Alba Baptista is yet another example of a successful Portuguese actress in Hollywood. Be it the fantasy of the Warrior Nun series, roles in Portuguese independent cinema or major European productions, nobody can take their eyes off her.
The first time we saw her on the silver screen, she was still a teenager. It was in Justin Amorin’s Leviano, which premiered in 2018, despite having been filmed some time before. Alba Baptista was a nymph with a tragic Lolita-like aura. The transition from that to the main character in Warrior Nun (a Netflix series to be broadcast next spring), wasn’t just the next step, but rather the consecration of this 22-year-old actress, whose ascension has been as speedy as it has been deserved. It’s rare for anyone to have such a film gene, to make such a strong impression on the camera… Alba has this, as well as a capacity for transformation: from transmitting a young girl’s fragility in Edgar Pêra’s Caminhos Magnétykos, to the sensuality expressed in Flutuar, a short film by Artur Serra Araújo.
Those that can’t be explained. It occurred in Simão Cayatte’s short film Miami, five years ago. It was one of those times when an actor is performing and is totally in the zone. I forgot where I was. Suddenly, I heard ‘cut’ and reconnected, looked around and I could feel that vibe. It was then that I realised I was born for this. Those moments don’t always happen in cinema, it’s rare…”. Alba is in Lisbon, on one of her stops, waiting for the call to start promoting Warrior Nun globally.
She knows that fame is something she’ll have to deal with, but she’s losing no sleep over it. Currently with one foot in Hollywood and the other in Portugal, her main concern is gaining more experience. She attended the ACT acting school in Lisbon, while working in soap operas. “At first, I was a bit naïve regarding the film industry. I saw these experiences as something developmental and I never wanted to impose limits on myself. For example, there was a time when I couldn’t even finish my course and chose to work. I’ve always felt that I’ve been developing. Theory doesn’t work very well with me; I’ve always felt that everything was too rigid. Like when I was doing a scene. I did what I was supposed to do and not what I felt. I’m not an actress who likes to study, I always prefer to feel, react in the moment”, she emphasises.
An actress with cinematic grace, her artistic peak might be Patrick, a psychological drama by Gonçalo Waddington, which premieres this first quarter in selected European countries. Alba plays a young woman who returns to Portugal to meet her cousin, a boy whose identity is in limbo, after being kidnapped for child pornography, a difficult subject treated with great sensitivity. The scenes with Alba and the Portuguese-French actor Hugo Fernandes are unusually disturbing.
Not having that theoretical bent, she mentions a wish that seems rather unlikely to come true, considering how busy her professional life is now. “I’m thinking of studying philosophy or psychology, which I think applies to my work as an actress, but, more importantly, would be good for me. They’re subjects that are good for the mind, even if it’s to discover other worlds.” She also believes travelling can do the same for her: “When I’ve got free time, I travel! If I can do voluntary work or a retreat, even better”. Perhaps it’s because of this detachment that she believes that doing films offers an escape from the rule: “The greatest pleasure I get from acting is schizophrenia. It’s not looking at myself on screen, on the contrary: cinema is being able to forget about me and go with the flow. It might sound corny, but that’s what’s magical for me. Also, a good actor is a good colleague: I always want someone else to shine to give me something.”
Cinematic glamour, photo sessions, red-carpet events and the perks of being a star are already part of her life. Last year, she dazzled audiences with Caminhos Magnétykos at the Rotterdam Festival and with Patrick at San Sebastián. Now, with Warrior Nun, the level of exposure will bring even more global consequences. Alba smiles but prefers not to think too much about Hollywood fame, safe in the knowledge that she won’t become a prima donna: “Now I have the maturity and the level-headedness to realise that this fame thing means nothing! These are just moments that don’t affect me to be better or more valid”.
In 2020, we can see her at the cinema in Gonçalo Galvão Teles’s film Nothing Ever Happened; Fátima, in Marco Pontecorvo’s Fátima, a major international production about “apparitions” of the Virgin Mary in 1917, in Portugal; and João Mário Grilo’s Campo de Sangue, which is based on the novel of the same name by Dulce Maria Cardoso. However, it’s in the comfort of our own home and devices that we’ll see her trading blows in the series, Warrior Nun. “It was here I discovered something I didn’t know about myself: the ability to be a leader and bear considerable weight on my shoulders”.
by Rui Pedro Tendinha /// photo Kenton Thatcher
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