The Oscars may be the most popular awards body in the world, but it is not necessarily the most credible. The great minds in Hollywood tend to have more respect for the New York Film Critics Circle Award, which is handed out annually by movie reviewers based in The Big Apple.
The Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award isn’t so far behind in terms of prestige. Given by movie reviewers in LA, it is one of the more important award-giving bodies for cinema. To the thrill of the Filipino nation, Pinay actress Dolly de Leon was recently recognized by this awards organization for her work in Triangle of Sadness.
The award she brought home was for best supporting performance. Had she won earlier, it would have been for best supporting actress. But starting this year, the category became gender neutral. There are two winners here, however. Dolly’s co-victor is American-Vietnamese actor Ke Huy Quan, who won for Everything Everywhere All at Once.
Prior to winning the LA Critics’ Award, very few have heard of Dolly. When news of her win circulated in media, most everyone asked: Dolly de Leon, who?
I am proud to say that I knew her when. At the risk of being accused of riding on her coattails, I have always claimed that she is my favorite screen partner. I had said that many times over to anyone who’d care listen.
If no one remembers me having said that, it could only mean either of two things: 1) No one ever cared about what I say or 2) No one bothered to know who she was.
But now that she is also a Golden Globe nominee and is even gunning for the Oscars, the interest in her had become contagious. Everyone, including this writer, wants a piece of her.
Shoot me if you have to, but I swear I had admired her talent since the time I worked with her. I had become a fan since then.
I met Dolly in 2017. That year, Manny Pangilinan decided to produce for Cignal a crime/drama series called Tukhang. It had a very daring theme because it criticized Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. Lawrence Fajardo directed the series from a script written by Eric Ramos.
I was cast as an arrogant newscaster who also covered the Senate beat. The other actors there were Karel Marquez, James Blanco, Mon Confiado, Yul Servo, Jana Victoria, Jake Macapagal and Archie Adamos.
Some of the interior scenes were shot at TV5’s Novaliches studios. I considered myself lucky because I did most of my sequences in air-conditioned surroundings – unlike some of the cast members who had to sweat it out in the slums of Metro Manila.
During one dinner break, I was trying to nap in the dressing room after working on seven scenes (we were paid per day so our services were maximized) when a girl in a dark gray blazer came in. I thought she was part of the production staff. But then, I also wondered in my head: Wasn’t she way overdressed to be working behind the camera?
She asked if she could borrow the hard copy of my script. I quickly handed it over to her and she took photos of some of the pages with her cellphone. She said that she was playing Marla and that she didn’t have a copy of the script with her.
Oh, so she was Marla, the boss of Monch Morado, which was my name in the series. That explained the blazer, which is the outfit of choice of most production designers dressing up characters playing executives.
At 3 a.m., seven hours after we first met in the dressing room, we finally did our first scene together. I thought there was instant chemistry between us.
No, I’m not just saying this because she now has international acting decorations. I swear on a stack of Bibles that it was exactly how I felt during our initial on-cam exchange.
I can imagine, however, that this is also how her other co-stars feel every time she does a scene with them. I guess she is so good an actress that she makes everything easy for everyone. As a performer, she is the type to carry you through the scene instead of dragging you down.
During one setup, a production assistant addressed her as Ms. Dolly. So, that’s her name. But I still called her Marla on purpose so that it would be in my tongue automatically in our succeeding scenes.
I realized then that she was quite respected in the acting profession. Truthfully, her part was rather short – bordering on secondary and tertiary. But the fact that staff members addressed her as Ms. was an indication that they looked up to her in the field – contrary to her statements in her recent interviews.
Surely, she wasn’t lying when she claimed that local showbiz didn’t give her much importance. Maybe that was how she felt considering the fact that she was always given very minor roles in both movies and television.
What she probably didn’t know was that she had always been admired by co-workers. It was just unfortunate that she had difficulty finding her niche in entertainment. But when casting for roles, writers, directors and producers always have room for her in their projects – no matter how short.
She is the girl who manages to make a scene great despite the smallness of her role. That is the reason why production companies constantly hire her.
To my relief, in fact, she was carried over to the second season of Tukhang, directed this time by Ato Bautista and Jim Libiran. And so we had a chance to work again and it was a happy reunion for us (at least, for me) since we were a tandem: Monch and Marla.
In our first scene together in Season 2 of Tukhang, the part I was playing had to deliver a news report while on the verge of tears. A colleague had been killed and I had to announce it on TV. After that, Dolly – as Marla – had to rush to my side and cry.
As she sobbed, I remember her burying her face into my coat that got drenched with her tears. I now want to kick myself in the head for later sending that coat to the cleaners. I threw away the DNA samples of a possible Golden Globe and Oscar winner!
During the second time we worked together, it was to her that I ran for validation. Did I do the scene right? Was I any good? She never said that I was marvelous. But I took comfort in the fact that she found my performance mostly okay. Or was she just being polite?
To my regret – especially now! – we never really had time for bonding because I was usually made to finish 19 scenes in one day and was constantly needed on the set. Also, Dolly kept mostly to herself, probably internalizing. No wonder she always knew her lines and never flubbed even once.
Working with Dolly and the supporting cast of Tukhang made me discover the wealth of underutilized talents we have in the industry. Being with them was a humbling experience. Sadly, a lot of them are from the indie world, which is why they remain unappreciated in spite of their being great actors.
Dolly’s international triumphs should be an eye-opener for the showbiz industry to finally give the importance indie actors deserve. Dolly, at least, is now being recognized locally and is starting to get substantial roles in mainstream media.
And while she has projects lined up for her in Hollywood, she had promised to stay and continue her acting career in the Philippines. For as long as she’s given challenging parts commensurate to her talent, for sure, Dolly’ll never go away.
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