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Sonia Braga: 1950—: Actress

Went From Secretary To Television Starlet

Braga was born in Maringá, a town in southern Brazil, on June 8, 1950. Her father was of African and Portuguese heritage, and her mother was a mestizo, of half-European, half Indian ancestry. The family of seven struggled after their father died when Braga was eight. By the time she was 14, she was working in an office as a typist. One day, an employee of a fashion photographer visited the office, and suggested that she model; Braga scoffed at the idea, as she recalled in an interview with Alan Richman for People in 1988. "I was kind of ugly," she said, describing her teenage self as skinny, with unruly hair and large teeth. A colleague in the office related the tale of this missed opportunity to a film-maker, who then sought Braga out and cast her in a movie that never made it into theaters. Her career eventually was launched with her appearance, at the age of 18, in a São Paulo production of Hair, the popular hippie musical of the era; Braga appeared nude onstage, and the performance—even in freewheeling Brazil—caused a stir, as it did in other productions elsewhere.

Braga's first credited on-screen role was in O Bandido da Luz Vermelha. She spent two years on Brazil's version of Sesame Street, V Sésamo, in the early 1970s, and also found steady work in the telenovelas, or soap operas, that are a staple of Latin American television. "Usually she was cast as a depressed teenage girl who would cry after the untimely death of a loved one," remarked Richman in People. "Such performances brought her fame." One role that brought her wider industry attention was the miniseries Gabriela, which "took Brazil by storm in the early 1970s, turning into a household name its sensuous young star, Sonia Braga," noted two writers for London's Guardian newspaper, Sue Branford and David Treece. The telefilm was based on a work by one of Brazil's best-known novelists, Jorge Amado. "The novel had sold 800,000 copies, an extraordinary achievement in a country with a high level of illiteracy, but the soap opera reached 25 [million] people." Set in Brazil in the 1920s, Gabriela revolved around a poor young mestizo woman from the countryside who becomes the housekeeper for a wealthy, but dissipate café owner of European heritage.

At a Glance . . .

Born Sonia Maria Campos Braga on June 8, 1950, in Maringá, Paraná, Brazil; daughter of Zeze Braga (a seamstress).

Career: Actress, 1969–.

Braga's success in the title role of Gabriela soon led to an offer to star in another Amado story, Doña Flor e Seus Dois Maridos, one of 1977's top-grossing international releases. Directed by Bruno Barreto, Doña Flor is the story of a young widow who misses the passionate encounters she enjoyed with her late husband. Now remarried to a dull pharmacist, her nights are enlivened when the ghost of her first spouse begins to visit her. The success of the racy comedy helped launch Braga's name on an international level, and also garnered favorable attention for Brazilian cinema in general. Braga's next major film role, Eu Te Amo, released in 1981, again celebrated the sensuous. At this point in her career, she was often trumpeted as the next big sultry international movie star, in the footsteps of Sophia Loren. Press reports linking Braga romantically to her co-stars or directors only added to the allure; such rumors surrounded the production of the feature-film remake of Gabriela in 1983, which paired her with Italian heartthrob Marcello Mastroianni.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Shennen Bersani (1961-) Biography - Personal to Mark Burgess Biography - PersonalSonia Braga: 1950—: Actress Biography - Went From Secretary To Television Starlet, Switched Roles And Languages With "spider Woman", Returned To Television Acclaim