• Aina Dumlao (SBS / Joel Pratley)Source: SBS / Joel Pratley
This new series has ‘the right Filipino heart’, says the actress, who plays one of the women caught up in the heist drama.
Saman Shad

26 May 2021 - 10:24 AM  UPDATED 27 May 2021 - 6:16 PM

Aina Dumlao is a Filipino-American actress based in LA who has appeared in a number of TV shows, including Macgyver, Ballers and most recently Grey’s Anatomy. Dumlao flew from Los Angeles to Sydney to play the role of Evie Dela Rosa in The Unusual Suspects. And while this was Dumlao’s first visit to Australia, it’s unlikely to be her last.

“It’s my first time in Australia. I don’t want to leave,” she says as she sits down to chat with SBS Guide, the day before she’s due to fly home.

“If I wasn’t married I would be living underneath a tree somewhere just staying here forever. It’s been amazing.

“Australia feels so normal and safe that I can’t imagine going back to how I was living in Los Angeles during the time of COVID. So I had this amazing experience and now I have to go back to Bladerunner 2020? I’ve cried a lot!”

What was it like, flying in from LA to shoot in Australia?

I got here in September 2020 and went straight into quarantine. And as soon as I got out, I started working right away and have been working non-stop. I had been scheduling nature trips and all that, but this was an ambitious shoot. We got there [in the end] but to get there was a lot of work and a lot of time. So every weekend was pure exhaustion and I veged out a lot.


What can we expect from the show?

It’s a heist movie that involves a group of women coming together from different walks of life. Even though it’s fun and exciting and thrilling, at the heart of it are the female bonds. Female friendships and family are at the core of it. It’s a perfect balance of all of that.

Tell me about your character.

Her name is Evie. She’s a nanny to Sarah Beazley, played by Miranda Otto. She’s the voice of reason even when no one wants to listen to her.


What was your favourite scene?

My favourite scene was the last one I shot. It was the last Friday with all of the main heist group. All five of us were there, and it was such a joy as we finally had time to do the scene in depth. It was three hours of just us finding the nuance of the scene. It was the perfect way to end my experience.

How’s it been shooting a TV show during COVID?

The last day of the shoot we had a cast and crew photo and when I turned around it dawned on me that I hadn’t seen people’s faces because everyone was wearing masks. Even having extras was tricky. Having actors in the background, we had to keep safe, we had to do tests frequently. But even though it slowed us down a bit, I feel that Angie and Polly were such an amazing team and our directors Natalie and Melvin were able to keep the calm despite the brewing storm.


What was it like getting feedback on your performance from directors who had masks on?

The directors had to use a lot of words and big eyes. I never ask for feedback when it comes to performances because you can see it in the faces of the directors. But this time I was like, ‘are you happy?’ And they’re like ‘I’m happy!’ I was like ‘OK if you say so’. Eventually they found the right words to communicate faster.

‘Expect a really entertaining ride’ says director of ‘The Unusual Suspects’
In directing one of the four episodes of heist caper ‘The Unusual Suspects’, Melvin Montalban makes his TV directorial debut.


You worked with a large group of Filipino creatives and cast. What was that like?

It’s like family. Immediately when I stepped on set, there was an unspoken and then eventually spoken, shared experiences, shared culture, that I feel like, now that I’m leaving, I’m literally leaving my family. I’m getting emotional… I loved it so much. I am an only child too. So now I felt I had siblings. I have sisters. I have an older brother, a younger brother… It’s like a homecoming. I’ve never been directed by such a core, tight-knit group of Filipino creatives. It’s been life-changing and exciting.

How important has it been to you to have people from your cultural background telling those stories?

I want to give props to [producers] Angie and Polly because right off the bat they brought Vonne on board. Even before we started filming they put together a writers’ room that involved us Filipino actors because they wanted to make sure they brought on authentic voices and they listened to our own experiences as actors and as Filipinos – so we could help them tell the story authentically. And when they did that I was like, OK they cared to tell the story with the right Filipino heart.

Changes to the writing right off the bat, or when we had to change locations, they made it feel like we could speak up when something was not as authentic as it should be. So from the beginning right to the end I was really happy they listened to what we had to say.

What’s next for you?

Well I’m hatching a plan to come back to Australia [laughs]. But I’m also a filmmaker and my husband and I have a small fledgling production company in LA. We are working on a story that we are writing – we actually wrote a pilot – about a Filipino family living across from an Indian family, it’s set in the 90s. Now we are trying to figure out the lay of the land post-COVID about how we get that story out. 

The Unusual Suspects premieres Thursday June 3 at 8:30pm on SBS, with the full series also available then at SBS On Demand.


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