Thursday, January 18, 2018

Interview: Actress, Director and now Author Lorli Villanueva Pens Two Books - A Long, Accomplished Life in Entertainment in the Philippines, Most Notably for Directing the Longest Running Soap in the Philipines, Flor De Luna

by Suzanne Ordas Curry

Lorli Villanueva is an award-winning actress, director, scholar and author. She recently launched her two new books, Dancing With The Dictator and Living and Experiencing the Realms of the Unknown at the Philippine Consulate in New York City to an excited and abundant crowd. 

Lorli is well-known in the Philippines for her three decades in entertainment. She received the Best Supporting Actress at the Manila Film Festival in 1972 among many other nominations. She is most well-known for directing the longest-running soap in the Philippines, Flor De Luna. Her body of work runs the gamet from over 60 films to countless appearances on TV to owning her own production company. In an age where women are just getting recognized and given more opportunities for directing, Lorli succeeded when there were even fewer females in her ranks.

Now, at age 71, she's recounting tales of her life and lessons in her two new books. I had the opportunity to interview her through her daughter Sibyl Santiago, who is the Executive Director of the SOHO Film Festival in New York City. Here's what she had to say about her latest accomplishment.

Why She Wrote Two Books at a Time

"I originally wanted a book that was going to be one book like a ying and yang. After the reader completes reading Dancing with the Dictator, the flip side should have been Living and Experiencing the Realms of the Unknown. I was very excited about the format of the book which would have been the first of its kind, and unique. But after we tried to get it into printing, it seemed that the possibility of pages being messed up in its order, was great.. Even folks from Amazon told me it was impossible to print it according to their machines, as one side is inverted from the after so many attempts to print it as one book, inverted on the other side, it ended up being two books!"

Finding Time To Write and The Importance of Writing it Down

"When did I find time to write it? In the winter, when my mobility problems made it impossible to be out, I would sit down in front of my computer and write. I would write on weekends when I was alone, i would write when i was sad and felt lonely. I decided that unless I write down my memory of the incident now, it will soon fade away. Somehow, whenever I start writing, the more vivid the memory became. I started writing the gist of the story in 2012, in between my busy job, and had it copywritten. But in 2014, after my retirement, I needed to be busy and I seriously put it together and pushed for its launching by last June in the Phils. As for the other book Realms, I wanted it to be different by having known Filipino artists interpret the story in paintings, giving it an artistic value to it. The paintings are all in watercolor and truly beautiful."

The Pen and the Camera Tell A Story

"I have even in younger years always liked writing and being an actor/ director, one had to be a good storyteller. The book when I wrote it felt like I was telling a story with a camera, as in a film. For some parts I left it to the reader to finish the idea or action. When I started writing Realms, I thought of popular culture, of young people today interested in horror films and scary movies. I obviously wanted to reach the millenials who like such topics." 


Actor Danny Aeillo with Lorli Villanueva
"Despite my being a public figure, my personal life was always very, very private. Many did not even know whether I was ever married. Writing this book meant being true and real, it meant divulging many secrets about my personal life. However. I have decided, that telling my story could actually inspire many women, for my life has all been about surviving the worst and confronting problems head on and depending only on God. My life, despite what people think to be envied by many, is a story of a survivor. I have come to a point in my life where I believe there is nothing to be ashamed of as every story is a story of Life, and it should motivate and inspire others.

My proudest accomplishment are my children..all seven of them. I was separated from my first three children for over a decade. I had to accept defeat in keeping them because of social pressure and my joblessness. But my struggle to show my children dignity, success and respect, i have all my seven children happy, truly loving each other and back with me, loving me. I cannot ask for more. That is to me my greatest pride and accomplishment...I was a mother, a father and a sole breadwinner."

Even Failures Happen For a Reason

"Whenever I am asked what lesson I can best advise someone young and even those who are in doubt about the way their lives are headed, this I would say, NEVER look back with regret. Every downfall is a challenge to be better. Every challenge in life is a stepping stone to go further. There is not only one way to success. There are many roads to success. Do not compare yourself to others but just challenge yourself. And most of all, do not lose God in you. HE is the only one there when nothing else seems to work..when you are so down, you think you can’t go on.

My many challenges, losses, pain and hurts in life since childhood has taught me that we need to be whole and not lean on another to be strong. Even in love and relationships, one must be whole in order for love to be strong. One has to be honest to oneself, look deeply into one's soul in order to be whole. That confidence and pleasantness in personality can only become apparent when one does not envy or look to others to succeed. The world is full of beautiful, generous people and one must believe in others too but be wary when others prove to be unkind."

It's Time to Catapult Female Writers

"It is truly unfortunate that fewer people read books now. Cellphone and quick, short articles on the internet have taken over. I do not see any reason why women writers should fall behind her male counterparts. I feel what is missing are marketing machines that should support and catapult great women writers. I feel women are now pushing through and actually getting a part of the market..but women MUST stay together and create that bond that support each one. I call on more support from marketing machines to help women writers be put out there. Media should highlight more women writers in its show."

On Answering the Call to Produce the Longest-Running Soap in the Phillippines

"My masters degree as a Fulbright was in Communications, major in radio, tv and films. My heart was always into historical and educational films. So i was able to get a contract with the Board of Education in the Phils to do historical and educatinal films for students. When producers of the longest soap opera heard I was available to direct, I was called and directed the longest running soap of the time." 

Why Soaps are More Popular in The Phillpines 

"I believe that the success of that show was its plot about how a child, survived the difficulties of a life with a step mother. Soap operas are still very popular in the Philippines with now young and beautiful film actresses and good looking actors in it. Importing Korean, Spanish and Japanese soaps, dubbed in the Filipino language are now also very popular. I believe that marketing and advertising play a major part in why these shows have success. 

Traditional soaps in the US which are mostly only in the mornings will not have that audience because of its time slot. After 5pm when most are home, then we look forward to tv series which I believe are successful . In the Phils, soap operas are mostly in the evenings when everyone is home and even helpers can by then sit down and watch their soaps."

Coming Soon, a Concert and Life Story

"Right now, I want to prepare for a concert that highlights the use of the rondalla, ancient Filipino instruments, accompanying me. I do a concert at the very least once a year to raise funds for my charity in the Philippines. I support impoverished old people, under the care of the Sisters of Charity of St. Paul. I send the wheelchairs, walkers, rice etc. In the case of the rondalla instruments, it is to showcase these instruments and players into mainstream and let younger Filipinos know their cultural heritage.

I am also now completing my life story, which I am no longer afraid to write about as it is the story of every any culture. In today's world, there is no more shame in telling the truth as we hope telling ones story should inspire, motivate, teach and give us freedom and a voice. Meanwhile, marketing is now going on for a show we have produced and booked for the Cultural Center of the Phils. It is an Italian opera, proceeds of which will be for the wounded soldiers now fighting ISIS in the southern islands of the Philippines."

For more on Lorli and to purchase her books click here: