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The Unusual Suspects: Aina Dumlao

The Unusual Suspects: Aina Dumlao

Aina Dumlao

Filipina-American actress and producer Aina Dumlao of SBS Australia´s The Unusual Suspects wants to inspire Filipinos to stand up and give their dreams a try.

Filipino-American actress Aina Dumlao doesn’t easily back down. When she was seven, she and her single mom lived in a rented house in Cubao. Their landlord would steal from them because he had a key to their place. Aina would sneak into his landlord´s house and managed to pilfer back the canned goods he filched from them. 

Born in Quezon city, Aina moved to the US in 2010 because of love. Together with her husband, Bru Muller, an actor, director, and writer, they started producing commercials and short films. In 2013, they landed a Western Union ad, and they needed a Filipino actress. 

It was her first acting job. Although, she had always wanted to be an actor as a child, she never thought she would become a full-pledge actress.

At school, I was in plays, acting, writing and directing. But my mom would say, ´That´s just a hobby, it’s not going to feed you and your family.

Aina Dumlao

Her first acting role left her wanting more and with Bru’s encouragement, she took up acting classes which eventually sparked the passion that she always had. She got an agent and one audition led to the next giving her bit roles in TV series like MacGyver, Brockmire and Ballers.  

In The Unusual Suspects, Aina Dumlao plays Evie, a role that encapsulates the Filipino migrant's heart.
Aina plays the role of Girlie in the hit series “Greys Anatomy”.

Diwa, Girlie and Evie

But Aina felt like she wasn’t getting the break she needed. In 2018, she and Bru co-wrote Diwa, a film about an undocumented Filipino immigrant in the US. “Diwa opened the doors and introduced me to Yong Chavez, the Filipino Hollywood journalist that helped me to get more representation.”

In June 2021, Filipino nurses all over the world rejoiced to finally see a Filipino nurse in Season 17 of the hit medical series, Grey´s Anatomy. Aina played the role of Girlie Bernardo.

This role was so important to us Filipinos. There was an outpouring of messages from kababayans all over the world telling me how happy they were to see a Pinay nurse in a hospital drama.

Aina Dumlao
In The Unusual Suspects, Aina Dumlao plays Evie, a role that encapsulates the Filipino migrant's heart.
In The Unusual Suspects, Aina Dumlao plays Evie, a role that encapsulates the Filipino migrant’s heart. Photo: Simon Ozolins.

Then Aina bagged the role of Evie in The Unusual Suspects. She was ready to shoot in January 2020 when the wildfire in Australia delayed the production and later, COVID-19 happened. The shoot finally took off in September 2021 in the middle of the pandemic. Aina had to stay in Australia for three months. She was the only non-Australia-based actor in the cast. 

Evie is an all-around helper working for a white Australian family. She is the typical helper who always says yes. But when her boss fails to release her salary, she screws up her courage and storms her boss at work. From a meek and passive help to a badass co-heist plotter, Evie is calling the shots. 

People Aina Dumlao playing Evie in the comedy-drama series The Unusual Suspects.
The cast of The Unusual Suspects, from left: Heather Mitchell, Aina Dumlao, Miranda Otto, Lena Cruz and Susana Downes.

Evie is Aina’s biggest role to date, one that encapsulates the Filipino immigrant’s heart, a mother who takes care of other people’s children, representing the struggle, the love, the self-sacrifice of someone who always feels guilty of being away from her family.

What I love about the Unusual Suspects is that it shows what it looks like when you stand up for yourself, what you think is right and what you deserve. It delves with the class difference, how immigrant workers are mistreated. And it was made accessible because it´s a comedy but still hits you in the heart.

Aina Dumlao

Aina believes that as immigrants, we are often scared to speak up, to fight back, to stand for ourselves. We are afraid of losing our jobs or compromising our situation in our host country. “What we should think of is us standing up for ourselves is not just us standing for ourselves, it’s us keeping other Filipinos and other nationalities from experiencing any form of injustice.”

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People Filipina In The Unusual Suspects, Aina Dumlao plays Evie, a role that encapsulates the Filipino migrant's heart.
Aina Dumlao playing alongside Australian actress Miranda Otto in “The Unusual Suspects”.

Loving what you do 

Aina has learned to adapt to the eccentricities of the industry. She is aware that every rejection is a blow to the heart. Getting auditions as an actor in Hollywood is hard enough and bagging the role is a million times harder. “I used to be really heartbroken. For every one “Yes”, there are a hundred “Nos”. People only see that one “Yes”, and not the struggle. I literally questioned my existence as an actor. Is this really right for me? But then, this is what I love to do.”

With the current changes that the industry is undergoing at the moment, Aina thinks that Filipino actors have more chances in the industry. “There is a hunger for diversity, for new stories, new faces. Subtitles are no long a hurdle. People are starting to appreciate different flavors, diverse characters.” For Aina, strike while the iron is hot, everybody should keep writing stories about Filipinos. 

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Aina Dumlao, second from the right, together with her co-stars from “The Unusual Suspects” at the TV Week Logies Awards 2022 where their series was nominated for Most Outstanding Limited Series. Photo: Aina´s IG.

At the moment, she and her husband are writing a pilot TV show, about a Filipino family living across an Indian family set in Los Angeles in the 90s. She wants to show the international community the different faces of a Filipino. “Filipinos could be anything. That we can be wives, girlfriends, university students. We are now getting a little bit of a recognition, more opportunities but it is important for writers, producers who are Filipino to go on writing and creating to keep the momentum going.”

Aina looks at the future with a clear mindset, she is here to stay, and she is not going to wait for opportunity to knock on her door. She will knock on opportunity´s door instead.

I keep writing to open doors not only for myself but also for all other Filipino filmmakers, crew and actors employed in the project.

Aina Dumlao

When Aina was a little girl, it was Lea Salonga as a Disney princess that opened her imagination to a life full of possibilities. To her, Lea symbolized a spark of hope, a burst of inspiration. Now it’s her turn, in her own little way, to inspire Filipinos all over the world to stand up and give their dreams a try.

This article was previously published in TFEM Summer Issue 2022.
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