Filipino actors

[Only IN Hollywood] Dolly de Leon on her 2 Sundance films, ‘Nine Perfect Strangers,’ next projects

Ruben V. Nepales

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

[Only IN Hollywood] Dolly de Leon on her 2 Sundance films, ‘Nine Perfect Strangers,’ next projects

Sean Price Williams

In her first time to participate in the Sundance Film Festival, the Filipina actress has not one but two entries – 'Ghostlight' and 'Between the Temples'

LOS ANGELES, USA – “It’s kind of a good problem,” admits Dolly de Leon, calling from Munich, Germany. It’s a problem that many actors would kill to have.

In her first time to participate in the Sundance Film Festival, the Filipina actress has not one but two entries, Kelly O’Sullivan and Alex Thompson’s Ghostlight and Nathan Silver’s Between the Temples. That’s quite a feat for a Sundance newbie.

But Dolly could not attend the premieres of her two buzzworthy films up in a snowy mountain in Utah because she is under contract to film season two of Nine Perfect Strangers in Germany. She tried to ask permission to grace Robert Redford’s beloved film festival, now ongoing and celebrating its 40th year.

But the answer was no.

“It’s really sad that I couldn’t be there,” Dolly said wistfully, her distinctive voice clear and crisp on the phone.

But her screen presence and performance in Ghostlight and Between the Temples are making up for her absence. I’ve seen both films. They are worthy follow-ups to her breakthrough film, Ruben Ostlund’s Triangle of Sadness, for which she won acclaim and made history as the first Filipina to earn a Golden Globe best actress nomination.

In the very engaging comedy-drama Ghostlight which she and her manager Adam Kersh are the executive producers, a blonde Dolly is a member of a small community theater in Chicago who encourages a construction worker (Keith Kupferer) to join their Romeo and Juliet production.

Face, Head, Person
GHOSTLIGHT. Dolly de Leon stars and executive produces ‘Ghostlight’ a Sundance Film Festival entry, where playing an amateur stage actress (with Keith Kupferer in this scene) reminded her of playing Juliet at UP Diliman. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Keith and his real wife and daughter, Tara Mallen and Katherine Mallen Kupferer, and the rest of the cast who play amateur actors and Dolly, of course, elevate this indie film into a funny, smart gem.

In the comedy, Between the Temples, Dolly holds her own amid an excellent cast as, get this – a Filipina Jewish convert named Judith Gottlieb – who is the stepmom of Ben, Jason Schwartzman. Again, who would have imagined that portraying a Yiddish-singing stepmother to Jason was in the cards for our trailblazing actress?

Jason and Carol Kane are terrific as cantor and his bat mitzvah student who connect in this hilarious, sweet, and heartwarming film which will have its international premiere in Berlinale 2024’s Panorama section.

In our phone conversation, Dolly, who starred with Kathryn Bernardo in Petersen Vargas’ hit, A Very Good Girl, reveals more about her character in Nine Perfect Strangers and her other exciting coming projects. And I did not let her go without talking about her reaction to Eugene Domingo’s amusing ode to that unforgettable Triangle of Sadness scene in Jun Lana’s humorous Becky & Badette.

The following are excerpts from our phone chat:

In your first Sundance Film Festival participation, you do not only have one but two films. As they say, when it rains, it pours!

Yeah. Wow. I’m just so blessed that I have a hard-working manager like Adam Kersh and a hard-working agent like Jennifer Beaton and Gersh (The Gersh Agency). They work hard to get me jobs and I’m blessed and I hope it continues.

I want to keep doing what I’m doing and doing it with a diversity of people in different parts of the world. So yeah, I’m fortunate. I’m very blessed.

Can you comment about not being able to attend Sundance because you’re filming Nine Perfect Strangers? How do you feel about that? The trade-off is working with Nicole Kidman and this great new cast of season 2 and with producer David E Kelley, the brilliant mind behind LA Law, Big Little Lies, and Ally McBeal.

Yeah, that’s the trade-off. It’s kind of a good problem. Of course, I feel bad because I could not be with the whole team of Ghostlight and Between the Temples in Sundance.

And I’ve never been to Sundance. I really would have wanted to go because I’ve never been there. But it is what it is. It’s really sad that I couldn’t be there.

But I was with them in spirit. We were in communication the whole time and they were sending me pictures. So, in a way, I was also there with them in spirit.

But yeah, these things happen, unfortunately. I didn’t get permission.

I asked permission and another actor who’s with me here also had the same problem. He also has a film in Sundance but he wasn’t allowed to do it. So, it’s like that, of course. We have to work.

What role are you playing in Nine Perfect Strangers?

I’m playing a former nun named Agnes Romero. She’s a former nun who is searching for God, for God’s voice, and hoping to find it through the help of Nicole Kidman’s character, Masha.

And Agnes is a Filipina?

She’s a Filipina. Yes.

Now, let’s talk about Ghostlight. Theater is one of your passions early on in the Philippines. How much did you love playing a stage actress in the company of amateur actors? And what about the story of loss appealed to you?

I love playing Rita. I love her a lot because, more or less, I understand her perfectly and I can empathize with her because I know what it feels like to be that kind of an actor where you’re struggling and you’re trying your best to find jobs but no one gets you.

I know how it feels. So, I fell in love with Rita and to be able to work with actors who come from the same world as I do, really was very special to me.

About the loss part, I don’t know if I ever told you, Ruben, but I’ve been diagnosed as depressive. So, I know how it feels to sometimes feel like all hope is gone. Sometimes you think of the worst-case scenario and sometimes that happens.

So, I feel that this film is very special because it sends a message to people out there, like me, who sometimes feel lost, that there is help out there. We just have to find it.

And there are people who will welcome us with open arms and will share their love with us. And it may not ease the pain, it may not make life easier, but we won’t be alone.

And that’s what Ghostlight is. It’s sending a message to the world that we are not alone.

What is your personal connection to Romeo and Juliet? When and where did you watch your first Romeo and Juliet? And your reaction to playing Juliet at this stage in your life?

I first experienced watching Romeo and Juliet with the Franco Zeffirelli film starring Olivia Hussey. I grew up with that. And then Leonardo DiCaprio did it with Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet). And Claire Danes, she’s a very good actress.

When I was in college, we never did the full-length play but every year at the University of the Philippines (Diliman), we’re invited to join the British Council speech contest, where different schools participate and perform a piece by Shakespeare.

I joined the contest together with Dean Alfar, who was an actor at the time, and we were directed by Jose Estrella, who was my professor at the time. And we won that contest.

So, Romeo and Juliet is a very special Shakespeare play for me because it kind of honed me into the actor that I came to be when I was a young actor in school. I learned a lot from my teacher, Jose Estrella, and that was my first introduction to Shakespeare.

Romeo and Juliet was my first ever introduction to Shakespeare. That’s why doing this whole play within a film with Ghostlight was very special to me. It had a lot of sentimental value to me.

Ageism is brought up at one point in the film. How do you feel about ageism in the film industry?

Most stories center around young people because maybe they think that it’s unappealing to watch older people onscreen. But I think aging is a beautiful thing.

Aging is a gift because it’s a testament to how long you’ve lived your life and your wrinkles are your battle scars. They are evidence of what you’ve been through all your life and you’ve survived it.

So, I think reaching a certain age, especially my age, is a precious thing and it’s beautiful and should be embraced.

Recently, I watched Nyad. I love how Jodie Foster and Annette Bening were just embracing all of that. The wonderful and beautiful thing about being in your 60s (Dolly is 54).

So yeah, I hope that more storytellers tell our stories because our stories are important and they also need to be heard. There are a lot of people of our generation who need to see stories about us.

Can you also talk about how this wonderful development in your career has enabled you to work with father, daughter, and mother actors in real life like Keith, Katherine, and Tara?

Such an honor to work with them. They are a talented family. Katherine – she is 15 years old – she’s just so self-aware and so talented. I can honestly say that when I was 15, I was not even one-tenth of the talent that she has. Can you imagine what more she has in store?

Tara is a very active Chicago theater actor. She brought so much also. And Keith, my goodness. Keith – giving, generous, he’s always in the moment, a wonderful actor.

What a dream to work with a family like that. My wish is for everyone to be able to work with a family like that. They are just wonderful people.

Congratulations as well on being an executive producer of Ghostlight. How fulfilling is that for you to get to executive produce an American film? And is that something you’d like to do more?

I’d love to do more of that. Ghostlight is a nice stepping stone to eventually do that. But in the future, that’s really what I would like to do more of.

I would like to produce films, maybe a series, executive produce also. I would love to do that. I would love to be a part of the creative process of any film or series.

It’s such an honor that Kelly (O’Sullivan) and Alex (Thompson) gave me the opportunity to be the EP here with Ghostlight. I don’t know if you know this about me, Ruben, but I’m a very sentimental person. I’m very sentimental.

And to me, everything has a reason why things happen. So, for me, Ghostlight is so special because it’s one of the first films I’ve ever done in the US.

Playing a woman who I can totally empathize with and work with people who come from my world, which is theater, and to be able to executive produce this is so special to me. And yes, down the line, I would love to do that.

And I also want to eventually write. I also want to write a screenplay or something like that. I want to get into that, the other creative sides of creating.

As with Ghostlight, you got to work with a terrific cast in Between the Temples. Let’s start with Jason Schwartzman. I have long admired Jason in his various roles but this is one of his career-best performances. Can you talk about the pleasure that you, as a terrific actress yourself, must have had acting in scenes with him?

Oh my gosh, Jason just makes everything easy because he is just 100% in the scene and he does not focus only on himself. He also thinks of everyone else around him.

Accessories, Glasses, Face
BETWEEN THE TEMPLES. Dolly de Leon on her ‘Between the Temples’ costars. On Jason Schwartzman: ‘He brought such life and light to Benjamin, the character that he played.’ On Carol Kane: ‘She was very giving and generous in all the scenes that we did together.’ Courtesy of Sundance Institute

He’s a good soul, he’s a kind soul. Not once did he ever complain about anything and he was on call every single day because he’s the lead but not once did I ever see him frown.

I never heard him complain about anything. He was 100% all love for his craft and I admire that about him a lot.

He did a fantastic job here in Between the Temples. He brought such life and light to Benjamin, the character that he played. I’m just so honored to work with someone like him.

And as a follow-up to that, can you also talk about acting with Carol Kane in this movie?

I was so intimidated because she’s Carol Kane. But she made me feel very comfortable right away. She was just such a delight to work with.

She was very giving and generous in all the scenes that we did together. I even went up to her to ask for a selfie. I thought, I don’t care if this woman makes fun of me. I’m gonna do it.

And she was so nice and accommodating and gave me the selfie that I asked for. I’m so in love with her. She’s just wonderful. And we still message each other.

We’ve been congratulating each other on the success of Between the Temples. I’m very fortunate to be working with these wonderful people.

And I hope it keeps coming. I hope I continue to be blessed with working with wonderful, talented, and kind people.

And as a film lover myself, watching that extended dinner scene towards the end was such a treat. Did you film it in one night or several days? How much did you, as an actor, enjoy that dinner scene with so many things going on and unraveling?

Oh my gosh, we shot that scene in two days. The first night, we stuck to the script and there was delicious food. It was really well prepared.

I mean, it was real food. It was edible. It was so yummy and warm. We worked on the scene for an entire evening with a script.

And then, on the second night when we re-shot it, when we did it again, it was improvised so suggestions were thrown in by Nathan Silver, our director. And Jason put a lot of his own ideas into that.

We did a lot of different versions of it the second night so when you watch it, it’s a combination of the first and the second nights.

And the pressure on me because I had to sing Hebrew. I had to sing Yiddish (laughs). But we had a Jewish coach who was with us throughout the entire time and it made everything worth it.

Body Part, Finger, Hand
JOURNEY. In her amazing journey as an actress in international cinema, Dolly de Leon plays a Filipina Jewish convert, Judith Gottlieb, in ‘Between the Temples.’ ‘I want more to focus on playing Filipinas because I think that we need representation on screen,’ Dolly says. Sean Price Williams

What your break as an actress in international cinema and the United States has brought you is that you get to play a Filipina character in these films, especially in Between the Temples. And now, you also play a Filipina in Nine Perfect Strangers.

I think that’s also kind of a conscious effort on my part as an actor. That’s my personal choice. I would love to continue to be playing Filipinas throughout my career.

I am not looking to play any other ethnicity. But who knows, maybe if there’s a story that resonates with me, that I can relate to, and a character of another ethnicity or culture, maybe I’d be open to that.

But right now, I want to focus more on playing Filipinas because I think that we need representation onscreen. I’m not getting any younger and I want to make the most of my time here on earth to bring us out there, to bring us out in the global stage and our stories, to bring our stories out there.

If they want to cast a Hispanic woman or I don’t know, a Singaporean woman or another culture, then they can cast the real deal. But if they want to cast a Filipina, then it should be a Filipina.

So as much as possible, I would still love to play Filipina roles. And I’m so fortunate because I’ve played a Filipina cleaning lady, I’ve played a Jewish convert, a Catholic immigrant from the Philippines who immigrated to the States and converted to Judaism.

And now, I’m playing a nun who also went to another country to serve God but still being a Filipina. So, I still want to keep doing that.

Also coming up is Grand Theft Auto. What can you share about this film and acting opposite the likes of Awkwafina, Simu Liu, John Cena, and Seann Williams Scott? What do you play?

About Grand Theft Auto, my role here is a cameo. I cannot reveal much because it’s going to spoil it.

It’s a cameo and it was wonderful working with Sean William Scott. He was my scene partner throughout the entire time. I don’t want to reveal anymore because I don’t want to spoil it.

How much did you enjoy watching Eugene Domingo and that scene in Becky & Badette, which is an homage to your unforgettable scene in Triangle of Sadness?

Oh my gosh, I was just laughing and laughing the whole time we were watching it because that was the premiere. She (Eugene) was like two seats away from me and I could hear her saying, “Dolly, Dolly!” She was doing that.

And of course, that’s because of director Jun Lana. He was the one who wrote and directed it. I’m sure that was his idea.

But it was fun watching that iconic scene being played by one of my very good friends in a very meaningful film.

That’s one of the beautiful things about Philippine cinema now; we’re not just producing comedy, we’re producing comedy with value, talks about friendship and inclusivity, cancel culture, and things like that so it felt good to be part of that in a way.

You’ll be spending six months in Munich. What do you plan to do? Will you miss Filipino food? Do you plan to cook Filipino food, for example?

Yeah, I plan to cook Filipino food. Right now, I’m staying in a hotel but I’m going to be moved to an apartment because I miss cooking. So definitely, and all my castmates can’t wait to try my food.

And you know, Ruben, our AD, Simon, worked with Ruby Ruiz. He was saying, “She’s such a great cook. Every time that we knew that she would come to set, we would not eat lunch because we knew that she was bringing food.”

I’m like, I don’t want to compete with Ruby Ruiz’s cooking. I’m sure she’s a much better cook than I am. But I’m excited about cooking Filipino food because there are no Filipino restaurants here.

What, for example, do you want to cook?

I think it’s something that everyone can appreciate because it’s sour and salty. Of course, the usual is adobo. I want to cook adobo, maybe I’ll cook pancit.

What is next for you after you wrap up Nine Perfect Strangers?

I’m doing a play. I can’t talk about it yet. It’s going to be staged in the Philippines but I’m going to New York for rehearsal because the other actor and our director are based there and our producer is based there in New York.

I can’t talk about that yet, Ruben, because there is no announcement about that.

That sounds very exciting.

It is. It’s exciting. So we start in August. I may be doing a film in the Philippines but we’re still talking about that. I also can’t talk about it yet. But I promise the moment I find out, you’ll be the first one I’ll tell. –

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Ruben V. Nepales

Based in Los Angeles, Ruben V. Nepales is an award-winning journalist whose honors include prizes from the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards, a US-wide competition, and the Southern California Journalism Awards, presented by the Los Angeles Press Club.