Dolly de Leon rises to the challenge of ‘Triangle of Sadness’

Challenges can show who people really are. That goes for Abigail, the breakout character in Ruben Ostlund’s first English-language film, Triangle of Sadness, as well as the actress who plays her, 53-year-old Manila-born Dolly de Leon.

Abigail is what Filipinos call an “OFW”: a Filipino expatriate worker, someone who works abroad, usually on a part-time basis, often to send money home. She is a “toilet manager” on the opulent cruise ship in the middle chapter of the story. It’s not the prettiest work, especially considering the film’s now infamous seasickness sequence. How many Filipinos does De Leon know OFWs personally.

“I just bring in her caring side and take care of other people,” she says in this chic — but cold — dining area at the back of a downtown LA hotel. “They are docile and obedient and hardworking. If you ask them to do something even if they don’t think it’s part of their job description, they go above and beyond.

“In terms of the way she took over everything on the island, I think I got that from my mother. My mother was an OFW. She’s very energetic and in control,” she says of her mother, who recently passed away. “I think I got a little bit of that from her subconsciously. But there was never a conscious effort to copy anyone I knew.”

In the third act, the ship sinks and the social order is turned upside down as Abigail proves to be quite resourceful on an island with the other survivors.

Two desperate women comfort each other on the beach "triangle of sadness"

Dolly de Leon and Charlbi Dean in “Triangle of Sadness”.


“I don’t really see Abigail in Part 2 and Part 3 as two different people. I think she had this pent-up resentment against those people on that yacht from the start. She sees how they can’t even take care of themselves. Everyone watched over her; They had no motivation to make their own coffee,” says De Leon. “So when Part 3 happens, it’s not like there’s a big change happening in Abigail. I think a big change happened around her, so she adjusted.”

The actress can also talk about herself.

Growing up in the Philippines’ capital, her father was a mechanical and electrical engineer, and her mother was mostly a homemaker – “but she was also a master bowler. Rosie de Leon. If people can bowl, they know her name.”

Dolly caught the acting bug as a child and attended college for a degree in theater arts. For decades she acted on stage, especially in classics such as “The Merchant of Venice”, “Waiting for Godot” and “Three Sisters”. However, the majority of her screen work has been in what she calls “small roles you won’t even remember.”

She’s humble – she won a supporting actress award at FAMAS (the Philippine Oscars) for “Verdict” in 2020 – but her story is a familiar one of the struggling actor who does it for love: “You can’t make a living from acting, especially theatre, in the Philippines. You have to do other things.” The single mother of four worked as a presenter: “I would help set up company programs, organizational development and teach them presentation skills.”

When the casting director told her about the Triangle of Sadness audition, De Leon wasn’t thrilled.

“I said, ‘I don’t think I’ll get it,’ because I never get to audition. I really don’t. once i got [cast from] an audition, but only because the actors they chose backed out,” she says. “I went anyway — I mean, I never go down without a fight; I’m up for any challenge. I went there thinking I wasn’t going to get it, so I was very easygoing, very comfortable and just having fun with it. I think that’s what Ruben noticed.”

Three castaways explore their island in the film "triangle of sadness"

Charlbi Dean, Dolly de Leon and Vicki Berlin in “Triangle of Sadness”


Triangle was her first major international production – on a cold beach in Greece, where she played one of the key roles, with an internationally renowned auteur filmmaker – De Leon had to make some adjustments. This includes dealing with Östlund’s shooting of several – sometimes dozens – takes.

“In the beginning I felt terrible. I felt like they made a mistake in picking me because it made us do it over and over again. But after a while I think it really got a lot out of me in a good way. When you do it over and over again, it’s easy to forget you’re acting; You’re just completely in the scene.

“And I think because of my theater background — we rehearse over and over again — it’s creatively liberating but physically demanding.”

While she lavishly praises the cast and crew (“Everyone took care of everyone; it was a set made with love”), she says one of the keys to making her feel comfortable on set was the instant friendship that her 32nd birthday brought her -year-old costar Charlbi offered Dean. Dean died suddenly from a viral infection shortly before the film’s release.

“I felt at home with Charlbi, as if we had known each other for a long time. I would [have] considered her a lifelong friend,” says De Leon. “It wasn’t just the first day; She was consistently kind and thoughtful and sweet, always asking me how I was doing and always putting others before herself.”

Director Ruben Ostlund and actor Dolly Ce Leon pose with the Palme d'Or for'Triangle of Sadness'

Director Ruben Ostlund and Dolly de Leon pose with the Palme d’Or for the film ‘Triangle of Sadness’ at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

(Stephane Cardinale – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

Since the film’s whirlwind filming in Cannes (where it won the Palme d’Or), De Leon has been signed to a major agency and is in talks for a major role in an American production. But it’s not Dolly de Leon who has changed; it is her circumstance.

During the interview, a fan interrupts her to offer her a stuffed bear. The actress graciously accepts and chats with her, then returns to the interview smiling.

“When [Abigail] says, “On the yacht, toilet ladder. Here, Captain, this is very powerful to me. This is my favorite event in the whole movie.

“Everyone tells me [audiences] cheer for these lines, for Abigail.” Dolly de Leon rises to the challenge of ‘Triangle of Sadness’

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