Filipino actors

[Only IN Hollywood] Dolly de Leon: ‘Every Filipino is with me on this journey’

Ruben V. Nepales
[Only IN Hollywood] Dolly de Leon: ‘Every Filipino is with me on this journey’

Ruben V. Nepales

'I couldn't be happier nor prouder to be part of a film that will go down in history as one of the best products of cinema,' says Dolly

LOS ANGELES, USA – Having woken up at almost 3 in the morning to attend the 80th Golden Globe Awards nominations announcement, I was pleasantly jolted when actress Mayan Lopez announced inside the Beverly Hilton’s Beverly Hills Ballroom that Dolly de Leon is one of the best supporting actress nominees for Triangle of Sadness.

And with Mayan’s loud and clear reading of Dolly’s name, the latter instantly made history as the first Filipino to earn a Golden Globe best supporting actress nomination.

Since Dolly’s portrayal of Abigail, a toilet worker in a European luxury yacht whose life changes due to a story twist in Ruben Ostlund’s Triangle of Sadness, made waves in the Cannes Film Festival last May, the critical acclaim for her performance has not stopped.

Four Filipino Americans have previously received nods in different categories from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), which votes on and presents the awards in what is billed as Hollywood’s party of the year in January.

In 2019, Darren Criss went on to win best actor – limited series, anthology series or television motion picture for his portrayal of Andrew Cunanan in Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. That win was historic.

Robert Lopez was honored with three best song nominations for Frozen II (2020), Coco (2018) and Frozen (2014)

In 2017, Hailee Steinfeld bagged a best actress – motion picture – musical/comedy nod for The Edge of Seventeen.

In 1980, Lou Diamond Philips garnered a best supporting actor – motion picture citation for Stand and Deliver.

On how and where she got the news that she cinched a precedent-setting nod, Dolly shared by email, “I was having dinner with Oliver (Tolentino, designer) and Andrew (Caruthers, Oliver’s business manager) here in Manila.”

WINNING. Dolly de Leon in Los Angeles in November. Photo by Ruben V. Nepales

She added, “I’m proud to be representing a country with a lot of very talented artists who have so much to offer the world. I find comfort in the thought that every Filipino is with me on this journey. And they are.”

“I feel their energy every step of the way. It’s an honor that the film is well-received by American audiences as well. I couldn’t be happier nor prouder to be part of a film that will go down in history as one of the best products of cinema.”

The day before, the University of the Philippines alumna woke up to another good news – the Los Angeles Film Critics named her as the best supporting performer, along with Ke Huy Quan (Everything Everywhere All at Once).

“I wondered if I was dreaming,” said the thespian, who has worked with noted Filipino directors, including Lav Diaz (Historya ni Ha) and Erik Matti (HBO’s anthology series, Folklore).

“When I saw that my phone was blowing up with messages, it was a rewarding way to start the day. I still get emotional every so often. It always feels good to be appreciated for something we give our 100% to.”

Actress Selenis Leyva also announced other nods in the early morning event presided over by HFPA president Helen Hoehne. The Banshees of Inisherin and Abbott Elementary led with the most number of nominations in film and TV, respectively.

Januel Mercado

JANUEL. Januel Mercado, Fil-Am co-director of ‘Puss in Boots.’ Photo by Ruben V. Nepales

The dawn announcement also netted happy news for Filipino Januel Mercado, who codirected Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, which earned a best motion picture – animated nomination. Joel Crawford directed the sequel to the original 2011 film, Puss in Boots, which in turn sprung from the Shrek films.

The Stockton, California-born filmmaker, whose dad is from Manila and mom is from Santa Cruz, Zambales, said he still remembers the first time he saw Puss in Boots, wonderfully voiced by Antonio Banderas from the beginning.

“Oh, a hundred percent,” Januel said. “When he made his debut in Shrek 2, he stole the show immediately. I remember being in the theater and it was almost transformative.”

SUAVE. The simpatico gato (voiced again by Antonio Banderas) is back in ‘Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.’ Courtesy of DreamWorks

“We loved the first movie so we were like, how is this movie even going to be better than the first movie? Growing up, I was loving Antonio Banderas in Desperado and as Zorro. So to see him bring that charisma to this fairy tale talking cat, I was like, this is genius.”

The San Jose State University graduate, who majored in animation and illustration, recalled his reaction when he was asked to codirect Puss in Boots 2.

He recalled, “I was head of story on the last movie that Joel and I did together, which was The Croods: A New Age.” That film is one of the biggest animated hits in the pandemic era.

PALS. Joel Crawford directed ‘The Croods: A New Age,’ one of the biggest animated hits and where Januel Mercado served as head of story. Photo by Ruben V. Nepales

“It’s one of the easiest, fastest answers to that question,” Januel enthused about being given the chance to codirect. “I was like, oh heck, yeah! I did not even let them finish their sentence.”

It was the culmination of a dream for Januel who loved to draw ever since he was a kid. “My parents have always been super supportive of me and my artistic dreams,” said the amiable animation rising star.

Januel and Joel’s resulting collaboration, DreamWorks’ Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, is one of those rare sequels that do not disappoint. In fact, the sequel even ups the ante, serving a completely engaging tale with those familiar characters and at the same time introducing new, entertaining characters.

In the story about how Puss in Boots must embark on a journey to regain his lives (our swashbuckling hero is down to his ninth and last life), he is reunited with Kitty Softpaws, again wonderfully voiced by Salma Hayek.

REUNITED. Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) and Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) are reunited. Courtesy of DreamWorks

The excellent voice cast who breathes into the new characters includes Harvey Guillen (Perro), Florence Pugh (Goldilocks), Olivia Colman (Mama Bear), Wagner Moura (The Big Bad Wolf), Ray Winstone (Papa Bear), John Mulaney (Jack Horner) and Samson Kayo (Baby Bear).

On having the pleasure of watching the actors record their lines, Januel shared, “I’ll just throw in that I actually read with the actors, too. Because Joel and I both do ‘scratch’ for the film which is temporary voice work. So we know the characters in the story very well.”

“Joel could pay attention to the performance while I read with the actors. So that is a fun opportunity as well.”

I asked Januel what immediately comes to his mind with the mention of each of these voice actors:

Antonio Banderas

“With Antonio, it’s like, A-list, charismatic, Oscar-nominated actor, right? So the first thing that comes to mind is, oh crap, I’m reading (with Antonio Banderas). I’m acting with Antonio right now because even though it’s just internal – no one’s going to see my performance.”

“But a big part of recording with the actors is when you read with them, you’re in the scene with them and they’re reacting off you, too. So I’d like to think that it helps craft the performance.”

“The first thing that comes to mind is, this is very surreal and I’m feeling like an amateur, right? But I’m working with the best professionals in acting. So that was Antonio.”

Salma Hayek

“Salma cares so much and really picks apart the script in a good way. It really shows how much an actor cares because they’re asking you, when I read this line, it doesn’t make sense to me, tell me why I’m saying that.”

“She makes it very collaborative and conversational. She knows the Kitty character so well that she’s teaching Joel and me about the things that Kitty could say that are more specific to her character.”

“We’re always working within a schedule. So sometimes, they tend to rush through things.”

“We just want to record the lines but she always asks us to slow down and says, guys, I know there’s a time thing but you got to slow down a little bit because if you don’t slow down, you won’t find the jewels, which are the great ideas. So that stood out for me with Salma.”

Harvey Guillen

“People are familiar with his work. He’s a breakout star in the TV show, What We Do in the Shadows. His essence is in the warm character of Perrito. That is naturally oozing out of him.”

“He is so enthusiastic and grateful. You feel that in anything that he does. He’s one of, if not the most, involved, actors in terms of energy and the excitement of now being a part of the Shrek franchise.”

Florence Pugh

“Florence is another example of someone who’s reading the dialogue and she will ask, can I try it this way or can I read this line and improvise a little, Joel? I was like, yeah, you want to riff, improvise and play with us? Okay!”

“One of the examples that stood out was Florence and I were reading together. I was reading the part of Baby Bear and she was, as you know, Goldilocks. She just went off improvising, like they (characters) are both talking about the wishing star and what they’re going to wish for.”

“And she got really excited and kept throwing stuff. And that made me throw stuff, too, and that made her throw stuff again So it felt very organic and natural.”

Olivia Colman

“We didn’t get to record that much with her because a lot of the recording we did already. She nailed it in the first early session. She’s a good example of someone who reads a line the first time and we’re like, I think that was it.”

“There were emotional parts of a scene. She is delivering a line, she’s emotional and she’s actually crying. I remember she delivered it live, she was crying and it was like, oh, she’s good.”

“After we were done recording that line, she was like, oh, I’m really crying because that was a really sweet that we just did. So that was amazing.”

Wagner Moura

“Wagner’s breakout role was, as people know, Pablo Escobar on Narcos. That’s how I primarily knew him.”

“And so I was a little intimidated. I’m not going to lie because he’s Pablo. He’s so scary and intense, right? But when you meet him, he’s the sweetest, nicest soul.”

“To watch him work and channel the wolf’s character is something to behold. I’ll give you a quick anecdote. We were recording in the studio because he’s based in LA.”

“He’s able to come in and he’s so method. He’ll get in the character. He does a lot of bodywork when he’s acting. He’s moving around a lot.”

“Between takes, he’ll talk to Joel and me about the motivation and intention. He’ll try it out on me. We’re not even recording but because he’s reading with me, he’ll just walk up to me, face to face, and tell me the subtext of the line.”

“And he’ll just tell me, so this is how I’m feeling, I’m not going to be messing around. I’m going to kill you.”

“He gets so serious. And because of his talent, I’m like, is he? He’s kidding, right or he’s not serious, right? He’s not really going to kill me. He’s in character right now, right?”

All that voice acting with the actors paid off for Januel. He is credited for voicing “Band Member” on the movie’s IMDb page/

On the best part about visiting the Philippines, Januel enthused, “You know the easy answer apart from seeing family. That’s all good stuff but the food. I love Filipino food.”

“My dad is like the Godfather when he goes over there because he’s always sending balikbayan boxes every Christmas. He’s like Santa Claus and all my family in the Philippines just love my dad so much. He takes such good care of them.”

“So when he goes there and takes us, we’re treated so well, and like royalty, by our family there. There’s lots of eating and weight gain. Because it’s not just breakfast, lunch and dinner. There’s brunch. There are several meriendas. I’m eating a full plate at three in the afternoon but I love it so much.”

He gave this advice to young, aspiring animators everywhere: “Study hard because it’s like if you want to be a good basketball player, you’re going to work on your jump shot, do strength training and you’re going to run. So you have to do the same.”

“If you want to be a storyteller-director-artist, you have to practice drawing, you have to watch films, study them, break them down, and do it on your own time. You have to make time for it.”

“But I want to say something else. Go deeper into your life experiences. Guillermo del Toro recently visited the studio. He said so many gems of wisdom.”

“Everything’s been done before, right? He said, like every song has been sung but it has not been sung by your voice so that is something that I really took to heart.”

“Every story has been told but it can be told from your specific experience. Even my experience going to the Philippines, spending time with family, eating food – those are all things that people can relate to and it’s specific but it’s universal.”

“I would urge people to pay attention to those life experiences. Have as many life experiences as possible and really use them in your art.”

“Because people will understand and relate to them easily. But most importantly, it’s honest because it’s coming from your life.”

Januel was also reflective when asked about his next project: “Joel and I essentially felt because it’s such a sprint and challenge to finish this movie, there’s a compulsion to feel like, oh, we’re done with the movie, moving on to the next thing. But we must also enjoy, like don’t just run away.”

“Be in the moment. Be present, be involved. This is our labor of love. The movie is finished but we’re not done yet.”

“We still have to release it, push and share it. It’s like, let’s finish strong, like keep going until the end to the finish line. That’s kind of where our brain is right now.” – Rappler.com

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

author

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.