'In My Mother's Skin' Conjures a Dark Side to Beauty Gonzalez | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Beauty Gonzalez covers the April 2023 issue of LIFESTYLE.INQ

In a threadbare white nightdress, Beauty Gonzalez hunches over a dressing table, unkempt hair obscuring the expression on her face. In front of her, the mirror reflects a crucifix hanging on the wall. The small flame from an oil lamp is the only light source in the room, which is more than enough to expose the unnaturally large lump of flesh bulging on the back of her neck. 

This is one of the preview images of “In My Mother’s Skin” which premiered at the Midnight Section of the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and is scheduled for release on Amazon Prime.

Set in an isolated mansion in Negros, the story (written and directed by Kenneth Dagatan and produced by the same production house behind “Train to Busan” and “Parasite”) follows the twisted adventure of the young Tala (Felicity Kyle Napuli) who cares for her severely ill mother Ligaya (Gonzalez). 

Amid World War II, they wait for help to arrive, substituting medicines for prayers. With the lack of food, the young protagonist is forced to forage. Finding herself in a dim, overgrown clearing, she comes across a softly-smiling fairy who unbeknownst to her is a flesh-eating fairy. Played by Jasmine Curtis-Smith, the fairy hovers in a dress akin to the bell-shaped clothes of Marian and santo (saint) statues. But as the story progresses, it becomes evident that this divine veneer is the only thing the fairy has in common with goodness. It is only a matter of time before Gonzalez becomes possessed by darker forces.

So far, the film has been described as a scarier “Pan’s Labyrinth” with Gonzalez herself referencing the underlit, long-take similarities with Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 fantasy horror film. While there are allegedly no jump scares, the fear goes deeper into the cultural psyche, exploring Biblical symbolism as well as the Gothic underbelly of Philippine folklore and history. 

From her usual high-energy roles as the girlish friend or the vainglorious missus, Gonzalez is taking on a different role—where the only makeup she wears is the blood prosthetics.

Beauty Gonzalez horror movie photoshoot
Beauty Gonzalez has been praised for her frightful performance in her latest role in the Gothic Horror Fantasy film “In My Mother’s Skin”

In her personal space, it’s easy to see the progression of Gonzalez into roles that have a “darker mystique.” Entering the room of what Gonzalez and her husband call their “halfway house” in the city, Jazzanova’s trip-hop track “Bohemian Sunset” plays in a steady downtempo, mixed with exotic bird calls that seem to lull us into a kind of trance. Her husband Norman Crisologo is a renowned curator, whose taste looms in large contemporary artwork that hangs on blood-red and deep purple walls. Furniture from their travels fills the room—from Rococo-like chandeliers from Europe to leather sofas found in nondescript stores in Kamuning. Beside the dining room table is a grand pieta of Bjorn Calleja from Art Fair Philippines 2022, with Christ and the Blessed Mother in misshapen forms. 

An inner room with gray walls contrasts with the outside. Inside this room, The art is all black and white, some with paintings that show burn marks. Norman shows me a glass “Cabinet of Curiosities” full of anting-antings (amulets). I remember a past show he curated, “Bulong at Sigaw: Mga Kontemporanyong Kulam, Dasal Anting-Anting at Ritwal,” and recall that if you touch a certain amulet, you might just get pregnant. Clasping my hands behind my back, I pore over the other contents. We look at Akosan belts from Bontoc, which I had only ever seen in pictures. The magnificent indigenous heirloom belt is intact with the conical shells used by the ex-head hunters to transport their personal effects.

A collector of art and antiques, Gonzalez lights up as she tells us how “In My Mother’s Skin” was filmed in the original Gaston house in Negros, where the cinematic masterpiece “Oro Plata Mata” was set. “To be shooting in that house—Wow!” she exclaims. “That was what made me say yes.”

Born and raised in Dumaguete, Gonzalez shows a natural affinity for the film’s setting in nearby Bacolod. First known in showbiz as the “Sugarcane Princess,” she grew up surrounded by nature and ancestral houses until she joined the reality game show Pinoy Big Brother (PBB) at 17. As she speaks, it becomes clear she possesses that sense of warmth that is characteristic of her province as well as a definite kalog (a hyper, jolly kind of humor). Growing up in the province, she was surrounded by the folklore of aswangs (witches) and engkantos (nature spirits). Happily, Gonzalez hints that she may be going back to Bacolod for another film this year. 

actress Beauty Gonzalez talks about new horror film with artwork
Beauty Gonzalez makes her “star power” felt off-screen, captivating through a combination of natural charm, beaming confidence, and a wholly magnetic personality

Back in the living room, Gonzalez almost prances into poses—smiling, giggling and joking around. Her wardrobe pops with patterns that complement the multi-colored walls as well as her vivacious personality. When our photographer starts shooting, her beaming grin quickly shifts into a sensuous, half-open smile. As she shifts into different poses, it’s evident that she’s comfortable in front of the lens. We watch entranced, as her star power radiates through the room.

Since her early, high-energy characters, Gonzalez shows a growing repertoire of roles—from her early characters as the best friend (remember her lamentations on love life as Wella in “Starting Over Again”?) to more recent horror roles like in Bobby Bonifacio’s “Hellcome Home” in 2019. For the “Kumbento” episode of the 2021 MMFF trilogy, “Huwag Kang Lalabas,” she took viewers by surprise with her subtle, restrained acting as a mild-mannered nun. Besides these unique horror roles, she laments getting boxed into the “mother” role.

“As a woman, it’s harder to get roles than men—there’s not a lot of choices for them. But for girls, there are a lot of choices and it’s hard competition… I tried to destroy that wall. It should be like in the US. They don’t look at your private life. They look at you and your body of work. They don’t look at your age or ask if you’ve had a child or you’re married. They look at you as a person, how you act, how you carry yourself.”

“It doesn’t matter if I’m happily married or if I have a beautiful family. Kaya ko pa mag-pakilig (I can still be romantic), hello!”

actress Beauty Gonzalez lying on a table with art and antiques
Gonzalez’s career has steadily ascended since it began almost 15 years ago. “I realized that I love what I’m doing and I think I’m good at it,” she says. From mother roles to horror roles, until a combination of both, her dramatic portfolio continues to grow.

On the specificities of how she has diversified her acting portfolio, she lauds the scriptwriters: “Number one that matters is paano ka makisama sa mga tao mo (how you get along with other people).”

” ’Yung ugali mo (Your attitude) with everybody matters to last in the business. And of course you have to have the talent so people will always remember you.”

While she plays an unconventional kind of mother in the blood-soaked “In My Mother’s Skin,” she also tells us about the realities of being a mother in real life. Since marrying Norman, Gonzalez has blossomed with an inner glow, showing a sense of grace and pep in the way she moves. She makes sure to bring their daughter Olivia not just on fun trips but to different tapings around the country as well. “I want her to see I’m not just having fun, I’m working. I pay the bills and taxes.” 

Upon hearing her name, Olivia peeks from behind the kitchen door. “I remember all the things my mom would tell me—lusot lang sa tenga ko (goes in one ear and out the other). With Olivia, I lead by example. I let her eyes see that’s what I’m trying to do every day. If she sees her parents and is like, ‘Tama na yan loving, loving!’ (Stop all that lovey-dovey!) Would you rather see us fighting? I would rather show it to her, and I hope I show nice things.”

actress Beauty Gonzalez in pink with art curated by husband Norman Crisologo
From a small town to the big screen, Beauty Gonzalez definitely stands out as an actress in the Philippines

While warm and friendly, there’s something about Gonzalez’s star power that is unnerving. Like you never know what she’s going to do next. We can only imagine what her life would have been like if she had never joined the momentous reality game show when she was 17. An early dream is telling: Starting a business designing coffins in Dumaguete—notably customized coffins, like a pencil box for a teacher or a rainbow design if you were LGBTQ+. 

“That’s the one thing that never goes away—death and taxes. It’s not a bad thing, it’s beautiful. It means if you die now you’re going to go into a new life, another place, planet, or time. Maybe I’m in you and you’re in me. What’s important is what you left behind to the people that you love. I don’t find it scary. What’s only bad is the taxes.” 

Despite a slew of offers for horror film roles, Gonzalez has a surprising secret. “I hate horror! Honestly, I don’t want to pay myself to get scared. But I end up doing this [“In My Mother’s Skin”] and enjoying the process. Instead of watching I read books—Stephen King, Ottessa Moshfegh, Lisa Taddeo. Mga baliw (The crazies).”

Puro horror ngayon nag-offer sa akin, (Everything offered to me now is horror,) so maybe I’m good at it. Maybe I’m the next screaming queen.”

Suddenly, she lets out a high-pitched scream, making us all jump a little in our seats. With this kind of star power, we can only imagine how strong her presence is in her latest movie. 

Photography by JT Fernandez

Make-up by Elvie Recalde

Hair by Rudolf Davalos

Produced by Sophia Berbano Concordia 

Cover design by Julia Elaine Lim