Alice Braga: A Legend in the Making

bragaThis coming December, Warner Brothers will release I Am Legend, a much anticipated horror thriller that stars Will Smith as the last man on Earth unaffected by a plague-like virus that turns its victims into blood-craving mutants. However, there's no doubt Smith's character will be affected by his costar Alice Braga, world cinema's latest seductive siren. By the way, she can also act.

In fact, last year The New York Times' headlines screamed out in its Arts and Leisure section that Alice Braga had given one of the five "breakthrough performances" of the year. The paper's film critic A. O. Scott agreed in his review of Sergio Machado's Lower City, calling this 23-year-old "one of the most forthrightly and powerfully sexual screen actresses in the world."

Yes, this niece of former Brazilian sex idol Sonia Braga, after her memorable performance in City of God, simmers across the screen in her first starring role. Here she's Karinna, a young prostitute who tears apart the friendship of the two macho buddies who offer her passage on their boat if she screws them both. Unluckily, post-orgasm, they both fall passionately in love with the young bottle-blonde lass who can't decide which of the he-men she prefers. Sublimely nude or approaching such a state for much of the film, Braga's adds a seductively troubled inner life to her performance that makes Karinna unforgettable. (Just released on DVD, check it out on Netflix.)

Recently at a Lower East Side eatery, Braga, who also starred in Journey to the End of Night with Brendan Fraser, let loose on her salad and her life.

BJ: In one interview, you seemingly insisted you're almost not Brazilian because you don't like Carnival. You don’t like tight clothes. You don't like to samba.

AB: (protesting) I didn't say it exactly like that. But yeah, everyone thinks that all the Brazilians like to samba, and lots of people think that we have monkeys in the street. The guy who published that didn't get it exactly right, because I don't know how to samba and I don't like Carnival. But it's not that I don't like it, it's just not me. I'm not Brazilian that way, but the other way I'm completely Brazilian because I have black people, Indian, and Portuguese in my blood. So I'm from there. I'm completely Brazilian. (Laughs)

BJ: You were on movie sets since you were age four.

AB: Eight, actually. Because my mom, she works in publicity. She used to be an actress, and nowadays she works in commercials. She's an AD and an editor; sometimes she directs commercials. So I grew up on the set with her, like just hanging around. And then I started to do commercials with her friends when I was eight. My first film was a short when I was 15, and then City of God when I was 18.

BJ: Your mother had a little part in The Kiss of a Spider Woman?

AB: That's not my mother. That's my aunt . . . . Oh, my mom! Yeah. Yeah! Yeah! She was on the set in a small part. She kills someone. I think she shoots William Hurt. (Laughs) It's a good thing to do, right? Ba-ba-ba-ba-bop. (Making sound of machine gun.)

BJ: I just read the Brazilian film industry goes up and down and around depending on how much government support it gets.

AB: Yeah.

BJ: In 1993 or '94, just nine films were made in Brazil. So you're lucky you came of age at the right time.

AB: Yeah, exactly. I'm really lucky, because now Brazilian cinema is really strong. It's always been strong, but now we have more investment. We have a law in Brazil that instead of paying taxes, you can invest in culture. If you invest in cinema, you don't pay taxes, so lots of companies are investing in cinema more than they were.

BJ: Was it helpful to you that your Aunt Sonia is internationally known? Did that help you get your foot in the door?

AB: Not much. Because Sonia lived [in the United States] since I was born. She moved to L.A., then to New York. So my relationship with her was always far away from each other.

BJ: City of God was the film that transformed you. You were even nominated for Best Supporting Actress in Brazil.

AB: Yeah, because it was the first film that I did. That was a big film to be involved with. So it was good. Actually, it was a film that changed . . . how do you say it? . . . my projects for life. Because I wanted to work in cinema but I wasn't a 100% sure what I was going to do. Maybe I should work with photography or, I don't know. Or AD or producing. And after doing City of God, then it was decided. I will act. I will keep doing this.

BJ: In Lower City, you play a pole-dancing prostitute in a rather overheated ménage à trois. In a country that is extremely macho, did you ever feel threatened exposing both your body and your soul so frequently in this feature?

AB: Yeah, in the beginning. When I read the script, I was completely amazed by the story and how beautiful it was. But at the same time, I figured out that it was a challenge for me, as a woman and as an actress. As a girl becoming a woman. It was like, "Okay, I'm going to become a hooker for three months, and I am going to have to live that, and I have to understand this character's world without judgment and everything." It was a huge challenge. And I really wanted to do it the moment I read the script.

Sergio was an amazing director. He sat down with me and said, "Hey, believe me. I won't let you get hurt. I won't let you fall down. So just grab my hand, Alice. Go into this story. Let's just believe in it." It was hard in the beginning, because I was quite shocked by the amount of nudity. But it did not just involve nudity, but also about how much I would have to be giving for the character. I couldn't be like half there. I couldn't be afraid. I had to put 100% or else no one would believe in that character. So I made a choice, and I think it was nice because everyone who sees the film, like, believes that girl exists, that she's genuine.

BJ: In Brazil, are you now considered a sex idol?

AB: No. No. Because I don't do soap operas. In Brazil, we have social problems, so not everyone has access to the films because it's quite expensive. It's like 16 Reais . . . 18 Reais. That's like eight or nine dollars. But the minimum salary that they get for a month of work is like 200 Reais. It's nothing, so lots of people don't go. Lots of people watch television. So I'm not a sex symbol.

Her friend, a photographer, interjects: A middle-class sex symbol.

AB: I'm not. I'm not. (Laughing) The film makes me look like that, but no, no, no.

BJ: How do you see your career in ten years? Do you like the Angelina Jolie mold?

AB: (Laughs) To marry Brad Pitt!!!

BJ: How about Gael Garcia Bernal? Then go around the world adopting children, etc. Is that your dream?

AB: I want to keep working. I love cinema, so I'd love to keep working in the movies, but I would love to, with my voice, help other people. I don't know what to think about Angelina, whether I admire her or not, but I like what she does for other countries, and for other cultures, and for foreign children. But I'd love to be working. I'd love to be a good human being.

BJ: You're not going to break up any marriages?

AB: No. (Laughs) I hope not.

By Brandon Judell

Mr. Judell, who's currently teaching "The Image of the Jew in Post-World War II European Cinema" at City College, has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, and dozens of other publications.

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