Actress and producer.
THE INSPIRATION TALK
BONJOUR MARI ! TELL US ABOUT YOUR CHILDHOOD: WHERE DID YOU GROW UP AND WHAT WERE YOUR PARENTS DOING?
I was born and raised in São Paulo. My family on my mother’s side comes from a town called Sobral in the North East of Brazil. It was a very simple family. My grand-mother had fifteen children and my mom was #11. Out of all these children, my grand-parents could choose only one to send out to some relatives in Rio de Janeiro to get a chance to study and the lucky one was my mother. She then moved to São Paulo, became a speech therapist and got married to my father, a lawyer. My mother is a self-made woman, just like me. I like this story because these are my roots.
DID YOU ALWAYS KNOW YOU WANTED TO BECOME AN ACTRESS?
Yes! The first memory I have about wanting to become an actress was when I was 6 years old and I had started reading a collection of books from Monteiro Lobato. He wrote a lot about mythology, I was fascinated and I thought: “I want to be someone who can tell stories like these”. So in high school I started to do theatre and soon I was offered some acting jobs for commercials. My mom hated it because she thought it was going to come in my way to finish high school, like a major distraction. When I was 16 years-old, I did an audition for a tv series and nailed the role; I would study in the morning and film for the rest of the day. After that, I passed a soap opera audition in Rio de Janeiro for the Globo TV Network. I got the part and moved to Rio. I was 17, and went by myself. My mom ended up moving to Rio two years later. And I just realized I will soon celebrate 20 years of career! It’s been good.
WOW! I GUESS IF YOU DON’T REALIZE IT HAS BEEN SUCH A LONG TIME ALREADY, IT MEANS THAT YOU MUST HAVE HAD SOME FUN…
A lot! It was my dream come true. It is a privilege to be working, earning money and being successful from doing what I really love. And I did it alone: I don’t have any one from my family working in this industry.
AND YET THEY WERE VERY SUPPORTIVE OF YOUR CAREER CHOICE.
They gave me a lot of emotional support and also at the beginning... financial support! I feel blessed to have received both.
WHAT MADE YOU THINK YOU COULD STAND OUT AND MAKE IT IN THAT COMPETITIVE INDUSTRY? ESPECIALLY WITHOUT KNOWING ANYONE... WERE YOU AWARE THAT IT WAS GOING TO BE COMPLICATED?
I always ask myself “what do I bring to the table that makes a difference? How come a director picks me over someone else? Why do people give me their attention?”. I am asking myself these questions as part of a deeper process that I am going through, yet I still haven’t found answers. Wanting to become an actress was an intuition. I did my first audition with all my heart, but also I worked hard to prepare for it. When I got the part I thought that maybe I had some kind of talent. But above all, I had the passion and it never left me. After I finished my first novela role, I immediately enrolled for a Tennessee Williams play which was completely different and went on and on like that.
YOU NEVER STOPPED THE MACHINE.
I couldn’t stop working. I did 13 novelas and 21 movies. I even became a producer for two plays and one movie. I am interested in the creative process and I actually just started to look for different kinds. I became friends with artists, authors, producers and started to be more involved. I wanted to provoke my own opportunities. I don’t want to sit and wait for projects to come to me.
HOW IS IT TO GROW UP AND BECOME A WOMAN IN FRONT OF THE CAMERAS AND THE PUBLIC EYE LIKE YOU DID? IS IT COMPLICATED TO LET GO OF THE PUBLIC’S OPINION AND BUILD YOUR OWN PERSONA?
In front and behind the camera! Haha. I think I had a lot of faith. I always had in my mind that I wanted to become an actress, but not a celebrity; this was a consequence of the job. I fought and still fight a lot for people to recognize my talent. Having a career is also about choices; I choose a lot and I also say “no” a lot. This brings me a lot of pain because ultimately when you say “no”, you loose something. To be a good actor you should enter in contact with your emotions. Sometimes I needed (and still do) to be with myself, in silence. And sometimes it was super hard to get out of a character. I remember when I was 17 and shooting “Andando nas nuvens” my first novela, I was super nervous about a monologue I was about to play with my on-screen father. I had practiced but still wasn’t at ease. The first time I did it, he interrupted the scene as if he had entered too early on stage and apologized in front of the whole crew. He then called me to come and see him only to tell me that I could do better. He actually took the mistake for him to give me the opportunity to do it again. And I did. And I started crying during my performance which came out as a total surprise for everyone. We had a scene. A real genuine scene. This day I learned that you need to be generous. And carried this knowledge until today.
SO YOU RECREATED A CIRCLE OF TRUSTED PEOPLE LIKE A FAMILY, HELPING YOU THROUGH THIS PROCESS OF GROWING UP. BUT DIDN’T YOU FEEL YOU WERE MISSING OUT ON WHAT “REGULAR” 17-YEAR OLD GIRLS WERE LIVING?
I had a lot of responsibility at this age, and a heavy schedule. I needed to memorize lines, sleep good, act in front of a whole crew counting on me… But at the same I was so happy to be there and doing what I loved to do, I never felt I was missing out on anything.
AT SUCH A YOUNG AGE, FAME COULD HAVE ALSO GONE TO YOUR HEAD...
I think my parents brought me up with values and with my feet on the ground. You can fly, for sure, but you have to know to come back. I also had a good partner when I was 20. He was super mature, he was actually 17 years older than me! He kept me grounded. I grew into a woman with him.
NOVELAS ARE SUCH A BIG PART OF PEOPLE’S LIFE HERE. WE TEND TO UNDERESTIMATE THEIR INFLUENCE ON THE POPULATION WATCHING THEM BUT I FEEL EVERY NOVELA IS A MIRROR OF THE BRAZILIAN SOCIETY. ARE YOU AWARE OF THAT WHEN YOU CHOOSE A ROLE?
You know about my passion for telling stories…. When I was 22, I played my first lead character which was a girl suffering from bullying at school. She was shy, using glasses, clumsy, and pure. She moved out of town and when she came back she was totally transformed, stronger than ever. These are the kinds of "influences" that I like to be part of. And you’re right, it is amazing how powerful these stories can be to people! As a matter of fact, a woman told me recently about this old character of mine and how it gave her the confidence she needed to overcome some difficulties because she really identified with it. Recently I bought the rights to a play written by Nick Silver. It talks about altruism and I think we should discuss these subjects more.
DO YOU CHOOSE YOUR ROLES BECAUSE THEY RELATE TO YOU?
Of course it can be because I really want to work with a specific director, but overall I guess it is when I feel I can bring something to the story with my performance. And sometimes it is nothing I can relate to but I like the challenge, like when I played this woman who was a psychopath and a crazy murderer. On the streets people would confuse me with her and I would get some nasty comments! It can be very weird sometimes.
I GUESS IT IS A VERY INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP THAT THE PUBLIC HAS WITH THESE CHARACTERS AS THEY WATCH THEM RELIGIOUSLY EVERY NIGHT DURING 8 MONTHS. NOVELAS ENTER IN PEOPLE’S HOME. WOULD YOU BE ABLE TO PLAY A SHOCKING CHARACTER?
It depends on the script, on the crew, on the story and on the character. I don’t have a “never will I play this kind of character” policy. I think we can always talk about the issues that could exist around a project. I remember one project presented to me had a naked scene. I asked the director if there was a real need for this scene. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t care about getting undressed for a film, but I need to understand why. So he told me that a satanic entity was supposed to rape me. I couldn’t understand nor agree with his argument. I told him it was not something I was confortable with. Plus it was for TV which is different from Cinema where you can get more provocative. So he contracted a doublure. To be confident about discussing these situations with directors is something I learned to do throughout my career. Now I feel at ease giving my point of view. I try to balance my choices of characters based on all these things.
IT IS A SECRET FOR NOBODY THAT BRAZIL AND THE FILM/TV INDUSTRY ARE STILL VERY SEXIST. LAST YEAR WE HAVE SEEN A BIG SCANDAL EXPLODE WITH A NOTORIOUS ACTOR FROM THE GLOBO NETWORK ACCUSED OF SEXUAL ASSAULT BY A COSTUME DESIGNER. THE REACTION WAS QUICK TO FOLLOW WITH WOMEN (INCLUDING YOURSELF) FROM ALL AROUND THE COUNTRY CREATING THE BIGGEST SORORITY MOVEMENT BRAZIL HAS EVER SEEN, SUPPORTING ONE SINGLE MESSAGE "MEXEU COM UMA, MEXEU COM TODAS” (EDITOR'S NOTE : MESSED UP WITH ONE OF US, MESSED UP WITH ALL OF US). DO YOU THINK THIS MOVEMENT FINALLY MARKED A TURNING POINT IN THE WAY SOCIETY DEALS WITH THIS TYPE OF AGGRESSION AND CAN HELP WOMEN TO VOICE THEIR OPINIONS WHEN THEY DON’T AGREE WITH SOMETHING, JUST LIKE WHAT YOU DID WITH THAT UNJUSTIFIED NAKED SCENE ?
Do you remember Robin Wright in House of Cards when she gave a speech about wanting to earn the same salary as Kevin Spacey? Well she asked for it and got what she asked for. I think Simone de Beauvoir started this wave and I think social media gave women a stronger voice opportunity, and on that specific scandal, we (me, other actresses, producers, people from the Globo) got together, like a sorority.
HOW ARE YOU SUPPORTING EACH OTHER? DO YOU FEEL A DIFFERENCE WITH BEFORE THE SCANDAL?
A lot ! It is completely different. We did a lot of appointments with all the women and male leaders of the network. Globo told us that they were creating a department receiving these complaints. Any off the limit gesture, any word or action is now denounced.
TO ME, THE MOST SHOCKING THING ABOUT THIS STORY WAS NOT HIM AS, SADLY ENOUGH, WE ARE USED TO THESE KINDS OF ABUSES, BUT THE PART WHERE THE VICTIM DESCRIBED HOW THE OTHER WOMEN WHO HAD WITNESSED THE SCENE DID NOT SAY ANYTHING.
Yes, connivence! Every Monday or Tuesday a group of women from the Globo, including me, have two meetings : we call the first meeting “chatas power”(editor's note: “pussy power”) where we discuss these sexist issues and the second one “chatas students” (editor's note: “pussy students”), where we invite an outsider who can be a philosopher, a sociologist, a leader of any kind, to talk about feminism, women's rights, etc… We tried to find a consistent line and ways to explore and learn about these themes. Acquiring this knowledge is key to help us improve our daily life at work but also to give us even more consistency when talking to journalists, or even personally.
DID YOU KNOW THAT THE ONLY JOBS WHERE WOMEN DON’T GET PAID LESS THAN MEN ARE PORNOGRAPHY AND MODELLING? IT’S ALSO NOT A SECRET THAT MOST WOMEN ARE PAID LESS THAN MEN IN HOLLYWOOD. HAVE YOU EVER EXPERIENCED THAT IN BRAZIL EVEN THOUGH YOU MIGHT HAVE THE LEADING ROLE ?
I don’t know and actually I never thought about asking! I started to think about it when I saw Robin Wright doing it (laughs). But it’s true that since then and the “chatas meetings” I am more aware of the inequalities and the fact that I am able to share these thoughts with other women helped me to become more conscious about it. I think we only get this perspective when we are together. We are stronger together.
WHAT’S YOUR ADVICE TO WOMEN WHO HAVE AMBITION?
I think we should focus on a bunch of things like talent, discipline, being respectful of others, have strong values and try to re-invent ourself all the time. There is this poem from Cecilia Meireilles that says : “Life is only possible if you reinvent yourself and your life”.
This is like a mantra for me. We are constantly going and growing through changes. I am also a super fan of David Bowie... "cha-cha-cha-changes”. He enjoyed his life while constantly re-inventing himself.
ARE YOU PROUD TO BE A NOVELA ACTRESS? OR DO YOU FEEL IT TAKES SOME OF YOUR CREDIBILITY AWAY TO BEING GIVEN MORE CINEMA ROLES?
I am proud of it because it brought me the financial freedom of choosing the other projects I want to be part of. Thanks to that I was also able to work on myself through amazing courses and workshops, and it allowed me to land cinema and theatre roles and even to become a producer. It is obviously easier to find sponsors when you are famous. People will not bet on someone they have never heard of. I am super proud of it.
WHICH OF YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS AS AN ACTRESS ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
When I played my first main character in the novela “Chocolate com Pimenta” I was very proud. I was so young… There is a movie called the “Trespasser” that I did when I was 19 years old; I played a super underground girl for which I won a lot of awards which made me super proud as well. When I did my first bad girl in "Passione". The last character I played in a novela called "Haja Coração" was a woman working in a market, from a very simple background, with a popular accent and a great sense of humour. I am proud of this one too. Because I usually do more drama but I love doing comedy and I love being given opportunities like those. I’m super proud of my theatre play for which I became a producer, "The Altruists". And “O Grande Circo Místico” for which I played a trapeze artist. This was a crazy character for which I had to train 3 months, my body fully covered in tattoos that took 7 hours to apply. I was naked and raped… It was a very intense performance that I am super proud of! It is all about dedication.
ARE YOU AWARE OF YOUR INFLUENCE WHEN YOU HAVE 3 MILLION FOLLOWERS ON INSTAGRAM? DO YOU FEEL THE PRESSURE TO ACT AS A ROLE MODEL FOR YOUR YOUNGER FANS?
You have a responsibility for sure but you have to be who you are too. I must be who I am. But I always think about that and I try to put some informations about me, about art, about the things I genuinely like in order to do something besides the “outfit of the day” posts you know? I am not a blogger, not a model; I am an actress and a person who likes art, cinema, theatre, music, people, friends, family… I am trying to show some values, the kind of values in which I believe. I want to be genuine. For example I did a masterclass with Kevin McDonald during which we became friends and I’d like to write more about him. He is the director of the Bob Marley documentary, the “Last King of Scotland” with Forest Whitaker and I would love for my Brazilian followers to know about him because I admire him. Or for example when I went to Inhotim and posted pictures of some of the art pieces explaining what they meant to me, or from what artist they were. I am concerned about sharing what moves me.
YOU DON’T WANT TO JUST SHOWCASE YOURSELF EVEN THOUGH THAT IS MAINLY WHAT YOUR FANS LOVE TO SEE, BUT YOU WANT TO CONTEXTUALIZE YOURSELF IN THE UNIVERSE THAT RESONATES FOR YOU AND SHARE THAT WITH THEM…
Yes, and I am also very attached to share my love for nature, because I think it is really important to connect with it for your soul. Sometimes food also because I love eating! (laughs). I think overall I try to share my lifestyle while preserving my privacy.
HOW DO YOU FIND A BALANCE BETWEEN YOUR PRIVATE AND PUBLIC LIFE?
It is super hard!
DO YOU HAVE A LOT OF PAPARAZZI FOLLOWING YOU?
Not following me, but they are present whenever I go out to do something like when I go surfing, when I go to a restaurant…
I FEEL THAT YOU MANAGE TO BE VERY DISCREET. HOW DO YOU DO WHEN YOU START DATING SOMEONE NEW FOR EXAMPLE? DO YOU NOT GO TO SOME PLACES?
Yes! haha. For example, when I started dating my last boyfriend, we went to a restaurant to celebrate the birthday of one of my friends. It was a really small Japanese restaurant. Anyway, we go there and obviously we were in a very relaxed mood. A few days later I see pictures of us in a magazine and I was really surprised because I didn’t see the paparazzi and usually I always see them. I felt really sad because it was an intimate moment that I wasn’t aware I was going to have to share publicly. But I learned to let go of these negative feelings.
DO YOU FIND IT EASIER TO DATE SOMEONE FROM THE INDUSTRY?
The boyfriend whom I spent 8 years with, worked in the industry but not as an artist, and the other ones didn’t have anything to do with this world. It is funny because I never date anyone famous.
SO HOW DOES IT WORK? DO YOU HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH THEM AT SOME POINT ABOUT ALL THE FORBIDDEN PLACES?
I always tell them: “if you want to go there, prepare yourself because they might be paparazzis”. But you know, all the paparazzis and journalists know that I like to keep my privacy and it is very rare that I end up in gossip magazines. I never hide from them though. I like to talk about things that matter to me, including my relationships. But sometimes I like to process things before making them official.
HOW DO YOU MANAGE TO ALWAYS STAY SO NICE TO EVERYBODY ? I’VE SEEN YOU SEVERAL TIMES BEING PATIENT AND HAVING THE BIGGEST SMILE. BUT SOMETIMES YOU MUST BE TIRED OR NOT IN THE MOOD, OR ANGRY OR JUST DON’T WANT THE ATTENTION… DO YOU DO IT OUT OF RESPECT FOR YOUR FANS OR ARE YOU JUST GENUINELY HAPPY TO SEE YOUR FANS ANYTIME?
I really am happy to see them. I like it, I like people, I am super curious about each person that comes up to talk to me. I am actually working on this, on being a little bit more private and preserving myself. Sometimes I open a lot and receive all kinds of energies. Sometimes I give more than I have in me. And I am learning about it. I am learning that I am allowed to say “no”. It is super difficult for me. I suffer. I learned with my ex boyfriend that sometimes I forget who is on my side and sometimes these people feel uncomfortable, abandoned when I open too much about my personal life. I need to find a balance. Once I was with my god daughter and she didn’t understand why people we didn’t know were asking to take pictures with me. She became nervous. And I understood I needed to protect her. Take care of them and myself. I’m getting there.
THEY SAY TORTURED SOULS MAKE BETTER STORIES. DO YOU THINK AN ARTIST HAS TO LIVE MISERABLE MOMENTS IN HIS PERSONAL LIFE IN ORDER TO MASTER A DRAMATIC ROLE? DO YOU FEEL INFLUENCED BY YOUR PERSONAL LIFE IN YOUR CAREER’S CHOICES?
I don’t like nor need to, think about my personal life to cry on set, although sometimes it helps (laughs). I do a lot of research around each character. My process is to put together some pieces of music that I feel connected to as it conveys such a strong emotional power, together with the pain of the character. I remember having had once to play a very complex character whom I could absolutely not relate to on a personal level. So I started carrying a cushion everywhere with me at the studio, boxing it before any scene. This was a way to get to that pain my character was going through: enduring physical pain myself. Like with Samba, there is this saying "pra fazer um samba com beleza, É preciso um bocado de tristeza" - Vinicius de Moraes.
Sometimes you need to cry. I once cried a lot for a scene. I thought I did so well, only when I saw it on TV I was so unhappy with the result… I wasn’t feeling anything! I understood that you need to do a scene for the scene, not for yourself. You have to be generous for the camera, for the audience and give a lot about yourself. And I learned that the hard way. You need to prepare yourself through the character, sometimes several months before a role. Your body has to be prepared. When you create a character you need to define everything about him: how he walks, how he talks, his every gestures, his background, his family… I even ask myself how this character would take his shower: cold or hot ? (laughs). And I do as my character! Because at the end of the day what defines somebody comes from his background, culture, education, habits… The audience doesn’t know anything about all that, it is for me to understand and justify the reactions this character will have. Sometimes I even work with psychologists to help me in that process. Once I have defined a clear psychological profile for a character, I then define its physical shape: hair color, clothes, etc… This is all part of me wanting to be more implicated in the creative process. But now and then I do have to recognize something in me to relate to a character.
THE ADVICE YOU WOULD HAVE LIKED TO BE GIVEN AT 17?
Believe in yourself. And don’t be in a hurry. Things will happen when they need to happen.
WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF NEXT?
I want to do a lot of things… I’d like to keep going deeper and deeper in my friendships, love. I believe in a pact of love. I’d like to have a family. When I say family, I mean blood family and the blood of my heart. And keep acting of course. I love acting. Fernanda Montenegro, one of my idols, said “actors need to be athletes”: we wake up early, we spend the whole day shooting, we are judged by the audience... You need to work with the crew as a team because you depend on them. You don’t work alone. You need the group. I would like to continue to be surrounded by good people.
HOW DO YOU MANAGE THE FACT OF AGING IN THIS INDUSTRY? SUDDENLY YOU LOOSE THE FEMALE LEADING PARTS WHICH MUST BE COMPLICATED… DO YOU TALK WITH YOUR MENTORS ABOUT THAT?
A lot! For an actress, the most difficult thing is to keep her career alive.
Recently I have been seeing less and less leading roles for women in their 30s, 40s… I am not a teenager anymore, I am not a mother yet, so who am I? What kind of characters can I play? That is also the reason why I decided to become a producer. I am interested in telling stories about contemporary women. I am reading this book called “my two girls” : the story is about that woman who had an abortion and years later when she is feeling ready to have a baby she can't get pregnant so she pays a surrogate in India. I am trying to produce this film. I’d like to talk about women in their 30s. It is a drama. We have to freeze our eggs because men are not ready to become fathers when our body is on a ticking clock! It is completely unfair and I’d like to talk about it.
WHEN YOU PUT YOURSELF IN THE POSITION OF SOMEONE WHO IS WILLING TO LEARN, YOU SHOW YOUR WEAKNESS AND THIS IS BEAUTIFUL.
I love the truth, I think that is the key and I am very curious as a person. But I also know when not to dig about something that is not meant to be for me. I was invited by the most amazing author of Brazil to play a role in a novela, the role of a prostitute. In that moment I felt I didn’t have the energy to do it. I was finishing another novela, I wouldn’t have had time to rest and properly get into that new character. He told me “if you don’t accept it, I will kill you with a knife!”... He knew of my fear of knives (laughs). I couldn’t sleep, I kept on thinking about it over and over again. But then I also could feel deep inside that it was not good for me to go against my intuition. It wasn’t good neither for the project in itself to enter this role without the preparation nor for the energy. So I bought the biggest knife I could find and put it in an enormous box with a giant ribbon and sent it to him along with a letter that read : “please kill me then”. He loved it! And we are still good friends. Finally the characters found their actors. Timing is always right. You have to follow your instincts.
TO FOLLOW YOUR INSTINCTS IS ONE THING, TO ASSUME IT CAN BE SOMETHING MORE DIFFICULT.
It was super hard. I need to work on it even deeper. My process is to develop my instincts. Sometimes I cannot hear my inner-self. Hence the retreats that I escaped to these last few months as a healing process. I think maybe it also has something to do with age; I read somewhere that we were living through 7-year cycles. I started analyzing this theory and observing that it was true: I broke up with my ex-boyfriend a few months ago when I knew I needed to face my inner-self and suddenly I had time to do it.
IT’S FUNNY BECAUSE NOW THAT YOU ARE FOCUSING ON YOURSELF IT MIGHT BE THE HARDEST ROLE OF YOUR CAREER.
It is but I have to do embrace it. It’s actually the second time I focus on myself in my life. But I think right now is the perfect timing for me.
AND NOW... TELL ME ABOUT YOUR FAVORITE SONG !
I love dancing! There are so many songs I love. Every song form David Bowie, Freddie Mercury and Queen… I am really eclectic. I try to be updated about new stuff too. I went to Coachella, I like Bon Iver, Julius and Angus Stone, Arcade Fire, I love Sigur Ros. I actually saw them in LA playing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. I cried a lot during that concert. I love Nirvana but also Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, James Brown… Oh and of course I love Samba, whenever I listen to samba my body starts to shake (laughs).
ABOUT THAT, I HAVE TO CONFESS THAT YOU WERE THE ONE THAT FIRST TAUGHT ME HOW TO DANCE SAMBA ON THE FIRST DAY I MOVED TO BRAZIL ! WE WENT TO THE LAST REHEARSAL BEFORE CARNIVAL OF (SAMBA SCHOOL) PORTELA AND YOU TOOK ME WITH YOU ON STAGE TO SHOW ME HOW TO PROPERLY DANCE IT!
Hahaha. I remember I took you on stage, yes! I love dancing. Portela and Mangueira are my two favorite samba schools. It was so fun!
GET MARIANA'S SIGNED LIMITED PRINTS EDITION
The story that we shot with Mariana Ximenes is a visual metaphor of a woman facing a difficult moment in her life, but is strong enough to confront it. Every woman has her own individual story. A story that is uniquely beautiful, yet we can all relate to the emotions that come out of these moments. When you feel the support of other women, not only do you feel stronger, but you also feel you can achieve anything. It is one of the purest feelings in the world. Suddenly there is no more competition, just fuel for more.
The proceeds from this limited-edition of five photographs, signed by Mariana Ximenes and by the photographer Autumn Sonnichsen will go to Asplande, a non-governmental organization working with women from favelas and peripheral regions of Rio de Janeiro.