Effortless, First-Rate Original

Cherie Gil died.

I didn’t know her personally. I was more familiar with the persona she had built as an actress -the haughty, upper class, sharply dressed rich bitch, eyebrow perpetually arched, raking you with her gaze from head to foot and back again with searing dismissal, a Virginia Slim effortlessly balanced between two slender, tapered, perfectly manicured fingers. Filipino cinema has no shortage of unforgettable female villains. Along with Celia Rodriguez, Cherie Gil was arguably the most recognizable, the name and face that came to mind whenever the concept of the kontrabida was bandied about. She played women you loved to hate with elan, with class, and with flair. Those patrician features and take no prisoners attitude certainly contributed to the overall effect; Cherie Gil never needed to say it out loud in the movies, but her very aura told you in no uncertain terms that she was aware of your hatred, and didn’t give a damn about it.

I don’t think I ever saw any of the movies she was in, so my impressions of her are from movie clips and oft-bandied lines. With her passing, the most memorable has been shared and played all over local news and my feed. It’s just piling on at this point, but I can’t help sharing it anyway, because it is a line delivered with such delicious venom, and such precise diction, it’s more than earned its place in Philippine cinema as one of its most (fine, I’ll say it) iconic lines:

La Primera Contravida indeed.

I wonder if Cherie Gil was that way in real life. I like to think she was more than the two-dimensional villains she was most famous for playing onscreen, whose only existed to be hated. I also like to think the spicy forthrightness she brought to her villainess roles was intrinsic. Maybe it was, if the profile piece in Mega Magazine earlier this year can be believed. She confessed to struggling with fear, shaved her head (“What’s hair, di ba?”), sold all her things, and moved to New York for a fresh start and to be with her kids. In hindsight, she must’ve already known, she just wasn’t willing to share it. She hadn’t announced that she was ill (really, the hair should’ve been a clue). Maybe Cherie Gil didn’t want to be defined by her illness. Maybe all Cherie Gil wanted was to go out with a bang. And I think that makes me respect her more, even if I never knew her. I still want to be Cherie Gil some day. Alas, I don’t think I’ll ever have the features for it.

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