Ann Villegas’ entry in the movie business couldn’t be more perfect. She came at a time when showbiz was newcomer-friendly.
In 1976, showbiz novice Alma Moreno became an instant sensation in the critically acclaimed “Ligaw na Bulaklak”. The year also marked the exhibition of Lino Brocka’s oeuvre about a city in mayhem, “Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag” starring another neophyte, Bembol Roco.
Hollywood had the same pattern because 1976 was such a swell year for Sylvester Stallone, a virtual greenhorn who swept the Oscars with “Rocky”.
It was the same year when Ann Villegas literally sashayed her way to fame. After all, she was just passing by a radio booth when an announcer was ‘wowed’ by her beauty.
“When I was thirteen, I started accompanying my lola (Dely Atay-atayan) to her tapings,” begins Ann. “One day, I passed by the booth of Kuya Eddie Ilagan. Nakita niya ako, and that was how I got invited to appear on his show as one of the Wow Girls. I was the youngest among the girls, and he named me Ice Cone. Lahat kami, may ice ang name.”
Ilagan of the now defunct DWWA spiced his popular radio program with a bevy of promising young stars as co-hosts. They were called the Wow Girls, composed of Alma (Moreno), Lorna Tolentino, Irene Celebre, Anna Marin and Chona Castillo.
After her radio exposure, doors began opening for Ann. Soon, she found herself as the pin-up girl for an assortment of products —from liquors to Technogas.
A year later, she became a contract star of Lea Productions. Ann relates, “My first movie was a co-starring role with Mat Ranillo in “Dalawang Pugad, Isang Ibon”(1977). It was directed by Ishmael Bernal, na napakabusisi at napakahigpit, kaya lagi akong napapagalitan.”
The movie was a critical and box office success. It sealed Vilma Santos’ status as an actress and box-office star, and won for Bernal his fourth Best Director award from the Urian.
The movie also did wonders for Ann. It put her on the map as a leading lady material. Soon, a coterie of good films followed, like Maning Borlaza’s “Kampus,” (1978), “Playmates” with Lorna (Tolentino) and Alma (Moreno), and “Kardong Kidlat” with Jess Lapid Jr.
“I think I’ve done more than forty movies. My most memorable however was “Hot Nights” with Bembol (Roco)”, she recalls. “It was a suspense thriller by a foreign director.”
However, early fans didn’t have any inkling that she’s the apo of Dely Atay-atayan. “It was a career move, kasi, ayokong ma-typecast sa comedy. Gusto ko drama,” she says.
“At that time, I portrayed sexy roles because it was the trend,” describes Ann of the period. “But I refused to do bold movies because I didn’t want to be expelled from school.”
Despite the tight showbiz schedule, Ann tried to squeeze in her studies. “I only stopped for a year due to my busy schedule, but I was able to finish an accounting degree in FEU (Far Eastern University)”, she says.
Ann’s early ambition was to become a nun but a movie career was a more practical choice. She explains, “I didn’t know why I became a star. My concern then was purely financial because we were not economically well. My late lola was the one who worked for us.”
“I’m the second to the youngest in five girls”, she continues. “My mom, Carmen was a homemaker while my dad, Alfonso was lola’s only child. He was a former dancer of Al Quinn. When he was forced to quit dancing dahil matured na siya, he got depressed. Kaya, kaming limang magkakapatid ang naging hope niya.”
While fame came easy to Ann, she was a reluctant star. “I never really embraced the limelight,” she admits. “I just wanted to earn money for my family because I love them.”
Her lack of enthusiasm didn’t go unnoticed. Soon, she was being branded as the ‘now-you-see-her, now–you-don’t star.’
“Oh yes, I was even told that I was just a ‘pretty face, beautiful body, zero talent,” she says. “I was challenged by those criticisms. So, I took acting workshops. And in 1985, I was invited by Laurice Guillen to teach at the Actor’s Workshop Foundation.”
“I think, I’m also able to develop my inherent talents,” she continues. “Like my forebears, I’m now into songs, although not as singer but as composer.”
Ann’s ancestors were a talented lot. Celebrated director Ading Fernando was an uncle, and her late lolo (Andy Villegas aka Andoy Balun-balunan) and lola were accomplished comedians and singers.
Ann has been inside and around the entertainment business for thirty years now. “Ngayon ko minahal ang showbiz,” she says. “Kasi, ang laki ng utang na loob ko dito. Naitawid ko ang mga mahal ko sa buhay because of showbiz.”
“As a way of giving back to the industry, I put up the Sining Pinagpala Theater Foundation to help promising artists”, explains Ann.
She had written, produced and directed four plays that are curriculum-based for Sining Pinagpala: ‘Florante at Laura’; ‘Noli Me Tangere’; ‘El Filibusterismo’; and ‘Ibong Adarna’. Her “Aquarium na Walang Tubig,” an anti-drug material will have a stage premiere on December 10. And she’s working on “Bimi”, a story about Lucifer and the seven deadly sins.
Today, Ann is an accomplished actress, teacher, writer, composer and director. And for all her achievements, Ann Villegas has rightfully earned her right as a real “Wow Girl.” (For comments, send e-mail to email@example.com.)