Meryll Soriano: There’s Something About Meryll

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Meryll Soriano has lived and breathed the industry that she’s in. She was born to it. Her father is TV host and entrepreneur Willie Revillame, with whom she has had an estranged relationship for years, and her mother is Bec-Bec Soriano, sister to award-winning actress Maricel Soriano. “It’s the world that I grew up in. I didn’t have any idea of any other worlds aside from the showbiz industry because I think, nasa tiyan pa lang ako ng nanay ko, I was already on the set. It’s not like I really wanted to be an actress, it was just the most available thing for me,” says the 33-year-old.

Meryll started her life in the limelight at the age of eight in a TV show called It Bulinggit, followed by Buddy en Sol and her movie called Rocky Plus V—although she never felt like she was actually working. “When I was a kid, acting was like playing since I was so used to that kind of environment,” she shares. However, realization hit her when she saw her friends playing outside, when she was just about to go home and sleep after long hours of taping. “In high school, I wanted to stop acting completely. I was helping my family with my work, but I wanted to be ‘normal.’ I never had a time in my life when I was really normal and ordinary.”

Even though acting is her primary passion, Meryll has accomplished other noteworthy things. She studied Product Design at Central Saint Martins in London, where she lived for three years; and has published a collage of her photography work called Playground: London. If she wasn’t an actor, she said she would have become a professional ballet dancer or an athlete. “Before I started acting, I did ballet. I was in love with it, but I veered toward other interests. If I pursued ballet, ang ganda ganda ko siguro!” she says, laughing. “I wanted to become an athlete because in school, seven years akong varsity ng volleyball. I really liked the sport—it’s a skill that you develop and improve on. That’s when I realized that sports would always be part of my life. I also wanted to become a professional swimmer kasi isda ako. I’m a fish! I really enjoy the water.” Aside from being busy with her work, she’s also a doting mother to son Elijah, whose father is her ex-husband, actor Bernard Palanca.

Fast forward to now, where she’s on standby for her scene in the GMA primetime show Little Nanay, where she can be seen alongside acting heavyweights Nora Aunor, Bembol Roco, and Eddie Garcia. We caught up with this versatile and brilliant character actress and talked about her life as a single parent, as a diagnosed bipolar, Honor Thy Father and the controversy that came along with it, and her goals for this year.

How is life as a single parent? Do you think you’ll get married again someday?
Being a single parent is very difficult. There will always be sacrifices you have to make—for me, it’s always been time for my son. Time is a huge factor because I always have to work. But being a parent is very fulfilling; I find joy in being a parent to my son. It’s not unfortunate that I’m a single parent, I don’t even think of it that way, it doesn’t even cross my mind. I’m just a parent. Yes, I would love to become someone’s wife again someday, but as of the moment, I’m currently engaged to myself, it’s time for me to have a relationship with myself. I still have a lot of things I want to finish for myself, for my son, for my family.

How’s your relationship with your father now?
It’s very good now. Last year was such a sweet surprise with a lot of things—my career, my family, especially my relationship with my dad. I can’t even remember a birthday or holiday that we’ve been OK, but last Christmas and New Year’s Eve, I spent them with my dad. Funny thing, we communicate also through design now. He always tells me that I should have taken up interior design. I’m happy to hear him talk so passionately about interior and product design. I listen to him fondly whenever he discusses things with me. One thing I’ve learned from my dad is that if you want things done and if you want to get ahead in life, you have to wake up early. I wasn’t a morning person but now I am because of that. Waking up at 9am is already very late for me.

You’ve mentioned that you’re bipolar—when and how were you diagnosed and how do you cope with it?
I was diagnosed with bipolar nine years ago. I had a breakdown—I blacked out, and the next thing I knew I was in the hospital, diagnosed as a person with a bipolar disorder. There’s a big misconception about people who have this condition because they are not fully aware of it; we lack education about it. The best thing is to be diagnosed properly because then you will know how to handle yourself and the people around you. One thing I hate about it is that it can be used as a reason to fail—that’s my biggest struggle, so I make sure that I go to my doctors, psychiatrist, and psychologist, who stand as my sober counselors. Not many know that I’m nine years sober from recreational drugs. It’s important to acknowledge when you have this condition. It shouldn’t be treated as an illness because it’s just a condition that you have to deal with.

Honor Thy Father gathered so many good reviews. How did you get the role of Kaye?
I was supposed to leave for Switzerland. I really needed something new to do because at the time I felt disheartened and discouraged with what was going on with my career. I would pray to God every day to give me a fresh start. Then [I attended] my father’s birthday party, and John Lloyd [Cruz] was there. We had worked together on I love Betty La Fea. I asked him, Anong ginagawa mo ngayon? He answered, “May gagawin ako with [director] Erik [Matti].” I was really excited for him, I asked him what the film was about and he mentioned that it was going to be called Ponzi [the original title of the movie]. I remembered that I had an audition for a role in a project with the same title, so I asked if they already got someone to play the part. He said that they still hadn’t found anyone. I said congratulations, good luck, and that was it. After two days, I got a text from Direk Erik: “Meryll, busy ka ba? Are you in Manila? Can I give you a call?” After a few hours of talking to him, the rest is history. That phone call was such an answered prayer. It took me years to take myself out of this industry only to realize that I should be here. It was an important awakening for me because I really love acting. What I don’t care much about is the lifestyle that comes with this job, it’s something that still baffles me up to now.

What was it like making the movie?
I was so excited. I was so ecstatic to work with Direk Erik. To be given a chance to work with a real filmmaker, who really understands the language of film, was just beyond me. He is very collaborative, the communication with each other was always open. It was a joy to work with him; he’s so cool. As for John Lloyd, I was so happy to be working with a person who is not vain. He looked at his role with such an open mind, he was willing to do whatever it took, he would ask questions, and would doubt himself from time to time. I want to take this opportunity to give John Lloyd the respect that he truly deserves. He’s really that actor who will make films that are important. I’m so honored to see him grow because aside from being a colleague in the industry, he is my friend. I’m very proud of him for taking this risk just for Honor Thy Father. Another thing that excites me is that finally, he broke that mold of always having to act with a leading lady; he doesn’t need a woman in a movie to define his character or his talent.

What’s your opinion on the fiasco between your movie and the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) committee?
It was a very odd decision from the MMFF committee to disqualify us from being nominated in the Best Picture category a day before the awards night. There were formal letters between our producers, from Cinema One, and from MMFF proving that Honor Thy Father was really allowed to be premiered in Cinema One, so coming from my side, this entire fiasco was just insane, unjust, and unfair. Not to put our movie on a pedestal, but I think that we deserved that nomination; we deserved that award. But you know what, with everything that happened, in a way I’m grateful for them creating noise and enough buzz about the film. Hopefully, this issue will open the eyes of people, and leave them more critical.

What has being in showbiz taught you?
That this industry is a really good platform to be heard. By making films, I feel that I can contribute something. I might not be a poster child for change but it’s a vessel for me to contribute to change. It’s me being able to sleep at night knowing that I’ve done something good. I’m very proud of where I’m at because I proved to myself that I’m not stupid or shallow, and even though I’ve experienced so many hardships, I’m still standing with a better version of myself. I wouldn’t have wanted my life any other way because the reason I’m “me” is because of everything that I’ve been through.

What can we look forward to from you this year?
I’m working on a photo exhibit for 2017 but the whole process will happen this year. I’m back doing black-and-white film photography with the hopes of going against the grain of point, shoot, upload. So it’s really a meditation piece. I look forward to doing more films. I think Honor Thy Father opened doors for me because it really showcased what I can do with a bigger audience. I hope for more TV shows and endorsements, so I can provide and save up for my son and me.

Photographed by Rxandy Capinpin, assisted by Norries Mendoza
Styled by Ryuji Shiomitsu, assisted by JL Crespo and Janelli Manuel
Makeup by Hanna Pechon for Shu Uemura
Hair by Jacky Pante using Lynelle Hair
Published in Style Weekend, January 2016

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