Alice Braga plays Karinna in Lower City, a girl with no ties trying to get by as a prostitute in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. Picked up by two guys, Deco and Naldinho, she begins a relationship with both, leading to the inevitable jealousies. One of the questions hanging over the film, apart from whom Karinna may ultimately favour, is: with no one but each other to turn to can these pals afford to be driven apart by sexual jealousy? Key to this is a provocative turn from Braga.
Alice, how did you come to be involved in Lower City?
Walter Salles [the producer] thought of me at the beginning of the process of casting but I was studying in New York so he couldn’t find me. Then he did some auditions with a few other girls and when he finally found me he called me in to do an audition. When I read the script I loved the challenge of playing a hooker. I’d acted in City of God, a few commercials and some theatre at school but I’d never had a big role. So it was a huge challenge for me. When I read the script I loved the way that Sergio showed this love triangle. Karinna is this beautiful girl, she’s really intelligent and she loves life.
What did you find most challenging?
Showing equal love for the two guys because that’s what Sergio wanted. I needed to love one with the same intensity as the other. It’s quite hard because I had to be aware of that all the time but Sergio is a very focused guy so he could relate everything he was thinking to me. But I think that this was the most challenging thing.
And how did you find working with the actors?
Amazing. In my opinion they are two of the best actors of their generation. They’re really good. They come from a theatrical background in Salvador [where the film is set]. They came from Salvador in a play and it’s rare for actors to be so strong in just one play and then to show up and immediately get a job. They really got into the film and it was a pleasure because they’re really intelligent, so passionate about acting and really generous. They took me by the hand and guided me and took care of me. They understood that I was immature and that I’d just starting in acting. They were like brothers to me.
What was most crucial for you when you were portraying Karinna?
I think the impression of her life. Sergio wanted to tell stories about people who don’t give up. Life is hard and even though it’s difficult for the characters to be in this situation there’s no sadness. It’s about always fighting rather than letting go. This was nice for us because the characters were alive all the time and had lots of energy. I love the fact that Karinna in the beginning is like a girl getting into the big town of El Salvador but then gets stronger and stronger, tougher, because life is hard and she needs to be harder.
I understand that your acting preparations for the film were quite intense. Can you talk a little about that?
We had an acting coach named Fatima Toledo. She worked on Pixote and then lots of other films and then City of God. She has a really nice method. She doesn’t want you to try to create a character or to try to observe normal hookers or be another person. She wanted me and the boys to put ourselves as human beings in the characters’ situations and to feel their emotions and problems. It brings some reality to the film because you feel how hard it is. It was great. She gave us lots of exercises. She didn’t want us to pretend to be emotional because that’s not real. She puts your body into the emotion so that you have a connection that you can feel. That way you’re always conscious about what’s happening, what’s going on in that moment of the scene.
For me it was amazing. I did lots of exercises with my pelvis because Karinna is a dancer. I did some voice exercises and the practiced the love scenes. She was talking to the boys about giving themselves and receiving, losing and then regaining themselves. So it was a really intense process and it was nice because now when people see the film they’re saying that they can really believe in the characters because they are people that exist. So I went twice to certain clubs just to see the energy and the movement of the hookers but not to copy them because we were afraid of getting into any judgement or prejudice. Particularly when playing a hooker it’s always easy for you to get into a stereotype and we didn’t want that. Sergio wanted the kind of film that was almost a documentary.
How did that intention influence the shoot? What was the atmosphere like?
It was amazing actually because we had some exercises to do before the scenes. I had lots of things to do before getting into the scenes, just to get into the moment. It was really intense. About fifteen minutes before each scene the crew would get ready and then about ten minutes before I would start my exercises. It was a reduced crew because Sergio wanted a very intimate atmosphere. So when I wanted to get into character and do my exercises everyone else was very focused. The crew realised how intense and how driven we were to play the characters and we realised how respectful and how protective the crew were. I think that you can feel it on the screen. The crew helped me a lot because I was so exposed, and I knew that I was going to be exposed. The acting coach helped me in rehearsals - she said don’t be shy - and because the crew were so respectful and protective I was free to do what ever I wanted without any fear or shyness.
Why do you think the relationship between the characters is so intense?
I think because Karinna is a lonely person. She doesn’t have any family. She’s living her life alone in the world. When she meets these two guys she falls in love with both of them but she doesn’t know how to live without one or the other. She loves them both. I think that intensity is really beautiful because they are really honest about themselves. They have so much passion and they find each other.