On her final day filming Triangle of Sadness, director Ruben Östlund talked Dolly De Leon into pulling a prank. "Ruben doesn't like it when people are always laughing and joking around on set, because to him we're working," De Leon tells A.frame. "But on my very last day, because I knew it was my last day, I was laughing the whole entire day. I was just laughing and laughing!"
The Palme d'Or-winning class satire centers on the oligarchs, billionaires, and fashion models aboard a luxury cruise ship, and the crew members who cater to their every whim. A classically trained stage and screen actress in her native Philippines, De Leon had seen Force Majeure and The Square and was already familiar with Östlund's oeuvre when she heard about a casting call in Manila for Triangle of Sadness. ("He's a really big deal in the Philippines, especially with cinephiles.") She auditioned, and Östlund not only cast De Leon but shaped the role around her.
De Leon stars as Abigail, the superyacht's toilet manager who goes from underdog to top dog after the ship sinks and the passengers are stranded on a deserted island. The only one with any useful real-world skillset, Abigail finds herself at the top of the food chain for the first time in her life — literally. (She is the only survivor who knows how to fish.) At first, she wields her newfound power equitably but benevolently, but soon enough, Abigail begins catering to her own whims, striking up a sexual relationship with Harris Dickinson's model, Carl, with the promise of shelter and pretzel sticks.
Before arriving on set, De Leon met with Östlund in his native Sweden to workshop her scenes. "It was easy because he played Carl, and it's not hard to be attracted to Ruben," she giggles. "He's a very attractive man! So, he made it very easy for me." That was the first and last aspect of Triangle of Sadness that she would describe as easy.
"On my first day, after every take, Ruben would say, 'Cut. Again. Cut. Again. Cut. Can you do this? Cut. Can you add this?'I started to feel like, 'Oh my gosh, nothing I do will ever satisfy him. This is never going to end,'" De Leon recalls. "I was feeling really so bad. I felt so incompetent, like, 'Why am I even here? He made a mistake! You should have gotten someone else!'"
"But then after that, after going through the day to day, I realized, 'Okay, this is really how he does it,'" she adds. "By the time we were in Greece, towards the end of the filming process, I was used to it, but I was always so tired every day. By the 30th, 40th take, I'm dying inside, but I just plowed through it and kept fighting!"
Östlund, by his own admission, is a filmmaker who demands many takes from his actors. Once he's racked up some double digit number of takes and feels ready to move on, he will give his cast a countdown: Five takes left, four takes left, and so on. Before the last take, he bangs a gong.
He recalls shooting one especially demanding scene with De Leon for the very end of the movie. (A scene that spoils too much to describe here.) "I did approximately 30 takes just on her face," Östlund says. "She had to invest emotionally so much, so it was an exhausting day for her. I remember when we were finished with the shooting of this scene and we were getting into the small boats that took us away from this beach, it was a beautiful sunset. We felt that we had pulled off something that we were proud of, and experiencing that together with Dolly was something that then you love shooting. Then you love being on set."
All of which is setup for Östlund's prank.
"He wanted to play a prank on the crew on my last day. He called me up to his tent and said, 'When it's the last take, I want you to say you want another take.' Because he does 40 takes! Why would any actor ask for another take, right?" De Leon recounts. "So, it's the last take. He hits the gong. Bang! We do the scene. It's really doing well. At the end, I tell our assistant director, 'I want another take.' And he looks at me in this weird way. 'You want another take?!' I said, 'Yeah!' And our director of photography, Fredrik [Wenzel], says, 'Dolly wants another take! We will give her another take.' It was a dolly shot through the jungle and we had to go all the way back to the start. They just laughed when we told them. But you know what? He made us do it again!"
She pauses, as if reconsidering the story.
"He pranked me!" she suddenly exclaims. "He pranked everybody. When I went back to the starting point of the scene, I was like, 'Okay, the joke's over' and he goes, 'Action!' What? Okay, fine! Let's do it again!" She laughs, "So, the joke was on me, really."