A week after the Golden Globe nominations were announced, I saw De Leon in Manila, where the actress lives, at the birthday party of the Filipino filmmaker Erik Matti, whose Venice Film Festival-winning film On the Job: The Missing 8 was submitted by the Philippines for the Best International Feature Academy Award. That night, despite Matti’s birthday, De Leon was inadvertently the center of the party. It said something about how much her stature has changed even in her local industry—before Triangle of Sadness Debuted at the Cannes Film Festival and made the veteran actress an international star, she was hardly known even in the Philippines, a titanic talent in bit roles.
,[Actors like Dolly] have a tough climb in our industry,” Matti says, in a mix of English and Filipino. “You want to cast them because they’re really great actors, but then the business side [of the production] comes and says, ‘Don’t you think we need a bigger name attached to a lead?’ And then later on you find that there’s nothing more you can do and you let go of the actor… It’s difficult because a lot of the streamers ask for number of [social media] followers, stuff like that.
Reflecting on her place in the local industry, De Leon says, “You know, there are a lot of people who treat me the same. [as they did before Triangle],” citing collaborators like Matti, who she says treated her with respect even when she played minor roles in his films. “But there are also others who treat me very, very differently now—and I think that just speaks volumes about the kind of people that they are… I can’t even say that I’m grateful that they’re being extra nice to me because it’s so unfair to other people who have nothing to offer, and are treated basically like garbage… I’m not afraid to say that because I was on the receiving end of that before, of being treated less than. ”
In that way, De Leon is a lot like Abigail, her character in Triangle of Sadness, who starts the film as a cleaner on a luxury cruise ship and later, grabs an opportunity to turn the tables on the film’s grotesquely overindulgent elite. “I’ve always felt oppressed,” she says. “I’ve always felt discriminated upon because of my stature in life, in the same way that Abigail does in the film.”
After a face-to-face audition with the film’s casting director in Manila, De Leon booked the role that would change her life over a Skype call with Östlund. After years of playing bit roles in the Philippines (she has talked in interviews about waiting hours on set just to utter one line), continually overlooked in favor of conventionally-attractive young actors with more Instagram followers than acting chops, De Leon was finally getting her due, a role she could sink her teeth into and that she was ready for.
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