The actor and the search for method
by Vitor Pinto
28/09/2005 - Nuno Lopes, 27 years old, made his acting debut in the theatre, a love which led him to work with directors as different as Luís Miguel Cintra, António Pires, Christine Laurent and Brigitte Jacques. In Portugal, his name is nonetheless indissociable with the comedy programmes in which he created burlesque characters and caricatures of reality TV participants. On the big screen, he starred in José Álvaro Morais’s Peixe Lua and in Jorge Silva Melo’s António, um rapaz de Lisboa, before undertaking his first foreign role in Christophe Honoré’s Ma Mère.
Cineuropa: What attracted you to the character?
Nuno Lopes: Mário is a multi-faceted character. It was a big challenge for me as he is on-screen from the first until the very last shot. The camera dogged his every footstep, something which required enormous self-restraint and accuracy in my performance. Afterwards, in discussions with the director, I understood that he wanted to make a film about obsession and solitude in the big city, subjects that interested me as well.
How did you approach the character? Did you get in touch with the family of the missing child, since the film was inspired by a real-life event that was widely publicised?
I met Filomena Teixeira, Rui Pedro’s mother. That was a key event in my preparations. In a certain way she made me realise that losing a son in such circumstances is a fate worse than death. Pre-production work with the director was equally intense. Both of us re-drafted the script, and conducted rehearsals. I wanted to show someone involved in a quest; not a person slipping into depression or about to die. Physically, I tried to take fatigue to the limits, lost weight and chose not to sleep much during the 3 months of the shooting, for the fatigue to work its way into me. But on the psychological level, I wanted to actually show the opposite, a person who never gives up.
Is the man obsessed or is this kind of active hope all he is left with?
I don’t think he sees himself as an obsessive. If your child has been kidnapped, you don’t really have a choice. In my opinion, one scene in particular just about sums up his state of mind. A friend says to him : "What if it turns out that Alice is no longer in Lisbon?", and he replies " What else could I do?". Unlike his spouse, Mário is a man who has lost all belief in the system, and so ends up creating his own world, an alternative system enabling him to go on living and fighting. We have this image of him as an obsessive because we are on the outside, never having experienced such a tragedy. Regardless, I think his behaviour is that of someone with hope in the future.
What did Alice do for you as an actor?
For me, the film was, in particular, the chance to improve my on-screen acting technique. It’s a special language, very different to television and the theatre. I found myself on the learning curve as, in my previous films, I had always disposed of precious little shooting time. I had never realised the extent to which films could be important for me. Alice made me want to continue learning that technique – I’m thinking of going to New York next year for further training – and to continue working in films.
After the rave reviews from Cannes, do you have any European co-productions in mind?
Not at the moment, although I would like to. My only experience of foreign filmmaking up to this point has been Ma Mère. It was only a small part but it gave me the chance to work with Isabelle Huppert, an actress who has got the cinema’s game plan down to a fine art.