Irandhir Santos, in one of the locations of 'Piedade', the new film by Claudio Assis. Photo: Fred Jordan

Irandhir Santos is one of those actors who impress by the talent equivalent to the succession of works they accumulate. His last work was on television, in the miniseries Where the Strong Are Born. In cinema, his last performance was as the weaver Luzimar, protagonist of the film Swirl, which marked the cinematographic debut of TV director José Luiz Villamarim, Irandhir now faces, with long hair, a characteristic of his character, seven weeks of seclusion in the Pernambuco locations of Pity, new film by Cláudio Assis, with whom he worked in Lower of the BeastsOf 2005.

That same year Irandhir debuted on the big screen after being approved in a test by fellow countryman Marcelo Gomes to act in Cinema, Aspirin and Vultures.

Twelve years later, the actor has eight plays, five collaborations for TV and 20 feature films. Not bad for someone who considered audiovisual media “unattainable” languages.

In the following eight pages, reports of this “cinema worker” who, in the near future, dreams of rediscovering his great love, the theater.

CULTURE!Brasileiros – I heard that because of your father's work, who was a banker, you lived in several cities in Pernambuco. How did this process take place?
Irandhir Santos – I was born in Barreiros, a city closer to the coast of Pernambuco, but I left there when I was 1 year old. My father, Marcos Pinto, was a manager at Banco do Brasil for many years and always dreamed of working at the branch in his hometown of Limoeiro, in the countryside of Pernambuco. Something that was beyond his will, because he ended up being forced to work in several cities in the state, usually when new agencies were opened and he was summoned to start the operation. We live in the wild, on the coast, in the sertão. I spent my childhood and adolescence touring the state of Pernambuco with my family.

And how did you handle it?
The hardest part was facing the fresh start. She was always in and out of schools, having to leave just as she was starting to make friends. Picking up the suitcase and starting over has become routine in our lives. At the same time, in my work as an actor, I realize today that I use some of the experiences I've had in each of the places we've been. I keep this rich picture of memories with me.

I imagine that, because of your father's contingencies, your mother was not able to establish a profession.
Exactly. It was up to my mother, Elena, to take care of three children, myself, my older brother, Marcos, and my younger sister, Aneacires – in fact, besides us, there was a fourth “son”, because my uncle, my younger brother mother, was also raised by her.

What memories do you have of this nomadic journey through the interior of Pernambuco?
I remember that they were very different regions. Each with its peculiarities and beauties. At that moment, in training, I faced everything with an adventurer's eyes. He was anxious to know what the new house and new friends would be like, at the same time he knew that losing those people would be painful, but inevitable. The euphoria of arrival was a counterpoint to the sadness of departure.

Did this experience somehow contribute to developing your subjectivity?
Undoubtedly. I even have the memory of physical sensations from that period. I remember being in colder regions of the Northeast, where at night the temperature drops a lot, something that promoted a family gathering inside the house, but I also remember warmer regions, which caused this nucleus to be dispersed through the city streets, by the beach. There were also natural age variations. I've been to places where I've arrived from childhood, entering adolescence and wanting to explore things from a fantastic world. These were the stimuli that helped me to face the long journey until arriving in Limoeiro. My father's desire was such that it infected the whole family. Every now and then I caught myself thinking “one day we'll settle down, one day we'll set foot in Limoeiro”.

And when did the dream finally come true?
When I was 14 years old. Arriving in Limoeiro was like a joy, a joy beyond measure. It was as if we had returned home after a long journey. This belonging coincided with a period of decision-making, of thinking about the entrance exam, and it was in Limoeiro that, for the first time, I had contact with the art of interpretation. My mother wanted to put me in a traditional school in the city, but as we arrived at a difficult time, in the middle of the first semester, I ended up in a state public school, called Father Nicolas. In this school, the Portuguese teacher did an incredible thing: she recommended the books of the Vaga-Lume series to the students (a collection of children's fiction launched, with great success, by the publishing house Ática) and asked us to divide into groups, do collective readings and transform excerpts from the books into scenes to present to the whole class. She defined a period of preparation. We had the freedom to do whatever we wanted and that was, for me, the discovery of happiness. For the first time, I got involved in a school process that kept me from seeing the time pass. I went home thinking about it, lay in bed and chose passages from the books thinking about the scenes, that is, at the same time, developing a kind of leadership in the group.

Do you remember which book you put together?
I don't remember the title now, but it was a plot that took place in a hotel...

O Mystery of the Five Stars, by Marcos Rey?
Exactly. Did you read this one?

I read several titles in the series as well. I remember I had just read one, saw on the back cover the ones I hadn't read yet and ran to the school library to check if they were available to borrow...
I also did this many times. How good! So that was it, we made this adaptation ofThe Mystery of the Five Stars and I got so involved that I even made illustrations for the book, mixed languages ​​and developed this kind of aesthetic leadership, assuming a possible general conception of the play. Of course, it was all a joke, but we really dedicated ourselves. We arrived early, rehearsed a lot and put on a good show.

The following year did you go to the other school, as your mother intended?
Yes, as soon as I finished the school year my mother took me out of public school to put me in that traditional school called Regina Celi. Another change that I had to face, but with a good side, because there was a real theater in this school, with all the structure and a teacher who took care of the presentations on festive dates. It was there that, for the first time, I stepped on a stage, making a montage called Our Father, which was based on a prayer by Saint Francis. I remember getting three white sheets from home to make the costumes (laughs).

At this point, were you already contaminated by the theater?
Yes, always complying with the school's requirements, but with an eye on the next festive dates to do new shows. I am still friends with many colleagues there who shared this desire. None of them made it to the theater, but the connection remained.

Was there anyone in your family who aroused artistic interest in you?
I think more on my father's side of the family, which is made up of many musicians. My paternal grandfather was a saxophonist and was often invited to play serenades in other cities. All of them had an approach to music. My father had three brothers – they all played some instrument – ​​and to this day he loves to play his guitar. In addition to this musical thing, the youngest of my uncles, Carlos Pinto, had an incredible verve as a visual artist, which was not well understood in the city or even in the family. He painted very well, made sculptures with the garbage he found in the city and that was seen much more as madness than art. People just didn't know how to deal with the impactful figure that was Carlos Pinto. He had a lot of hair, and he could either dress normally or appear on the street dressed as a bride.

Irandhir plays opposite Domingos Montagner, his brother in the telenovela Velho Chico. Photo: Publicity / Rede Globo

This during Carnival?
Not. She did it when she saw fit. Once they stopped by my house, I was about 16 years old, and they said: “Your uncle is lying in the street, go and help him”. I went with my sister and when we got there we came across him in a wedding dress. I took him to the house and decided to take his clothes off so he could sleep better. When I went to take off the wedding dress, I was intrigued by the bunch of buttons on the back and asked: “Uncle, who helped you put this on?”. And he said: “No one, I'll take care of myself” (laughs).

That anarchic profile of your uncle certainly opened your mind a lot, didn't it?
Undoubtedly. It was he, for example, who started me on drawings. I like to use drawing in the work I do, and I remember the games he used to play. He always came with a blank paper, a pencil and challenged me: “Doodle something there…”. Then he would take the pen from my hand and from that scribble he would make an incredible drawing. I thought it was magical.

Shortly after, you leave the interior for Recife. How did this transition that culminated in your graduation take place?
I came to Recife even before starting college (Irandhir studied Performing Arts at the Federal University of Pernambuco). She was still in her second and third years of high school (high school today) to finish, but a friend of Limoeiro, Francisco Spencer, was planning to study in Recife and I decided to come too. We came to study at the CPI, an acronym for Colégio Preparatório Integrado, a military school, run by colonels, with all that barracks discipline. The school had a tradition of training students capable of passing the most difficult entrance exams in Brazil. In Pernambuco, anyone with this objective could not ignore the chance to study at the CPI. Francisco decided he was going to take on this challenge, and I felt the urge to go too. Seeing that the school was really good, my mother agreed with the idea. Boy, when I walked in there was a shock! The training was very focused on the entrance exam, that was clear, but it took me a while to pick up the rhythm, I almost gave up, because there were many changes at the same time: leaving home so young, facing the rigor of a military school. At first, I went to live with an aunt, but then I started sharing an apartment with two cousins. A new world for me...

At a formative age…
Yes, and with the responsibility of deciding something that would influence the rest of my life. I was lucky enough, at the CPI, to get close to a Literature teacher named Gorete, and she saved me by introducing me to a former student at the school, André Cavendish, who had already graduated and had experience with a theater group. Cavendish returned to the CPI to teach an introductory theater course, which took place on Saturdays. It was incredible, because he started the process by introducing us not only to the theory, but also to the theater techniques, that is, the sound design, the costumes. So, he was really the first to open the doors and show me that there were incredible gaps for that “house” to work.

Between 1996 and 2004, you did three plays with Cavendish and another five with other directors. After that he migrated to the cinema, when he acted, in 2005, in the film Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures, by Marcelo Gomes. How did this turnaround come about?
Making movies seemed like something very far away for me. I believed that, for that to happen, I would have to move to the Southeast, where things happen. But I was lucky enough to discover the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation in Recife, which has a cinema group that, until recently, was coordinated by Kleber (the director Kleber Mendonça Filho) and he selected amazing films to show. One of them was a re-screening of the short film Soneto do Desmantelo Blue, by Cláudio Assis (director's second production, released in 1993). Seeing a film made in Recife with local production and actors took the idea of ​​distance from this art from my mind. It was an important moment to conclude that it was possible to do things here, until the invitation came for me to join the cinema. A professor at UFPE, Marcos Camarote, now deceased, recommended me to audition for two films. I took courage and went to do both tests.

Did you already know Marcelo and Cláudio?
I didn't know them. And I think that's precisely why I had very different feelings with each of them, because Marcelo is tranquility in person. I was expecting what people always say about tests, which are hard, but he made it all look so easy. Today I tell him: “You deceived me, Marcelo! Tests are not like that.” So much so that when I went to talk to Cláudio it was a pauleira. He ran through a snippet of the script and demanded that I be ready and sharp almost instantly. Then there was a succession of meetings, he was always challenging me. I took that as an impulse, went along with him and everything worked out. I did with him the Lower of the Beasts.

With so many productions in so little time, do you consider yourself a movie actor?
Cinema is an art that when I talk about it, it's with the sparkle in the eyes of a lover. But both in theater and in cinema – and now also on television – I find myself using the only instruments I have: my body, my voice and my interpretation techniques. I'm a big walker. Today I am very strongly on the path of cinema, but television, for example, in the last three years took me over with the invitations of Luiz Fernando (TV director and filmmaker Luiz Fernando Carvalho, with whom Irandhir worked on the miniseries The Stone of the Kingdom e Two Brothers, and in the novels My Little Piece of Floor e Old Boy).

On television, especially with old boy, his work has been shown to an audience of tens of millions of viewers. What's it like to go through it?
Entering TV at the invitation of Luiz Fernando gave me the feeling of joining a new college. His work is so intense, challenges you so much and takes you to new paths, that I left there as if I was undergoing a specialization. Of the five productions I made for TV, four were his (the fifth, the miniseries Amores Roubados, is by José Luiz Villamarim, director of Redemoinho). Passing through Luiz's hands is a process that polishes the actor. Of course, that popular reach comes with it, consequently, which is also an amazing, recognition experience.

In these 12 years that you have worked in Brazilian cinema, what impressions do you have on the evolution of the industry? In the narrative field, does it manage to portray the transformations and the reality of the country?
In the last 15 years, films have been produced in the country in increasing numbers and I realize that there are more and more directors in search of their language while trying to portray the diversity of our country. But I also realize the difficulties that still persist, especially with regard to the distribution and exhibition of films. There is also no denying the explosive and striking force that is in the films produced here in Pernambuco. Something that impresses me, because they are very diverse, in terms of language and theme.

Do you have any good theories about the reason for this cultural effervescence in Recife?
Well, I'm wondering how this happens, but I don't think I have a good explanation. I feel that I am privileged to participate in such a rich moment. I observe and identify a lot with this diversity, in the same way that I observe the movement of the artistic environment in relation to what happens politically in our state and the way in which this posture can serve as a mirror for what happens in the country. I notice that directors are increasingly looking for this in-depth approach and this reverberates strongly even outside Brazil.

It is inevitable to recall the episode involving the Aquarius at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. As a citizen, how do you perceive the sociopolitical reality we live in today?
I am extremely sad about everything that has been happening in Brazil. I really feel robbed of the vote I cast in the ballot box in 2014. It's sad to see this happen again in our country. It's sad to see how this reverberates in our freedom, in our choices. When I think of a film necessary for this period, it is precisely in Aquarius, because he has plenty of strength to contest everything that is happening. Unfortunately, I didn't go to Cannes, because I was working, but I would certainly participate in the protest with my colleagues and share with them the nonconformity they took to the world.

In the midst of this process that culminated in the Temer government, ironically, his character in the telenovela old boy, Bento dos Anjos, was a councilor who defended ethics in politics and a more egalitarian society…
When I met the character and realized this strong political verve that he had in him, I thought it was very appropriate for the moment the country was experiencing. This was one of the reasons why I accepted to do Bento. I did not want to leave this responsibility in the hands of any other colleague, because I really wanted, within what was happening in Brazil in 2016, to have, at least in fiction, a character who could counterpoint this, who could speak what was stuck in the throat of the people, especially the population that had been conquering their rights and in 2016 it took a very strong blow, which culminated in a huge setback. I think the character Bento portrayed that very well. It was a risky choice because I knew I could be heavily targeted by those who think differently, but the character was very well received. I think that Luiz's hand and his ability to coordinate this speech very carefully is also in this.

With actor Rodrigo Garcia, in a scene from Tattoo, a film by Hilton Lacerda that tells the story of a mambembe theater troupe led by him. Photo: Flávio Gusmão/Disclosure

You said that it could be misunderstood and there is an increasingly heated polarization. What do you think about it?
I think the split in the country is the result of a great political game that was very well armed and that manages to turn most opinions in its favor, inflaming people and polarizing everything in such a way that today we have no dialogue. The immediate, quick conclusions were strongly encouraged and we left aside the real discussions about the country's direction, something essential for a great democracy. By canceling this discussion, we put aside something that we fought so hard: to be a democratic country.

Returning to old boy, in the midst of the end of the recordings, how was it for you to have to deal with the loss of your friend Domingos Montagner?
It was very difficult. There was the euphoria of completing a job that was very well done and this tragedy hit everyone, just as it hit the audience that followed the story. What impressed me most about this experience was the surprise that life recounted the story of fiction (in Benedito Ruy Barbosa's plot, Santo, Domingos' character also drowned in the São Francisco River, after being shot). What saved us, what helped us get through this moment was the idea of, in those last six days, bringing him back into the picture and doing everything for him. The strength of the recovery came from there. We went to the studio to record the last scenes, but we paid this tribute to the great artist and to Domingos; Luiz pointing this out with the incredible idea of ​​the subjective camera, placing Domingos as the eyes of someone who was at home. When we spoke to the eyes of the Saint, we were actually speaking directly to the people who followed him and admired his work.

Your relationship was very intense. You guys acted in practically every chapter…
We got to the point of arranging meetings at my house and his to talk about the script. We didn't just hang out on recordings. I had the opportunity to meet Domingos' family and I could see that he was an actor who not only built fiction in the best possible way, but actually wrote the story of an incredible family. I have a great lack today, but I deal with it in the most affectionate way possible. Today, when I return to São Francisco, I have the feeling that, when I enter those waters, somehow, I will always be cherished by him. That's how I'm going to try to deal with this longing.

What was it like to interpret Luzimar in Swirl?
Zé's invitation came in the middle of recording the miniseries Amores Roubados. He said, “Look, I plan to make a movie soon and I want you as the lead. I'll pass the script on for you to read. It was inspired by tales by Luiz Ruffato”. When he said the author's name, I went looking for the books and I found the way he portrays his place of origin wonderful and I was very curious to know this look up close. Ever since I read Ruffato's works, I wanted to be in Cataguases, I wanted to see everything that was in his writing, to see that train he describes so much, to see those factories. When I read the script, I realized that Zé increased this magnifying glass even more for what caught my attention. I told him I wanted to get to know the city as soon as possible and he said: “So, I'll send you there before filming”.

How far in advance did you go to Cataguases?
I arrived there a month earlier and tried to get in touch with the world of weaving factories and the universe of my character. In the story, he is the one who chooses to stay in town. Starting from that path, I thought: If he stays, what does he enjoy? The production gave me all the instruments that were part of the character's routine. So, for example, during that month I only traveled by bicycle. I had access to the factory and it was amazing. Moving between the machines gave me the physical and emotional sensations of that place, which has a specific, intense noise, and there is no way to get through it with impunity, so much so that I suggested to Zé Luiz that my character use a hearing aid, as I realized that many workers are affected by the noise. He liked the suggestion. It was a way of symbolizing how the factory's routine directly affects those people's lives. An important symbol.

In fact, the absence of incidental soundtrack and songs in the film is noteworthy.
This was something that we were hitting the hammer with each experience. It was funny because, having gone to Cataguases before, when the team arrived, I poured a lot of information into their ears and Zé, poor thing. But they were very patient in listening and accepting some of my suggestions. Walter (director of photography Walter Carvalho), for example, was amazing. I remember that right in the first scene we did at the factory, he had the option to use the space he wanted, but he asked me: “Since you've read the script and come here several times, I imagine you've thought of somewhere to do it. the scene. What do you suggest?". I showed him a route that departed from one of the machines I operated and he immediately agreed. I rehearsed that route alone during the weeks I was there and it is gratifying to be heard and to feel cooperating with that work. I must also point out the warm welcome from the people at the factory, especially a coordinator, named Sueli, who was with me all the time and, with a lot of patience, taught me how to handle all the machines. They are now looking forward to seeing the film. Everyone helped me a lot.

The work done by you and Júlio Andrade has been highly praised. How was it working with him?
In addition to being an amazing actor, Júlio is very captivating. When we shared the same hotel, we even tried to isolate ourselves, so that we would leave that desire to be close to when we were on stage. It was an unagreed agreement, a felt agreement. He realized this and we left to have our meetings only on stage. It's very good when you have that kind of attunement in your colleague. I well remember the scene where they finally say what they wanted to say to each other from the start. Zé arrived for us and gave us something new that changed the scene in a very beautiful way. The scene led to a big verbal fight, of reciprocal accusations of those two men, but Zé said something like this: “Since you are going to solve a pending issue that is from the past, I think that there should not be a clash between two men, but a fight between two boys.

What can you anticipate about Pity?
I can't say much, but as Cláudio already anticipated, this film will touch on a great symbol of Recife, which is the shark, but, in his own words, the film will talk about the sea shark and the land sharks, the devastation of this city. As he jokes, for the first time in movie history the shark will not appear as a villain, but as a victim. They messed with this guy's ecosystem and he came to live in the same space as us. He is just another victim of this imbalance.

Sonia Braga and Irandhir behind the scenes of Aquarius, by Kleber Mendonça Filho. The intimate portrait was made by Pedro Sotero, the film's cinematographer. Photo: Pedro Sotero

And how has it been working with Fernanda Montenegro?
I always had the great desire to meet her. The first time I saw her, other than at the theater, because I saw many plays with her, but inside the same room, was when she gave a little word to the cast of the miniseries The Stone of the Kingdom, by Luiz Fernando. She went on to explain to us what it was like for her to work with all the symbology of Luiz in Today is Mary's Day. She defended this symbology in such a way that, in her example, she believed that the wooden horse that was in the scene was a real horse. I told her about this meeting a few days ago and she said: “It's true, I remember saying that. How wonderful! You were there!". After that, she came to me to talk about what, according to her, was a need. “I think we need, off set, to have meetings so that we can seal this bond between mother and son.” Of course, I told her, "Yes, I'll take you to dinner." It was an incredible encounter. We threw a lot of conversation away, we talked about the most diverse subjects, but also about the film itself, about our characters. I think my biggest difficulty was deconstructing the myth and seeing the human being, this mother that I must see in the film. A difficult game, but she, with her generosity, has helped me a lot to face this challenge.

Due to the volume of projects you are involved in, the impression you give is that you work too hard. Does it proceed?
It's funny, because, as most films in Brazil have a low budget, and consequently the releases take a long time to happen, and as I sometimes make films with a good space of time from one to the other, but they are released simultaneously, it takes the public the mistaken feeling that I don't stop working (laughs). But, of course, it's important for me to have a period of rest, from zeroing one process to starting another. I never mend two films without that breath. I admire those who can, but I can't make two films at the same time. In addition, living life is the most important thing, and I am very concerned about respecting this natural intensity that you need to have on both sides: at work and in life. I really like staying at home, I really like being with my family. It is in them that I perceive the meaning of doing everything I do in my art.

What assessment do you make of your trajectory so far, and what would you like to do in the future?
I'm privileged, for the experiences I've had and all the characters I've played. So far I've also had the pleasure of working with people I admire a lot. I say that I am privileged because seeing life through the eyes of the characters is transformative. When I leave a project, I end up with a more relaxed look, in a way, understanding myself better and understanding the world around me. In the future, I have the great desire to return to the theater. It's been over ten years since I've stepped on a stage and I miss it terribly. Cinema is a passion that – by the way, as is common to passions – completely consumes you, but love, which for me is theater, calls me more and more. So that's it: in the future I want to resume this love.

Leave a comment

Please write a comment
Please write your name