The opportunity to cause all hell to break loose on the character played by Philippine cinema’s “Box Office Queen” Kathryn Bernardo was all it took to get award-winning actor Dolly de Leon on board for the Filipino dark comedy film “A Very Good Girl.”
The powerful and controlling nature of her character, Molly Suzara, along with the challenge of not having a complete script for the role, presented a unique and exciting challenge for de Leon.
“They told me that my character was going to be this controlling and overbearing woman who would cause so much stress and tension for Kath’s character. That was it for me,” de Leon tells NextShark, adding, “I like a really good challenge. When I heard about it initially, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Usually my experiences when a character or a project isn’t easy, that is where I really thrive.”
In 2022, de Leon made history with her performance in Ruben Östlund’s “Triangle of Sadness” as a cleaning lady-turned-leader, landing five best supporting actress awards from various international award-giving bodies. De Leon’s monumental performance led her to become the first Filipino actor to receive nominations in the history of the Golden Globe Awards and the British Academy Film Awards.
After reaching international fame, the 54-year-old actress continues flexing her acting prowess in the Philippine film industry along with Bernardo, the nation’s beloved and omnipresent actor.
Bernardo, who recently earned an Outstanding Asian Star award at the 2023 Seoul International Drama Awards last month, was equally as excited to test herself and break away from the usual romantic comedy movies and shows she is known for in the Philippines. The 27-year-old actress saw “A Very Good Girl” as a good transition from her previous movie, “Hello, Love, Goodbye,” which centered around a struggling overseas Filipino worker pursuing her dreams while in a romantic relationship. In her new project, she appreciated the opportunity to empower women without the need for a male lead, reflected in the film’s predominantly female cast.
“We didn’t have the full script then, so day by day and every shooting, we discussed the scenes, what needs to be revised and what we’re comfortable doing,” Bernardo explains. “It was a very collaborative process for Ms. Dolly, me and the creative team, especially our director. I think we’re very lucky because they allowed us to put our inputs and to make the characters a bit personal.”
“A Very Good Girl,” written by Marionne Dominique and directed by Petersen Vargas, chronicles a meticulous revenge plot triggered by a ruthless firing. A frustrated Philo (Bernardo) aims to dismantle the empire of the powerful retail mogul Mother Molly (de Leon) and seize the ultimate payback.
Taking inspiration from filmmakers like Yorgos Lanthimos and Park Chan-wook, Vargas was drawn to the project due to the creative challenge of making a revenge movie set in a vibrant, sassy world.
“There’s this irony of portraying this kind of high society with a women-led cast,” Vargas shares. “Underneath that, there’s this growing, angered frustration being represented by this young powerless Filipina trying to fight against a larger system.”
Vargas, who aims to put women’s stories at the forefront of Philippine cinema, wanted to engage audiences in an entertaining way while still conveying a message about the country’s social inequalities and injustices.
“I came across this quote where it says, ‘Women could be monsters, but when they are, women are very human monsters,'” Vargas shares. “I carried it with me a lot. I really wanted to put that human side of the monstrosity hidden deep inside of them and it wasn’t going to be all dark. It had to be fun, sassy and classy.”
Regarding the film’s commentary on society, de Leon believes that the narrative of “A Very Good Girl” reflects the harsh reality of the justice system in the Philippines.
“Justice is really expensive and poor people can’t afford it,” she says, reiterating a line from the movie, adding, “That’s the sad reality. I wish it wasn’t true, but it’s a fact.
“We all know that the justice system here isn’t really serving the people well. We still have a senator who’s still in jail because she was unjustly [imprisoned]. She’s not even convicted. Her case is still pending. Unfortunately, the rich get richer and the poor become poorer. Not only in the Philippines, it’s happening all over the world. I think the film makes a great statement on that. It mirrors the society perfectly even if it’s delivered in a light and funny way.”
When asked about the key message and takeaway for international audiences, de Leon emphasizes that the central theme of the film is about facing life’s challenges and conflicts.
“Life throws you all sorts of problems and society will never live up to the standards of what you expect,” de Leon says. “There will always be conflicts and challenges that will come your way, but the question really is, how will you face those problems and how will you approach life? What are you gonna do next? What are you gonna do about the lemons that are being thrown at you? Are you gonna make lemonade or burn it?”
She highlights the film’s empowerment aspect, which allows the audience to see reflections of themselves on screen and ponder what actions they would take in similar circumstances. Bernardo agrees, saying that the interpretation may vary from person to person. She also shares her personal takeaway: the importance of being a good person especially in the face of life’s unfairness, and particularly for the less fortunate.
Bernardo says that she loves “how the creatives made all the characters very humane, like they’re not just purely evil,” as there was always something deeper motivating their actions. As she anticipates viewers having different interpretations of the movie’s storyline and characters, she says she looks forward to the discussions among Filipinos and non-Filipinos after watching the film.
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