Dolly de Leon had to be convinced to audition for triangle of sadness, the comedy Palme d’Or directed by Ruben Östlund, which earned him rave reviews. She had auditioned for commercials in her native Philippines, booking about 45% of jobs and feeling hopeless for her career. “I just said to myself, ‘Nobody ever chooses me, so I’m just going to have fun with this,'” she says of her approach to each gig. The attitude ended up serving her well.
As Abigail – an employee of the cleaning staff of a luxury yacht, who begins to rule the same people who despised her when a pirate attack leaves them marooned on a secluded beach – de Leon balances the comedy skillful, visceral anger and powerful sensuality, and the 53-year-old actress has become one of the stars of the fall film season.
However, she initially had to wait two years between auditioning for the role in 2018 and filming in 2020. During that time, she “always” thought about Abigail. She exercised on a treadmill to maintain her stamina for what she knew would be an intense filming process. She also began work on Abigail’s backstory. “I only do that with characters who are very, very different from me, and especially characters who make a very difficult choice,” she explains. She kept this story – of Abigail’s childhood by the water and her painful experiences with men – in a loose-leaf journal and continued to adapt it while filming in Greece.
Still, de Leon didn’t think she needed to do much research on Abigail’s position in society. He was a character she basically recognized. “I see Abigail at my aunts, my mother, our grandmother, our cousins,” she says. “She’s in a lot of Filipinos I’ve met over the years.”
In Greece, de Leon underwent physical and mental tests. For one sequence, she had to swim a distance of 40 feet with rocks in her pocket to avoid being seen by cameras above the surface. She was incredibly nervous about performing the film’s final scene, which has been debated by audiences since its Cannes premiere. At the last minute, Östlund asked her to add more nuance to Abigail’s potentially deadly actions. “I discovered so many things about myself working with him that really helped me grow as an actor a lot,” she says.
At the time of this interview, de Leon was preparing to leave Los Angeles for his hometown of Manila and was looking forward to seeing his children. (She is a mother of four children – three of them adults and the youngest is just 9 years old.)
She is eager to explore opportunities outside her country. “In the Philippines, I live in a box,” she says. “It’s very stereotypical the way everything is done in the Philippines. I want out of this. She wants to make indies and work with filmmakers who challenge her. She teases that she’s playing Jason Schwartzman’s stepmother in a comedy.
Even with this potential in front of her, she wants to return to the mindset she had when auditioning for Abigail. “I try to get back to that place, where I focus on the character and the story rather than the need to be hired,” she says. “Because that’s really my job, to be a storyteller.”
This story first appeared in a December standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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How Breakout ‘Triangle of Sadness’ Dolly de Leon Prepared for Abigail’s Role – Nifey