‘It’s wild!’ Dolly de Leon reacts to raves in Cannes for role in ‘Triangle of Sadness’

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 26 2022 05:32 PM

(From L) Swedish film director and screenwriter Ruben Östlund, South African model and actress Charlbi Dean, Swedish actor Henrik Dorsin, Danish actress Vicki Berlin, Swedish actor Arvin Kananian, US actor Woody Harrelson, Filipino actress Dolly de Leon and Swiss actress Sunnyi Melles arrive for the screening of the film 'Triangle of Sadness' during the 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 21, 2022. Valery Hache, AFP
(From L) Swedish film director and screenwriter Ruben Östlund, South African model and actress Charlbi Dean, Swedish actor Henrik Dorsin, Danish actress Vicki Berlin, Swedish actor Arvin Kananian, US actor Woody Harrelson, Filipino actress Dolly de Leon and Swiss actress Sunnyi Melles arrive for the screening of the film "Triangle of Sadness" during the 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 21, 2022. Valery Hache, AFP


Filipino actress Dolly de Leon was in the middle of an interview in Cannes when a passerby commended her “fantastic” performance in “Triangle of Sadness,” which has earned her raves and even Oscar buzz.

Asked by the interviewer whether that happens frequently, de Leon answered: “Yes, it does. It’s wild. It’s wild.”

For De Leon, a theater actress who plays supporting roles in TV and films, the attention she has been receiving at the prestigious film festival is all new, she told Variety’s Manori Ravindran.

“To be honest, I have not broken out in the Philippines. I have not. I play bit roles — lawyers, doctors, the mother of the lead, the principal of a school, or the psychiatrist,” she said.

In “Triangle of Sadness,” de Leon portrays Abigail, a toilet cleaner at a luxury yacht who, thanks to her skills, becomes the leader figure among the mega-privileged passengers when they get stranded on an island.

De Leon was cast in the Ruben Östlund film in 2018, and started filming in 2020.

Recalling the casting process, de Leon said: “They were specifically looking for actors in the Philippines. The casting director came to the Philippines and was there for a long time, looking for actresses to play Abigail. She would film us and then send the footage to Ruben, and he would choose. Then he asked to meet all of us and we met on Skype, and talked individually to see if we can understand each other.”

The Swedish production specifically sought actors in the Philippines “because there are a lot of overseas Filipino workers all over the world,” according to de Leon.

“We’re the biggest domestic helpers in other countries and Ruben is well aware of that. In yachts, ships and cruises, there are a lot of Filipino workers there. There are people working in the kitchen, toilets, dining halls. There are a lot of us who are out there, working,” she said.

But even then, the nationality of Abigail is never mentioned in the film, de Leon noted.

De Leon drew from the experiences of her friends and relatives who work overseas, to shape her characterization of Abigail, she related.

“I know the struggle and hardship they go through, having to live in a foreign country and speak a different language they’re not used to, and having to be away from their families and do things to earn money. I just based it on that. I asked myself, ‘What if I, Dolly, was an OFW?’ That’s how I played her. A huge part of me is in Abigail,” she said.

Filipino actress Dolly De Leon speaks during a press conference for the film 'Triangle of Sadness' at the 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 22, 2022. Julie Sebadelha, AFP
Filipino actress Dolly De Leon speaks during a press conference for the film "Triangle of Sadness" at the 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 22, 2022. Julie Sebadelha, AFP

De Leon’s portrayal of Abigail was so effective that there were audible cheers at key character moments during its world premiere. In fact, its debut screening in Cannes drew an eight-minute standing ovation.

“They were cheering when Abigail would say something like, ‘I’m the captain. Where’s the boat?’ I didn’t expect that at all. But I’m glad they caught it, because for me it’s great that Abigail rises up.

“But you never know how the audience will react. Maybe they’ll see it as, ‘This woman is taking advantage of the situation. She’s being a bad person.’ But no. They saw it as, ‘You’re doing the right thing, Abigail. Control these people!’” she said.

While she has received glowing reviews for her performance in “Triangle of Sadness,” de Leon express doubt about the possibility of more international opportunities for “actors like me.”

When asked to clarify, de Leon said: “Brown actors. In the entertainment industry, Black people started getting representation first and eventually landing lead roles. And eventually, Chinese and East Asian actors would get comedic, silly roles and now they’re playing lead [non-stereotyped] roles as well.”

Giving examples of representation of Filipino actors in international titles, De Leon mentioned Jacob Batalon, who plays Ned in the “Spider-Man” films; and Isabel Sandoval, who directed and starred in “Lingua Franca.”

“I’m just lucky I’m playing Abigail, who’s a badass. But what are they going to cast me in? If you think about it, none of the stories are really written with a brown Asian woman as the lead in a really good role – it doesn’t even need to be a lead, it can be a good supporting role. It’s really hard to come by. So I can’t blame them if they can’t cast me in anything, because most stories written nowadays are about white people,” she said.

For now, de Leon is set to return to Manila to “shoot independent films again,” but did express hopes that more Filipinos will be given significant roles in international projects.

“I’m just lucky I got to work with Ruben and he did this film and put us out there. Having people like Jaclyn Jose who won best actress in Cannes in 2016 helps. But it’s still a challenge,” de Leon said.

“We have a rich history; we have a lot of stories to tell. It would be great if [Filipinos] were represented more in mainstream media.”