Women We Love

The Best At What She Is: Cherie Gil

The actress on her past, what it means to be an Eigenmann, and celebrating all the woman that she is. Cherie Gil is a woman we love, love, love.
IMAGE Francisco Guerrero
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This article was originally published in our November 2013 issue. 

In 1980, 15-year-old Evangeline Rose Gil Eigenmann launched her acting career with a film called Problem Child, starring opposite her mother Rosemarie. It was a film that made Cherie the darling of directors, the breakthrough role that eventually led to her working with such directing luminaries as Ishmael Bernal and Peque Gallaga.

At the time, she was the tinsel town It Girl, daughter of matinee idol Eddie Mesa Eigenmann and film star Rosemarie Gil. Eddie had chosen for his screen name the more pronounceable Mesa over his birth name Eigenmann, in an attempt to create rapport with the public. None of the Eigenmann children used the Eigenmann name. Michael, the oldest, became Michael de Mesa. Middle child Ralph became Mark Gil. Evangeline Rose became Cherie Gil. “My rebellion in Tinsel Town was getting buzz,” says Cherie. “They wanted to use that as a way to kind of launch me, and exploit me in a sense. So if you ask my mom to watch Problem Child, she won’t watch it. It’s a very hard project for her to see.”

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“Personally,” says Rosemarie Gil, “I didn’t like the movie.”

In Problem Child, Rosemarie Gil is Sylvia, the beautiful middle-aged socialite whose string of lovers and public separation made her the center of Manila’s gossip mill. Cherie plays Sylvia’s daughter Alyssa, the confused and unhappy product of a broken family and too much money. 

In one scene, Alyssa streaks out of a car to escape the unwanted affections of her boyfriend Freddy. As Alyssa’s brother Butch beats Freddy to the ground, a watching Sylvia turns to her daughter and slaps the girl in the face. “This is where your whoring takes you.”

It was Rosemarie who signed the contract for Cherie. There was no script. There was no reason to refuse. “She was going to be my daughter and I was going to be her mother, that was all we knew. Do they ever tell you? I was in show business at the time,” says Rosemarie, “I was going through my own issues and Cherie was a young girl. I was doing movies, and they used things to make the movie big and made it very personal and tied it up to true-to-life incidents, you know, broken marriage, father goes abroad. My life was an open book."

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"I always needed to be loved. I always wanted to be loved. A man was my primary concern, to have a boyfriend. And the moment that I fell in love, boom, that's it. Done, I’m all the way in full on."

“Not that that was what was happening in my life,” she adds. “Not everything there was the real thing. Not everything, not the affair with the guy.”

At the time of the film’s production, Rosemarie was a single mother of three, estranged from Eddie in a separation that would last sixteen years. Eddie was at the height of his career as the Philippines’ Elvis Presley when the couple separated.

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“As Princess Diana said, it was getting crowded with women. It was not just crowded, it was more than crowded.”

Whatever Cherie went through, says Rosemarie, “was not anything different from any girl her age coming from where she came from.” It was, she says, ”part of growing up.”

Cherie is less generous with herself.

“I was a teen celebrity, so I started already a mess. It took us six months to make Problem Child and it was too close to home and I wasn't sure if this was something that I really wanted to do. I was also looking for love. I always needed to be loved. I always wanted to be loved. A man was my primary concern, to have a boyfriend. And the moment that I fell in love, boom, that's it. Done, I’m all the way in full on. So everything else is affected, put aside.”

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The film, directed by Elwood Perez, was a box office hit.

“I was running away from home,” Cherie says. “I was living with my boyfriend whenever I wanted. My mom would run in and drag me out of the scene.”

At 20, Cherie, star of film and theater, was single, with child, and had lost contracts because of her pregnancy.

“At that time it was taboo. I was ostracized for a while. I lost a lot of wholesome projects. When I had my son, I felt like an outlaw.” A child out of wedlock is not so much a phenomenon as it is an event among today’s generation of Eigenmanns. Maxine, Cherie’s niece, was 17 when she gave birth to her first child while nephew Timmy is an unmarried father at 30. Andi, Maxine’s half-sister, gave birth at 20. All three were already working in the industry, and were very much in the public eye.

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“We started it,” Cherie says. “Now it’s acceptable, then it was a shock. There are a lot of things that my nieces and nephews are doing now—like Andi having a child out of wedlock—that wasn’t acceptable. She’s getting more glorified and famous than ever, right? She’s getting adored and admired. At that time, you think I was?”

* * *


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“To be Cherie Gil is to love, love, love. Everything. People, work, men. I fall in love fast, I’m a sucker for many things.”

It is not possible to speak of Cherie Gil and not speak of the Eigenmanns, the children and grandchildren of Rosemarie Gil and Eddie Eigenmann, the dozen or so brash, big-hearted performers whose talent and persistence make them constants in Philippine cinema and television.

Ralph, says Cherie, was “very much the middle child.” When her father left, it was Ralph who was with her, constantly, who went to discos with her, who smoked grass with her, who learned martial arts alongside her and was there when she watched her first porno flick—after Ralph brought a tape home.

First child Michael began his career earlier than the others. “So he had his own agenda. He had his own issues, his own problems. We had our own trials at the time, and whatever. We had no idea what each of us was doing, except Ralph, who was there for each of us.”

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It was Cherie who began calling the Eigenmanns “The Royal Family,” a phrase the industry accepted as its own.

“We were being interviewed by Boy Abunda, I think. He asked each of us, when we were guests, ‘How would you describe your family?’ And, being the last to answer—I was sitting next to my mom, my father, Ryan, Jeffrey, Michael and Ralph and saw how proud I was of them and how beautiful they looked—so I went, ‘We’re The Royal Family.’”

The Royal Family meets, when they manage to meet at all, at the poolside of the penthouse on top of the condominium building where Cherie lives.

“It’s an ego trip for me,” says a gleeful Cherie, “to get them all together like this.”

Together means sitting outside the pool house on dingy white plastic benches. Someone lights a cigarette, someone borrows a lighter.

* * *

It is, as they say it themselves, a highly dysfunctional family, one that appears to glory in its own dysfunction.

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“We’re a functional dysfunctional family,” says Maxine, Ralph’s daughter with actress Bing Pimentel.

“We’re a functioning dysfunctional family,” corrects Andi, Ralph’s daughter with actress Jaclyn Jose.

“We love each other,” says Gabby, Ralph’s son with actress Irene Celebre. “But the next day we love to hate each other.” They are loud, all of them.

They are confident, all of them. They are beautiful, all of them, although many, like Timmy, have acquired potbellies and beards and thighs that may or may not show well in short shorts. It does not seem to matter, because an Eigenmann is not a celebrity.

“We’re actors,” says Gabby. “We’re not stars.” He laughs. “Except for Andi.”

Andi rolls her eyes. She is late, fresh from shooting, a small girl with long brown hair and skin that proves proper testament to her slew of endorsements.

Ask them, any of them, why they chose to be actors.

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“It’s the family business,” says Gabby, and the cousins break out in laughter.

Timmy, Ralph’s son with actress Bing Pimentel, whose character Sid Lucero in Mike de Leon’s Batch ’81 is the name Timmy still chooses to use as an actor, turns to his half-brother and grins. “Gabby, what’s your family business?”

Gabby pokers up. “Myself.”

More laughter.

They have a tendency for confession, an apparent inability—or unwillingness—to keep secrets, believing, often correctly, that their eccentricities and occasional inconsistencies are acceptable because they are Eigenmanns. Whoever does not understand has a problem, because an Eigenmann always will.

Do you know, they will ask you, what Eigenmann means?

They will answer it, again and again, at every meeting, at every interview. It is the punch line to the joke, the conclusion to the story, the underlying narrative arc to lives lived the way the Eigenmanns live.

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“In the olden days,” says Cherie, “as I was told, people, I don’t know how long before, acquired last names based on what skills they had. Like if you were a blacksmith, or a locksmith or whatever, you were named based on what you did. Eigenmann meant ‘my own man’ in German. He was a wandering person, he was something of a freelancer. He just did what he did.”

* * *


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Cherie Gil is alone, has been alone for five years. She needs, no, wants, a boyfriend. “Wants” is the right word. A woman, she says, should not need a man.

They tell their stories, each a performance, each minor incident told with plot and dialogue and sweeping gesture. They are self-aware, almost ridiculously so, all of them standing outside themselves, reviewing, angling, retelling. Each moment is a scene, each line an opening.

Cherie’s father Eddie sits with Andi’s Ellie on his lap.

He was not a good father, he says. He doesn’t think so. He would like to be one. Eddie had been separated from Rosemarie for 16 years when he discovered his personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It changed him, he says. He came home to the Philippines after having found his peace and started courting his wife again.

“As far as she was concerned,” he says, “The father of her children was dead.”

One night, he says, he sang at a concert with Cherie. He says it was the night Rosemarie began to fall in love with him again.

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“She tells the Lord, ‘If this is your call, if Eddie gives me white roses this week, or anything with something white, I’ll go back to him. That’s our agreement.’

“Nobody knew about that prayer. I called her on her set. She said, ‘Oh you can come over.’

“Going over, I said to myself, I need to bring her something, roses or candy. You know the song, ‘Roses and lollipops, lollipops and roses.’ And so I was thinking, I was just going to buy her Almond Roca because it was her favorite candy and I see a flower shop. So I backed up, and I saw the flower shop was still open.

“I asked the lady if they had white roses. She said no, ‘We only have the last three red roses.’ I said, ‘I’ll take them, put them in a box.’ For the first time in my buying roses, and I’ve bought a lot of roses, I was never asked what color ribbon I wanted to tie it with.

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“I was taken aback and as I was thinking, the lady asked, ‘Do you want to tie it with white?’”

“I said, ‘No, it doesn’t look good. Do you have emerald green, just so it can match the leaves?’

“‘No, we only have apple green.’

“‘Do you have deep red?’

“‘No, we only have pink-red.”

“‘Ugly. What about pink?’

“‘No. Use white, it’s good, it’s nice. Look at it.’

“‘Then tie it with white ribbon, a white satin ribbon.’

“So I went to the set. Just like in the movies, I was holding the roses in my left hand. She looked at the roses, looked at me, looked at the roses, looked at me and she said to herself, ‘Okay Lord, I’m going back to Eddie.”

He laughs.

“It’s the Lord who did it.”

* * *


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Cherie Gil has forgotten what it is to be 25, and she is happy to forget, because 25 was when she was a mess before she was saved by marriage with Ronnie Rogoff. Saving was necessary, she says.

“I was just all over the place. I was a restless soul. I had a son already. I had a son at 24.”

Ask her who the father was, and she will say it was Ronnie because Ronnie has always been her son’s father, no matter who it was who got her pregnant at 20.

“When my mom and dad reconciled things were a little shaky for us, my son was born, I didn't know how to live then. I was a single mom, and I began to live with my parents just when they were starting a new life. I mean I actually literally slept in the room of my parents the moment I came home from the hospital. The crib was next to my bed, and we were in the same room, all four us, and I knew there was just no way it could go on like that.”

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And then she met Ronnie, the Israeli-born New York-based international concert violinist who was 18 years her senior.

“I was a lost kid, Ronnie came picked me up and said, ‘Okay, you are my Galatea and I am your Pygmalion.’ A lot happened, I grew in that twenty years. A lot of who I am now has a lot to do with that exposure from his life.”

He is, she says, an amazing, remarkable, wise man.

“He’s a guy who thinks differently. His perspective in life is different,” she adds. “He believed in me. He showed me the world. He showed me his world—a world of genius and high art. Something you don’t just pick up from a supermarket. The professionalism. The dedication. When I watch him teach his students in his Masters classes, even for the minutest detail of every note, he would stop to show them the right position. I was so enthralled by all that and I said, ‘My God, I just wish I could do this kind of work, where everything is so thorough, so perfect.’ Music is the only medium, the only form of art that is invited to play in cathedrals. Like, next to God, it’s them, right?

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“And people would come to watch him, like prime ministers and presidents and I would have to talk to them and have dinner with them. Of course I’m a little provincial girl from the Philippines, so shy, and so I’m like, ‘Which fork do I use first?’ She had two children with Ronnie. They separated, five years ago when she was 45. There was a tsunami in Phuket, and it paralyzed her for weeks after.

“We were spared. It was a miracle, and for a while, I kept asking myself how I wanted to live my life.”

So at 45 years old, Cherie Gil decided to star in another story, become her own Pygmalion, and separated from the husband who was still amazing, still remarkable, still wise, but not quite enough for the woman she wanted to be.

* * * 

Cherie tries to gather the Eigenmanns for a family photo. She stands at the center of the pool house, shouting for attention, hauling babies into parental arms. It is a futile attempt, the clutch of family members slipping in and out of the camera frame.

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Then Eddie begins singing.

The baritone fills the room. “Impossible Dream,” from Don Quixote. It becomes a chorus, voice after laughing voice joining an old campaigner in his quest for the unreachable star.

They sing, twenty-two Eigenmanns and lovers of Eigenmanns, dark eyes locked to the camera lens, the entire weight of adult intensity enough to make even the foot-tall Eigenmanns turn and tilt their heads.

It is, to the casual observer, a moment of improbable insanity.

To the Eigenmanns, it is a family portrait.

"Listen," says Cherie. “The legacy, I’m not going to let it die, there’s so much more to give. We have the next generation, and there’s still more to come. My dad and my mom are still around. My dad is still singing, still doing what he loves to do. Yes, we made a mark. I know, and I’m grateful. It’s what people tell me, otherwise I wouldn’t know where I am. I know I have made a mark. Please tell me I’ve made a mark.”

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* * * 


If there were a movie to be made about her life, she says, it would be a movie about love. And sex, lots of sex.

“To be Cherie Gil is to love, love, love. Everything. People, work, men. I fall in love fast, I’m a sucker for many things.”

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Cherie Gil is alone, has been alone for five years. She needs, no, wants, a boyfriend. “Wants” is the right word.

A woman, she says, should not need a man.

“Not that I try to change the world, it’s just that sometimes we’re so stuck up in many, many conventions and so much Catholic thinking. I hate to put that into the picture, but I don’t want to be part of that close-minded thinking, no more. They say women are supposed to do this and that, women should stick to the home, the laws are backward, it’s so primitive. I want women to believe that they can become who they want to become and that they are even more powerful than the men. No, you know what, it’s not a contest, its just, be. Be what they can be. And express themselves in the way that they should to be able to inspire other women. I want to break boundaries, I want to move forward— What am I saying, fuck!”

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She is not young, not particularly old. She is all of fifty years and her legs are not as firm and her hips are not as slim and there are lines showing between her eyebrows when she forgets not to frown. She puts on the panties the stylist hands her, and looks at herself in the mirror.

It’s too tight, she says. Then she smiles, in appeasement. “But the ribbons are pretty.”

She sits on a wooden stool under a spotlight, in black panties and a suit jacket. She juts her chin, she angles her elbow, she leans and twists and bites her lip. She is not used to posing, she says.

She is almost shy, almost stiff, almost uncomfortable with the long tanned limbs that once upon a time seared Problem Child’s Alyssa into the national imagination. But this is not Alyssa, teenage rebel. This is Cherie Gil, who, after all, is not so much Cherie Gil as she is whatever and whoever the role demands her to become.

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The photographer, the big man with tattoos snaking up his arm, tells her to be herself. She laughs. She is not sure what it means.

Laugh, he says. Keep laughing.

Suddenly she comes to life, she knows who she is supposed to be, the laughing woman, potent, sexual, comfortable inside her own skin. She leans back and smolders, she lies down on the carpet and grins, she holds a wine glass and looks from under her eyelashes at the man who tracks her with a camera lens.

This is the Cherie Gil of the moment, independent woman, fearless, carefree, strong. She has opened her own production house. She is choosing her own roles. She is demanding her own vision. How long she will stay this woman depends on what the moment demands.

But she is beautiful, still beautiful. Ask her, and she will answer. Yes, she says, yes, I’m beautiful. She isn’t being arrogant, she says. She is only being true to herself. “I’m more than two people, I’m many, many, many people. I’m still coming to terms with who Cherie Gil is. I had a mentor in America who told me when I was turning 40—he’s amazing, he’s so wise—he said, ‘Happy birthday Cherie! When you come to see Cherie, can you say hello for me?’”

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“I was a lost kid, Ronnie came picked me up and said, ‘Okay, you are my Galatea and I am your Pygmalion.’ A lot happened, I grew in that twenty years. A lot of who I am now has a lot to do with that exposure from his life.”

* * *

There was a young sculptor named Pygmalion, who one day decided to create a statue of the perfect woman. Every day he worked, until the marble curved into a creature of astonishing beauty. He would sit with her, talk to her, dress her and caress her and bring her gifts of fruit and jewels. And so it happened that the sculptor Pygmalion fell in love with a woman of his own making. Aphrodite, goddess of love, who knew the truth of what burned in the hearts of men, took pity on him and gave the woman life. He named her Galatea. There was once a young girl named Evangeline Rose. She was strong, like all women. She was weak, like all women. She fell in love and out of love, and in loving became whatever love demanded her to become. She was martyr and hero and wife, rebel and lover and mother and diva and star. She stood on pedestals and counted her forks, she winked from behind lenses and played all the parts, but she had a secret, and the secret is this—that Evangeline Rose, daughter to legends, sister to stars, the problem child who survived and will survive, is nobody's Galatea, because problem children never are. So she will count her forks and wink from behind lenses, if it serves the story that she chooses to tell. She is Alyssa and Maria Callas and Lavinia Arguelles, and she is all of them and none of them, she will be what the moment demands and the moment demands she be Cherie Gil. She will never try too hard, she will never be second rate, she will be the best at what she is, and if she fails, she will fail in the grand tradition of a family of Pygmalions who will love hard and lose hard and laugh long and hard at a world that mistakenly believes that an Eigenmann is created in anyone’s image and likeness. The girl sits at the table, a glass of wine in her hand. “A woman,” she says, “should never trail after any man.”

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