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Toni muses on her growth as an actress and a woman in celebration of her 20th showbiz anniversary

The stellar career of Toni Gonzaga can teach dreamers that persistence bears fruit and that keeping oneself grounded helps in handling pressure. Here’s the second part of her 20th showbiz anniversary celebration on I Feel U.

For this episode, Toni Gonzaga looked back on her showbiz journey in a special interview with King of Talk Boy Abunda.

As a rookie host, Toni’s purpose was just to earn for the family. Joining Wazzup Wazzup was a different experience as she got to work with male hosts like Vhong Navarro, Drew Arellano, and Archie Alemania. She was the only rose among the thorns, thus the thrill. Her world widened as she got to meet more friends in the industry.  

“During that time, Wazzup Wazzup was taped live at 6 to 7 pm. ‘Yung time na ‘yun, may taping din ang ibang shows. Dinner break, lahat sila umuupo sa coffee area namin. Minsan, makikita mo si John Lloyd Cruz, si Rica Peralejo. Naging tambayan pa ‘yung set namin. Minsan, si Heart, Echo dadaan kasi kaibigan ni Vhong,” recalled Toni.

After the ‘barkada’ variety show, she was tapped to be one of the frontliners of talk show Entertainment Konek. Later, she’d join Tito Boy and Kris Aquino in The Buzz.
 
She was scared and shaking on her first day on The Buzz. “Kasi kayong dalawa ang unang nag-interview sa akin paglipat ko sa ABS-CBN. To be standing next to you and Ate Kris, hindi ko nga alam kung anong naging performance ko noon sa The Buzz,” she told Tito Boy.

To be at par with the King and Queen of Talk, Toni learned the ropes by being observant. She watched them converse with guests and handle different situations on the set. She took note of everything they did from reading the script to the way they stand.

Toni said her co-hosts were welcoming and generous, albeit intimidating at first.  Little by little, she felt at ease. 

“You were never conceited or arrogant. You always give us space. You listen to our opinion no matter how shallow my opinion was during that time, in my early 20s. But you always made me feel like my feelings are valid,” she further told Tito Boy. 

When she became the face of Pinoy Big Brother in 2005, Toni finally realized her niche. She was at home with hosting. “I felt like it’s my second home. I’ve been doing it for sixteen years now. May sense of home talaga siya. Doon ko nakita na masarap pala ‘yung ganito, ‘yung nagtatawid ka ng programa. You can dictate the flow and the emotion.”

On working amid the pandemic, Toni realized that human connection is a big part of her profession. Hosting I Feel U all the more opened her eyes to the beauty of talk shows – to hear other people’s stories and relate with them. 

Twenty years into the business, she remains vulnerable to insecurities. Here’s a humbling reminder that she’s real and that fame never crushed her humility. It’s worth noting how the thirst for learning kept her on top of her game. 

It has been a fruitful journey, so much so Toni is no longer scared to lose her fame or be called “laos.” When she was younger, people made it appear like a single mistake can crumble her career. But she’s learned better. 

“As you grow old, you choose the people you would listen to. Hanggang sa mapapagod ka, eh. Sasabihin nila, ‘Hay naku, malalaos ka.’ Tapos bigla ka na lang magsasalita sa sarili mo, ‘Eh ‘di malalaos talaga.’ ‘Yun naman talaga ang pupuntahan mo,” she admitted. 

Toni believes losing fame is inevitable. She has learned to shift her focus on things that are more important than fame. It’s a domino effect, she said. “Kung ang goal mo ay huwag malaos, doon ka na magiging trying hard. You will become somebody that you are not.”

She continued, “There will be a time when it’s not your season anymore. You have to be comfortable with that. You have to accept that.” Toni added that being called “laos” is just an audience’s perspective. As an artist, she’d rather gauge her success by the level of contentment.
 
Shifting her mindset is a strength honed during the pandemic. The circumstances taught her of what really matters. It opened her eyes to the reality that we are made equal, thus no one is exempted from pain and trials. From there, she mused on the most valuable facets of life – relationships, family, health and sense of gratitude.

Coupled with the pandemic realizations, Toni is no longer money-driven, “Ganu’n naman talaga ‘pag bata ka, you work for money, which is wrong pala. You don’t work for money. You work for your passion. Ngayon, there are things that I don’t do for profit. I do it because there’s a purpose behind it.”

She now learned to choose things that “feed the soul and not the pockets.” Her Mommy Pinty likewise taught her how to be meticulous with the finances. Managing her businesses become less daunting, thanks to Mommy Pinty’s help.

The celebration wouldn’t be complete without talking about Toni’s outstanding filmography. In 2003, she joined Fernando Poe Jr. and Efren Bata Reyes in the comedy-action film “Pakners.” Toni was amazed by Da King’s generosity. She said he’s a people- person, always giving and thoughtful. He regularly sent them food even after filming. She was then paired with Oyo Sotto, whom she never had a casual conversation with, “Never kaming nag-usap at all. Nagkakausap lang kami sa set. Pero never kami ‘yung ‘Hello, kumusta ka?’ May girlfriend siya noong time na ‘yun, very loyal siya. Hindi niya talaga ako kinakausap.” 

The 2005 horror-comedy “D’ Anothers” was a milestone for Toni. It was her first time to attend a victory party after the film raked in more than a hundred million in box office. It was also her first time working with Director Joyce Bernal, whose movies inspired her knack for rom-coms. She teamed-up with Vhong Navarro, her first closest showbiz friend.

A year later, Toni starred in her first rom-com “You Are The One” alongside Sam Milby. She felt like she’s becoming a legit actress, thanks to Director Cathy Garcia –Molina. “Tinataniman ka niya ng emosyon. Ang sasakit ng sinsasabi sa akin. Bago mag-take, tataniman ka ng masasakit ng salita pero ‘pag take naman, nandoon ka agad sa emosyon,” she said of Direk Cathy’s motivation. She also felt like a veteran guiding then-rookie Sam, who just graduated from Pinoy Big Brother.

Four Sisters and a Wedding” (2013) was a test of Toni’s acting chops, and self-confidence. She was scared to share the screen with prime actresses Bea Alonzo, Angel Locsin, and Shaina Magdayao. She even tried to beg off, twice. But it was worth the risk. She defied self-doubt, delivered a now-iconic portrayal, and enjoyed the experience. 
  
Next came “Starting Over Again” with Piolo Pascual and directed by Olivia Lamasan. It was a surprise she did not believe will happen until she read the script and started filming. Toni described Direk Olive as very motherly and warm. On Piolo, all she could think of in the beginning was, “Totoo ba ‘to? Na-partner siya sa akin?” 

It took months before they broke the ice, “Hindi kami nag-uusap nu’ng mga first few months of shooting. Hindi pa namin matimpla ‘yung isa’t isa. Si Inang [Olivia Lamasan] ang nagpausap sa amin.” Piolo loved poking fun at her since. 

In 2009, she was directed by husband Paul Soriano for “A Journey Home.” It felt different working with him for a film. But, they kept it professional on the set. She bonded with her co- stars while he was with his crew.  

Toni has grown as an actress over the years. She no longer just relies on her director’s instructions. “Along the way, dahil may life experiences na, mas natuto na ako kung paano umarte from the heart. Everything has to come from the heart.”

As part of her dynamics, she first reads the script, then, she internalizes and practices her lines based on how she sees the character. Since she’s often pegged into rom-coms, Toni doesn’t feel the need for method acting. Tito Boy commented that Toni has a distinct style of acting. She smiled, saying her sister Alex Gonzaga would often tell her she’s monotonous. But for Tito Boy, it’s more of a trademark.

Toni further said there are films she’d call like to call “forgettable.” She has learned this concept from Joey De Leon. While she’s not that proud of those projects, she sure learned from them.

For the next part of the interview, Toni took on Tito Boy’s trademark Fast Talk Challenge. She called herself “resilient.” If there’s one person she’d like to have dinner with, it would be Oprah Winfrey, “I just want to ask her, ‘How do you do it?’” 

Toni used to be afraid of the unknown but she’s now learned to embrace it. “Because I’ve walked into so many unknowns in my life and it lead me to where I am today.” 

Asked what she’s become because of her son Seve, she answered, “I became the person I’m supposed to be. I discovered the real me and the woman in me. He awakened the real me.”

“I’m a bold star,” she replied when asked who she is when no one is watching. “Because that’s something I cannot do onscreen. Off-screen, go!” she quipped.

To wrap up the interview, Tito Boy related how he’s known Toni over the years. He told her, “You’re quiet. You’re in a corner. You observe people. You study them. You examine them. Because you know that you’re going to learn something from them. I will always remember your presence because you look at people.” 

He continued, “You are one of the best people I’ve known in the business. And I am grateful. It’s not about the songs, hosting, or films that you’ve done. It’s about who you are. I am grateful because you are present in my life.”

To close the episode, Kapamilya stars sent in their greetings for Toni’s 20th showbiz anniversary. Regine Velasquez lauded her for being a multi-talented artist and a hands-on wife and mother. Coco Martin said he treasures their memories of filming “You’re My Boss” and expressed his wish to work with her again. Vhong Navarro looks forward to making another movie with her. Vice Ganda celebrated Toni’s milestone and their friendship.