Lúcia Moniz is the daughter of Azorean musicians, Carlos Alberto Moniz and Maria do Amparo. Apart from music, Lúcia has also developed a deep passion for theater and made several appearances on Portuguese TV and in theater. But it was in 2003 that she had her film breakthrough in Richard Curtis’ beloved blockbuster “Love Actually.” Between 2006 and 2008, Lucia took on leading roles in several musical productions directed by Filipe La Féria. In 2009, she appeared in the television series “Living in Your Car” produced by David Steinberg for HBO Canada, in a Portuguese co-production by beActive. A year later, she starred in the series “Maternidade” on RTP 1 and made her debut at the Portuguese National Theater D. Maria II, playing Stella in Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” directed by Diogo Infante. In 2013, she was part of the cast of “Conversations After a Burial” by Yasmina Reza, directed by Renato Godinho. In 2017, while still taking part in numerous television projects, she made a longed-for return to musical theater, starring in “Next to Normal” directed by Henrique and Nuno Feist, on stage for two seasons, at the Estoril Casino Auditorium and Teatro da Trindade in Lisbon. Since 2016, Lúcia has actively worked with the established theater company Palco 13 and has appeared in several productions such as Shakespeare’s “Richard II.” In January 2019, together with her brother, Paulo Quedas, she took the leap into directing with the play “The Adventures of John with No Fear.” That same year, she also starred in two international film co-productions, “Fatima” by Marco Pontecorvo and “Listen” by Ana Rocha de Sousa.
Ahead of the premiere of the aforementioned film by Ana Rocha de Sousa in the Orizzonti section of this year’s Venice Film Festival, Tara Karajica talks to Lúcia Moniz about her film career, women in film and her role in “Listen.”
You started as a singer. Then, you were acting on TV and dubbing and then in 2003 your break in film came with Love Actually. Can you talk about that switch?
Lúcia Moniz: Yeah, it was a big switch! I come from a family of musicians. My father’s a singer-songwriter, my grandfather was a pianist, my great grandfather was a violinist, my great great grandfather was a conductor and I ended up going to music school when I was five, so I was very much into music. I wasn’t forced to do that at all. It was just the genetics that did the work! I started having some connection with theater through music. My first step towards acting was through music – I was invited to write music for a children’s play and the director said: “If you want, I’d love you to sing these songs at the show” and I said: “Yes, I’d love to!” and then during rehearsals, he said: “Well, now, I can give you a line before you start singing and a line after you sing.” So, slowly, I started acting and I enjoyed those little opportunities so much that I felt I wanted to invest myself in that. So, slowly, I dubbed films with more singing, and Love Actually was my first time doing film. It was an audition that I was asked to do and, luckily, they were looking for someone that had my characteristics and that was the big push for me to realize: “OK, this is serious. I want to take this seriously. I want to be an actress.”
How did you get on board of Listen? What attracted you to this part?
L.M.: Well, I’ve known Ana [Rocha de Sousa], the director, for a long, long time. We met twenty years ago and she was still an actor. After that, we just grew apart because of jobs, family, life… Life is like that… She went away to study film and so we spent twenty years apart without knowing anything about one another. I’ve heard she was doing film, but we didn’t communicate or get in touch. But after those twenty years, she called me saying: “I have this script and I would like you to read it. I’m not going to tell you what it is about. I want you to read it and let me know your thoughts because I would like you to play this character.” So, I started reading and I think it was on page fifteen or sixteen or something like that and I was totally blown away by this script and I called her and I said: “I’m still on page fifteen, but I want to do this. I really want to be part of this message. Count on me.” So, this message of telling the world what’s going on, that these things still happen today and representing mothers who go through this, that’s what really got my attention. I didn’t even hesitate. I really wanted to be part of this.
How did you prepare for it? Was it hard to portray Bela and what was the biggest challenge in this particular performance?
L.M.: I started reading and mostly watching documentaries and getting all the information about these cases that happen. Then, after that, I started working my script with my therapist. It is something that I usually do. I take my characters to my therapist who does therapy to the character and to myself as well because it is a combination of both and I put a lot of myself in my characters. Every actor does. It’s a very interesting work and for this specific role, it was very, very important to understand this person, this mother; to understand her behaviors and make them authentic and true. That was big, big work with my therapist. And then, the exterior part was the last thing to do and get together, but basically the biggest challenge was to understand this person and to have it clear how this mother behaves in specific situations, the impulses, the weaknesses…
As a mother, has this role impacted you? If so, how?
L.M.: Of course, it has. I have a sixteen-year-old and it has, of course, a big, big impact because it doesn’t even go through my mind that social services can take away my daughter. It’s something that is NOT possible! It’s NOT going to happen! There’s no way that’s happening! So, playing this mother was very, very intense and I really felt this happening in my heart and in my stomach, but sometimes I would stop for a second and think: “I’m only doing a movie.” There are mothers who are actually going through this and it’s unbearable. It is unbearable. It has to be. My respect for them is huge and me having this chance to represent these women and these mothers is my duty and an honor. And I do hope I honor them.
Bela seems like she is losing it and not holding it together, but she actually is. She is like a lioness. But can you talk about how you see her?
L.M.: Wow! Thank you so much for your words, because I got all of that and the lioness that you mention! I can share with you that I actually watched lots of videos of mother lions with cubs – those nature documentaries and National Geographic. I watched a lot of animal involvement because I think, I believe and I know our animal instinct comes out. It is automatic. It is in our nature and our animal behavior just comes out and I think this woman is like that. She doesn’t think before she speaks. That’s why, in some situations, even though she’s right about it, she speaks before she thinks and she loses because it’s out. I did think a lot about this lioness feature you’re talking about and I thank you so much for saying that because it means that something came out of me and worked. But, at the same time, I tried to explore that and also the times that she’s so bitter from what’s happening to her that she falls and that’s how humans are. We’re not just strong or just weak. And I think Bela goes through all those stages.
How was it to work with Ana?
L.M.: It was amazing! As I’ve told you, I’ve known her for a long time, but I wasn’t aware of what she is as a director. I knew her as an actor and then, suddenly, it’s not like meeting a new person, but it’s like meeting something that I didn’t she had inside her. The way she directed and the way she was framing was so inspiring. I wouldn’t question her. I usually question a lot, but with her, of course, I did question little things, but I wasn’t doubting what she wanted to do, but just making sure that was what she wanted. Working with her was a great inspiration.
Can we go back to Love Actually just for a second? I see a parallel between the character of Aurelia and the character of Bela in terms of cultural differences, different cultural dynamics, the understanding, the adapting in the countries they have emigrated to – being a Portuguese woman in France or in the UK. Would you agree with that assumption?
L.M.: I have never thought of that, actually. I think they’re so different, but I understand your point and I think it goes through or crosses all the immigrant situations, which are: you are or you are not welcome in the country that you have decided to live in. I think the biggest struggle is when you don’t feel welcome and the adaptation is harder and we push ourselves, but we shouldn’t because we should be proud to be from our own country and show off our culture. We really try to adapt to their culture, which also makes sense, but sometimes it’s something so forced in order to be accepted. And I think maybe more in Bela than in Aurelia – Aurelia doesn’t speak English or French and she lives in France and she’s like: “I speak Portuguese, I’m sorry! – that’s probably the parallel.
What was your favorite role and how much of you is there in every character you play? Do you manage to dissociate your own persona from the characters you’re playing? I know you’ve said now that there is a part of you in every character, but can you elaborate?
L.M.: Oh, yeah, totally! Sometimes, I think I can explore more my wild side or my shy side or my mean side. As a person, I have these doses of every mood or behavior and another character that has been given to me has the same moods but on different levels, so it’s more like that that I try to play because I end up always putting a lot of myself. The biggest challenge, I think, is when the character thinks totally the opposite of the way you think or has different political positions or a different mentality. That is the biggest challenge – that in a way I have to try to understand that side, which I don’t agree or identify with to make that character true and believable. That’s the biggest challenge, I think. I can’t name you my favorite character, honestly. When I’m doing a film or theater, I’m so focused on what I’m doing at the moment that at that moment, that’s the most important character in my whole career.
There has been a lot of talk in the past almost three years about women in film. What is your opinion on that? How is it in Portugal?
L.M.: Oh! In Portugal, it’s not happening that easily. We still have a loooong way to go. Actually, I’m so happy that two Portuguese women directors are selected for the Venice Film Festival this year and there are just a few of them in Portugal. There are way more men. So, it is a great achievement to have two women selected at this year’s Venice Film Festival.
What are your next projects?
L.M.: Now, I don’t have any projects. It’s more of a life project. I mean, coming back to normal life after the pandemic. Professionally, I don’t have anything coming up. Hopefully, soon…