'The Suicide Squad' Star Alice Braga on Playing the Straight Character in a Movie Full of Lunatics [Interview]

Alice Braga has a tricky character to play in The Suicide Squad. In a movie filled with big personalities, Braga is playing the straight role. And not only the straight role, but the character with the purest of intentions. Sol Saria wants to liberate her country and she is one of the few actual heroes in the movie. Even though Braga plays it seriously, she scores one of the biggest laughs in the film during a scene where director James Gunn pays homage to a key scene from Predator.

Throughout Braga’s career, she has appeared frequently in genre films, such as I Am LegendPredators, and Elysium, just to name a few. Most recently, her journey on the TV series Queen of the South came to an end. Braga can see a similarity or two between her first television show and The Suicide Squad, and she told us all about it during a recent interview..

You’ve described yourself as a nerd growing up, reading comics. What did you read? 

Funny enough, well, it’s not DC because my mom was a big fan of X-Men, kind of that world. I grew up reading more of X-Men type of comics because I always liked the idea that they were underdogs and different. I always connected with that. There were some Brazilian artists when I was a little, little kid, it’s called Turma da Monica. But that’s for real kids, but it’s beautiful because, historically, everyone in Brazil always read that. And nowadays, there’s a live-action film of that. My nephew reads that. So it’s kind of a generational thing. It’s really beautiful to see how comics don’t age like that. For DC, for example, I loved reading Batman or watching the old version of Batman on TV that existed. I always loved it.

Any other Brazilian artists or comics you’d recommend?

Oh my God. There are so many. There are the twins, Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba. They helped create The Umbrella Academy, actually.

You’ve appeared in a few comic book movies but a lot of genre movies, too, now. Do they represent your taste in movies well?

I love watching films. I think because of my mom I’m very open to different genres because my mom was the one that always loved artsy films. But at the same time, we love to watch action-packed classics. I always loved action films as much as I always loved artistic films. So for me, to get the chance to be in a film like City of God or Lower City, which is an independent project that I did in Brazil, and then doing I Am Legend, or doing New Mutants, or doing The Suicide Squad, it’s exciting because it is a clash of both worlds that I love. Because I love also watching genre type of films. I mean, I was a big fan of James Gunn before jumping in this film. What he did with Guardians, and now, what he’s doing to The Suicide Squad is just brilliant.

It’s rare to walk out of one of these comic book movies thinking about the character moments, not just the action. 

Exactly. It’s really interesting how he creates this energy with the characters that it’s so funny and fun, and at the same time, real. I mean, that idea of using kind of the films of the ’70s, and putting these characters in making these jokes. I mean, that’s the best thing that it can have. Having an action film that is a superhero film, but you’re laughing throughout the entire film because he puts them as real silly human beings. They aren’t tired of making mistakes. They’re not just perfect superheroes, but they are just real. That brings proximity to the audience that is unique. I mean, my character was a little bit more serious. It was really hard to be serious on set because they were always making jokes. And I’m like, “Okay, I can not be laughing.” But it was really special.

Right, but that seriousness helps pay off one of the biggest gags when you’re introduced, right?

[Laughs] Oh my God. I mean, James was like, “You cannot laugh.” I’m like, “Okay, got it. I won’t laugh.”

As a producer yourself, what do you think of how James Gunn runs a set? 

He knows so much what he wants and how he wants it, and he prepped so much, and he really gets connected with each actor and all that. And really, he’s available for that. When he’s on set, he’s really specific about what he wants, but he lets everybody be free and have fun. And I think that energy that he brings, him as a leader, as a director, really changes the entire game because you have a fluid set.

If you have a set that is functioning, you have a set that everybody’s connected and focused on doing the work more than anything, then you accomplish the day. Because everybody is so focused and so into it, without suffering of being at work, but just having fun at it, and giving the best that they can. I remember I was doing another project at the same time I was filming this, so I was flying between Italy and Atlanta, and I remember the energy of arriving there and how special it was. I think that for sure, it comes from James.

You just wrapped Queen of the South, where you very much the eyes and ears of that world. Here, you get to be a part of a big ensemble. Despite the differences, does it still feel like the same job?

I think it’s the same. I try to think it’s the same job, it’s trying to find the truthfulness of the character, and trying to ground the character, and being the advocate for the character, meaning creating that point of view of the person. I think, of course, when it’s a show that you have so many episodes and still, there’s another season coming up, and you’re kind of creating that path for the character, and for the audience to be connected with the character is a little bit different. As soon as you’re in character and as soon as you’re portraying that character, the most important thing is bringing truthfulness and believing in it, so everybody can believe in it. I don’t see many differences.

For Queen of the South, I knew where she was going, but it’s not quite beginning, middle, end. It was the first show that I did as an actress. It was interesting because I come from movies, so a show is like a heartbeat that is still alive, even when you finish the season. For a film like this, for example, you know the beginning, middle, and end of the character.

Similar to Queen of the South, actually, The Suicide Squad doesn’t try to paint characters as good or bad so much. There’s actual ambiguity. What’s most satisfying about playing those roles? 

Absolutely. It’s so funny that you’re saying that, because for me in Queen of the South, I always tried… She’s a drug dealer, and she is a survivor and all that, but I never tried to portray her as a classic, she becomes a drug dealer and she’s mean. I think nobody’s one thing or another. I think we’re entitled to have flaws. I think as human beings, we have good sides, that we have bad days, and we have good days.

I think once you’re portraying something in a film, I think it’s important for me, at least as an audience, as an actor, is to bring something that is truthfulness. Even if it’s a silly superhero or something like that. That’s why I love how James directs. It’s truthful in that craziness. Just so people really can see even if the character has flaws, it has a heart, it has a perspective, and it’s funny.

That’s why we love Harley Quinn, even her craziness. I think that’s what is important, more than anything. It’s not judging the character or just putting one specific point of view, but it’s creating multiple points of views that you can engage the audience, connect with the audience, and at the same time show that nobody’s perfect, and there’s always a point of view. So that’s what’s exciting about entertaining.

This was one of your first jobs after Queen of the South, right? How did the fast pace of TV change how you work on a movie like The Suicide Squad

It’s interesting because you kind of get the jig of being ready for whatever happens, because TV, it’s a lot of things in a less amount of time. It’s almost like training. It’s almost like a gym for you to be ready for whatever happens so that you be prepared. I love preparing. I love working. I love studying before going to set, before going to work. That I think, definitely, working on TV brought me that knowledge of always be ready because something can happen at any point. Queen of the South brought that to me.

I was actually filming an HBO show in Italy when I was doing The Suicide Squad. It was kind of almost doing a movie because it was Luca Guadagnino, and it was a limited series. It wasn’t as fast-paced filming. But still, you see the grandiosity of Suicide Squad, in the studio, in the scenes, and all that, how the pace is different. And I think as an actor, we always have to understand the ballet of each director, and each set, and be ready for it. I think that’s part of our job is to be on point for whatever happens.

I have to ask about City of God. I remember so vividly when that movie came out, just connecting with film fans and especially people I knew in Baltimore who deeply connected with it. So many people have fond memories of seeing it for the first time. All these years later, is it still special for you as well? 

We shot City of God in July, 2001. So, as we speak, it’s been 20 years that we shot that. I think it’s a film that broke a barrier. The film didn’t age, and the film is still a reference. I think that’s so beautiful and so powerful. I mean, for me it was life-changing, even if it’s a small character and all that. It was my first film, it was my first contact to acting in a feature film.

It was always special because of that because it was my first connection into acting in a feature film. And in a film like that, that opened so many doors, not for me only as an actress, but also for Brazilian cinema, and for a bunch of young people that were watching movies all over the world to get inspired by. To tell their own stories, and to tell their own stories with different perspectives that haven’t been done before. So, if you are someone from Baltimore, Maryland, and all that, go and get your camera, and do your film, and shoot with your perspective because there’s no right or wrong perspective. And I think City of God brought that. For me as an actress, it brought me a lot.

It’s funny to me, a lot of teenagers work in movie theaters or restaurants, but when you were a teen, you were shooting a masterpiece. 

[Laughs] It was amazing! I was 18. I was in the last year of high school. Can you imagine? It was magical.

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