Alba Baptista, born in Lisbon, Portual, is a Portuguese-Brazilian actress. She began her career at the age of sixteen as the main character in Simão Cayatte’s short film “Miami.” For her performance in this film, she received the Best Actress Award at the Festival Ibérico de Ciné. She followed this up with roles in three Portuguese TV series as well as a notable film career. She has been cast in films such as “Caminhos Magnétykos” by Edgar Pêra, “Equinócio,” by Ivo Ferreira, Marco Pontecorvo’s “Fatima” opposite Harvey Keitel, Sônia Braga and Joana Ribeiro, and Gonçalo Waddington’s directorial debut, “Patrick,” which premiered in Competition at the 2019 San Sebastián Film Festival. In 2020, she was cast as the lead in the Netflix series “Warrior Nun,” her first fully English-speaking role. Her performance has garnered international acclaim and the series has recently been renewed for a second season. Her most recent leading role is opposite Isabelle Huppert and Lesley Manville in the adaptation of Paul Gallico’s much-loved novel, “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris,” directed Anthony Fabian. To round out her exciting year, Alba made the list of IMDb’s Top 10 Breakout Stars of 2020.
Ahead of the 2021 European Shooting Stars Awards Ceremony on Monday 14 June during the Berlinale Summer Special, Tara Karajica talks to Alba Baptista about being an actress, a European Shooting Star, women in film and her next projects.
What made you want to become an actress?
Alba Baptista: It happened by chance when I was fifteen. I was invited to an audition for a leading role in a film where the director simply asked me existentialist questions. He wanted to understand how my mind worked and processed philosophical information. This approach made me fall in love with the idea of acting. To discover new realities and possibilities at the reach of my own mind. To be in control of foreign emotions. To simultaneously hide myself while giving myself fully. It still mesmerizes me to this day. Probably will my entire life.
You made your English language debut in Netflix’s Original series, Warrior Nun, based on the manga of the same name about the fight between angels and demons in an alternative world, with badass nuns and voracious demons and plotting clergymen. Can you elaborate on that?
A.B.: Apart from it being an action and fantasy show, it’s a plot about female empowerment. How girls, women, are stronger together. I’m proud of representing this mentality alongside my amazing cast members.
Portraying the character of Ava, the Warrior Nun, earned you a place on the ImDb Top 10 Breakout Stars of 2020 list. Can you talk about that character? How do you see Ava? Are you anything like her?
A.B.: Ava is a girl who became a quadriplegic orphan when she was a child. Having lived in an orphanage imprisoned in her own body most of her life, she is determined to live fully once she gets a second chance at life after resurrecting. She is a child in the body of a now young woman. She is direct, unfiltered and pure. I see her as a shooting star – no pun intended! Wherever she goes, everyone sees and recognizes her light. But she goes as quickly as she has come, never settling for one place, for there is always something new to discover.
How have you prepared for this role? What drew you to it?
A.B.: Apart from the physical preparation with the stunt department, I did a lot of research on the quadriplegic condition and on the original manga, Areala. What mostly drew me to Ava was her ever so present and outer inner child. She acts out of impulse and purity, just like children. This was so fun to connect to during the shoot. To simply remove my “adult” filter and embrace my silliness. Not taking myself too seriously was something this character reminded me of for my personal life.
You have acted in TV and in film. Which one do you prefer? Why?
A.B.: Both are important learning platforms, but ideally I would continue pursuing cinema. There’s usually more preparation time and perhaps even more attention to detail while shooting. It’s more subjective and personal, generally speaking. In television, we’re more prone to follow the plot and the script; in film, we usually adapt to the director’s perspective and have the space to create more of our own away from the script.
How do you pick a role? Which one is your favorite, if any?
A.B.: It truly depends on the script. Any script that’s character-driven and not especially plot-prioritized, I’m usually more attracted to. If it makes my belly tingle, that’s a good sign. I’d like to try everything at least once, though. As long as it’s challenging and fun.
What does being a European Shooting Star mean for your career and how do you think it will impact it?
A.B.: I think it’s a huge milestone for all of the Shooting Stars’ careers. It represents a step toward the right direction and a reinforcement of growth. I already felt a personal impact by having felt a validation for my work that led me to be amongst such amazing European actors with different paths and experiences.
What does it take to be a star, according to you?
A.B.: Hard work. One has to be fully dedicated, with a lot of self-discipline and motivation, be our own businesswomen, not lose focus of our goals and always remain grateful and with our feet on the ground.
There has been a lot of talk about women in film these past three years. What do you make of the situation of women in film? How is the situation in Portugal?
A.B.: It’s evolving in Portugal. For many years, female characters have mostly existed to complement the male leading parts, but things are slowly yet surely shifting. The new age of Portuguese filmmakers is bringing new signatures and rules to our cinema, which is really exciting to witness.
Who is your favorite female filmmaker? Is there one you would love to work with?
A.B.: I adore Sofia Coppola. It would be an absolute dream to work and create with her. I resonate with her gaze as a director and a woman. Her works inspired me to start writing and to not be afraid of my ideas.
I understand your next project is a leading role in an adaptation of Paul Gallico’s novel, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, by Anthony Fabian, opposite Isabelle Huppert and Lesley Manville. Can you talk about it? What else do you have in the pipeline?
A.B.: It’s a beautiful movie about the Dior House at its peak in the 1950s. Lesley Manville is our lead and leader in this story. It’s a feel-good, aesthetically satisfying, loving story of a widowed woman who dares to follow her dreams and inspires others to do the same. It’s an inspirational tale. I’m preparing to shoot Warrior Nun Season 2 during the next four months, which I’m very happy about. I have another very exciting project brewing for the end of the year that I can’t reveal just yet, but I can’t wait to!
Photo credit: Justin Amorim.
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