Last Sunday at a mall in Quezon City, shrieking fans were applauding the young box-office sensation Kathryn Bernardo and the seasoned actor Dolly de Leon. Damn, one thought, it’s about time.
The occasion was a promo activity for “A Very Good Girl,” Kathryn and Dolly’s latest project which starts showing today, Sept. 27, in cinemas nationwide and is scheduled for a premiere in the United States on Oct. 4.
It’s one more big step in Dolly’s breathtaking way forward.
What would make a movie interesting to watch? The plot, the director, the location—or simply the cast, especially when it top-bills not only Kathryn but also Dolly who has, among other things, made Hollywood sit up and take notice?
In March, Star Cinema announced at a press conference that Kathryn’s first big project for 2023 would be a movie with Dolly titled “A Very Good Girl.” Social media was abuzz with excitement.
Kathryn was happy to learn that Dolly had agreed to do the film and was properly appreciative of the opportunity to work with and learn many lessons from her. “What a great honor that she was able to find a way and time to be able to work with me. Thank you so much, Miss Dolly,” the young star gushed.
But who wouldn’t be excited to work with the much-acclaimed Dolly de Leon? She received best supporting actress nominations (notably from the Golden Globe Awards and British Academy Film Awards) for her scene-stealing role of Abigail in “Triangle of Sadness” (a Palme d’Or winner at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival). She scored a win from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and has best supporting actress trophies to show from local award-giving bodies, like Famas for the movie “Verdict,” Urian for “Historya ni Ha (History of Ha),” and Cinemalaya for the animated feature “Iti Mapukpukaw (The Missing).” It would be any actor’s dream to work with Dolly, who, along with others before her, once again reminded the world that, given the breaks and the right projects, there’s a spot for Filipinos in the global entertainment scene.
Everything’s coming up roses for Dolly, but it was an uphill climb.
At Karen Davila’s “Headstart” last year, Dolly spoke of the many times that she wanted to give up. Acting may be her passion but she wasn’t being offered enough projects, so she had to do side hustles to keep her head above water. She served as a mascot for events; waitressed; did voiceovers, dubbing, recording of infomercials; went into PR, real estate, insurance, and facilitating work; and even conducted team-building seminars at ABS-CBN.
In those days Dolly figured that she was still in the process of learning the craft; she considered her situation as a learning process that she had to get through to find her big break. But she wondered why—despite her efforts to be an effective actor who never fails to memorize her lines and now knows how a film set works—she wasn’t being given the chance to portray significant roles: “I was always given the [minor] role of the doctor, the neighbor, the principal, and in [one of the scripts] my character doesn’t even have a name. It just says ‘judge.’”
She began to ask herself if it was time to quit and just focus on facilitating work. But she still found herself going back to acting. She was still being called for acting projects even if only for minor roles. “I guess these calls, they kept me going,” she said. “I told myself that as long as I’m doing what I love, it doesn’t matter what character I play. I’m happy as long as I’m in front of the camera, performing.”
In 2018, Dolly was included in the cast of Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund’s “Triangle of Sadness.” Little did she know that it would take her acting career to new heights.
In “Fast Talk With Boy Abunda” last April, asked what she has become as a person with all the accolades she has received and the success she has achieved as an actor, Dolly said she is now happier. “I was really down in the dumps before any of these happened. I was really in a dark place. But what I also learned about this whole thing is that we always have to be kind to everyone that we encounter,” she said.
Unlike other actors who become successful and eventually forget the people who backed them along the way, Dolly never fails to thank those who were of great help when she was struggling to make ends meet. For example, she cites fellow actor Eugene Domingo, who paid for her son’s tuition for three years. “We’ve known each other since we were teenagers, and we were also together in theatre arts” at the University of the Philippines Diliman, she said by way of explaining the close nature of their relationship.
Dolly also said that even when Eugene Domingo became popular and was at the peak of her career, she remained a true friend.
What’s up for Dolly, who is now a member of the US Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the first Filipino actor thus invited)? She will soon be seen in Hollywood movies “Grand Death Lotto” with John Cena, Awkwafina and Simu Liu; and “Between the Temples” with Jason Schwartzman and Carol Kane. She’ll also be joining Nicole Kidman in the second season of the Hulu TV series “Nine Perfect Strangers.”
With all the Hollywood projects Dolly has bagged, it’s a matter of course that “A Very Good Girl” is having a US premiere on Oct. 4 and regular screening in select cinemas starting Oct. 6. “I’m really excited for the upcoming release of ‘A Very Good Girl’ in North America,” she said in an interview by The Wrap. “This is a great opportunity for Philippine cinema to reach a wider audience and for filmgoers and movie lovers around the world to see that we really have a lot to offer, and that the quality of work we do here is world-class.”
That Dolly de Leon has come a long way showed last Sunday at the Fisher Mall promo, which drew a large crowd. No flash in the pan here: It’s a long time coming.