Alice Braga, star of USA’s number 1 hit television series Queen of the South may be new to the world of gangland tv, but she’s been acting in films since she was 19. Braga has done everything from Brazilian sociopolitical independents like City of God and Lower City to huge mega Hollywood genre blockbusters like I Am Legend and Predators. Just starting its 4th season, Queen of the South proved to be a triumphant pivot for Alice Braga. Her portrayal as drug queenpin Teresa Mendoza is fearless. Braga brings a humanity and a willingness to learn and not judge her characters which has allowed her to shine in whatever genre or medium she’s chosen to work in — branching out even further with her own production company Los Bragas Productions, who have two deals for series already with Netflix. Alice Braga is one of the hardest working people in Hollywood and was kind enough to take time out to talk to us at 25YL.
Alice Braga: Hey Steve! How are you?
Steve Wandling: I’m fine Alice. How are you?
AB: I am good. Thank you.
SW: It’s so great to speak with you! Thanks so much! All July, we are running a series of articles on women in the industry that we feel both, in front of and behind the camera, are doing a lot to bring more marginalized voices and different stories through different lenses to Hollywood. You’re name definitely popped right up.
AB: Oh, thank you so much!
SW: No, thank you! I wanted to congratulate you on Season 4 of Queen of the South. I did want to ask, without giving anything away, if you could give any details about what’s going on with the Queenpin perhaps?
AB: Yeah! It’s really funny because Season 4 is all about how Teresa is managing becoming, you know, in charge of a drug cartel and what are the challenges she’ll have to face. Season 1 was about her running for her survival. Season 2 was trying to understand how she could get out of this but at the same time being manipulated by another character and being kind of drawn into the business.
AB: Season 3 she was trying to figure out how to manage being a part of this and trying to figure out if she can grow in this business. Now Season 4 she finally has her own business going. It’s how she can maintain herself in power and how she can survive in doing this business. So, it’s a season that talks a lot about these challenges of how you can be in charge.
SW: I think one of the things that brings us back to Queen of the South is what you just laid out for me. The stakes keep getting raised. To keep putting Teresa in situation after situation where despite whatever she has to do, she’s a survivor. And to see that where the stakes keep getting consistently raised is a big driving factor in what keeps bringing people back to the show.
AB: Yeah, it seems…first thanks for saying that. I always try when I’m playing her, to create this survival mode but without victimizing herself into the situation because sometimes her abusive or aggressive and violent. She’ll hurt to have the will to go on going but without victimizing herself and just living in moments that are just reactions to what’s happening but taking action on it, and fighting for it, and surviving in it. I think that’s very noble of a character to not victimize yourself. Of course, we’re talking about a drug dealer and someone that is involved in this world. I try to create a spine, so people understand who this human being is, and where does she come from, and what has she been through that has led her on this path to becoming a drug Queenpin.
SW: If Teresa wasn’t so human…it’s a lot easier to sit back and point out the fact she’s a drug dealer and there’s violence. There’s a lot of things that people maybe don’t have on their moral compass, but there is an empowerment in the character’s resilience and strength and determination. I think the show specifically works on its own kind of rhythm. The score is brilliant and the cinematography I love, there’s all these neons. The pacing is really quite brilliant. But I have to mention I first saw you in City of God (2002)
AB: Yes! Thank you!
SW: It’s an amazing film, and you were only 19 when you made that and you were nominated for a best supporting actress award in Brazil, right?
AB: Yeah, we’d been through a few festivals and all that. We went all over the world with it. Thank you so much for watching it! It’s such a phenomenal film. I’m so glad you watched it.
SW: Throughout your career I think you’ve just…one of the things I think you’ve done that’s similar between you and the character that you play is the risks that you’ve taken. Working with Walter Salles in On The Road (2012), and then doing genre work like Predators (2010) and Neil Blomkamp’s Elysium (2013). Of course, we’re all looking forward to New Mutants. What do you kind of gauge when you look for a role? There’s a lot of difference between I Am Legend and Queen of the South and City of God. There’s so much range there. It makes me wonder what you look for when you’re specifically looking at these very different roles in choosing from.
AB: It’s so nice to hear this question because I’m 36 now. Like you said, when I did City of God I was 19. City of God was my first film and it opened so many doors. When I got chances to come to the U.S. and start auditioning and reading projects and also doing projects in Brazil, I did a film called Lower City (2005). It’s a very beautiful, powerful film. We went to Cannes with it. It changed my life into acting in a way. I mention Lower City because it’s a very different film than City of God. Being at that age and having an open door to the United States; to be able to still be in Brazilian films but also set up here a little bit. It was just a magical thing because I always loved movies. So to be able to do I Am Legend (2007), which is a post-apocalyptic film in the future. It was something I never imagined it was going to be possible for me to even play. That’s why doing Predators, which (Predator) is a classic with Schwarzenegger. When it came up with Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk ’til Dawn, Desperado) producing, it sounded so interesting and so amazing with this cast.
SW: It is the most interesting film in the series…the one that you did. I genuinely mean that, and with Robert Rodriguez producing? It’s so good!
AB: Thank you so much! Yeah, you know it was really interesting because you could see all these actors like Mahershala Ali (Moonlight, True Detective)
SW: Yeah! There are so many people in that movie.
AB: Yeah, there are so many amazing actors in it. I remember when we were making it, we were making it with the passion of a classic monster film — If you look at the genre, but without judging it. We had fun making it; that’s why it was so special to do it. That time was so magical for me to do those types of films. I never thought that I was going to do a monster film or a zombie film. Or all those different things…
SW: Repo Men (2010)! Such a good, underrated film…
AB: Yeah, it was amazing. Miguel Sapochnik, the director, has been directing a lot of Game of Thrones actually. He’s doing all these gigantic battles. I loved working with him. He was such an inspiration. I think it was interesting because those films started coming in my direction and I just wanted to do them because it was so different and far away from the type of movies that I came from that were telling specific social issues in Brazil. I thought it was a nice challenge. Now, after so many years, Queen of the South happened to me. I read this book nine years ago. Five years ago, they came to me with the project. I thought it was very interesting because when I read the book almost ten years ago, I loved it. It was a different take and a completely different type of character that I’ve done before that I thought it would be an interesting challenge. I’ve also never done tv, even in my home country. I’ve never done a soap opera in Brazil, so this is my first tv experience ever and I thought it would be interesting. Now that I’m a different age different characters are coming up…sorry I went all the way around! (laughs)
SW: And tv now is much more cinematic…
AB: Yeah! It’s much more cinematic and it was interesting. You live the character for more than one year. You finish the season, and then you can revisit the character, and I think that relationship with the character is different than you have in a movie. You’re not following all the way to an end. You put it away for a little bit and then you revisit that character and how you grow with the character and develop the character of the years is very interesting. I think I’m trying to connect with that. If I read a script for a movie or something, right now, I really try to see how I can transform myself into that. How that character can challenge myself, and I try not to judge the character. I think now I’m in a different moment in my career and in my life, meaning I’m older. I’m 36. I can play different new characters which I haven’t explored. It’s a very exciting moment to explore, maybe, playing a mother. I’ve done a few times like On the Road, but it was a different type of mother. So, kind of like other types of characters is exciting to foresee and to challenge myself with.
SW: Looking at your body of work I think that you always…where you started in films like City of God and Lower City you bring a very human element to bigger blockbuster fare that sometimes isn’t there. As you said, you treat something like Predators with a reverence that sometimes isn’t always there. Certain films can be made simply because it’s a franchise and you can put a dollar sign on it. I don’t see that in your work, regardless of what role you’re taking in what genre. Elysium, for instance, is fantastic.
AB: Oh, thank you so much!
SW: No, thank you for talking to us. We’re a growing publication, but everyone is asking I’m sure about New Mutants. From the onset of that, I do want to say I have been very intrigued just by the trailers and a darker film in that kind of universe, but I would also like to ask you about Las Bragas productions. What’s going on there? I thought that might be a little more interesting?
AB: Yeah! Talking New Mutants very briefly because everyone’s so anxious because they released the trailer and all of that. Then they decided with Disney buying Fox to postpone. Everyone is really curious about it. I’m really curious about it too. I think we’re going to do some reshoots and they’re revisiting the film, and there is a release date. I’m very excited. I’ve always loved the X-Men. Like we were talking about Predators, I grew up watching it and reading some of the comic books. I think X-Men and New Mutants have been a metaphor for so much of our world and accepting difference…accepting the other as they are. So I think to be a part of it is really, really exciting.
AB: But yeah, I’ve been producing a few things in Brazil. I think they’re exciting. We’ve got two Netflix shows already. There’s one that is coming out. It’s called Sintonia. It’s a guy’s show that I helped him produce. His name’s Kondzilla. He has the 3rd biggest YouTube channel in the world. He comes from the outskirts of Sao Paulo. It’s not his life story, but it’s based on a lot of how he grew up on the streets of Sao Paolo. It follows these three 18-year-old kids and how each one of them follows a different path. One of them becomes a priest, like an evangelical pastor; the other one becomes a musician and the other one’s headed toward the drug business. So it’s very powerful on different life choices and paths we take, when we take, and how that has a huge impact on your life.
SW: That sounds fantastic.
AB: It’s a very special show to be involved in as a producer. Now that I’m getting even more involved in producing, I want to produce more and more. Especially working with upcoming new directors. It was great to get the chance of helping him putting it together and developing this project at Netflix so we could reach as big an audience as we could to tell this story; to connect with people in Brazil so we can recognize ourselves on TV. Not only part of society but everyone.
SW: Wow. That sounds like something I would be really interested in. Now you’re producing, you started acting at 19, you’ve done indies and blockbusters, and now have your own show. It really does seem like you can pretty much do anything at this point. I hate to even ask this question, but I am curious where would you see yourself in 10 years down the line? Producing more or acting? Or no idea?
AB: Hopefully acting a lot. It’s my big, big passion. I love acting. It’s funny because if you ask me what’s my favorite place in the world, I’d say a movie set. I love, love, love, being on set. I think it’s such a magical thing that this is a craft that we do together as a team. Each part is important and each part counts. You don’t do it if you don’t do it together. I love the energy of everyone creating as a team. So, I love acting. That’s my big passion. So, hopefully in 10 years from now, I would still be acting and also producing more and getting to know people and just developing. I think that’s my dream mainly to just keep on acting and just expand from within. Expand, but the core will be the acting part.
SW: That’s a perfect answer. Thank you so much for talking to us and congratulations on the new season of Queen of the South, and I wish you success on Las Bragas and New Mutants. Everything that’s coming down the road, just good luck!
AB: Thank you so much! Hopefully, we can talk again on the next project or something. It was really wonderful to talk to you. Best of luck to you guys!