BAFTA-nominee Dolly De Leon talks about her process to prepare for her international career-defining role as Abigail, the key figure in Ruben Östlund’s satirical take on power, class and human behaviour, Triangle of Sadness.
‘When I first heard about the script,’ says BAFTA-nominated Dolly De Leon, ‘my mind was blown. For a Palme d’Or winner to think of a Filipina turning the tables on these powerful people, I thought that was a very exciting idea.’ Triangle of Sadness (2022), Ruben Östlund’s satire of the ultra-wealthy and of wider class divisions in society, explores the ways social structures and power dynamics influence human behaviour. Already renowned in her home country through her work in film and television – which includes collaborating with revered Filipino filmmaker Lav Diaz – and newly nominated for a BAFTA as Best Supporting Actress, she’s deservedly broken through on the international stage with her astonishing turn as cleaner-come-captain Abigail, who finds herself in the seat of power when the luxury yacht she once cleaned sinks to the bottom of the ocean. ‘I was very nervous getting [onto an] international set, working with these fantastic actors, this beautiful ensemble,’ De Leon admits, ‘but at the same time I was so excited and really up for the challenge’.
Abigail lies at the centre of the film’s thematic concerns; if ever there was a living, breathing symbol of the ‘eat the rich’ mantra it’s Abigail. It’s impressive how convincingly De Leon transforms Abigail, a task the actor set about constructing with relish. ‘I started by writing a journal, to figure out how she has those skills… It’s very important for me as an actor to be able to justify why my character chooses to do those things,’ she explains. In a pivotal scene on the island, while they sit around the fire Abigail built to cook the food she caught, the group begins to complain that the food is not being divided equally. Abigail realises that without her, nobody will survive, and De Leon captures this moment through a skilful balance of humour and the tenacity that lies beneath Abigail’s previously unreadable expressions. ‘What attracted me to Abigail was the fact that she could really put her foot down and be in command of a given situation without anyone’s approval or permission,’ De Leon continues, ‘ I think playing a character like that is very empowering, especially for female viewers to show that we have a lot of power in us, especially for us Asians. They call us a minority, so it was really exciting to play someone like her that everyone can [relate to]’.
What makes Abigail such a compelling figure is De Leon and Östlund’s unwillingness to portray her as a cypher or foil to the wealthy. ‘It’s really about personal preparation for me as an actor and talking very closely with Ruben and [voicing] all my concerns… How she can fish. How she is able to build a fire. And why she makes the choices she does in the film’. It’s through these actions that De Leon’s performance dominates the third act of Triangle of Sadness and it’s through her that Östlund’s exaggerated mirror on our world highlights just how out of balance our societies have become. The price we will pay should we do nothing about it might just make Abigail’s new world order seem more and more attractive by comparison.
TRIANGLE OF SADNESS IS STILL OUT IN CINEMAS OR AVAILABLE TO WATCH ON CURZON HOME CINEMA