Judy Ann Santos and her life under a new limelight
Actress, chef, and book author—Juday talks about motherhood and her ongoing affair with food
May 3, 2018
Patient. Calm. Practical. Likes security. A lover of comfort. Fixed.
Any astrology follower would immediately recognize these traits as Taurean. Anyone who knows Judy Ann Santos well would also recognize these traits as Juday’s; the actress would even be the first person to confirm that.
“I can be as patient as you want me to be, as soft as cotton with friends and family, but if you hurt me, I can be as hard as a rock,” she admits. “Ganoon talaga ang mga Taurus, ewan ko ba.”
Patience is a quality that is obvious in her. No one could have hurdled over the constant difficulties that show business throws at any intrepid dreamer—and still come out popular and beloved after more than 30 years—without a great reserve of patience, and Santos had immediately picked up this lesson at eight years old. “When I started working, I got to interact with a lot of people of all ages, and that’s when I realized may iba-iba palang klase ng tao na kailangan kong intindihin. I learned I cannot have things my way all the time; I have to process what the people around me want, too.”
Fear as motivation
“I can be as patient as you want me to be, as soft as cotton with friends and family, but if you hurt me, I can be as hard as a rock.”
It can be too big a lesson for a young kid to learn, but Santos wasn’t like most kids. Impressionable and practical, she used her family’s financial struggle as motivation to make her loved ones’ future secure, given the fickle and taxing nature of her industry. “At 11, I understood that I cannot be not patient, not only because the working hours are long. I get paid an amount of money na hindi basta-basta kikitain sa anumang trabaho so why should I complain?”
Her exposure to senior actors and actresses who didn’t fare well in the fame business after their shine had worn off also left a serious imprint on her: “They’d share stories na nag-enjoy sila masyado noong kasikatan nila kaya hindi nila naasikaso ‘yung future. I always say that this line of work isn’t forever because older people aren’t given a premium in the industry.”
The cautionary tales motivated Santos to secure life insurance for herself at 14, then those of her siblings’ kids before she reached 20, and to buy her own house, a Roadtrek, and some property—in short, she became financially literate, unafraid to deal with money matters head-on. She also invested in a business, using it to convince her mother, who was then living in Canada, to come home. “I was trying to prove something to her too: that I can secure a future for her here so she doesn’t have to work anymore. I-ma-manage na lang niya ‘yung negosyo namin.”
But whereas some people absorb the nature of their workplace like a sponge, Santos has admirably side-stepped showbiz’s more volatile quality. “That’s not me to begin with. I grew up understanding that I have to be as calm as possible because I cannot and will not control everything.”
Openness as a binding tie
“I grew up understanding that I have to be as calm as possible because I cannot and will not control everything.”
This calmness continues to help Santos navigate the many demands of both work and the home. Together with her husband Ryan Agoncillo, she’s raising Yohan, 13, Lucho, 7, and Luna, 2, and is very familiar with the myriad of issues working mothers face every day. Of course, with a pre-teen and two kids below 10, things can become more than a handful in the household. Santos admits to some inflexibility, especially when dealing with their 13-year-old.
“I’m at a push-and-pull stage [with Yohan]. Maybe it’s the hormones, I don’t know, but she’s dealing with so many things.” Their eldest, she adds, is closer to Agoncillo and more open with him, whereas the two of them clash. “I feel I have to open up myself more, kasi nagiging judgmental ako in my protectiveness; hindi ko na napapansin na hindi na ako nakikinig sa kanya. But when I remember how I was when I was 13, I understand her more. Ganoon pala kapag may dalaga ka na, pumipitik ka rin!”
Lucho, meanwhile, is a sensitive boy who doesn’t like it when people get upset. “So when he sees na napapagalitan si ate, hindi na niya gagayahin,” Santos says. “Si Yohan ang bingo lagi kasi she’s the first in everything.”
She and Agoncillo bond with each child in their own ways, depending on the kid’s emotional needs: Father and son have their boys’ night out, usually consisting of games at Timezone and eating out, with Lucho planning the activities. With Yohan, the couple have honest talks with her to reassure her and comfort her regarding the stuff she reads about herself online. “With her, it’s a balancing act of being a parent and a friend.” As for the toddler Luna, “She’s still at that stage where ako pa rin ‘yung main activity niya. Mommy’s girl talaga, so I’m just enjoying her attachment to me.”
The couple is resolute in teaching responsibility to the kids, even when they have four household helpers. “We don’t want them lying around the house doing nothing. Si Yohan na ‘yung naglilinis ng room niya. Whenever we have a trip, I just check what she packs for herself. Si Lucho, he also cleans his own room and the aquarium, since siya ‘yung gustong magka-pet fish. On long weekends, we tell them to read their school books first before they can play video games. We barter with the two older kids regarding responsibility.”
With some endorsements a family affair, Santos and her husband are open with the kids about what work really means. “We ask if they want to do a commercial and what happens on a set. We talk to them about scheduling. We want them to learn how to organize their time and maximize their energy, how to talk to people, even grown-ups, with confidence but not too much. When they’re working, they know they’re at work, that there’s a time for play and a time for being serious; hindi lang nila alam kung magkano ‘yung kita nila. We equip them with the right attitude for work, kasi money can take them only so far but the right attitude can take them places.”
Food as love
But it’s not all practicality and sensibility in the Santos-Agoncillo home. There’s also comfort, especially manifested through the food that Santos herself cooks. A graduate of the Center for Asian Culinary Studies and mentored by chef Gene Gonzalez, the actress came out with her own cookbook, Judy Ann’s Kitchen, in 2015 and has a popular YouTube cooking show of the same title, which is now on its fifth season.
The actress came out with her own cookbook, Judy Ann’s Kitchen, in 2015 and has a popular YouTube cooking show of the same title, which is now on its fifth season.
“Food keeps me going,” she says when asked how she’s able to find the energy to cook on top of everything she does. “Reading cookbooks, learning new recipes, preparing food for everyone—I like all of those. ‘Pag naririnig ko ‘yung ‘Ang sarap ng pagkain, paano mo niluto ito?’ That’s the reward for me.”
Earlier this year, while preparing for the release of her movie with Angelica Panganiban, the comedy Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes, Santos admits to getting overwhelmed by the promotional blitz, with its blog cons (“Ngayon ko lang narinig ‘yun!”) and online photo shoots (“Anong kaibahan nila sa normal photo shoots?”). “But after the block screenings, would you believe nagluto ako ng eight Chinese dishes for friends? After that, parang nawala ‘yung pagod. I felt fulfilled after cooking so much food, and in fairness masasarap sila lahat. I just had a good night’s sleep after, and then the next day, I was ready to work out. I was reset; I was asking na about the next project!”
Taureans are notorious for being set on their ways, as stubborn as the bull that symbolizes them. In Santos’ case, success and personal happiness can’t stifle the workaholic in her and the passion for her craft. But if there’s someone who deserves to have their delicious cake and eat it too, it would be she, the conscientious, good-natured professional who used the harsh realities of life as motivation to take care of her family and their future. “I’m checking off some responsibilities that I’ve fulfilled,” she reflects. “Gusto ko na lang i-enjoy ‘yung pamilya ko.”
This story originally appeared in Southern Living, May-June 2018