Interview with Albano Jerónimo

The larger than life actor

Interview: Cláudia Pinto
Photo: Frederico Martins

He keeps the shoes of some of the characters he plays, like someone who keeps a photograph or a fingerprint. The characters are more than just an interpretation, they become contexts, with stories, that he absorbs as if they are his own. He says to live permanently with fear enables him to grow. To be larger than life was the challenge Tiago Guedes faced with his character in “A Herdade” (The Domain). A film of silences that has sounded international alarms. Following the Venice and Toronto festivals and after being chosen to represent Portugal at the Oscars, the film won the best director award in Ireland, with Albano also winning the best actor award at the Dublin International Film Festival.
In October the actor appeared as the protagonist in Netflix’s new series, The One, after playing the Greek leader, Euphemius in The Vikings on HBO. In the week we met Albano, HBO premiered “The Domain” as a miniseries, and the ArtFrance channel announced it was going to show the film in episodes.
We went to meet this larger than life character.

You say you keep the shoes of the characters you play. Why?

Feet don’t lie. No matter how much you immerse your self and work on a script or character, the shoes are marked. They are like fingerprints. That is why I keep them. I kept the boots from my professional debuts, in Casa Conveniente, David Mamet, A Floresta. I have also kept them from some films.

The Domain has won a number of awards at several festivals. What do you think made this film resonate internationally?

One of the things this film did was achieve a balance between arthouse and cinema that communicates with the viewer. This balance was often difficult, and Portuguese cinema is often accused of being very closed and inward looking. The Domain balanced both of these. It is also a Portuguese story, about our culture, which very few people know. The way it is told, the way it was filmed… created a dramaturgical web that has been recognised. The film received a three-and-a-half minute standing ovation from complete strangers at its international premier at the Venice Film Festival. These people connected with the object, with the film. It was a striking moment.

I think that this balance, our culture and Tiago Guedes’s masterful way of directing actors, Janeco’s photography, Roberto Perpignani’s editing and the production by Paulo Branco of Leopardo Filmes, was an atypical union. It was a special moment; something that does not happen often. And we often return to this happiness: the film is full of this union and this way of working.

This cultural connection happens with a Portuguese audience because they know a 25 April that is different from that which is often portrayed. But how does an international audience connect with this story?

It is mostly the story of a family. How they adapt, or don’t adapt, to change and how this influences the relationships between people. It is a film about people. It portrays characters; imperfect people in imperfect bodies. And it is in this imperfection that we discover signs of humanity. The film is a communication vehicle that is close to the knuckle.

Tiago Guedes said you were the obvious choice to play João, the main character in The Domain. How was this protagonist presented to you?

It was presented to me with film references and buzzwords that struck fear into me: “you will play a character that is larger than life”. An I thought: “Okay, how can I do this?” And day in, day out, I started going over it with my colleagues. It was a combination of fear and an almost joyful desire to embrace this work. I had never played the protagonist in a film, and it’s completely different to have control over the filming. When you are the protagonist you are the main thread within the story and, as an actor, this presents you with an incredible opportunity to shape the work, to re-establish the relationship with the director in a new way. That’s why being the protagonist is so appealing: it gives you more freedom, a different kind of confidence that lets you go further.

There is a cult of silence in The Domain that creates a cult of strength that can be seen in your character’s relationship with his son…

Absolutely. There is also cowardice and an inability to communicate our deepest feelings. In this film we build a soundtrack of silence, we work on a subtext that was not there but which came to the surface through our bodies.

And to this cult of silence and of strength, we added cowardice and an inability to communicate. A counterpoint to this larger than life man, this leader, this owner of an enormous estate.

We start out empathising with this character, but that fades as the film takes us through the years…

We wanted to give the viewer an opportunity to create a story within our story. I think this was a very clever choice by Tiago and Roberto Perpignani… Bringing to the surface what was not there, avoiding the obvious. We wanted to create a space into which the viewer could enter.

Hence the length of the film: it was a way of going against the times. We live surrounded by screens and endless windows on our phones and computers. Se we wanted to give the viewer a chance to buy a ticket and enter into another pace and another way of absorbing reality.

The Domain premiered on HBO and is to be released as a series on Netflix after Vikings. To what extent have these platforms changed the traditional cinema paradigm?

The way of making cinema, especially American cinema, has become saturated. When speaking about people, we have to turn to European cinema. And what these platforms give is… is content. While North American cinema is fantastic, it is much more immediate, fleet of foot, it is only for consumption. And these platforms pique our desire for knowledge and our ability to connect with people through relationships.

And how will cinema respond?

I think what goes around comes around. These platforms will force cinema to respond, because there are very few North American films that make us stop and think…

What is Portuguese cinema missing?

Money. Investment in culture is not continuous. Our reaction to this pandemic has shown us what is happening in our country, where the state has washed its hands of its link to public service and to offering the people thoughtful culture. And cinema, like theatre, is suffering from a lack of support. We have so many talented directors, incredible raw material, we do so much with so little.

Was your background in theatre essential for your career?

Undoubtedly. We are talking about three or four shows that I did each year and which were internationally determinant. For example, the director of Vikings told me at a meeting: “I know you are a theatre actor and I’m content. I know everything will be fine.” I was reassured.

Theatre is a unique expression, the body works in a different way, communication flows in a different way, the way you connect with people is different, and I also learned a great deal. I still much prefer acting in the theatre. The maturity of the work is greater. Moreover, theatre is primordial. For basic vocal reasons, how do you connect with the audience there? Your body is always visible.

Did you start out in amateur theatre?

At the age of 15, in the Esteiros theatre group in Alhandra. It all began out of love, devotion and an intense curiosity. It is a way of always confronting my fears. Because when you are in those circles, when you are afraid: do you go out or not? If you go out, you have to face your fears. From a very early age I learned to face my fears, because that is what helps me grow.

In my company, Teatro Nacional 21, we are currently developing an online project. Naturally, there is a fear associated with this experience. It is not theatre, but even so we have gone ahead with a text based on the word. How will it get an audience? Fear is a spring and a trigger for something more.

You use fear when creating your characters?

Yes, always. I believe in contexts, in stories, much more than in characters. It is the stories that can define a character. But I also believe fear is inherent to the artistic condition.

Why do you think you are an imperfect actor?

Because I have limitations. Because I am always trying to improve and believe I will always improve, right up to the day I die. Imperfection and fear are sensations I always want to overcome.

In October, the show “The One”, in which you are the protagonist, comes to Netflix. How did this come about?

It is not the first time I have worked on international productions. I was chosen for HBO’s Vikings through an initiative called Passaporte, which introduced me to the show’s director. In Venice, when showing The Domain, and then when I won the best actor award at the Dublin International Film Festival I ended up with an international agent. I began auditioning for major series, mainly in British Netflix.

I am only now beginning to realise what this experience was and what is happening. I arrived at Netflix with a self-taping session, and at the end me and two other actors were called for a final in person audition. It was one afternoon. I was there in London, with all my fears and limitations, with a lot of homework. Two days later they called to tell me I got the job. It was incredible. I spent six months filming in Tenerife, London, Bristol and Newport. It is going to be a very interesting story.

What does it give us? Greater freedom and more confidence in what we do. It is a luxury. Not because of the international aspect, but as a life experience.

And how do your fears get in here?

You train the fears. Above all, I believe in work. I am making my way.

And the series…

My character is a Portuguese called Mathiew. This science fiction series is about a group of scientists who create a DNA test that can find your perfect partner. Basically, it is possible to use blood to find a person’s life partner…

And the future?

Like Mário Branco, I believe my future is now. I find it difficult to think about the future, but I like to pursue it. I believe in day-to-day work to create this future.

I have projects and ambitions. In addition to the Teatro Nacional 21 project, I am going to make a film, L’Enfant, which is about the Catholic religion. Right after that I will be making a film about Fernando Pessoa.

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