by Jeanine Plant
photography by Spicer
Alice Braga is sitting in her trailer on set in freezing Toronto, far from her hometown beaches of São Paulo, when she gives me a call to talk. She’s on the set of her latest project: a star-studded sci-fi thriller, Miguel Sapochnik’s Repossession Mambo, starring Jude Law and Forest Whitaker. Additionally, she’s finishing up promotions from the blockbuster, I Am Legend, with Will Smith – you know, the $200 million dollar apocalyptic film set in New York City about the few survivors of an anti-cancer serum. And with her films Crossing Over starring Harrison Ford and Sean Penn and Blindness with Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore set for release this year, I’m pleased she’s taken a break from globe trotting and hanging with legendary names to talk to me. For a girl who first earned international acclaim as a beauty struggling amidst a society of violence in the City of God, all this talk of Toronto, LA, and sci-fi seems a bit foreign, or at the least, very far from home.
“I still have a home in Brazil. For the past year, I have been traveling a lot for the movies, but I have never really moved. Brazil is where I [return] to, I always go back to Brazil… You never know where the film is going to go… I want to be a little bit of a gypsy… I play by the time.”
And the nomadic life suits her well, running between Toronto and New York and LA (and then a stop home in Brazil), completing an exhaustive list of films while maintaining the ease and humor of a girl from the neighborhood. Braga’s hard work has not gone unnoticed; she is well on her way for more roles alongside top stars, but is also reading the abundance of indie scripts that land on her mat. Following the release of her film Lower City in 2005, the press has been wild for her: “Alice Braga is So Five Minutes From Now” with her “startlingly raw and fearless physicality” in Entertainment Weekly; one of the top “Five to Look Out For” in The New York Times; “girl on the verge… [whose] minimalism comes into its own [in the film Lower City]” in GQ. It may be rare to see a woman who has acted on such diversely painted sets, ranging from seedy strip clubs to outer space, carry credos for her subtleties, but it is this recognition and praise that has propelled her from sexy pin-up (a status that her looks have yet to let her completely abandon) towards above-the-title A-list roles.
And this crossover star certainly didn’t earn such clout by playing middle of the road. Braga’s films cover much theatrical ground and her roles are often controversial, yet her ability leaves audiences in awe of her performance and not running in search of gossip mags. In Lower City, for which she snagged three of Brazil’s best actress awards – The Cinema Brazil Grand Prize, The Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival Award, and São Paulo Association of Art Critics Awards – she plays a traveling prostitute who hops a boat and offers up her services to two best friends, entering into a complicated, twisted love triangle. Sweaty, sexy, and arousing, this film (much to Braga’s credit) juggles both the subtle nuances and the explosive self-destruction that occur when we attempt to approach sex as consumers, clinging to the adolescent belief that physical pleasure occurs on a separate plane from friendship and love. Despite all of the skin, critics did not cry “Porn!” for Braga’s vulnerability, and her stifled childlike need for affection shone through the neon and eroticism, placing her amongst the top of Brazil’s best and brightest, an already crowded category.
“I portray a prostitute, it was a great character and it was a challenge to me… I ended up learning [that] even if your life is hard, don’t let it go, it is too great. As a human being we always have to have our eyes open…”
Lower City was not the first time Braga made her presence known on an international scale. Her abilities were praised after her 2002 appearance in City of God, a film about the young and dispossessed living amid steadfast violence in the Brazilian slum from the 1960s-1980s. The movie exploded on the film scene as a realistic depiction of life in poverty in Rio de Janeiro; her huge and sometimes semi-naked presence amongst the ample violence was not as much gratuitous as a statement about real life as an impoverished teen. The main character, through his camera, deals with blood, death and crime running parallel to his desires for love and sexual maturity. He catalogues the ugliness and hopelessness, showing that the violence of their lives is not, in fact, the norm for all youth. Braga’s supporting role portrayal added great vulnerability, depth, and poignancy while maintaining legitimacy throughout this coming of age story. Needless to say, this film had an impact.
“It is funny, when you talk about Brazil, most people would talk about Carnival, now [when] people say Brazil, they say City of God… It is great to be a part of something that you need to show people, showing the slum from the inside from the people [that lived] there and making people think about it. Being a part of something like that is amazing. You don’t look at it as a judgment… Being part of that is an honor.”
Braga’s talent and wise script choices (her resume is as weighted as anyone could hope for at 25) reveal a sure touch, but she refuses to disregard her intimate influences. Everyone in her family is in a creative profession; a family of musicians, photographers, directors, and journalists. And it comes as no surprise that she has a natural sex appeal when you realize she is after all the niece of the Brazilian bombshell Sonia Braga (once linked to Robert Redford). Yet she insists that it was her mother, actress Ana Maria Braga, who bestowed opportunity and bequeathed advice while Alice hung around the sets of her mom’s commercials. “My big influence was my mom. She was the one always with me when I was thinking about acting, the best influence to teach me what acting was about, how it could be the best thing. I started taking theater courses and met the director of City of God [Fernando Meirelles], and he invited me to do the movie.” Braga then reveals what is probably the secret to her acting. “She kind of always told me, and keeps telling me, that it is really important for me to portray the person with soul, to give yourself to that person, but don’t judge. Believe in what you are doing. I don’t know how to do something without believing in it one hundred percent. Go with passion.”
On a broader stage Braga is greatly concerned with the global state of our environment: “I think that the climate is a huge issue right now. I definitely believe you must use your voice, that it is important to be connected to the world.” To make a difference, she designed a t-shirt for Carlos Miele’s Brazilian Rainforest Initiative with the Rainforest Foundation, an organization to preserve the precious woods in Brazil. “All of the money he gets from the shirts, he will bring to the foundation.”
Already she’s shown herself to be a talented artist (as well as a dedicated global citizen) who is determined to get to the core of her characters. However, when asked about playing opposite Smith in I Am Legend, Braga, the self-described “shy person,” didn’t succeed in stifling her down-to-earth giddiness. “Truly it was so crazy,” Braga mused. “I was so honored and learned so much from him.” As we await the release of Crossing Over starring a posse of talent and directed by Wayne Kramer (The Cooler), a drama on the issues of immigration, racism and what America stands for in modern day LA, we, as well as Hollywood and Sundance, will stand in line for the next from Alice Braga Productions, Inc.