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Actress Sonia Braga stars in 'Aquarius' -- a serious Oscar contender

This Nov. 11, 2016 photo shows Brazilian actress Sonia Braga during an interview about her new film, "Aquarius," in New York. Braga plays a widow and retired music critic reluctant to sell the seaside apartment that holds her most cherished memories. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

This Nov. 11, 2016 photo shows Brazilian actress Sonia Braga during an interview about her new film, "Aquarius," in New York. Braga plays a widow and retired music critic reluctant to sell the seaside apartment that holds her most cherished memories. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)  (AP)

While female actors are fighting for more and better roles in Hollywood, Sonia Braga got the part of her life at 66 in Kleber Mendonça Filho's "Aquarius".

The Brazilian star is getting rave reviews for her portrayal of Clara, a widow and retired music critic reluctant to sell the seaside apartment that holds her most cherished memories. "Ms. Braga is a living embodiment of the glories of Brazilian cinema," said The New York Times. "A breathtakingly intuitive actress, she's beautifully aged into an aristocratically sensual physicality, and makes Clara's firmness mingle with tenderness," said Variety.

"When I got the screenplay it was one of the most beautiful gifts I was getting in my whole life," Braga told The Associated Press in a recent interview in New York, where she lives. "I was reading the best screenplay that I ever read. Every word made sense. Scene to scene made sense to me, through the end."

On top of that, "Kleber was giving me a movie that I was going to do in my mother tongue after 20 years working in the United States, I was going to be speaking in Portuguese again," she said. "I called him immediately. Well, I didn't call him IMMEDIATELY because I had to breathe before I could call."

"Aquarius " debuted last May at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was the only Latin American production competing for the Palm d'Or, and was recently nominated for an Independent Spirit Award. Although many considered it a natural contender for the foreign film Oscar, Brazil submitted David Schurmann's "Little Secret" instead, reportedly because of the "Aquarius" cast's protest against the interim administration of Brazil's Michel Temer at Cannes.

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Braga said she and her cast-mates had no regrets about the protest and that she would do it over again without question. As Mendonça Filho put it, "Aquarius," which had a limited U.S. release in October and is still opening in different cities around the country, represents Brazil, regardless.

Braga talks more about the film, and her life:

AP: In the film Clara has gone through a lot, including breast cancer, yet she can be as subtle as strong. How was it to play such a complex character?

Braga: Clara and I would come from different places: she is academic, I am intuitive; she has a family and I'm not married, I don't have kids. So we had a lot to negotiate, but the basics of the character, it was there. So we're talking, Clara and I, but at the same time we are commemorating this opportunity that Kleber was giving us to play this for the audiences.

AP: Kleber said you were very generous with the cast and crew and that you were delighted to work with non-actors.

Braga: He said, "Sonia, there's something that I need to tell you: sometimes I work with non-actors". And I said, "Really? That's fantastic! Because I'm not an actress either!" He said, "What do you mean?" ''I'm scared of rehearsals, I'm scared of doing all this because I don't feel like I'm an actress. I never went to school for actors, I'm not academic, as a matter of fact academic actors intimidate me a little bit, so you are gonna work with people!" The way I see it, I belong to the film as any other department. I like visual arts, and what I love doing is participating in the making of it.

AP: It is very refreshing to see an actress leading in her 60s. Do you hope it will open the doors to more and better female roles?

Braga: Well, the doors are there, and they closed. A reporter told me it is very rare to see a woman of my age in the movies. Right! In the movies! But they have been for so long in very serious and important positions in life: scientists, prime ministers, candidates to be the president. ... There is a barrier with the languages also, and with the accents as well. Today we find many actors, they are Latin, they are Hispanic, they are living in the Unites States, they are American, but very rarely you find them in a lead role.

AP: It is evident from the movie how comfortable you feel in your own skin.

Braga: I did things in the movie that I usually don't do and that had a little anxiety about: I had to sing and I can't sing, unfortunately. I can't play the piano, and I cannot swim. But sex, I think I've been there before (laughs.) It's not so difficult to do. ... To be naked or even making love in a scene to me is very important if this is a movie about a couple or sensuality. It's a sort of moralism to think that this shouldn't be seen in the film. When was it that people decided as a society that your body is in one place and your sexuality in another place, something like a hat, or a coat, that when you leave home you hang it and when you come back home you say, "Ah! Let's wear my sexuality! I might wear it tonight"? It is something that belongs to your body. Women at my age they are making love, they are feeling sensual, they flirt, they have boyfriends, they have a sexual life. They are just not being represented in the movies.

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