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Fascinating Women 2023: Dolly De Leon

In an exclusive interview, we got to know this internationally-acclaimed actress and "Triangle of Sadness" star better through her thoughts on her craft, her aspirations for the Philippine entertainment industry, her take on being seen as a "role model," and the fun facts you'll probably be surprised to know about her

Who is she? She’s the new captain steering us all the way to Hollywood!


It’s been a whirlwind of international acting nominations and recognitions for actress Dolly de Leon since the award-winning film Triangle of Sadness premiered at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. Filipinos have been taking pride and living vicariously through her Hollywood and international entertainment circuit rounds.


When the film premiered to critics, observers, and film enthusiasts alike celebrating de Leon’s acting prowess, it kicked off a journey like no other for the actress. The satirical film Triangle of Sadness, written and helmed by Ruben Östlund, won the highly coveted Palm d’Or award at Cannes and opened many doors for the film and for de Leon. In the film, the Pinay actress played the role of Abigail, a cleaner on a luxury cruise ship-turned-“captain” of survivors on what seemed to be a deserted island.


De Leon’s history-making career journey as a Filipina actress for the film earned her the Best Supporting Performer award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Best Supporting Actress at the North Dakota Film Society, Best Actress in a Supporting Role at the Guldbagge Awards, and a Breakthrough Performance Award at the Middleburg Film Festival. She also became the first ever Filipina actress to be nominated at the Golden Globes. 


There was a strong Oscar buzz and campaign for the actress but while she wasn’t able to score a nomination, she certainly made a mark in international cinema and in Tinseltown. In fact, at the recent Academy Awards, the divine Miss Dolly shared an Instagram story about snacking on sweets at the event with the funny and very Pinoy caption: “May pa i-snacks si Mayor dito kina kuya Oscar.”


Metro Fascinating Women - Dolly de Leon


Metro.Style caught up with the critics’ darling at 3 a.m. Philippine time and 2 p.m. Georgia, US time. No timezone and ocean could keep us from holding an in-depth conversation with the legendary actress. The actress happily shared that she was in Atlanta, Georgia to shoot a film.


“I’m happy to be here. They’re so nice. They’re so accommodating and they made me feel very welcome so I’m so happy,” de Leon says, apologetic because she can’t disclose the project yet.


She may be in the United States but de Leon is very much connected with her Ladies Who Launch group in staging their advocacy initiative, Project Hulmahan, through an art exhibit last March 15, 2023 at Estancia Mall in Pasig; it will be there until April 9. The group enlisted artists who turned shoe molds (hulmahan) into art masterpieces.


“We were able to get 700 artists and we have 1,000 artworks,” she proudly shares. “It’s a sustainable endeavor so it’s something we’d like to continuously do every year to raise funds kasi we can’t always depend on donations. That’s why we took the initiative of doing this. Mismong auction will be on April 17 for the benefit of Bayanihang Marikenyo, Marikenya, the community kitchen, and the UP Artists Fraternity,” she adds.


They will also have an exhibit roadshow on March 25 to April 3 at the Newport Mall, April 10 to 16 at the Lucky Chinatown, April 18 to 23 at the Venice Grand Canal, and April 24 to 30 at Alabang West. 


Metro Fascinating Women - Dolly de Leon



Hollywood, Dollywood

As Dolly de Leon made the rounds on various Hollywood and international film events and awards ceremonies, Filipinos can’t help but marvel at her journey and success. One of her memorable red carpet and awards ceremony moments was at the BAFTAs 2023 (British Academy Film Awards), where she was nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Triangle of Sadness. She graced the event wearing the splendid “Alon” [wave] sculptural champagne-colored Rajo Laurel gown.


“I was so proud to wear that gown. The first time I wore it, it felt so right and s’yempre, nakaka-proud to wear something that’s Filipino-made. What can be more Pinoy than Rajo Laurel? And the material he used pa was abaca and silk so very Filipino talaga. It felt good to wear that gown, I felt, really, in my element which is water. To me, it’s water, it’s waves,” she says.



We asked about her BAFTAs experience and the people she was able to encounter at the occasion. “It was so exciting to be in a place like that—with people I’ve only been watching onscreen and to finally meet them. I met Kerry Condon, it’s an honor to meet her kasi ang friendly niya. Siya pa iyong lumapit sa akin to introduce herself only because she saw me first. If I saw her first, ako ang lalapit sa kanya. She’s really super nice and she won that day,” she beams, adding that she also met actress Florence Pugh and the event host Richard E. Grant.


De Leon also made a splash at the recently held 2023 Oscars where she walked the champagne carpet in an edgy, sleek black pantsuit by Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini marked by red accents of latex flower and latex gloves and in a pair of red, pointy Manolo Blahniks armed with a gold and red minaudiere by Neil Felipp. She was dressed up for the occasion looking like the empowered woman that she is.



With the sudden and dizzying upwards trajectory of her career right now, it’s worth noting how this is all affecting her on a personal and professional level. “On a professional level, I guess mas na-educate ako sa showbiz industry,” she says. She also thoughtfully took in the experience reflecting on how it impacted her personally. “On a personal level, I realized that all I really want to do is really just act. That’s all I want to do: act. Lahat ng mga parties na ’to, mga get-togethers na ’to, mga awards na ’to, okay, masaya siya, sige, pero mas gusto ko lang talaga umarte. Mas gusto ko lang talaga to be on a film set—to create a character and to work with my co-actors. That’s really what I realized on a personal level,” she begins.


“I also realized how precious my family is. Kasi being away from them for a long time, mas na-value ko sila. Alam mo iyong ‘distance makes the heart grow fonder?’ Kasi noong pandemic, nasa bahay kami for days and days on end, parang sukang-suka na kami sa isa’t-isa. Pero after being away with them this time, they’re so precious to me talaga and I’ll never ever going to take that for granted ever again,” she continues, adding that she has been away from home filming Triangle of Sadness for a total of eight weeks—two weeks on the first leg and six long weeks during the second week.


Matagal. Para akong OFW [Overseas Filipino Worker]. Iyon ang pakiramdam talaga,” she says. Through this journey and the star-making turn this film was able to achieve for her, we asked if there’s anything that changed within her. “I change every day. I think everybody changes every day. But I think the basic of my personality, the basic-ness of me is still the same. Siguro ang nagbago lang sa akin is mas gusto kong i-improve pa iyong craft ko ngayon, mas gusto kong mag-aral, mas gusto ko pang mag-discover ng new ways of doing things. I want to learn even more about my craft and parang kasi the stakes are so much higher now, so dati kasi umaarte lang ako dahil, you know, ’yun ang trabaho ko, propesyon ko. We just work from the day to day. Pero now, because the stakes are higher, so many eyes are on me now, I guess mas mataas ang expectations ng mga tao… so it motivates me actually to even get better at what I do and to find better ways of doing things,” de Leon confesses. 



Elucidating on the current state of her profession, de Leon shares more of her thoughts. “Iba na kasi ang playing field ngayon eh. Dati ’pag umaarte ako, alam ko na tatawagan lang ako and I’m on set na and gagawin ko na kung ano iyong hinihingi ng director. Ang aasahan ko lang talaga is iyong sarili ko and iyong director ko sa set. Iyong sarili ko before going on set, I study the script, study the character, memorize the lines then when I go on set, the director gives us instructions and then we follow them. Pero now it’s different. It’s more immersive. There’s really a lot more discussion in terms of character development so I feel finally, as an actor, that I am whole. Kumbaga ngayon kasi I’m already going through the true process of filmmaking eh—of creating. Hindi lang ako order-taker, nakaupo, nakikinig, sumusunod sa utos. Meron na rin akong creative license to tell the story and that’s very special. I wish every actor can have that,” she explains.



Keeping her passion for acting alive

While it does appear that she’s reveling in the glory of her current success, de Leon admits that there were instances she actually wanted to give up. “Maraming beses,” she candidly says and proceeds to recount her experiences playing minor roles. “Kasi it reached a point din na nakakadalawang trabaho lang ako sa isang buwan tapos iyong mga dalawang trabaho, one day or two days. O kaya locked-in shoot, nandoon ka ng isang buwan pero tatlong beses ka lang kukunan so ubos lahat ng oras mo doon, wala kang ginagawa. And always playing the same roles all the time kaya I wanted to quit many times but I never did,” she recalls.



However, she feels that those moments may have been all part of the plan for her life. “I guess it’s just part of the process. Iyong you can’t just sit and take whatever life gives you. You have to be proactive and do something about it to make things better, ’di ba? So it reached that point na nasabi ko sa sarili ko na parang mali. Parang kailangan yata iba ang gawin ko kasi hindi na ito masaya. Pero tinuloy ko pa rin kasi nakakakakuha pa rin ako ng trabaho. I guess parang sign din iyon sa akin na ’wag mong iwan, kailangan ka pa namin, may puwesto ka pa dito. That’s why I stayed,” she says.


De Leon also shared how her four wonderful kids (aged 26, 23, 22 and 10) encouraged her in those situations and were, in fact, so supportive of her choice and her career even if she felt that she hasn’t been able to provide all the comforts they deserve. The actress also found comfort and inspiration in her first love—theater. “I get inspiration from that kasi kahit wala akong pelikula or wala akong serye, meron pa ring play. So iyan iyong mga bumubuhay sa dugo ko eh kasi my first love was really theater. That’s one of the things that really kept me going, theater is still alive and I’m still a welcome member in that community,” she says. Though she has no upcoming theater projects as of now, she hopes to work on new works by young playwrights, on original Filipino stories, and in never-been-staged-before projects.


With the way things are going right now and how the digital era is ushering in global opportunities and new, exciting directions, de Leon can’t help but profoundly share more of her hopes and aspiration for the Philippine entertainment industry. “I really want for the entertainment industry in the Philippines to explore different ways of telling stories, tapping creative writers/screenwriters who have so much to offer but have not been given the chance to tell their stories. I’d love to see the industry explore not just the typical story that we always see but things that are unexpected and something that everyone can relate to hindi lang iyong mga young people,” she starts, clarifying that she has nothing against love stories, rom-coms and love teams.


Metro Fascinating Women - Dolly de Leon


“Actually, maganda iyong if they’re always there, pero maganda sana kung may maiba rin para we can also explore other stories. I feel kasi na art sends a message to the world. Every time art is created, it sends a message to the world and we’re sending a message to the young people that being young is your ‘be all and end all’—that the greatest accomplishment of a human being is to be young, when the reality of it is we will all become old one day. We have to see stories of people living life as seniors or as middle-aged people and navigating this complicated world especially because the world is always changing, ’di ba? I’d love to see stories about how people who are not born in this generation are adjusting to the way the world is changing now, how language is changing and how it affects them and impacts their lives. I think that would be so refreshing to see,” she pensively continues. 


One of her fervent hopes is also to receive more support from the government in funding creative projects. “Malaki ang potential natin. Ang dami dami nating talented writers, directors and actors in our own country but they are so under-utilized. So that’s my dream—my dream is ma-utilize sila, magkaroon sila ng boses at mabigyan ng boses ang independent film scene,” she says with optimism.



Her Dirty Linen co-star Janine Gutierrez has also expressed her admiration for the actress and similarly, some stars have also seen her as a role model. Though she found it sweet, de Leon receives this and handles it like a delicate matter.


“I hope that when people pertain to anybody as a role model, they just use the career as a model, not the personal lives. Because in so many ways, I am such a flawed human being. I have made so many mistakes in my life and I have done so many things that I am not proud of and I am the last person that anyone would like to have as a role model,” she says, wisdom and experience evident in her words.


“I can’t even really say that my career is something to aspire for. I mean, nag-audition ako for a role in a foreign film and I got the part. It happened to be a good role, I was really fortunate to work with a director who guided us and made sure that we were protected and we were doing the right thing. It just so happened also that he happened to give me a really good role. So all of these things, these are all factors that played into this whole thing. This is not just me, this is a whole team of people. This is our director who’s also the writer, our producers, the crew from the gaffer to the cam dep (camera department), sound technician–it’s not just one person, it’s the whole team. Hindi nila nagagawa ito ng mag-isa. It takes an entire team of people to come up with that and I hope that people see it that way.  When we look up at a certain person, they’re not by themselves lang and ang daming tumulong sa kanila to get there. I just hope that they see it that way and when they work with people, they think on those terms: I am being supported by all of these people, I am here to support them and we’re all working together as a team and that’s the goal. The goal is to work in a very safe, nurturing environment. Iyon dapat ang maging aspiration nila rather than iyong kung ano iyong na-achieve ng isang tao,” she humbly and pensively remarks.




Up close and personal

It’s easy to become lost in the world of glamour, praises, admiration and golden opportunities and any human being would succumb to it all.  However, de Leon shared an experience that put things in perspective for her and brought her back to reality, igniting more of the seed of passion for acting planted in her.


“This was early on for the Oscar campaign September of last year. Pagkatapos ng isang Q&A ng screening namin, and if you’re going to imagine what that looks like, a Q&A is they ask questions about the film and after those questions were asked, we go and mingle with the audience. It’s a flurry of people, mostly AMPAS (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) members, voters, actors, filmmakers and the energy is very frenetic. Mataas iyong adrenaline ko kasi kakagaling ko lang sa stage and nagsagot ako ng questions na ako lang mag-isa. Wala pa doon iyong cast and director, so medyo iyong energy ko was all over the place. And then this gentleman, this director—his name is Greg Kwedar—he approached me in a very grounded tone of voice and with a smile on his face, he asked me: ‘And how are you doing?’ Ah, grabe when he asked me that! Woohooo! Pause. It gave me pause,” she narrates in detail.


“And I said ‘I’m going crazy!’ Tapos sabi niya, ‘You know what? All of these—this is all great but someday, it may go away and then you’re going to do another film and then this is going to happen again and people are going to be giving you praise and all that and then it’s going to go away but that’s okay. Just remember that you already worked on the film and you already did it and your job is done. So let the work speak for itself.’ Hindi ko iyon makakalimutan ever! Oo nga, what am I so worried about? Why am I so worried about mingling with these people whom I’ve never met. Why does it affect me so much? The point is nagawa na namin iyon, nag-shoot na kami, ayan na po iyong produkto, kayo na po ang bahala and wala na akong magagawa kung anuman ang desisyon ninyo. He gave me that message very clearly and in a really grounded way and I’ll never forget it and I’ll always cherish that,” she says, clearly grateful for that moment.


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Most people right now would readily associate her with her onscreen works but when not in front of the camera, de Leon said she’s quite simple with an unexpected hobby. “I’m a very kengkoy [jester] person. I’m super informal. I love wearing T-shirt, jeans and rubber shoes. I love hanging out with my friends in Gener Café in Quezon City—it’s a very small and intimate place. My kids, I treat them like my friends, barkada kami. We all joke at home. When we’re at home, maingay kami. There’s always laughing and screaming and you know, alaskahan, ganyan kami. But at the same time, I can also be… meron din akong subdued side. Mahilig akong mag-gantsilyo [crochet]—past time ko pero lately hindi ko nagagawa dahil sobra-sobrang busy. I love to crochet, watch films and series. Nagbi-binge watch kami ng mga anak ko sa bahay. I love to read books,” she says.


And here’s a surprising and exciting trivia about her: she’s a passionate gamer. “Before, I used to love playing games—Call of Duty favorite ko iyan dati. Sobrang gamer ako dati, may mga na-meet akong mga tao sa COD dahil sa ganyan. Hanggang ngayon, magkakaibigan pa rin kami. Ganoon ako ka-intense. Hindi ko na nagagawa ngayon. That’s me. I’m very easygoing,” she smiles, happily recalling those days.


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In commemoration of International Women’s Month, Metro.Style also asked her about the woman she looks up to the most. She thought for a while but decidedly came up with an answer. “I think it’s my lola, my abuelita, my grandmother on my mother’s side kasi she raised her five kids single-handedly. She was able to give them good education by herself and by her own efforts and she did it with grace, she did it with class and I can never be like my abuelita but I can only aspire to be like her. I am raising my four kids singlehandedly— iyon nga lang hindi ako graceful and hindi ako ladylike pero as much as possible, I still try to emulate her kahit papaano, even if alam kong di ko iyon ma-a-achieve. She raised me together with my parents and she was always there pag-uwi ko sa bahay, always welcomed me, meron ako laging meryenda pag uuwi ako sa bahay. I would sleep next to her growing up,” she fondly recalls.


Though she appears to be self-deprecating, Dolly de Leon—the actress we have grown to love, admire, and are truly proud of—is self-aware enough to celebrate a part of herself and give herself some well-deserved self-love. “You know, I think my best quality is I’m always wanting to learn about people, always wanting to learn about the world, always trying to understand everything and I believe that growth is never-ending. Learning and development never ends. I think that’s the best part of me kasi because of that—I will never settle for anything. I will always want more and I will always look for more and always want to improve on everything,” she concludes. 


We can all certainly learn from Dolly de Leon and play a role in becoming a captain of our own destiny.


Lead photos by Raen Badua @raenbadua

Stylist: LJ Perez @theljperez

Photo Assistant: Miles Caliboso @mlmc.tmp

Makeup: Kelly Goldsack @kellygoldsackmakeup

Hairstylist: Jonathan Hanousek@jjhanousek