Interview with Lúcia Moniz

Interview: Cláudia Pinto
Photo: Frederico Martins

Roaming the land that we feel is our own, glimpsing a street and reliving family history in every corner, even those unknown to our own eyes.
Feeling the pavement like a close companion. Breathing in the air of home. Our home. Our land. Our place.

Lúcia. Only her first name, as she is known in this land. In her land. A daughter of the island, “one of ours.” She talks about Terceira and her eyes sparkle with their own light, carrying us back to her childhood memories. She always knew that art would be her future. She didn’t know which kind, but she knew that in art she would be happy. She’s the talk of the world with Listen, directed by Ana Rocha, Portugal’s candidate for the Oscars. Which (interestingly) will broadcast the winners around the world on 25 April. Highly symbolic for Portugal. She has three films ready for release.

Through the eyes of Lúcia Moniz we discover her Terceira, her dreams, her projects and the things words can’t explain. This is Lúcia.

Portuguese soul. Roots. Soul. We couldn’t be in a better place.

Absolutely. Being here today, taking photos here on the island… it makes sense to record memories here. It’s a kind of continuity.


During this phase of my life I’ve returned to my roots. For many reasons, I like to demonstrate how I am. I didn’t want to be photographed just because, but rather in an environment and in a space of which I am a part. It’s the place.

You have a very strong connection to this island…

Yes. The blood running through my veins is Terceira blood. I also have a little of S. Miguel (laughs). There’s some friendly rivalry between the islands: we say we have blood from S. Miguel, but quietly. I was born in Lisbon, but my early childhood was spent here.

People here treat you like a daughter of the land

I feel like I’m from here, but having the support of people from here, who recognise I’m from here, regardless of the time I lived in Lisbon, is wonderful. Some years ago I released a photography book, and one of the chapters was dedicated to the island and the people of Terceira. I was walking around taking pictures of the island and I stopped in a hunting area where I found a cabin with some hunters. I asked if I could photograph them and they invited me to sit down with them. One of them was from the mainland and he asked me “what are you doing here in the Azores?” And the other hunter quickly said “Well, she’s from here. This is her land.”

On Victoria beach I feel like I’m the granddaughter of Alberto and Aida and the daughter of Maria do Amparo and Carlos Alberto and I just happen to do a few things on the mainland. Here, being a public figure is secondary. If I didn’t feel this sense of belonging, it would have been difficult to come here all this time. Terceira is my safe port, my refuge. And during quarantine I thought: why is it my escape? Why don’t I do the exact opposite? I live where I feel good, and I go to Lisbon to work. I prioritise what is really worthwhile.

The pandemic helped with this decision

Yes, we’ve had a lot of time to think. Too much, even (laughs). You think, this is really my home? Why not pose this kind of question to begin with… where do I really feel happy?

You always knew that music and art would be your life.

Music, regardless of how it’s experienced, will always be part of my life. I didn’t know I was going to earn a living by it… but when I was thirteen or fourteen years old (I’d already attended a music school since the age of five) and I thought that I didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of these musicians and that I wanted to pursue art, I ended up going to study visual arts and I also did two years of graphic design… until one day I walked onstage by myself — to perform music at the 1996 Festival da Canção — and it was very enjoyable to walk onto that stage. I felt very good in front of an audience and I wanted to do more.

The performance happened randomly, but interestingly it ended up having the same effect. I was getting smaller roles, but it started to be something so special that I wanted to do more. I had my first experience of cinema with the film Love Actually and it was a fundamental shift towards my stepping out as an actress, although at the beginning I had trouble calling myself that. Everything I built technically was always derived from experience.

Indeed, going back further. I dreamed of being a classical ballerina when I was little. I love classical ballet. I had a family who opened doors for me in that direction; everything has to do with education, what we have at home.

Speaking of education, you have a dream of setting up an innovative project in that area. Do you believe it’s essential to show artistic young people that there’s a place for them?

More important than that… is to explain the fundamental role of the arts in the life of the entire population. Beginning with education, the tools that the arts provide, mainly to young people when they’re in the phase of constructing their identity. Stemming from the arts are freedom of expression and thought, a structure for developing a critical spirit… The arts are essential to every person’s personal development and should be present in every child’s education.

Every year you “enter” our homes with “Love Actually”… how was the experience? And how do you view the film now and understand you’re in a classic?

It was incredible. And it’s incredible to be part of a classic (laughs).

Nobody expected the film would have that impact. The film was actually released at Christmas because it involves the Christmas period, but I never thought that after seventeen years it would still be considered the classic movie we watch today.

Everything started with castings in Portugal and I was chosen from among 25 actresses. The entire experience was marvellous. I learned a huge amount and encountered an incredible reality and great actors, such as Colin Firth.

Do you still keep in touch?

Yes, with Colin Firth and Bill Nighy. I speak to Emma Thompson now and then. There was a reunion two or three years ago and it was wonderful. We were all urging the author to write a sequel. But he didn’t want to (laughs). I sincerely believe we wanted to do a second film, because of how pleasant it was to be back together.

It’s inevitable that we will talk about Listen. Did you say yes to Ana’s offer right away?

Yes! In fact, I was reading page twelve and I called her to say “I want to do this.” She sent me a message on Instagram (we hadn’t seen each other or spoken in twenty years) to say that she had a script, her first feature film, and that she’d like me to read it and play a character. I didn’t know what I was going to get, it could have been anything.

I began reading and there was something up to that page that was so strong… the strength of the characters, the weight and urgency of the subject, the quality of the writing (the quality of the writing is unbelievable from the very first page).

I didn’t resist, I sent Ana a message saying “Look, I’m only at page twelve, but I want to do this.” I read to the end and it was just confirmation that this was a great script and I felt privileged and honoured that Ana had chosen me to play this role. It’s not just my responsibility to play this mother well as she has been created: real and raw. It’s my responsibility to represent mothers who are going through this. That was the weight of my responsibility. To be compelling and have any mother going through this feel represented and as if they have a voice.

Do you think this weight and this urgency have made the film so successful?

I think so, but not just those aspects. It’s a combination of various things. If Ana didn’t display artistry, in how she depicted the story, it probably wouldn’t have had this reaction.

Which is one or two of the various factors that give the film this need for urgency… or our perception that this might exist and what we can do so it doesn’t exist?

Yes. It goes to all those places. Ana deserves a huge amount of credit. This whole story and this subject, if approached poorly, sensationalised to the maximum extent possible, would probably be repellent and provoke a bad reaction. One of Ana’s various preferences was that the interpretation had to be real, raw, with no filters whatsoever, no poetry at all, and that was also a challenge for me. I dealt with some acting challenges (addictions, places) that only I was aware of.

You did a great deal of preparation

Yes, I did. Having time to prepare is essential. I had a lot of time to get ready and make mistakes while trying to prepare. There were various phases, starting with researching the subject, which was always very much channelled into the fathers and mothers. I worked with my therapist on the script in order to explore the state of shock, trauma and struggle because of a loss. This was fundamental, working with my therapist and not any other therapist, with her knowing that I’m the one playing the role, how I’m going to do this and return to “myself” without damage.

How do you return “without damage”?

It’s very important to return “without damage”. You can go there and return and know how to put everything in its proper place.

What happens is much worse than in the film.

Do you think cinema has this duty to warn?

Of course. It has the duty to entertain. How many times have you gone to see a film so as not to think? The fantastic tool that art possesses is able, through a movement or an artistic expression, to send a warning or convey a message, a cry for attention and information.

And you want people to see this and find out

Yes. It was something I said repeatedly to Ana and Ruben. I just hoped the world would know that this film existed. Not thinking about awards.

How was Venice?

It was unbelievable. Something most unexpected but desired at the same. When it becomes reality, when suddenly there’s unending applause, people on their feet… (silence)

We cried a lot, Ana, my daughter, Ruben… it was an unbelievable emotion. One of the organisers came to us and said “get ready, because this doesn’t happen with every film, this means something. This means a lot.”

The hug my daughter and I shared was one of the most beautiful, unique and unbelievable things. First, because for the first time she saw her mother on a gigantic screen in front of an international audience. And then because the story had a very powerful impact on her. At the end of the movie she told me “I hope we never split up because I couldn’t handle it.”

A lot of people talk about the impact on parents who lose their children and children being taken away from their parents. But the parents are also taken away from their children. I heard someone talking who isn’t a mother and she was saying “this film affected me immensely” and someone said “but you’re not a mother, you don’t even know…” And she said “but I am a daughter.” Taking children away from their parents is so against nature, like children being without parents. I think the same about death… it’s against nature for a child to die before their parent. But it’s the same when a father or a mother dies while the child is still at an age when they need them.

You will wear a carnation if you go to the Oscars. Why?

Because 25 April is very important to me. Not just because of what it means to the country, but because of its significance. I come from a generation that fought for this, that gave its heart and soul, that took action. My parents walked around the country playing “resistance music”, resisting the regime and risking everything. Above all, it’s a way of paying tribute.

And the future?

Right now I have three films that are about to be released: Fátima, Sombra and Amadeo. The first is about the apparitions at Fátima, the second is about the disappearance of Rui Pedro and the last film is about Amadeo Souza Cardoso.

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