By Jocelyn Valle
The box-office success of My Amnesia Girl was sweetest for its female star, Toni Gonzaga. For starters, that project seemed to have come from out of the blue because she was supposed to do a movie with her dream leading man, Robin Padilla. But the action star suddenly became busy attending to the affairs of his heart that eventually led him to India, where he tied the knot with Mariel Rodriguez. Interestingly, Toni had announced around that time that she had a falling out with Mariel, who’s been her close friend since they started co-hosting Pinoy Big Brother in 2005, without revealing its cause.
Toni also had her hands full as one of the lead stars in Kokey@Ako, an early primetime series featuring the Pinoy-created small-screen character from outer space, and co-hosting the Sunday talk show The Buzz.
It was only when the teaser for My Amnesia Girl started airing in late October that it was confirmed that Toni was indeed making a new with John Lloyd Cruz with Cathy Garcia-Molina at the helm. The announcement, however, was initially met with skepticism because some quarters thought the movie closely resembles the Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler’s blockbuster, 50 First Dates.
Doubters were proven wrong when My Amnesia Girl opened to smashing results on Nov. 24 amid strong competition from Hollywood flicks like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 1. It continued its winning streak till it ended its run on Dec. 24 when the Metro Manila Film Festival rolled in on Christmas Day.
But it was Toni who remained incredulous even during the December 9 victory party thrown by Star Cinema for the people behind the movie – from the cast to the creative and production teams.
“Ano ka ba, you deserve it,” John Lloyd told an emotional Toni.
“Thank you. I deserve this movie with John Lloyd,” she said, facing the back-to-back winner of the Box-office King title. “Kasi ang akala ko marami pa akong kakaining bigas bago kita makatrabaho.”
She continued: “I’m really, really grateful na he said yes when I know that he could’ve said no. Kasi busy ka. May ibang bagay na gusto kang gawin. But you said yes to me and to the project. So, maraming, maraming salamat sa opportunity na makatrabaho ka at saka na-share mo ang husay at galing mo. Marami akong natutunan sa ‘yo. Sabi ko nga, ang prayer ko lang, ‘Lord, sana bigyan mo ako ng bagong leading man.’ Ang binigay sa akin, John Lloyd Cruz.”
It’s no false humility for Toni. While she’s had her share of moneymakers like 2005’s D’Anothers and the romantic comedies You are the One, You Got Me, My Big Love and My Only U, a John Lloyd Cruz movie is in a league of its own. His leading ladies in his hit movies, Bea Alonzo and Sarah Geronimo, are certified box-office queens, too. So Toni’s insecurities are valid and realistic.
She’s been in the biz long enough (she joined a singing contest at age 13 and ended up excelling in hosting and acting as well) that the 27-year-old TV host-actress-singer already knows how competitive her chosen field is. And it’s even tougher for someone who, as a Methodist like the rest of her family (dad Carlitos, mom Pinty and younger sister Alex), has strong religious convictions. For instance, she can’t show flesh or do intimate scenes in any of her projects.
That’s why it was big deal for Toni to kiss John Lloyd in My Amnesia Girl, insisting that their lips only touched lightly. And, no, she wouldn’t go any farther than that in her future assignments.
“Hanggang do’n na lang ang puwedeng ibigay,” she said. “Alam naman ng mga director ko. Hindi siguro nila ako bibigyan ng isang bagay na hindi ko magagawa wholeheartedly.”
But wouldn’t those limitations impede her growth as an actress?
“I can be a mature actress without doing bed scenes or showing of flesh,” Toni explained. “That’s my belief. You can be a mature in how you attack your role, how you deliver your lines, how you carry your character – but it doesn’t mean you have to do bed scenes.”
In fact, she’s already proven her point in A Journey Home, the directorial debut of her boyfriend, Paul Soriano, grandson of the late actor Nestor de Villa and son of TV commercial director Jeric Soriano.
Released in 2009, A Journey Home is about a father (Soliman Cruz) who, after 20 years of absence, tries to reconcile with his family. His eldest son, Raffy (Joem Bascon), who also has problems connecting with his own children (John Manalo and Cha Cha Canete), is the last to forgive him. Toni plays Raffy’s wife, Gayle.
“I did that movie wholeheartedly as a Christian,” said Toni. “It’s a Christian film and not really for commercial purpose or for my personal glory. It’s for the Lord. So hindi ko inisip ‘yung sarili kong benefit.”
When it comes to choosing between acting and hosting, though, Toni is less certain. “Hosting is something that I do naturally. ‘Yung mga bagay na sinasabi ko, they just come from heart. Pero iba rin ang fulfillment sa acting, sa singing.
“Sa tingin ko naman kaya ko pa namang pagsabayin at kinakaya naman ng katawan ko at ng schedule. At saka sabi nga nila, strike while the iron is still hot and while there are opportunities. Siyempre time goes by. Hindi natin alam, maraming magagaling, maraming mga batang magaganda at mahuhusay din. Baka eventually dumating ang panahon na maghanap ng bago ang mga manonood at hindi na nila gusto ang naiibigay ko. Kaya hangga’t gusto pa nila, binibigay ko.”
She also believes that a star’s staying power doesn’t lie on just one talent. “Ang longevity naman hindi nasusukat sa isang bagay na nagagawa mo. Longevity is being able to give your audience variations and variety. So if I can do everything at the same time, I’ll do my best to do everything at the same time hangga’t kaya ko pa.”
Someday, though, Toni hopes to host a public-affairs program. “But kailangan ko pa sigurong i-hone ang ability ko,” she acknowledged. “Hindi naman natin minamadali ang mga bagay na ganyan. Given the right time and the right opportunity, then I can host a show that inspires and touches other people’s lives.”
Meantime, Toni looks forward to an even more productive 2011. There are talks that a sequel to My Amnesia Girl may be in the works and that she’ll be doing more movies this year. The channel of communication has opened once more between her and Mariel and they may soon rekindle their friendship. Maybe Toni can get to work with Robin, after all.