Warning: This article contains spoilers for “Triangle of Sadness.”
Film critics and audiences are acclaiming Filipina actor Dolly de Leon as the breakout star of the Palme d’Or-winning film “Triangle of Sadness,” where her electrifying performance shines in the second hour and half of the Marxist-infused dramedy. “Triangle of Sadness” features an ensemble cast of British arms makers, Slavic businessmen, influencers, and sycophantic managers aboard a luxury yacht that eventually sinks, leaving the survivors on a deserted island. De Leon plays Abigail, a maid and an “OFW” (overseas Filipino worker) on the luxury yacht, and eventually captain on the island. Initially treated as invisible by the uber wealthy passengers, Abigail eventually gets the delicious upper hand in the third act, when her survival skills stand above the rest. It’s no wonder why the film screenings have reportedly witnessed cheers and hollers during the comeuppance that De Leon serves!
Director Ruben Östlund always intended to cast a Filipina actor in the role, and numbers tell an eye-opening story about workers like Abigail as well. Nearly 2 million OFWs worked abroad in fall of 2020, with pre-pandemic numbers closer to 2.18 million, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. More female workers were accounted for, comprising roughly 60%. Speaking to Yahoo! earlier this year, De Leon said, “I have relatives and friends who are OFWs, and I know how they live, and I know them. So I know the struggle and hardship they go through, having to live in a foreign country and speak a different language they’re not used to, and having to be away from their families and do things to earn money. I just based it on that.”
Primarily a theater actor with a love for Pinter and Shakespeare roles, De Leon confessed to Variety, “To be honest, I have not broken out in the Philippines.” Although she won Best Supporting Actress at the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences Awards for crime drama “Verdict,” meaty roles like Abigail seem few and far between. But as she discovers the nonstop whirlwind of the international press tour for “Triangle of Sadness,” De Leon beams, “I feel like a rockstar,” and lists her next destinations: Austin, New York, and the United Kingdom, just to name a few!
In contrast to her initially ignored character, De Leon soaks up the curiosity that comes with every interview question. Within the hierarchical yacht in “Triangle of Sadness,” she notes that “Abigail is absolutely observing everybody and hating every single one [of the wealthy guests].”
Speaking on the dubious relationship that takes place between insecure fashion model Carl and Abigail, De Leon shares, “Actually there was supposed to be a scene, but it wasn’t kept [in the final cut]. There was supposed to be a scene where Carl is working out at the gym [ignoring Abigail], and Abigail is cleaning the machines looking at him in a funny way. So yeah, I think she definitely does [take in information on the guests] and that’s why it was easy for her to take over the role of captain on the island. Because everyone was ignoring her.”
De Leon’s hard work in the film derives from a backstory she built before flying out to meet director Ruben Östlund in his native Sweden. “I wrote a journal on the back of my script. The reason I did that was because she’s very different from how I grew up. You know, very different. She grew up by the sea. Fishing was something she did for fun with her neighbors. So it’s a skill that she developed very well. It’s just something that she just remembers from her childhood.”
De Leon treats Mochi Mag to a detailed account of Abigail’s life prior to “Triangle of Sadness.” Explaining how Abigail ended up working overseas, De Leon reveals, “Her first job, she was working for a very rich family and she fell in love with the son of her boss. She got pregnant, but she couldn’t keep the baby. But then she decided to keep it anyway, and then she lost the baby. She had the miscarriage, and that’s why she doesn’t have children because she ends up going abroad to escape that past that she had.”
For Abigail’s scenes on the island, she displays a wilderness knowledge that is different from how the Manila-bred actor grew up. De Leon said, “I really created a story so that I can justify everything [about Abigail]. Why she knows how to fish, why she doesn’t have a family, and why she’s so strong.”
In “Triangle,” the entitlement that Abigail’s overbearing supervisor, Madame Paula, and the out-of-touch guests place on Abigail and the other workers aboard the yacht play out in unflagging ways. Even after the survivors become shipwrecked, Paula absurdly attempts to retain the crew roles of supervisor and subordinate. Abigail’s on-screen plight arguably illuminates a reality for workers from the Global South. According to BMC Women’s Health journal, female migrant workers often experience an impact on their mental health as they are separated from their culture and family and may find themselves with abusive supervisors or in unsafe working conditions.
With a painstaking work ethic, Östlund expected multiple takes for scenes. The pivotal scene that shifts the power dynamic from Paula to Abigail took five hours to film. “We tried to do it with Abigail being very aggressive. We tried doing it with Abigail being physical. We tried doing it with Abigail trying to be more verbal. So we tried different ways to see which one would work.”
Besides long shooting days, the film’s island scenes also required a demanding physicality from De Leon. Shooting an emotional scene with South African actor Charlbi Dean ten to fifteen feet away from the edge of a cliff, De Leon relied on the security of professional climbers to get over her fear of heights. She also scouted the area the weekend before shooting to acclimate herself. Throughout filming, De Leon bonded with Dean who unexpectedly passed away in August. “She was so sweet. She was always reassuring [and] asking, ‘Are you okay? Are you fine?’ It’s such a shame that she can’t share more of her talent in the future. We’re doing this for her.”
Given that the film ends ambiguously between Abigail and Dean’s character, Yaya, De Leon offers her take: “[My preference] really depends on the day on what mood I’m in or on what state of mind Abigail was in at that moment. Because as an actor, you have your inner monologue as you’re doing it. And then watching it, I can always come up with another inner monologue. So yeah, it really depends on the viewer and me as a viewer. Do I want to be idealistic today? [Or] do I want to be painful and stiff today?”
As awards season chatter continues with the film’s wide October release, more are likely to catch Dolly de Leon’s satisfying and scorching turn as Abigail. In the meantime, De Leon is clearly enjoying the ride.
Follow Dolly de Leon at @dollyedeleon and catch the U.S. release of relentlessly funny “Triangle of Sadness” on October 7th.
Cover credit: Fredrik Wenzel/Plattform Produktion
Last modified: October 14, 2022