I recently caught up with Alice Braga by phone. We talked about her famous aunt Sonia and those pesky indie bands from Canada.
Hi Alice! How are you?
I’m very good, thank you, how are you? How was your weekend?
Great. I’ve been trying to reach you for two days.
(laughs) Oh I know, I’m so sorry. They told me that you tried to call me, I think there was something wrong with my phone. But I was also out with my parents a lot.
You’re in Sao Paulo, right?
Yes, we’ve been traveling a lot for the past two years, with my parents, going back and forth between LA and Sao Paulo. But my home is here in Sao Paulo.
Blindness is based on a book by Jose Saramago, the Portuguese author.Is Jose Saramago like the most widely-read author in Brazil?
Kind of. Not everyone has read him, actually. But because he is a Portuguese writer his books come out very quickly in Brazil. Paulo Coelho’s probably the biggest. But Blindness was one of Saramago’s biggest novels in Brazil. I really loved the book, obviously. I had read it in 2004. I really liked the book. I spoke to Fernando and the project kinda got started this way.
Can you talk about the story a little, through Saramago’s vision?
I think it’s the way that Saramago writes, it puts you in… it’s very personal. You create your own world from it, your own sensibilities, and your emotions go along with it, they’re carried by his words. There are not a lot of paragraphs.
Yea, it’s super dense! I remember staring at monolithic blocks of text!
He writes without soft stops. Yea, it’s really dense! You fall deeply within the story and get into his world. Saramago takes a feeling and really concentrates it. The way he tells that story particularly shows how we’re not seeing.
Was all of Blindness shot in Sao Paulo?
Not just there. We were also in Toronto and Montevideo.
How do you act blind?
That’s a very interesting question. We watched videos for the technical parts of it, we rehearsed with blindfolds on, then took them off, then put them back on, etc. Fernando really wanted us to understand the idea of it, he wanted it to look and feel natural, obviously.
Is seeing the most important of all the senses?
For myself, I believe a lot in the eyes, and in the connection between the actors through the eyes. So it was interesting, having that challenge.
You wore the special contacts that make you blind? Did everyone else do as well?
We decided to be without them 80% of the time. There were some scenes for which we decided it was better, especially the emotional scenes, because it was important to focus, in case you happened to look at something by accident.
Meirelles used a lot of whiteness for the film adaptation. It’s interesting, I would have expected more black, more darkness.
Well, Saramago’s book describes blindness as white, as a milky whiteness, like seeing through a glass of milk. It’s very poetic.
Your character, the girl with the dark glasses is a prostitute? Did you go into this movie with the intent to play a blind woman or a prostitute? The characters didn’t have first name.
Saramago never names his characters. He treats his characters as equals, in a way. He doesn’t want to limit the characters. The prostitute was one of the few characters with a little bit of a past, you know some things about her. We didn’t want to create too many impositions on the character, that was very important.
Were you at the last Cannes Festival for the film?
Yes, I was there. That was my third time, but second only in person. I couldn’t go one year. The first time was for Lower City.
Here’s the question everyone asks. Are you close to your aunt Sonia Braga and was she the reason you got into acting?
(laughs) Yes, I am close to her, of course, but my aunt moved to New York a long time ago, when I was a baby. But she gives me a lot of advice by e-mail and telephone.
So it sounded like you charted your own course as an actress, then?
Well, yes, but the acting was started through my mother. Yes, I was in school plays, and I took theatre classes. But I was also surrounded with that environment. My mom used to work in commercials so I used to visit her on set. With this connection I did auditions for theatre.
Ah, so it’s all your mom’s fault, then?
(laughs) Yes! When I was still in high-school Meirelles gave me a part in City of God (2002).
So what’s it like in Sao Paulo for film professionals or even film buffs? Are you and Fernando part of a film society? Are you just friends?
No, I think it’s pretty informal, this group of friends and loose connections to the film business. When Fernando invited me to act in City of God I was 18. He wanted someone who wasn’t well-known, for credibility. I was still in high-school then. Fernando and I have a good friendship.
To talk about a different movie, I was so surprised when I realized you were in Drained (Cheiro de Ralo). I totally didn’t recognize you! It’s one of my favorite films of 2006.
Yes (laughs). It’s a great movie, isn’t it? Wonderful! I’m glad you saw it! It’s a such small part that I had. That’s the kind of thing where moviemaking is all pleasure.
What do you do when you’re not in front of the camera?
(laughs) It’s obvious, but I love going to the movies. I like watching summer blockbusters, or smart films, or short films.
I also love to run in the park, see my friends, I love to go to the park and read, waking up and reading the newspapers is a pleasure.
What’s your favorite type of movies right now?
Such a difficult question. Right now I’m really into Wong Kar-Wai’s films.
Do you follow politics?
I like politics, I like to read about the world and Brazil. Whenever I’m overseas I like to read internet news to keep up with Brazilian news. You should know about everything in your world as opposed to just where you live.
What kind of music?
I’ve been listening to different bands, depending on my mood. Right now I’m really into Canadian bands. One is called Metric. Really good band. Been listening to Radiohead, their last CD is so good.
Any brazilian music on your iPod?
Nacao Zumbi, folk music from Recife, rock’n’roll with electric guitar, etc.
Do you listen to Yvette Sangalo, Brazil’s ultra-popular pop singer?
(laughs) Yes, well, she is mega popular in Brazil. I don’t listen much to her music but I love her voice and truly admire her as an artist.You really know a lot about Brazil, don’t you?
Yes, my girlfriend is from there. So what’s next for you?
Probably travel to the States at the end of September to support Blindness. I’m also going to go to the Venice Festival where I will be part of the jury. I was really shy about accepting.
That’s brilliant, Alice!
I know, tell me about it. For someone who loves movies, it’s perfection. For ten days, watching movies, it doesn’t get any better. After that, I’m coming to New York.
Fernando Meirelles’ Blindness comes out today. Braga will appear next in Crossing Over and Repossession Mambo.