Albano Jerónimo attracted attention at the last Venice Film Festival as star of The Domain. He’s been making a name for himself for several years now in theatre, cinema and television. In September he’ll be coming to Netflix. Who is this man in constant evolution?
He’s been like that from the very start: Albano Jerónimo has always stood out from the rest. Perhaps because he weighed six kilos at birth, or maybe because he had a name no other child had, or because his size prevented him from running as fast as the others at school. At 40, he’s still different but, just like in the fairy tale, the ugly duckling has turned into a beautiful swan. He’s become one of the best-known and admired Portuguese actors in theatre, television and cinema.
From September onwards, we’re going to see him co-starring in a new British Netflix series, The One, inspired by John Marrs’ science fiction story. The actor will play Matthew, in a future in which a DNA test can create matches between people and find the perfect partner. Right now, he’s playing a different character during the shooting of The Nothingness Club, the next film from director Edgar Pêra, based on the work of Fernando Pessoa, and in which he plays one of the writer’s heteronyms, Álvaro de Campos.
He recently filled the big screen in The Domain, directed by Tiago Guedes, a film that received the Bisato d’Oro for Best Director, awarded by the jury of critics at the Venice Film Festival. His portrayal of João, a latifundarian from the Portuguese Ribatejo region, earned him great acclaim. “I was brought up in that area, so I went back to my roots. I played on the floodplains, with the cows and the horses, I’d swim in the River Tagus with the fishermen …,” he recounts. “Filming The Domain was a journey: I went back to what I was, to where I came from. That landscape and those smells are really strong memories, things I had inside me and never realised. This film, about a family that had to rebuild itself, takes me back to the limited environment I grew up in and where I was used to having to fight for what I wanted and what I believed in.”
Becoming an actor wasn’t an obvious choice. The youngest of three brothers in a family connected to farming and cattle, the son of a butcher and a TAP employee, Albano grew up a long way from the artistic world. When he looks back, he jokes about how being an altar boy at church was one of the first steps towards facing an audience – but it was at the age of 15 that some friends “dragged” him to an amateur theatre group, Os Esteiros: a life- -changing event.
People who shake us up
“I’m still moved today by what I discovered when I started acting: a huge passion for the word. It’s new every time I say it, destabilising every time I embody it.” It was the reason he left behind basketball, which he played in his teens, and the Physiotherapy course he started. When, without telling anyone, he applied to the Theatre course at the Lisbon Conservatory, he was placed top of the list.
He now has to go back 18 years – an entire coming of age – to recall his professional debut. In David Mamet’s play, The Woods, directed by Luís Fonseca at the Casa Conveniente, he played Nick, alongside the actress Mónica Garnel. Testament to this first step as an actor are some boots he’s kept. “I sometimes keep the shoes I wear for my parts: my thinking is that feet don’t lie, however false or showy we might be. They show what I was like, how I walked, what tension I was feeling.” He moved from the theatre to television and to cinema in a flash. Essentially, he’s followed those who inspire him. “I’ve met people who taught me things, who’ve guided me and pushed me towards places closer to myself. They’re the ones who motivate and enrich me. We need to have people around who shake us up.” His recent participation in the series Sara, directed by Marcos Martins, was one of those examples in which everything came together. “It was more fun than work. It has an irony and dark humour that allows us to step back from what we do. This mindset gives us another space as spectators. The Domain is like that, too.” The film by Guedes reignited in him his passion for cinema. “It was a real feast. Cinema fascinates me as it’s one of the few platforms that can immortalise an actor. It fixes people in a specific moment, in those circumstances, in those difficulties.”
Nevertheless, whatever he does, he always ends up back at the theatre. “It’s saved my life, “he confesses. “Doing theatre has always been immensely calming. I learn more there, I absorb more, I can educate myself in a different way. It has a quality of communication that’s lacking in cinema and TV. The body speaks in a different way, the voice lives in a different way.”
Those who know Albano Jerónimo and see him on stage might not believe it’s him. Pleasant and friendly, he often plays roles that are the exact opposite – dark, psychopathic, tormented, visceral figures. That’s been the universe of the texts worked on by the company he founded ten years ago with a group of other creators, Teatro Nacional 21, and of so many of the characters he’s played. “I have a sceptical optimism, shall we say. More complex, heavier authors with incredible suffering attract me because reality is like that: just pick up any newspaper and you’ll see that’s the vibe in the world. I try to create within what we have, and what we have isn’t very heart-warming… This takes us to grotesque, noisy, dirty, primal environments. But I also believe in humankind, Perhaps that’s why I still choose those texts.”
There’s an urgency about Albano, when he talks about what he does. It would be impossible not to imagine him on a stage or on a screen. A self-proclaimed workaholic, he admits that becoming a father seven years ago contributed even more towards this unquenchable desire for constant improvement. “I’ve worked for what I’ve achieved. I’ve done everything in a kind of leap of faith, decisive moments in which I embrace what I have ahead. My upbringing has to do with that: hanging on to what I have. I lost my father when I was ten and that made me lose my beliefs and have a greater need to understand myself. One of my brothers told me: “When you’re not sure about something, find out, read.’”. That’s what Albano’s done. He’s gradually increased his knowledge of the world and what he calls his “alphabet”, which allows him to communicate better.
For the actor, work, just like life, is a process. “I feel as though I’m on a constant journey, which gives me the chance to reinvent myself. I love giving myself the luxury of starting over. The characters I play operate a metamorphosis in my body. And my body will always be incomplete and imperfect. Acting ends up existing in this imperfection. My work is based on imperfection. I like wrinkles, defects, unfinished things. I’m interested in giving things a try. The path and the effort of getting somewhere are what stay with me.” That’s why he dismisses perfection – with his crooked nose and his six-foot-two body. “What distinguishes us is what we are imperfect at.”
by Gabriela Lourenço /// photo Nuno Beja
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