Renata Vilela kindly accepted the invitation to talk to our team and it was an unforgettable journey. So many good stories can be discoverd behind the scenes! And that only happens when one soul touches another soul … How many times dont´n we waste magical moments simply because we don´t see who is on our side? Or do we, as makeup artists, work with someone and forget that behind a beautiful face there can be a touching story? That’s why I love film industry, I love the relationships that set has given me. I believe this is how we can change this world, investing in human relationships, and that goes far beyond makeup, doesn’t it? I was moved by Renata’s story and I hope you enjoy it!
Maquiagem no Cinema (Makeup in Film): Have you always dreamed of being an actress? How did you start in the business?
I never dreamed of being an actress, actually. Me, my sisters and my parents came from a small city of São Paulo State (Barretos). My first contact with art was through jazz ballet classes. My mother thought it was important to put us in contact with art and transform our reality, because we lived in a very small apartment, in a not very nice place … My first teacher was Félix de Assis, an incredible teacher, graduated from the Municipal School of Ballet. He encouraged my mother… “Your daughters need to take classical ballet classes, because they have a perfect body for that…” (Look at that human look, right? It was beyond the skin color …) We could see the sacrifice he made to be in art, a huge desire to see those students challenging themselves… And then my mother took his advice and registered us to make an audition at the Municipal Ballet School, encouraged by him.
Once I got there, I didn´t feel a good environment… We didn’t have enough money to buy the appropriate items for the class (socks, sneakers, hairnet, etc.). I am the youngest (my older sisters are twins), and their schedule wasn´t the same. I remember wearing a white pink polka dot swimsuit, my mom put a ribbon on my hair. My shoes weren´t appropriated. My mom was unaware of this world and we also had no money, she did what she could… The important thing was to dance! I remember being isolated from all the other girls, I was the only black girl. Everyone looked at me as if I were an “ET”… I remember a board of teachers with a very rigid expression – I went through an assessment of potentialities (articulation, elasticity, strength, flexibility ), and I remember them being shocked by my physical structure, my feet, my lines. And they whispered …
At a certain moment they asked for a free dance… I saw that some girls already had some kind of experience. I believe they were in 1st or 2nd year of ballet school. There was no lightness in the air, no sympathy (classical ballet was like that at that time, the method was even more rigid as it is tody). Than the girls waltzed… And I danced anything! I was already wearing the polka dot swimsuit and what came to mind was that dancer from the music boxes (I didn’t even have that, we were poor, I remember we saw it in movies). I remember it and started spining, round and round and round, like a pawn!
I grew up inspired by lots of music, art, dance… My mother always said that we had to transform our reality. We had a sense of where we were standing, what was possible and where she was going with this thought.
Maquiagem no Cinema (Makeup in Film): Tell us a little more about your background and other challenges you faced from that moment on.
We used to watch a dance show on TV Cultura, and I was very impressed by one particular group. I did a research on those old phone books, found them and asked my mother to take me. She managed to get out of work on time, and took me there. It was an elite school. Once we got there, the teacher welcomed me very well, she was very kind. The students looked surprised, again, I was the only black girl. I remember that by the end of the class the teacher came to talk to me, and everyone was around us, giving me “that” look. The teacher continued talking about what the method was like, what I needed to learn, as the language was French. And, with a lot of patience, dedication and love, she managed to convince me and my mom that I could go on. As we left the school that day, I remember I said to my mother, “I´m gonna make it”. And she also said: “You will, I don’t know how I’m going to pay, but we will find a way”. Then we did it. With a lot of sacrifice, love and struggle, we made it!
Maquiagem no Cinema (Makeup in Film): What gave you the strength to go on?
I managed to study the Royal method of graduation from Classical Ballet… Then one day we went to see a show in the Anhangabaú Valley, with several companies (Black Swan, Ballet of the City of SP, República da Dança) and at the end, The Ballet Stagium presents a performance called “Saudades Elis e Batucada“, a real samba… so beautiful! Choreographed with the classical ballet technique… That hit me! Ancestry! Oh, it was so intense, me and my sisters were astonished… Than we see a black woman, solo dancer, arriving. Her name is Áurea Ferreira. We looked at each other and said: It is possible! I want to be in this Ballet! This happened on a weekend day… On Monday we were already there, at the Ballet Stagium… My sisters and I were very well welcomed. We had a long journey of study and dedication in this school … Geralda Bezerra de Araújo taught me all about Brazilian culture, discipline and dance in general. She gave me a new sight about dance, a humanized way to see it. At that time I was in two schools, we struggled to pay for it. But my mother was really happy, she was definitely fulfilled!
She kept saying: “Transform your reality! I couldn´t change mine, but you will change yours!” And our love for Ballet kept growing. Only one of my sisters continued. We joined many festivals and then we met a master called Isaura Gusman. She came from the National Ballet of Cuba. She taught at the Black Swan and Ballet Stagium School. It was amazing! A black female teacher (my first Jazz Ballet teacher was also black, but male). I was fortunate to have such strong references through dance. She brought a new meaning to my life, for being woman and black! She ended up leaving Ballet Stagium and opened up the Company Cumbre Of Dance, and I was there for 7 years.
Maquiagem no Cinema (Makeup in Film): Tell us about your experience in Musical Theater.
In 2004 I had a chance to be in an audition for Broadway´s Chicago version in Brazil, which was a very remarkable moment in my life!
One week of tests, several workshops, a completely new method of dance (Bob Fosse). Gary Christ, who was a disciple of Bob Fosse, was presented to us, he was in Broadway for a long time … I wasn´t approved, but I remember was amazed by me. I remember bringing a lot of personality to my performance. When we are in an audition we have to be with a good energy, we have to be prepared, so thay can see that it is possible to characterize this persona. And I remember it was very remarkable … I watched the movie, I was really prepared andsure I would be approved, but it didn´t happen.
And then, on a beautiful day, after 2 months of the musical’s debut, they called me asked me for a new audition (a girl left), and I was finally approved! That was a milestone in my career! That’s when I entered the professional world of art. I don’t even know if it was a dream coming true… althoughI was wishing so bad to enter that musical. I did dream about being a dancer. But being an actress and a singer was such a distant thing for me!
Before that, I was in fashion business, it wasn´t easy. The historical process, structural racism, the limitation was huge and still is. Today we can see a transformation starting.
So, that’s how I started in entertainment: Through Ballet! The test was singing and I had never had a class… I performed and I was applauded! I thought, “My God, do I have this kind of talent?” I was a stunned. “Was I applauded? Really?” I was kind of unaware of where I was stepping, of my talent.
Then, I realized I needed to improve myself. I started being approved in many auditions, one after another. My second musical was Sweet Charity, with Cláudia Raia. I was one of the main characters (me and Kátia Barros). The need to improve, to get in tune with the industry, was even more clear for me. I used to teach ballet, didn’t make enough money, and had no sponsor and realized I had to make an effort.
After Sweet Charity, I had the opportunity to be in “Os Produtores” (The Producers), by Miguel Fallabella, and soon after that I was invited to be in a TV Globo soap opera, written by Miguel and directed by Mauro Mendonça … The doors were opening for me. It wasn´t easy, it takes devotion – and money. But my mom´s energy was always on my mind (“You can do it, go, change your reality, embrace everything that comes from good, that will make you grow, and make you feel you belong”).
Than I had my first opportunity in TV. It was a new thing for me. I took theater and film acting classes. I had no idea how to put myself in front of the camera. But I had talent. Miguel saw it! And that´s why he offered me this part. This is how I felt working on TV: “Never make a mistake, you’re black”. It always seemed like the last opportunity, one shot. I couldn’t face it as one more experience. No time can be wasted. Some were good experiences, but some other frustrated me. That´s how it works. Those were the experiences that made me want to improve myself. TV was an element in addition to dancing, singing, acting … Then it started to awaken other interests: There are several paths in art to follow!
Maquiagem no Cinema (Makeup in Film): Was it when you realized you had succeed in the career?
That´s when it became my livelihood. I’ve been in Musicals for 15 years now. And I love it, it’s a challenge. If an actor has a chance, he has to try it, because it is a place of the priesthood, discipline, care. We work with a franchise scheme here in Brazil, musicals coming from foreign countries. We have to deal with the competition, the standards… They are very concerned with building brand loyalty. Adaptations are not welcome, the profile is strict.
Another great experience I had with Broadway was “The Lion King”. It was a milestone in my life. We started in 2013 and we were on for 2 years. Eight performances a week! Recognition, ancestry, a new meaning to our structures, our values. I met César Melo, who became my husband. He is an actor, singer, writer. We always encourage each other, we are always studying, developing projects. When we have the opportunity, we go to auditions together, we are always giving support to each other.
Maquiagem no Cinema (Makeup in Film): Now, tell us a little more about your experience in film industry.
After soap operas, I started working on a feature film, which led me to develop such a passion for being on set. The way it is made, the dedication of all the professionals, the sensitivity within a direction, all of this touched me. I recently participated in two Netflix shows. One of them was “Omniscient”, which I had the opportunity to see a set directed by women, and scripted by a black woman! Shu Maria. This made me very happy. We feel safe, we feel we belong.
Maquiagem no Cinema (Makeup in Film): What have you enjoyed as a viewer?
Cinema has always been part of our life. My sister Rose had a dream to be a filmmaker. We used to rent movies every Friday, at a rental store in Copan. We used to watch all kind of films: Blockbusters, romance, cult movies… We used to go to the old Espaço Unibanco, Cine Sesc (there is where I watched “Death in Venice“, “Claire’s Knee“, and other films by Éric Rohmer), Cultural Center (where I watched “The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser”). At this time, I got to know, through my sister, Kieślowski’s work (Krzysztof), she was a fan and we used to watch his trilogy all the time.
Today I am focused on other issues. With maturity, engagement, you realize that you need to open up your perception of diversity, even more. Thanks to these new platforms, we are getting in touch with other worlds.
This is what I also think about Brazilian cinema. As a teenager I was not as interested as I am today. It gained greater visibility for my generation and the future ones, due to the quality of the stories, the scripts, which have become increasingly interesting. I see fantastic directors coming up. For me it feels like I´m being awakened to this new reality. It is good to know that our cinema has had more investments. And that goes for the Tv Shows as well. My favorite Brazilian works of this new generation are: Central do Brasil, Aquarius, Brother, Entre Nós, Irmã Dulce, Sequestro Lightning, Great Mystical Circus, Simonal.
My favorite movies at actual times are Moonlight, Rafiki, Family Matters, Parasite, Queen of Katwe, Timbuktu. I’ve also been following Indian cinema a lot. Through his filmography I learned, for example, about the struggle to find bathrooms in India, and I think: How cinema allows us to go so far and plays an important political and social role!
Some series have also impacted me: “Scandal”, which has Kerry Washington as the protagonist. It filled my eyes. It made me realize that it is possible to make cinema. When I heard that the director was Shonda Rhimes, I was very happy!
“Orange is the New Black” touched me by the diversity and power of those women. “How to Get Away With Murder” too, who is this woman? Viola Davis in such a mysterious character, that makes us reflect on so many issues!
Today I’m changing the way I choose a movie, it has to correspond to my career, even for me to understand what I want for myself, what is possible, what I aspire to as an artist. For besides the profession, a social function. Especially in these days it is very important to think about the space we want to occupy.
Maquiagem no Cinema (Makeup in Film): Speaking of social movements …
I’ve been watching a lot of Tv shows with my husband. And we have noticed an approximation of that reality. That look, you know? I am delighted with the subtleties of these performances, these actors … And ´m each day more passionate about it. Because it is a very big challenge. This brings you to your reality, at the same time that it creates this illusion and it is a great idea because it ends up bringing hooks for other seasons, these nuances, these silences, these times, these breaths, these subtexts that we are always in doubt… So, I want to be whenever I can on a film set.
And speaking of social movements, I saw this transformation right here, at home. My husband starred in two features. This gave us such a great motivation, it gave us hope! A strength to move on, to understand that this is the place we have to go, humanize our characters, bring stories that encourage people to understand that we can make it. Of course, there is a whole path, we live in very different realities, in terms of Brazil. But our generation is there, making things happen. I am grateful to know that this is a daily result of struggles, fights, and resilience. This is the word, resilience.
Maquiagem no Cinema (Makeup in Film): How was (and is) your experience with commercials?
My first one was in 1999/2000, for Mac Donalds, and then another one in 2003/2004, at a time that I needed, I was taking ballet class, company, it was a time of lean cows… I did a sequence of films for Pernambucanas, it was really cool. There was one that I will never forget. It was in 2011, at a time when I was very questioning, curious, seeker, I was in therapy (I still do), I was in a moment of many discoveries… It was a commercial for a cosmetics brand, and it was very special . The test was special. And it coincided with the audition for the soap opera. I was edited but I was stuck with TV Globo’s response, and I almost gave up on the commercial and the director was freaking out… I was just edited, and I said to the production: “Ask the director to find someone else”. It was really a very special test, I really expressed myself in a good way. The director was so enthusiastic and found no one else. I remember that he wanted to make two contracts, one for when the soap opera premiered, another if I was not approved. It was a very respectful commercial, the whole team, direction, wonderful energy…
What catches me sometimes is not even production, it is the customer, you know? Often, the client cannot understand that we are at a new moment in history. We always have to be prepared, I don’t mean armed, but prepared for the place you will occupy, as black women. We have not reached the point where our talent, competence, capacity counts. In each project, you discover how important it is to recognize it through maturity, the paths, take ownership of knowledge and know how to express yourself, always as long as it is respected too, right?
Makeup in Cinema: Talk about being a woman and black in Brazil
Feminism is a very broad issue, it has many different perspectives, we talk about access, right to life, mortality rate, violence rates, education and there are many important and striking issues. For example, the brutal murder of Congress woman Marielle Franco, voices broke out and we realized that it is a struggle. There is no setback, the “nobody lets go of anyone’s hand” and #blacklivesmatter are strong movements. And me, as an artist, am always here thanking my ancestors for life, for the opportunity, for understanding, for growing as much as I can. Honor and truly honor. I understand that my movement in film industry is a political movement, it is the movement of society. The pyramid shudders, you know? And there is something very important that I think – that is independent of belief – we come from a source, universal source. I have always believed that we are perfect, only at this stage of consciousness, not everyone has the capacity to perceive. To understand, we need to give up many things that have been imposed and valued at the highest level. We need to understand that we are able to create our reality, as we come from a creative source. Art represents this macrocosm a little, and I believe that we are capable, yes, and I am increasingly aware of my purpose as an artist, to be able to create, inspire and give a little hope. Art also dignifies us. In quarantine, my husband and I have been making videos singing. We had no pretensions whatsoever, but this is creating a very cool force, bringing us a little peace, a little air. The pandemic speaks so much about issue of breathing. The amount of information, living in isolation, the apparent social inequalities, all of this makes us create alternatives so that we can strengthen ourselves, and try to save ourselves. We hope to be more and more with that intention, since we need to go though all of this with mental, physical and moral sanity and that we can also transmit this creative energy, this divine power that everyone can access one day. I’ve been thinking about it a lot.
Maquiagem no Cinema (Makeup in Film): What are your projects and what is your vision for a future after this pandemic?
I was working a lot at the beginning of this year, quoted for a cool project on TV (Stop pandemic! LOL)… Now we don’t know when we’ll be back… Besides, my husband and I are going to release a single and I’m going to direct our video… We are in the process of creating… And I have 3 more projects for when this is over, but I still can’t talk… Wait for news!
That’s it, let’s feed our hope, daily, there are days when we’re not well, and we have to be patient.
Finally, I hope that all this mobilization that is taking place, especially at this time of the pandemic, this awareness and engagement with the black cause, I hope it does not weaken, that it is not just a fad, that is not lost sight of.
I appreciate the opportunity to share my story and that I can contribute and inspire more people through my experiences!