DOLLY DE LEON talks about her latest projects, with her two directors PETERSEN VARGAS (“A VERY GOOD GIRL”) and CARL JOSEPH PAPA (THE MISSING / ITI MAPUKPUKAW, Philippines’ submission to Oscars 2024)

By Oliver Carnay

This author got invited to a selected media online press conference on Friday, moderated by Lea W. Dizon.  In the panel were actress DOLLY DE LEON, and her directors in two of her latest projects, PETERSEN VARGAS (“A Very Good Girl”), and CARL JOSEPH PAPA (“The Missing”/ “Iti Mapukpukaw”). 

Dolly de Leon made history for being the first Filipino actor to receive a nomination in the Golden Globes and the British Academy Film and Television Arts Awards.  Her latest film, “A Very Good Girl,” co-starring with Kathryn Bernardo, made box-office history having earned over a hundred million pesos, the most profitable movie since after pandemic. 

In a role and movie plot that is far from usual Philippine genre, Dolly de Leon plays a very challenging role in “A Very Good Girl” that is of a ruthless, conniving business mogul who pitted against her former employee (Kathryn Bernardo), who is trying to revenge on her. 

Talk about the changes in her life and career after having the first Filipina to be nominated on Golden Globes Award, “My life made a complete 180 degrees.  I am actually a very shy person even I know it’s hard to believe.  I am now more confident, and more comfortable meeting new people, happy I met people, talking to strangers.  It changed in many, many ways, but in a really, really good way.  I think I am at my happiest in my life, which is a good thing.  My past 33 years of life hasn’t been really been that great, not ideal.  The struggle is more rewarding now and exciting.”

Dolly was asked what were her considerations in accepting these two films, having the topics that are quite pushing the envelops, what were her selection process in choosing to accept these two challenging roles.  

“I said yes to AVGG primarily, because I knew that I was going to be working with in and around the character with agency, someone who is empowered but also has some darkness in her that’s stopping her, from yielding her power.  I found that to be very challenging. She is not completely a black or white character .. I would say she’s kind of grey.  Because she also goes through a lot of struggles inside of her that she is trying to battle.  She  is not primarily driven by her evilness.  There is a reason why she does things and to her, what she is doing is actually right.  That exactly attracted me to take this role.  And of course, I’d like to work with P (Petersen), with Kath, and all these stars.  To work with this kind of character I found to be really exciting.”

THE MISSING (ITI MAPUKPUKAW) is a full-length Filipino-Ilocano film that uses rotoscope animation filmmaking technique. It deals with realities of a childhood trauma, young love, friendship, and child abuse. Eric (Carlo Aquino), an animator, is a deaf teenager who finds solace with his co-employee “Carlo” (Gio Gahol).  One day his mom, “Rosalinda” (Dolly De Leon) asked him to check his uncle at his apartment.  With Carlo in tow, they found out that his uncle has been dead a few days in the apartment. Since then, Eric feels he is being attacked by aliens.  Eventually, he finds the pattern that connects between the aliens and his uncle.

The film was the first animated film in history to receive the prestigious Best Film at the 2023 Cinemalaya Philippine Film Festival early this year and also the award for Best Actress for Dolly de Leon.

Dolly’s “The Missing” director, Carl Joseph Papa first knew about Dolly’s work when he saw her on the first episode of the tv mini-series “The Kanks Show” (Ep. 1: “Juts Ko, Lord!”) and he thought she was so amazing.  “I first met her (in person) after the screening of “Triangle of Sadness,” and when this project was greenlit, I had the chance to pitch it to Dolly.  I wasn’t quite sure if she would agree with the role, but she said, yes.  Ever since, then, she has been my friend.  I would talk to her about films, food, about Oscars and Golden Globes, etc. .. it was great time!  Dolly countered, “Carl was actually the one who would always update me every single time I would be nominated .. even we have different time zones!” Carl agrees he is Dolly’s biggest fan, which Dolly responded, “.. the feeling is mutual.”

“With Carl, on THE MISSING, I really wanted to do an animated film, but the kind of animated film I wanted to do was something with just my voice, recording to a studio, putting on headphones and standing in front of a mic, and then bring the lines, them embedding my voice into an animated image.  But I even got a better end of the stick because we got to shoot it in live-action, so I got the best of both world, it’s even better.  And I know it’s also Carl’s field of expertise (*rotoscope animation).  And to also work with Carlo Aquino, who I’ve never worked with in my entire life and it’s always been my dream to work with him ever since because he is such a talented actor.  Unfortunately, we didn’t really get to share real dialogue (Carlo Aquino’s role is a deaf) because he was just writing on a white board the whole time and speaking in Ilokano the whole time, like a crazy person (laughs), parang lugi ako .. why this is unfair … I bring all the lines and he was just sitting there looking at me.  But you know the good thing is Carlo is such a great actor that he was able to give me a lot even if he is just speaking through his eyes.  I wanted to play a mother that is feeling really helpless, not knowing how to help her son, but because of the love she has for him, she’s there to support him in any way possible.”

Regarding the overwhelming feedback De Leon receiving from FilAm communities on these two films, “Yes, I’ve been getting a lot of good feedback and messages from the Film communities.  I have attended some screenings in L.A. and people have been congratulating us, they didn’t expect, especially from AVGG, I wanted them to venture out and expand and to grow into a studio company that showcases the talent of the writers.  They have a lot of talented writers in Star Cinema.  And with ITI MAPUKPUKAW, especially in the queer community, they really feel that it’s about time stories like this is told.  Children or people who experience this kind of abuse growing up and having to navigate the world carrying around this baggage. This film is really a good conversation tool for people to talk about what we went through that we shouldn’t be ashamed of.  These two films are important works that Project 8 came through.”

This author asked Director Carl Joseph E. Papa about how Carlo Aquino was cast in the film and if he found his character more challenging than Gio Gahol’s (Carlo’s friend in the film).  Carlo Aquino’s character is quite interesting as not only he has one line throughout the entire film, as he plays deaf. Did he think his role is more challenging than Gio’s, who basically had the most dialogue in the film?

“During the pre production, we listed down the names of the actors who we could work with and who would be best for the role. On top of our list is the combination of Carlo Aquino, Gio Gahol and Dolly de Leon. What I did was, one afternoon, I pitched the film to Carlo Aquino. I told him the story, and what the film was about and what we want the film to impart to the viewers. He said yes right then and there.”

“It was a challenge for Carlo Aquino because his character did not speak, he only conversed using the whiteboard strung to his neck. So it was more of facial expressions and physical acting rather than talking. I remember him saying to me during the first day that he felt really nervous doing the character justice, because of what the character symbolizes, and that is a person with repressed memories and whose ability to talk was taken from him when he was young. Carlo was shaking during the first few sequences when we were shooting, but when the camera was on and as we progressed, he got into the character really well, and he delivered, I daresay, a masterful performance.”

THE MISSING, according to Director Papa, will have its Los Angeles screenings early December in consideration to promoting the film to more people, local and international, and to Oscar voters. “The film came out quite late compared to other film Oscar contenders who have been into the film festival circuits.  We are already sending out screeners to local film groups, bloggers, journalists, etc.  We will have screenings in Los Angeles and there’s a possibility I will be there.  We’re also finalizing some screenings in New York.

For references regarding the film ‘THE MISSING’ (ITI MAPUKPUKAW), behind the scenes, stills, please go to

*Rotoscope animation is the process of creating animated sequences by tracing over live-action footage frame by frame.  Though it can be time consuming, rotoscoping allows animators to create lifelike characters who move just like people in the real world.