LOWER CITY : An Interview with Alice Braga
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|LOWER CITY : An Interview with
By Brad Balfour
Yes, this niece of veteran actress Sonia Braga and cast member of director Fernando Meirelles' award-winning "City of God," has now given an understated yet striking performance that merits scrutiny in a film with a familiar yet classic scenario. Born in Sao Paulo, she started acting at 18, has done a TV series and now two films with novice feature directors, that had veteran director Walter Salles as producer. She was also seen in Eric Eason's sophomore feature that debuted at the Tribeca Film Fest 2006, "Journey to the End of the Night." So with such a start underway, Braga plans to use the English she has learned for more than just interviews with American journalists.
Where did you learn to speak English so well?
Alice Braga: I learned in São Paulo. Thank you for saying that I speak well because I'm very insecure about it. I say, "Oh my English! I don't speak well!"
Did you find this role a tough or an easy one to understand?
AB: Karinna? When I read the script, I knew that she was a challenge to go through. The more that I read, the more I wanted to do it. I was questioning myself—am I capable?
She was both hard and soft. You had to make that an interesting battle; what did you think about this character? What made her and what motivated her? Did you know people in her situation?
AB: When I spoke to "Lower City" director Sérgio [Machado] for the first time, he told me a lot about her. But the most important thing that we did was work with Maria Fatima Toledo, the acting coach. She had a specific method, so we started to work with getting into the characters and letting our souls connect with the story. I think the most challenging thing for me was to portray her passion. I had to show the two guys—Deco and Naldinho—with the same intensity and the same passion. Not showing more to one than the other one because it's all about the love they have for each other. It's equilateral.
What about her being a prostitute while also trying to find love or a sexual relationship that wasn't only about money?
AB: I never thought about that; Sérgio asked me to not think about it. He wanted to portray the love between them. He didn't want to portray a social problem or social issue. It's a film about intense love and friendship, about jealousy, about lust—everything that human beings go through in life. A young girl that is alone in the world, and she finds these two guys that she falls in love with.
Were you a little bit older than the character?
AB: I was the same age. When I was doing the film, I was 20, just like Karinna. I turned 21 on the set.
Have you met any prostitutes? Sometimes there are people you wouldn't even think were doing this but are.
AB: We were in Bahia, and we went to go meet them and interview or try to hang out, to be together. We didn't want to fall into any stereotype. We wanted to create a Karinna ourselves, to build someone who was genuine. We wanted to look from the inside, not the outside, because when you lookfrom the outside, you wind up making judgments
When you saw "Lower City," did you see yourself as sexy?
AB: Yeah! I think I was really sensual, but not in a vulgar way. Just naturally sensual. She moves in a sensual way. In Bahia, they have the heat in their hearts. They have the passion.
What was the toughest challenge for you in this movie?
AB: It was to portray the same intensity for each character, the love that she had for each character. She loves Deco [Lazaro Ramos] at the same time that she loves Naldinho [Wagner Moura]. To portray that is really hard because you can't give one a look more than the other one. It needs to be an equilateral triangle. She needs to portray the same
And the hardest scene?
AB: The striptease. Not because of the nudity, not because of the sensuality of the scene. That wasn't the main problem. For me, the challenge was to show her love in that scene to the two of them with the look and the seduction. To have the same intensity for each of them. Not just for one or the other one.
Did you look at other movies that were about threesomes—like Francois Truffaut's"Jules and Jim?"
AB: Yeah! "Jules and Jim" was an influence for Sérgio.
Did you look at any other movies that dealt with this subject?
AB: Not so much. We wanted to play our own story. Of course, I've seen "Jules and Jim," [Alfonso Cuaron's] "Y tu mamá también," and films that show that [situation] not to use it in our film, but just for curiosity. I love "Jules and Jim" because it's a great film. "Y tu mamá también" also because it's so intense and sensual without being vulgar. It's like in "Lower City."
Do you hope to work with Wagner Moura and Lazaro Ramos again?
AB: I really want to work with them again because I learned so much. They're such good actors and passionate about acting that it was really fun.
They're two of the most up and coming actors from Brazil. They're both reflect the image of the modern Brazilian actor.
AB: Yeah. They're really, really good. They came from theater. Those kinds of actors are passionate about what they do. It's great because they bringso many great things to this new generation of actor that is coming out of Brazil right now. I'm glad that I could be with them and grab that energy.
What was the most distinct difference between Sérgio and Fernando as directors?
AB: Fernando has done so many commercials that he is fast. He knows what he wants. He is the kind of director that goes pop-pop-pop-pop-pop. Okay. Pop-pop-pop-pop-pop. Okay. One after the other. Sérgio is more intense. "Lower City" was a specific script that he wrote, and he was very passionate about it. It was almost like a play working with Sérgio. Fernando was as passionate, but in a different way. In a different language.
I think he also more involved with the visual and technical style, whereas Sérgio is more grounded in the story.
That made different demands on you, I would imagine.
AB: In "City of God," it was such a small part that I couldn't develop a strong sense with this small character. Lower City was the lead, and so was a strong character.
How did Brazil receive this movie?
AB: They liked it a lot. They said it was really intense, but they completely understood the passion and the love between these three. The intensity of their passion.
Do you think the three stay together?
AB: I don't know. I think the main thing is about the moment. The moment is important. I don't know if they stay together or not, but they just live the best they can for that moment. But I think they do because they love each other so much that it's hard to let it go.
How much have you grown as a person from when you did "City of God?"
AB: I think I changed a lot. I was 18 when I did "City of God." I was in high school. Now I'm 23, and a lot of things have happened. I did two years of university. Then I went out to New York for a short-term course at NYU. Then I came back and practiced my English. In my personal life, things happened. I think I'm a bit more mature. I'm not completely different because I'm still young and have a lot to learn. I think portraying Karinna has brought me a lot as an actress. And even as a human being.
Having experienced the lower depths of society in Brazil, what have you learned about that society? You come from a fairly middle class background--this was a strange way to become exposed to it so what are your insights and observations? And do you think the situation can ever be changed?
AB: I hope it improves. I think we need to keep our eyes open. We have a huge inequality that is really sad. We have a very strong social problem there. I had to portray someone that cannot make plans because she can never know what's going to happen tomorrow and live the moment like it was the last one. You never know what's going to happen. To live between life and death, you end up learning for sure. We should keep and eye on it and try to change it because it's really horrible.
We have a huge problem in Brazil with sexual tourism. They sell 15 year old girls to tourists for a cheap price. This is really sad. We have drug dealers, the problems in Rio, hungry people. We need to keep and eye open and know that it is our problem. Everyone needs to help. It's not the government's problem. It's our problem. We need to try to do our best to help.
What made you decide to go to school in New York?
AB: I still want to study because everything happened so fast. I wanted to understand more about acting, to have more "luggage" to develop a character or throw myself into a different project. I went to University because I was very curious about theater. I hadn't done theater, at least not professionally. Just in high school. My mother said to me that it's really important to keep studying because actors portray lives. We need to know how to get in touch with the lives. Not just observing, but developing studies about it.
You did that three-month course they do at NYU--did you make a short film?
AB: I did it for acting, not for cinema. But I'm looking forwardto doing cinema, too. Do you have any advice?
If you can get away from the acting and come to New York, it can make you a better actor.
AB: I really want to come back to New York. I've been meeting a lot of people from Columbia University. I want to story acting more and do a film course.
When you were in New York, did you get to make any kind of films?
AB: No, I didn't. But I'm dying to make a short film with this girl from Columbia University who I've been talking to. That's something that I want to do too, short films. I have two friends that are really good directors. They invited me for a short film, and I'm dying to go do it with them. In New York, this girl spoke to me. I want to sit down and talk to her about it.
You finished the movie. What is it exactly that you will do next?
AB: I'll go back to Brazil. There's a film that's going to shoot there. I'm reading a few scripts. But the short film—I'm definitely going to do it.
Do you feel you can break out beyond being seen as just a "Brazilian" actress?
AB: I want as an actress to be able to portray as many different characters as I can--to be open to different things and not be stuck in one single thing. I don't know how the cinema is in New York. I'm still getting in touch with it. I haven't started doing films there, and I don't know if it's going to happen or not. I hope I can do more and more Latin films. But I want to open doors, study as much as I can to be an actor. To keep going, because that's what I want to do.
Did you get the opportunity to work with Hector Babenco when you did "Carandiru"--the TV series based on his film?
AB: I didn't work with him. I did "Carandiru" for TV, But Bebenco was the supervisor. He invited a few other directors to make short films to air on television. The director that I worked with was Walter Carvalho. He was a cinematographer who did "Central Station" with Walter. He did "Behind the Sun." He did the "Carandiru" film. Walter directed this short film that I did. It was funny. My first TV appearance in Brazil was through cinema because we shot on film. The director was from film, as was the crew. They were all from cinema. It was a great thing to be involved in.
Has Sonia Braga, your aunt, seen the movie?
AB: No. When it was released in Brazil, she was here, and now that she's there, it's releasing here. It's coming out on DVD, so she'll see it this month. I hope so. I'm curious.
I wondered whether you would be excited to show it to her or worried to show it to her.
AB: Exited. I hope that they like it. My mom and dad love it because they thought I was really into it. I think she would be proud of me. I hope so. Who knows?
Are you living in São Paulo?
AB: Yes. I live in São Paulo. I travel for films and go around, but my home is there.
Do you see yourself working behind the camera? Is that an interest as well?
AB: I don't know. I love acting, and that's what I want to do. But I started to visit sets with my mom when I was 5. I always loved the energy of being in cinema—the camera guy, the director, the producer. I love the environment. Right now, my focus is acting. I believe that's what I want to do for the rest of my life. But to stay on set, I'll do whatever I can. A friend of mine invited me to help with his next short film. I would love to be on the set and do whatever I can to help him for the pleasure of being on the set.
What's coming up next?
AB: I have two other films to be released. One is "Sólo Dios Sabe," a co-production in Brazil, and the other one is "Journey to the End of the Night," an American production but shot in São Paulo.
I did another low-budget film in São Paulo. It's an independent project. I'm not sure when it's coming out. They're in post-production now. They're trying to get investments from Spain or some other country. I'm not sure. I'm reading some scripts. I really want to do a play, to get a chance to do theater. I'm looking forward to going to New York to keep studying, to keep learning and throwing myself into the characters. Now having a few opportunities at work, I want to use them to improve.
If you do come back to New York, do you have any directors in mind that you want to let know you're here?
AB: I don't know. That's a good question. Someone specifically? I can't tell. But I can tell that I would love to work with as an actor? John Turturro. He's in New York, right? He lives in Brooklyn. Spike Lee. He's a New Yorker. Woody Allen. This is such a great town. I can spend a half an hour right now talking about people who live there.
Who was the first one?
AB: John Turturro. He was the first one that came up in my mind—not just him. I saw again that Coen Brothers film with him a few days ago, and he really stole my heart, my mind when I saw it again. He's an amazing actor. He was the first one that came up. He's a great actor, isn't he?
He's great. I didn't even recognize him in a recent film I saw. He was sufficiently different. The real challenge is for people not to recognize you in the movie when you're playing the character.
AB: Exactly. That's what I love about this profession. I hope I can do that.
Are there any American actors that you're dying to work with?
AB: It comes up. John Turturro is in my mind today. I would love to work with Luis Tosar. He's a Spanish actor. I love his work. He's a great, great actor. But Turturro is the guy from America. He's in my head right now. I think it's because I saw the movie two days ago, and he's in my heart.
Are you ready to do a movie in English? I think your English is quite good.
AB: Definitely. You guys have such a strong industry in America. You can open so many doors doing films here that it could be a great opportunity. At the same time, I'm so interested in Latin films, in Europe and Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, that could also open doors. If in the U.S. a door would open, I'd love to get in but not just here. I want to go anywhere that opens the door for cinema. That's my passion.
Do you think that you're going to be the next big international star to come out of Brazil?
AB: I don't know if it's true or not, but I get butterflies. If people think that, then I appreciate it because it means that I did a good job in the film. You never know. It's such a crazy business. There are so many good actors in the world. You never can tell if this is the one, or if it's the other one.
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