From unknown to [probably] the next big Cannes star

Published May 28, 2022, 8:30 AM

by Rica Arevalo

Dolly de Leon makes her mark in Triangle of Sadness

ISLAND WOMEN Dolly de Leon and Charlbi Dean (Frederik Wenzel)

Filipina actress Dolly de Leon is creating avalanches and tsunamis at Cannes Film Festival with her portrayal of Abigail in Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or contender Triangle of Sadness.

Here is our Q & A with the 53-year-old artist. A graduate of UP Diliman Theater Arts, she is one of this year’s contenders for Cannes Best Actress.

How did you discover acting?

I discovered acting very early in life during a grade school classroom skit. I found it to be a very liberating outlet to let off steam and it was so much fun. But because I was shy (I’m an introvert), I didn’t actively pursue it even if I was offered the opportunity to appear opposite Niño Muhlach, who was a big child star at the time.

Who is the most influential person in your life?

The most influential person in my life is my father. He’s not with us anymore but I always or at least as much as possible think of how he would handle certain situations I go through and try to go by his route. He’s still always in my thoughts in everything I do and try to be as kind and funny and charming as he was.

SHE CANNE Dolly de Leon

Tell us more about Triangle of Sadness.

I auditioned in Manila, which was handled by the film’s casting director. She did the scenes with me, playing the parts opposite Abigail, a cleaning lady on a yacht who ends up being the person in command when the passengers are stranded on a remote island. Ruben gave me the freedom to shape Abigail into what is seen in the film based on how I perceived her. Since I know a lot of OFWs, that became my foundation for building the character and then soon after placed my trust on the material Ruben created, and played her as a strong yet vulnerable woman. I wanted her to be human first and foremost, not a caricature.

‘I just want to keep making important, relevant work, play characters people resonate with, characters that speak to you in a below-surface level, and work that makes me even better at what I do.’

Getting into the Cannes Film Festival is a dream come true for most actors. How did you learn that your film is competing?

Ruben was the first to tell me the news through text! Honestly I was happy for him and excited for all of us with a mixture of nerves and fear! Just the thought of going to the most prestigious film festival in the world is daunting. But we literally held each other’s hands on the red carpet, and that made it much easier and very special.

How do you develop a trusting relationship with your director, Ruben Östlund?

Ruben is a very thorough director. He sees even the smallest detail and I could never get away with “winging” a scene. He sees through tricks and would immediately call me out on it. “That’s not natural,” he would say. That was very important to me because I appreciate a director who provides you freedom and guidance, not absolute control (from neither side). It was a collaboration and collaborations always bring out the best in people. After all, “it takes a village to raise a child.” He is a dream to work with. I learn so much about myself as an actor because of him. And because of his films prior to this one, Force Majeure and The Square, I knew I was in good hands.

BEHIND THE SCENES Director Ruben Ostlund with Dolly de Leon (right) (Tobias Henriksson)

What were the ups and downs in doing this film?

Being away from family for such a long time but also spending time with such caring, sweet, and generous people. I’ve made true friends for life in this film from the cast to the crew. But there is no downside really because everything is a valuable opportunity for growth and learning. Even if I was always dead tired after every shoot, I felt I was given more tools to work with to make the creative process even more exciting for me as an actor. We were supported by an excellent team, especially Fredrik Wenzel, our director of photography, who was always gently cheering us on. Having that kind of presence on set is always comforting. 

TWO MODELS AND A CLEANING LADYDolly de Leon (center) as Abigail with Charlbi Dean (left) as Yaya and Vicki Berlin as Chief Ster Paula in The Triangle of Sadness (Fredrik Wenzel)

As a Filipina, what is your motivation working on an international project?

Be yourself, bring the best practices wherever you go and always speak of your country with pride.

What are your expectations from Cannes? Do you think you’re going to be our next Jaclyn Jose? 

I really try not to think of that. The operative word is “try.” As my brother told me while all the noise was happening, “Your success is attributed to your love of the craft. These awards are just bonuses to what you’ve worked for all your life.” That’s so true. 

From an “unknown” actress to a Best Actress contender, you got positive reviews for your portrayal as Abigail.  What are your thoughts?

Same answer as above! I just want to keep making important, relevant work, play characters people resonate with, characters that speak to you in a below surface level, and work that makes me even better at what I do. That’s what I want. If an award would help me get that, then I definitely hope I get it.