganin na, I cut off the relationship right away.
What is the status of your relationship with Jay Ilagan?
Wala pang definite path. As of now, because of my daughter and because we decided we would try again – we were separated for a long time – this is a time to see if we are really meant for each other. But there’s nothing definite. We’re both very independent. Parang tryout stage. It’s mainly the attitude – I’m very mature, siya hindi pa masyado. There are some things na ginagawa ko, hindi niya maintindihan. Mas mabilis ang growth ko. Iba ang line of thinking niya. And I go to school – that’s one thing also. I tell him we have to keep on growing, we shouldn’t stop, and school helps. So we’ll see kung ano ang mangyayari. It’s not just the fact that my daughter is there. Of course, we think about her. But we don’t want a family that stays together pero away nang away. I cannot hide it when I’m really mad. And I’m not the martir type. Jay was my first love. I’ve been in love with him since I was 12. When I saw him I told myself ito ang pakakasalan ko. And I did marry him when I was 16. Parang love at first sight.
What was it in him that appealed to you?
He’s very kind, very nice, thoughtful. He doesn’t have a mean bone in him. But he’s my opposite – he’s not romantic. Mabait na tao. There’s no competition between us, maybe just instances of jealousy. We’re both possessive.
Did you try to hide the fact of your pregnancy from the movie press?
No, and then they said nagtago ako. I was everywhere – in Unimart, Rustan’s, buying all my things – and I was so big. How can they say nagtatago ako? But I refused to give interviews, to have pictures taken. I even went to school. First semester, summer, I was in school. Sabi ko, why talk about it, why use it? That’s one thing I don’t want to do with my daughter – I don’t want to use her. When I gave birth, may mga reporters na pumunta and I really hated the idea because it was an intrustion on my privacy. Sabi ko it was all right to mention that I gave birth, but to take pictures and to go there! As much as possible, I want to keep my daughter away from the movies. I don’t want to use her as a gimmick.
How are you raising your children?
In a way, I am strict with them. That’s part of the training. When they’re young, you mold them. They have to be trained, or else wala. Ako lagi ang enemy. Their Lola will say, “O sige, iha, you can get.” Or their Papa, will say, “Okay, you can watch television.” Pag dumating ako, O, why are you still awake? Akyat na. Siyempre pag pinabayaan mo… But I teach them to be independent, to think for themselves, what they really want to do. Like when we go shopping – what clothes do they want to wear. Ideas – I give them choices – what do they want to do. Do they want to play piano, or study dancing? Kung saan nila gusto. And I want their ideas to come out. But for certain things, like sleeping hours, I have rules. I can send a whole afternoon talking to them and finding out how they feel and how their minds work so I get to know them better. Fantastic.
You have very sensible ideas for a young mother.
Kailangan. Children are changing nowadays. You cannot treat them the way I trained before. No, I don’t read books on child-raising, but I was brought up in a very strict way. It was not good, hirap na hirap ako. I’m not saying I don’t control them at all, especially when their elders are talking. They can voice their opinions kahit may matanda. The little boy stays with my mother-in-law. The little girls are with me – they both go to Maryknoll, one is in kindergarten, the other in nursery. The boy goes to a Montessori school run by nuns – he’s the same age as one of my girls. He’s also in nursery. Medyo pilyo, so sabi ko, maigi na doon. Sobra iyan. They have love letters and phone calls.
October 15, 1979
Hilda Koronel turned 40 in January 1998. She had gone into a long retirement and full-time parenting, reemerging in 1996 as a principal figure in a controversy that gave her more media coverage than her return to the screen. She had accused her fourth husband, a doctor, of philandering; the case ended up in court. Since resuming her acting career, she has done three movies but mostly telesines (movies for TV). She has told movie reporters that she is happy enough being a full-time mother (to five children) and grandmother (by her adopted daughter Ivy). Jay Ilagan died in a motorcycle accident in the late Eighties, but by then he and Hilda had been separated and were with new partners. Asked by Philippine Star entertainment writer Ricky Lo why her marriages always seemed to go wrong, she said, “Some (of my husbands) are weak, some are too tyrannical. They want to control me. I think some of them fell in love with Hilda Koronel the actress and not Susan Reid the person. Except Jay, dahil artista din siya.” She harbored no bitterness in her heart, she said, and assured all who cared to know that “looking good and beautiful s the best revenge.”