No matter how she tried to submerge her fame, former beauty queen actress Dindi Gallardo will remain a recognizable face. At a festival she attended with her boss, Filipinos reached out and asked for her autograph. Her boss, an artist who had no clue who his assistant was, gasped, “Who are you?”
Dindi in New York is a classic on how a Filipino celebrity attempts to reclaim her privacy and live normally ever after. It hasn’t been easy, but could be done. She’s fallen in love not once or twice, and is now living with her husband—who just got started into real estate—in the trendy Meatpacking district. Tabloid invasion is now a thing of the past.
In the following interview, Dindi Gallardo-Mills (known professionally as Joanna Gallardo), 41, talks about her private life as a New Yorker. She looks back on her controversial coming-of-age—a young actress-turned tabloid staple who became romantically involved with the dashing ex-husband of Singing Superstar Sharon Cuneta—with Zen-like calm and lots of laughter.
Dindi left Manila at a time when serious acting roles were few and far between. In 1989, she went to school in San Francisco to study fashion design and merchandising and met her future husband there. She traveled to Europe for a bit of “soul searching,” then settled in New York in 2003 where she has very quietly recast herself. She is still working in films, but more on the business side of the industry. Without disclosing details—a condition of her contract—Dindi works for a famous artist whose blockbuster movies many of us are familiar with.
Your boss didn’t know you were an actress?
I don’t talk about that. If they know you’re an actress chances are they’re not going to hire you because they’d think you just want to be in this industry. Double life talaga. Well, now he knows.
Ten years in New York. What’s that like?
I love New York. I love my job. I can’t get into major details. My boss—he’s pretty big. I’m like his right-hand person. I work with his team of lawyers, agents, accountants. I’ve been with him 3.5 years.
How did you get started?
My first job, I was working for Bond No. 9 fragrances. They sell perfume at $300 a bottle. I was in the product development department. A lot of Filipinos worked there.
And after Bond?
With Bond, I was lucky I had a job when I was just new here. I did really well and then I stayed and realized it was not for me. I wanted to go back to the world of film, which is my first love and my passion.
I needed to go back to production, but the only way I could do that was start out as intern or a PA and I didn’t have the time. I thought maybe I could learn from the business end of things, so I worked as an executive assistant for a talent agency called Buchwald. They’ve been around 35 years. I had a wonderful time there. I’m like the frontliner, the gatekeeper. I learned the different aspects of the industry. I got to meet a lot of agents and their talents. Madami. Howard Stern was one. They also repped Dante Basco.
Did it ever occur to you to try out for Broadway?
No. I arrived here and didn’t want to have anything to do with acting, show biz and that stuff.
How did you land this current position with this artist?
I quit Buchwald to get another job with a bigger production company. But it didn’t happen. I was really upset. Then boom, this job fell on my lap. I didn’t even know who (my future boss) was. We clicked so well. I got promoted two times. We’re about to film a big, big film with a full cast.
You had a promising career when you left the Philippines.
I was frustrated because our economy was bad. There were no more good movies. Show biz was down.
If you stayed in Manila what do you think would have become of you?
Maybe I would have done 50 bomba films. (laughter)
How do you look back at the Gabby episode? Is there a teachable moment there?
A blessing in disguise.
All I can say is if I’m happy today or at peace with so many things that’s because of all the good and the bad that’s happened in my life. That relationship made me a stronger person.
Dindi and Eric are fashionably Gatsby-esque at their wedding.
Tell us about Eric Mills.
He was in the restaurant/bar industry. He was a consultant, he would set up restaurants in LA. We met in San Francisco in the fashion school where I was in, we were not really classmates but he had a major crush on me even then. He lived in Bangkok, he’s exposed to living in Asia for a long time. He’s like an Asian in a white man’s body, so weird.
At 41, what’s next?
I feel like I’d like to give back. I want to help filmmakers, especially the indie ones, to support them as they attend international festivals. We have amazing filmmakers, they win in film fests, and then what? Who helps them to go to other festivals? These guys who go to Cannes, who helps them find a hotel, find a sponsor? I want to do something in that sense. With the contacts I’ve made here I’d like to set up a sort of development group in a production company where, for example, someone has a screenplay submission, and then you work to find the budget to finance that. I’m glad the indie film industry is growing.
Age doesn’t bother me. There are people younger than me and they’re like the living dead. It’s how you live your life. I know people who are older and so full of joy.
Have you experienced being racially discriminated in New York?
Oh yes. In one of the companies I worked for, my boss wanted me to work on Thanksgiving and this person said, why should you get a holiday? You don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in the Philippines.
Why did you come to New York?
I wanted to live just a normal life, breathe some air.