Interview: Paulo Gonçalves Photography: Frederico Martins
Today she is one of the best-known faces on Portuguese television. But just who is Filomena Cautela? Presenter, actress, comedienne. What passions and causes move her?
Do you always feel more comfortable when you are given space to be creative?
I only feel comfortable like that. That’s why I feel so uncomfortable doing photo shoots (laughs). I am only comfortable like this, and I think that if I have ever achieved anything in my career it is this. It’s having the privilege of people trusting me to create.
And what part of the girl from Morangos com Açucar is still with you?
You know, know matter how hard I scrub, it never comes off. It’s horrible. Not even bicarbonate will do. So, what is still with me? I think I maintain a little of the responsibility for what this profession is. I think that when I started working I was very aware of what this craft is, whether working as an actor, whether working… Working in front of a camera means that lots of people are going to have access to what that lens is capturing. And I have always had a sense of responsibility in relation to that. And before, I had a lot more. Now I know I can push things and push the envelope here and there, but there are still many limits to what I do, and I am aware of the responsibility that comes with being here.
Television is often, or almost always, quite cruel, in particular in respect of women and age. Is that so mething that worries you?
Just looking at my wrinkles will show you that I don’t (laughs). If I did, you wouldn’t see them. I think television is cruel and the public is cruel to women, and particularly cruel to women as they age – much more so than compared to men. There’s no comparison.
Why do you think this is?
It’s cultural. It is absolutely cultural. A man like Richard Gere, who has grey hair and wrinkles, is seen as a charming stud. A woman with grey hair and wrinkles is just old. And there’s a kind of… when suddenly, even as an actress, when you start to show a few wrinkles you can’t even get cast as the aunt. I don’t know what roles are left. It’s very limited. It’s very cruel. As for me, I think I want to keep my face as long as I can. I have no qualms whatsoever. I’m scared of needles, which is a shame, because otherwise I would have had Botox on my eye lashes if I could. But I really am afraid of needles, so I’ve never had any work like that done. That being said, I have nothing but respect for those who do, because it is very, very cruel to be on television and be constantly judged by the public. It is much more cruel than photo shoots, which is why it scares me so much.
Actress, presenter, comedienne. In which role are you most comfortable?
Look, I’m comfortable as an actress. I mean, I have always worked as an actress, and continue to work as one, although perhaps in less mainstream roles. So perhaps people don’t have that idea. And I feel very comfortable as a presenter. I was very concerned about the precarious nature of the profession when I started working. I would always worry whether or not there would be a cheque at the end of the month and if the re would be money to buy food. I did not enjoy that at all. And so the idea that I can be a television presenter, to use my acting experience to present television while also having the good fortune to be able to pick and choose my acting jobs is just wonderful.
You have been loyal, and are loyal to public service. Is it fair to say that Filomena Cautela is a woman of causes?
I don’t know if I am a woman of causes, although I was a woman of causes with a machine gun, who sprayed bullets in all directions. Now I know how to focus. I know that when we work in public service we have both the right and the obligation to understand that people are watching us, so the content we provide cannot be hollow: it cannot be meaningless. My charm is not enough.
We have the right and the obligation…
I don’t know if I’m a woman of causes, but I do know that nowadays we have access to a vast amount of information on our phones, often from very unreliable sources, produced by liars and manipulators. So those of us who work in public service have a duty to surround ourselves with reliable sources, with people to work hard to tell the truth, to tell truths that can change people’s lives. We’re not in a very good place in this world just now, we’re really not. We are walking towards a catastrophe with our eyes open… We all know what is happening with climate change; we all know what is happening with economic inequality. We all know, and we just have to live with it, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to get up in the morning without throwing our selves out the window. So, if we are privileged enough to be able to think about it, and if we don’t have ten children and work a minimum wage job; if we are in a position to be able to think about what is happening, then we also have an obligation to try to move things in a slightly better direction.
I was thinking about asking you if there are any boundaries to humour. But I will rephrase the question: is it possible to use humour to defend certain causes?
I certainly do not agree that comedy should only deal with important topics. There is a place for comedy where the sole purpose is to make people laugh. Laughter is good. It is therapeutic. It’s good for you; it’s important, so it is therefore a very good thing. I believe that in my line of work there are many people who are very funny, who do comedy very well. In Portugal we are fortunate to have comedians who are very good at making people laugh. I’ve managed to find a place where the programmes I dedicate myself to now can make people laugh.
In one of your most recent programmes, Programa Cautelar, you got lots of praise, but also came in for some criticism. Are they two sides of the same coin?
It’s funny, because it was one of the few shows I’ve done where the criticism to praise ratio was so very disparate that I am unable to answer yes. And that’s for one simple reason: because it was really divergent, because I think the feedback was ridiculously positive. It would be cynical to say otherwise. I have done other projects where I received a lot of criticism. So they are two sides of the same coin. When we are in front of the camera and have a public profile, it is clear that we are walking into the lion’s den. And nowadays, unfortunately, anyone with an internet connection can say anything they want about you. People are allowed to be cruel and mean, and sometimes even criminal in the way they express themselves.