When one starts talking to Lilia Cuntapay, the actress becomes far from the nightmarish ghoul she has always portrayed in the past thirty years of her career.
She is funny as she is toothless, intriguing more than creepy in her eccentric blanket-like outfit and lengthy white hair.
Since her (overdue) recognition last year in the independent film Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay, the 2011 Cinema One Originals Digital Film Festival’s Best Actress finally matters in the limelight. Her familiar face that at some point defined terror in Philippine cinema, now has a name attached to it.
She is Lilia Cuntapay, the reigning Queen of Philippine Horror Films.
Fame may have come in late for 76-year-old Lilia, but she will be the first to tell you that it is the credit she is given, not the popularity, that moves her.
“Ang palagay ko lang po, e, kilala niyo ako. At dun sa pagkilala niyo sa akin, ako’y lubos na nagpapasalamat dahil sino ba naman si Lilia Cuntapay?
“Simpleng tao, mahirap na tao, pero proud ako sapagkat kahit na hindi ako big star sa showbiz industry, alam ko, meron din akong nai-ambag sa industry natin. And I’m proud of that…,” she says.
Gone are the days when people would see her as that old woman who plays the hag or white lady in the Shake Rattle and Roll series of the ‘90s. Today she is a legitimate actress in their eyes and with a sense of wonder they look at her like a romanticized character that stepped out of literature.
How exactly has life changed for her?
“Pagkatapos ng Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay, pagkatapos ng pinagkatiwalaan niyo ako ng award, pagkatapos ng pagbalik ko from Italy and some other countries, supposed to be…
“Ang pagkatao ko, hindi ko binago. Ang career ko, okay lang. Smooth, naman, smooth. Kaya thankful ako.”
For this year, Lilia stars in Oh My Goth!, a short film by award-winning filmmaker/scriptwriter Chris Martinez. She plays an old lady with a penchant for superstition, who is also a grandmother to actor Ketchup Eusebio’s character.
Ketchup tells of Lilia, who he treats her as his groovy lola, “Very sharp pa rin po siya mag-memorize ng lines niya!”
The young actor says he is a fan of Lilia. Prior to working with her, he said to himself, “Sa totoong buhay kaya, paano kaya makipag-usap si Tita Lilia kung hindi nananakot?
“Nagulat naman ako sa kanya kasi Inglisera pala siya sa totoong buhay!”
Ketchup jokes with her, calls Lilia ‘babes,’ but most of all, regards her with respect.
“Lahat naman po tayo siguro alam yung mga ginawang trabaho ni Tita.”
ALIVE AND KICKING. Asked if she still plans to try drama, or action, maybe? Lilia says she is content.
“Actually, wala na, wala na, wala na.”
She has one request, however: “Ang dream ko na lang sa edad kong ito, sana yung aking mga dating producer, dati kong direktor, dati kong kakilala, at kayong lahat, sana ‘wag niyo muna akong kalimutan until I’m still alive and kicking!”
The actress who idolizes Philippine Cinema’s greatest actors— Tita Duran, Dolphy, Fernando Poe Jr., says that she looks up to them for the respect they had for others.
“Rumerespeto [ako] sa mga taong meron nito, at [dahil] tao siya.” By “tao,” Lilia means someone who is humble.
“Pero pag hindi siya tao, no, no, no, no. Hindi ko siya magiging kaibigan!
“Kasi ako, marunong ako magpakumbaba, marunong akong gumalang kahit bata ka. Pero, ‘wag lang below the belt.
“Kasi kaming matatanda, dapat magbigay ng ehemplo sa nakakabata para yung bata igalang kami.
“Tama ba ‘yon?”
Hell, she's right. Hail to the Queen, hail Lilia.