What we the Filipino audience lost when Jaclyn Jose died

We didn’t lose a movie star. We lost a genuine artist

Jaclyn Jose

Last Sunday evening, entertainment columnist Mell Navarro posted some sad news on his Facebook: An award-winning actress has just passed away. Being the ethical journalist he is, he said he couldn’t reveal the identity of the actress just yet. The family of the deceased must announce it first.

It’s hard to digest news like this. At one moment, you can’t wait to hear who the person was. And the next moment you dread to know who it was. Hours later it was confirmed by news agencies. Jaclyn Jose is gone. She nearly made it to 60.

I’m certain everyone who has watched at least one of Jaclyn Jose’s films was shocked by the news. Unlike other celebrities who regularly post about their dire health situation on social media, Jose didn’t discuss her physical condition in public.  Thus, the news of her demise seemed all too sudden and abrupt.

What makes it feel so sudden is, 60 years old isn’t considered old anymore. In fact, when screen legend Raquel Welch passed away a year ago at age 82, her peers in Hollywood and her fans were stunned and heartbroken. The common reaction was Welch was too young. Like Jaclyn Jose, she kept her health woes a private matter.

The news is astonishing  also because  Jaclyn Jose had always been present and active when it came to her career.  She was all over the place. She was in teleseryes, major films, and even the small-budget indie films that get screened only in obscure film festivals. She was often relied on by filmmakers to create a memorable character, even if some of those roles she accepted weren’t really well written.

Because of her prolific career, she was looked upon as a current actor and not a golden oldie. Other celebrities died at the same age as Jaclyn Jose, and they were considered old school. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I have yet to see a film that credits Jaclyn Jose as Miss Jaclyn Jose. Having the “Miss” attached to an actress’ name is perhaps a title bestowed on stars who’ve reached a certain age. Younger ones like Maricel Soriano are already referred to as “Miss Maricel  Soriano.” I think this trend began with Miss Rita Gomez.

Nevertheless, we’re sure that her colleagues and the media who covered her career are showering her with richly deserved encomiums. My editor has given me the opportunity to do the same in this piece. But I won’t bore our readers by merely repeating what everyone is saying about her right now.

All she did was make the person she was playing  look authentic. There wasn’t a false note in her acting

Friends who breathe movies liked to joke about her acting method and mimic the distinctive way she delivered her lines. Underplaying the part was her trademark. She wasn’t one to chew the scenery. Screenwriters never had to give her a memorable line to make the role indelible. All she did was make the person she was playing  look authentic. There wasn’t a false note in her acting.

Like Nora Aunor, she relied on nuances, especially when the character had little to say. In Brillante Mendoza’s Masahista, she played the mother of the lead character played by Coco Martin. The mother was barely given any lines, but Jaclyn used a different technique. Watch how she looked at her sons. The look on her face said it all—the loving, caring mother who was newly widowed, her grief bottled up. This was a mother who had to look strong for the sake of her children. We the audience understood this even if Jaclyn Jose didn’t express it through words.

Who would have known what a great actress she would be when she started out as a starlet with beauty queen looks back in the 1980s? Born Mary Jane Guck, she adopted the name Jaclyn Jose for her acting career.  She had to compete for parts against other upcoming actresses who were also beautiful and shapely. Most of these roles were  written for “decorative” purposes. But Jaclyn Jose stood above the rest. She was exotically pretty like Penelope Cruz and Jacqueline Bisset.

And when she aged, she did so gracefully. She didn’t try to preserve her youth by going the route of other stars her age. Growing older expanded her opportunities. A bigger waistline gave her more character, and a more mature-looking face bore depth, experience, and wisdom. These “added bonuses” helped make her acting look so effortless.

Even when she still had her seductive looks, she was already proving herself a capable thespian. She’s one of two Filipino actresses who are convincing in the role of a lawyer (Nora Aunor is the other). In Death Row, she had a supporting part as the sexy hot-shot attorney of a death row inmate played by Eddie Garcia. She had one big scene—when she confronted her stubborn client. Despair and exasperation were the order of the day, and she gave a Faye Dunaway-like performance. This meant she didn’t underplay; it was more like slight modulation. When she told him that he’s been set for execution, she sighed and threw the line. Perhaps it was a tactic used by the lawyer  to soften the blow. Yet Jaclyn still managed to stun the audience without resorting to hysterics.

Losing Jaclyn Jose was losing an actress who didn’t make it look like she was acting. She gave a scene its heart. Even in indie films that looked exploitative on the surface, she gave dignity to each scene she was in. Consequently, she gave dignity to herself and to her audience. She made the movie seem more important than it actually was. It was as if any filmmaker who managed to cast her had earned a seal of approval.

Her tendency to not dominate a movie by emoting has somewhat made her our most underrated actress. Filipino audiences love scenery-chewing actors. For many, it’s the key to getting an award. Well, Jaclyn Jose has reaped her share of prestigious acting awards. Welcome back from Mars if you weren’t aware of Jaclyn Jose’s triumph at Cannes, where she won the Palm D’Or Award for Best Actress (for her performance in Ma’ Rosa). This has placed her in exclusive club of winners composed of  Meryl Streep, Bette Davis, Helen Mirren, and Vanessa Redgrave.

For that alone, I think someone should lobby Malacañang Palace to give Jaclyn Jose the National Artist Award. Her acting legacy is so strong, no flawed movie or even personal intrigues can ruin it. She deserves that honor because when she passed on, we didn’t lose a movie star. We lost a genuine artist.

About author


He is a freelance writer of lifestyle and entertainment, after having worked in Philippine broadsheets and magazines.

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