MANILA, Philippines - It came in a guise that was the opposite of attractive and comfortable.
But when he tamed it, like an unknown species?or maybe it tamed him?the normal life seemed to be the perfect order of things for Gabby Concepcion.
He found it in the United States more than 10 years ago, as soon as he overcame the feeling of being ?uprooted? from his homeland (which, he also learned, was a terrible state to be in.)
It was like being allowed to backtrack to that fork on the road where he decided to take the path to movie stardom. This time around, he took the other path: ?I became a regular Joe.?
He kinda liked that; it was a ?settling? experience, he told Inquirer during a recent visit.
Yes, Gabby?s back in the Philippines ?it?s hard not to notice?and back to that first path. But whatever happens from this point, he believes, is going to be good, if only because at last he has also chanced upon precious perspective, and so his options are clearer.
Now, if he can only have a little more quiet: ?I just want peace all around.?
How?s your homecoming, so far?
I love it. I can?t have enough of the Philippines. After all, it?s been what, 13 years? Ang daming nagbago. Nagulat ako nu?ng nakita ko ?yung Makati kasi iba na ang skyline?more buildings, more billboards!
Did you recognize Edsa pagdating mo?
Not immediately. Except for Guadalupe, because from the airport, mapapansin mo ?yun dahil pababa e.
Did you notice KC?s billboards at least?
Yes, the first time was when I went to Baras in Tanay, Rizal. My mom owns a school there, ?yung Montessori, sa Barangay Concepcion.
Barangay Concepcion? Sinadya ba ?yun?
Hindi, nagkataon lang. Sabi ng uncle ko, from the plane kung nagla-landing, nakikita ?yung roof, nakasulat, ?Concepcion Montessori. Ang galing, ano?
How?s your Anilao property?
I sold it last year lang. Kasi hindi ko naman alam na uuwi ako e. So now I?m looking for another one.
Is your wife Genevieve (?Ginbee? Gonzales) joining you here?
Yes, before I get too busy.
With your daughter?
Yes, she?s coming with our daughter Samantha (6 months old).
How did Genevieve change your life?
Kami ?yun talagang through thin and thick. Kasi nang dumating ako do?n, ?yun ang lowest point in my life. We were friends here in Manila pero, we became better friends over there. I went there in ?95 and found out she was in Canada in ?97. Tapos lumipat siya ng Concord, about 40 minutes from San Francisco, where I was. Pinuntahan ko siya.
That time was your lowest point?
Well, to be exact, the lowest point was my second and third year there. Kasi, on my first year, it still felt like a vacation. Then, on my second year, I wondered, what exactly do I want to do here? Kahit naman sino ... being uprooted from the Philippines...
You felt uprooted?
Oo. So, after one year, naikot ko na lahat. As I said in one interview, nakita ko na ang Golden Gate Bridge, ang Golden Gate Park, Disneyland... After a while, magsasawa ka e. I ended up going to school because I realized I wasn?t going home anytime soon.
What school did you go to?
Lincoln University. I finished two majors, Management Information Systems and International Business.
Why did you choose those courses?
MIS was the trend. Plus, I had a lot of time in my hands, so I took up International Business.
Were your study choices useful?
Well, I went into real estate. Pero useful na rin in the sense that marami na ring mga applications sa real estate ?yung information systems.
After school, you worked immediately?
Yes, as soon as I graduated. I worked in visual development and dealt with the fashion stores The Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy.
What did you do, exactly?
I was a purchasing agent. I would buy, not the merchandise but the credenzas?the flooring, lighting, the shelves that would hold the clothes, the cash register, the signs...
Where were you staying at the time?
When I was studying, I bought a condominium. But I didn?t have a job to maintain the mortgage. Ginbee made sure I was in school full time. I gave the down payment, she took care of the mortgage.
When did you get married?
In 1999. Understand that it was very significant for me.
At that time because show biz wasn?t a factor?
Yes. There was nothing there for her ... wala akong ipagmamalaki. She was really just there for me. Malungkot sa America e. We kept each other company. In the States, you know?you work, you study, you go home. Work, study, home. Walang party-party.
You seem to have lived a full normal life there, actually. Was your homecoming part of a big plan?
Well, I had long wanted to come home, to see dad, see the place again. Pero there was no real chance. I felt like that was the end of the road for me. Sa America na ako talaga.
Parang ang lungkot naman, especially since you came from show biz ... used to being around people and having people around you.Exactly. ?Yung punta ko do?n, 180-degree turn talaga.
Curiously, before that, I had always wanted to go there. The first time, when we made the movie ?Pepe En Pilar,? gustong-gusto ko ?yun. Sabi ko, okey pala rito. I didn?t know na babalik ako in ?95.
Be careful what you wish for...
Oo, oo. Pero siyempre pag nandu?n ka na, naiisip mo ang Pilipinas. Then one day, I just realized I?ve really made a life there, graduated, got a good job, and then I passed the real estate exam. In 2003, I was a real estate agent na. Tuloy-tuloy na ?yun. Life was good from then on. Sabi ko, my life is here. Then my dad got sick nga. Sabi niya, ?Uwi ka ba? If something happens to me, baka pagsisihan mo.? Tamang-tama naman, I had just talked to Mommy Rose (Flaminiano, his new manager). Last year ?yun, in Hawaii.
With Rudy and Lorna, right?
Oo. Nagkataon na may dinalaw ako do?n, ?yung kaibigan ko sa Max?s, si Michael San Luis. And there was a real estate fair. Nu?ng unang nagkita kami ni Mommy Rose, ang una ko ngang napansin si Rudy at si Lorna, kasama niya. Mommy Rose looked at me and said, ?Puwede ka pa. Iuuwi kita
sa Pilipinas. Igagawa kita ng pelikula.? Ako naman, OK lang.Then she said, ?Gusto mo makita ang daddy mo ?di ba?? Nandilat ang mata ko, sabi ko, ?Yes!?
Whenever you thought of the Philippines, what was the strongest pull? Was it the prospect of being an actor again, or family?
Family always comes first. I told myself, I just need to accept everything that happens to me while I?m in the Philippines because it?s for dad. I didn?t expect such a warm reception pagbaba ko sa airport. I certainly didn?t expect all this (movie and TV offers) was going to happen. The plan was, after I?ve seen my dad and done things that needed to be done, I?d be off. I had a timeline.
You were going back to your orderly life.
Oo. Ang promise ko kasi kay Gin, as soon as I got a job, she wouldn?t have to work anymore.
What does she do?
She worked with Marriot (Hotel) as events coordinator, and also in a law office, as legal assistant. When I graduated nga in 2000, I got a job. Totoo pala ?yung sinasabi ng mga magulang: mag-aral, magtapos, at may pupuntahan ka. Nangyari sa ?kin ?yun.
But you finished college here, too.
Oo, sa Maryknoll, Advertising. Pero iba ?yung credits mo pag nandu?n ka eh. Ang laki ng satisfaction ko when I graduated there, because that was going into my resume. That was the time I worked with Gap, Old Navy... And then, in 2003, simultaneously, I was working and studying for my real estate exam. When I passed, tuloy-tuloy na nga.You started selling houses.
Houses, lots, single-family units ? up to four-family units. Residentials?I did not sell commercial real estate. I sold several properties, the most expensive costing $1.15 million. May mga $890,000, $500,000 ... all the way down to $180,000.
To Filipino buyers?
About 80 percent of my clients are Filipinos, yes. The rest are a mixture of Americans, Hispanics, African Americans, Indians. The Filipinos are very supportive. I did not experience ?yung, ?Ano?ng nalalaman nito? Artista lang ito a.? Doon, as long as you passed the board ... you have their confidence. That?s because not just anybody can hurdle that. Connections don?t count there. Feeling proud naman ako, kasi I think I?m the first actor to ever do that. Maybe I?m the first actor from the Philippines who ever passed that California board exam and became a broker, too.
Did you want for yourself any of those houses that you sold?
Marami akong nagugustuhan, pero mga four, five million ang price. Mataas ?yun e. Those would be in San Francisco, mostly, or Marin County ? the upper strata.
While there, did you make any friends from back home?
Well, si Raul Aragon ... and some others na naka-base na ro?n.
You were doing shows occasionally in the US, right?
Yes, I did one in Las Vegas Sahara?s, another in Alaska ? these are small shows ... Chicago, Hawaii, New Jersey, LA...Funny, napupuno naman ?yung mga lugar.
Kasama ?yun sa highlights ng buhay mo sa US?
Yes, pero marami pang ibang magagandang highlights, mga learning experience ko do?n. I met Filipinos who didn?t know me, but they liked me. ?Yung iba nagugulat, kasi marami ako talagang alam tungkol du?n sa ginagawa ko. They trusted me.
Did you have a good time in school? Feeling teenager ka ba?
Oo. Mga kaklase ko, puro bagets. Pero sa America siyempre wala namang kaso ?yun. May mga kaklase naman ako na older than me.
Well, yes. Ginawa pa nila akong president of the students? guild. Nagulat ako e.
How old did they think you were?
I have no idea. That was never discussed. I had classmates who were bald, but they were only in their late 20s. May foreigners din. I was really just a regular Joe ... yes, that was fun.
Did you graduate with honors?
No, but I got a Dean?s List certificate.
Would you say you took school seriously?
Yes, but you know, you really need to give it a hundred percent, like I did. Saan naman kasi ako pupunta? Wala akong ibang ginagawa that time.
Do you have pictures on campus?
Siyempre wala namang picture-taking doon e. Pero I was wearing, regular clothes?jeans, rubber shoes, jacket, T-shirt. Walang pagka-show biz na kailiangan nakabihis, naka-make-up, ayos ang buhok.
Aha! So now we know ... you used to wear makeup pala.Kailangan e. So when they put make up on me sa ABS for the first time recently, nanibago talaga ako.
Did you grow a beard in the US at any point?
Yes, I did. When I left Manila in ?95, we had just finished shooting ?Ikalabing-Isang Utos,? where I had a beard. I shaved that, but grew another after a while. Long hair pa ako! Tapos nagba-biking ako, madalas sa Golden Gate Park. I bought a mountain bike in ?95 and I still have
Did you say long hair?
Up to here (motions to his shoulder), then ?yung buhok ko, parang si KC. Eto, nakakatawa:At around this time, I saw this magazine ... I wondered where the picture of myself with two girls came from. Ang headline, ?Leave me alone,? or something like that. I noticed the date, 2004 or 2005. Binalikan ko ?yung picture, hindi pala ako; si KC! I really thought it was me.Kasi, remember, she didn?t always dress like a girl. That was one of her early shots. Di pa siya nagpapa-ahit ng kilay. Wala pang makeup. Kamukha ko eh.
In your own words, what was it like, her visit two years ago? You hadn?t seen her in quite a while.
I guess it was the right time. She called me. That?s what happened. I was walking to the car; it was very cold that day. My phone rang; I answered, ?Hello?? Sabi niya, ?Hi, may I speak to Gabby Concepcion??
How did she get your number?
Through a friend, she said. I didn?t even have to ask who it was. Alam ko agad na siya ?yun. Deep inside, I knew she was gonna call me one of those days. Parang naka-program na sa ulo ko. Sabi ko agad, ?Is this my baby?? Sabi niya, ?Hi, Pa!? Wala na, I forgot the cold. That was the most exciting moment of my life there.
Was it an emotional moment?
I was very emotional, teary eyed, but it was a good feeling ? ?yung parang nanalo ka sa lotto. She was in Paris? I told her, you come here, I?ll pay for your ticket. She said, ?You don?t have to do that, Pa.?
Dami niyang commercials e.
Yeah, but I thought it was the least I could offer.
And when she arrived?
Exciting! Genevieve was taking the videos. Ako naman, nagtatago sa mga ulo ng ibang tao para ?di niya ako makita. Habang papalapit ako ng papalapit nang gano?n. Nu?ng malapit na ?ko, bigla akong tumalikod sa kanya? meron siyang kausap e. Kuwento siya nang kuwento. Tapos, nakita niya ako. ?Yung reaction niya, biglang, ?Pa!? Yakap kaming ganyan, cry nang konti. Sabay biglang, ?Pa, we look so much alike!?
So what did you discover about KC?
That she was still the same; she just grew up. Physically she was different but, inside, she was the same child I used to play with.
We saw a picture of her sitting on your lap, crying. We never go to ask her why.
She was just happy. We were having breakfast, and talking. Umupo lang siya sa lap ko?she was my baby, after all, even if she was a big girl. Nakalimutan ko na nga edad niya e. Humihiga pa nga ako sa tabi niya. I would kiss her and kiss her, like she was 9 or 10. And I gave her my letters that I never sent. I wanted her to know I was thinking of her. I also showed her a note that she wrote to me when she was 3 or 4, balu-baluktot pa ang sulat, saying, ?Papa I love you very much.? Another note from her, I had it framed. Sabi do?n, ?Papa I missed you when you were in LA.? I showed her that, too.
Did you find that you had to control yourself from being overly attentive?
Yeah, I wanted to take a picture of every moment. Everywhere we went, picture. I brought her to the places I frequented?the Golden Gate Park, the Golden Gate Bridge itself. There is a place where you can see another view of the bridge. The fog hits just the top of it. Walang fog when we went there, pero ang ganda pa rin, ang ganda ng feeling! I would go there alone before, in my first year. Tapos, biglang kasama ko na si KC. Parang na-fill ang maraming empty spaces because she was there with me. I wanted her to stay longer, but she had a shoot back home. So I said sige, balik na lang siya and we?d go to Graceland (Elvis Presley?s home in Memphis, Tennessee).
Did you talk about boys?
Yes, I felt good that she even wanted to discuss the subject with me. But I cannot give you details. KC is very independent, but she tries to absorb everything... She wanted a different point of view, not just from an uncle or a friend, but from her father. I told her, just be careful. You?re younger than they are, they may have plans other than what you think... It was just, you know, general advice.
Of course you also had a lot of memories to sort?
Oh, yeah. She remembers a lot. Not only that I was in the movies, laman ng dyaryo before; she remembers our times together. She told me, ?Pa, everything I know about the ocean, I learned from you.? She remembered when I made her carry an octopus. It was longer than she was, at 6 or 7 years old, maybe younger. Dalawang octopus ?yun, binili ko ng P25 sa isang batang naglalako. She could never forget that. And I remembered she was a little, chubby and cute girl.
When you saw her again, what was left of the cute, chubby girl?
Her smile, her being bubbly, full of energy.
Can we backtrack to those ?empty spaces? that were ?filled??
Well, I was looking for... KC has a unique part in my life. My greatest joy as his dad was bringing her to the places I loved... especially the beach. And I did that, whenever I got the chance. It was wonderful, dala ko ?yung anak ko sa beach house, playing with her in the water, explaining things to her, ?This is a coral... the ocean smashes the corals, and they become little bits and pieces so we have gravel... which, in time, are crushed further and become fine sand.? She would ask, ?Why... why... why?? Nami-miss mo ?yun eh.
Tell us about that phone call that KC made so that you and Sharon could talk.
When she was there, we were always visiting relatives? I wanted her to meet all my siblings and her cousins. The day we were in my brother?s house, I told her to give her mom a call, ?Let her know you?re safe.? Nung nasa phone na ang mommy niya, biglang pinasa niya sa akin. Sabi niya, ?Ma, o, you talk to papa na.?
What did Sharon say?
?Naku, ?yang anak mo!?
What did you say to Sharon?
I told her KC grew up to be a fine lady. I said, ?I know you?d do that ... if I didn?t think you?d do a good job, I?d have fought for her, taken her in a heartbeat.? I meant that. Otherwise, I would have been there...
Have you seen your other children lately?
Si Chloe (with Jenny Syquia), no. Si Gabrielle (with Grace Ibuna) yes. Then... here we are again, the right time will come ... that day will happen.
Of course you?d like it to be different with your youngest daughter Samantha?
If we continue to live in the United States, things will really be different.
Nasa timetable ba ?yun?
Marami akong na-plano sa buhay ko... hindi nangyari. When I was younger, ang gusto ko. maging piloto. E, color blind ako, kaya hindi natuloy. Binalak ko rin mag-dentist. Pero at the time, artista na ako, kaya ni hindi ako makapasok sa classroom. Sa labas pa lang, may pila na for autographs.
?Yung mga real estate clients mo sa US, have they seen your old movies?
Hahaha. Kaya nga tumatagal minsan ?yung pirmahan dahil manonood muna kami.
How are you preparing Genevieve for a possibly new chapter in your life together?
What?s so nice about this is, I encourage discussions.
Is that something new?
Dati, kung ano gusto ko, ?yun na. In the US, I learned to discuss, engage in conversation, talk about things. And I?ve found that it?s a lot better that way. It should be useful especially now, here, where my life is an open book. There seems to be nothing that people don?t know about me?maski ?yung mga ?di ko alam.