Interview with Babu Santana

The Brazilian actor discusses the challenges in his life, his successful career and discloses new projects

Brazilian actor Babu Santana. (Photo: press release)

Translation by Rosemary Baptista, Centaurus Enterprises

Babu Santana talks to Wave about his movie career as actor in City of God and Tim Maya, and his participation in the Big Brother Brazil – BBB20

BRAZILIAN WAVE – You started working early in a beach hut, followed by cleaning maintenance, and work as a bricklayer, etc. What did all these experiences offer Babu Santana today?
BABU SANTANA – Today’s Babu Santana is the accumulation of yesterday’s Babu. From the issue of humility, the desire to work and grow. All the professions, I exercised in my life contributed to this. I also believe that an artist has the baggage for interpretation not only in his intellectual research. I remember that there was a very famous author here in Brazil, Nelson Rodrigues, who referred to young people like this: “Young people, grow up! As you grow, you accumulate a bag of feelings, sensations, emotions and experiences”. So, all these other professions and the archetypes that went through my life contributed, in a way, so that I could play my characters. If you stop to think, “What does the bricklayer have to do with the actor?” With my archetype, people called me a lot to make these types popular. Anyway, the Babu of today is the reflection of the Babu of yesterday.

BRAZILIAN WAVE – The first movie you released was “City of God”. Although it was a minor role, what was it like to work with Fernando Meirelles and be in Brazilian classic cinema?
BABU SANTANA – “City of God” was a worldwide phenomenon and everything that accompanied this phenomenon contributed to my life and my career. But one of the fundamental things was having worked with Fernando Meirelles, with Kátia Lund, with Guti, with Luciana and with Fátima Toledo – who I didn’t work directly, but who prepared all the staff. What was most fundamental for me in “City of God”, besides the obvious, was the preparation. I was a theatre actor when I passed the film’s workshop test. I remember that Fernando Meirelles used to say that he really liked my form of interpreting, but that I was very big in my gestures and that that wouldn’t fit in the frame when he decided to frame it smaller. This for an experienced actor seems obvious, but for a young theatre actor, as I was at the time, it was the light I needed to start my career. So, the contact with Fernando and Kátia was very important because I had the chance to be in a preparatory workshop to interpret. I, therefore, believe that “City of God” was my acting school for the camera.

BRAZILIAN WAVE – How did the role to play singer Tim Maia come about? What was the process like for playing a character that really existed?
BABU SANTANA – I worked with Mauro Lima, who is the director of “Tim Maia”, in another film by his entitled, “My Name Is Not Johnny”, in which I had a small part. It was cool and enough for me to stay in Mauro’s head and he asked me to audition for the movie “Tim Maia”. I did and it was funny because when he told me there was a controversial decision, that is, that two actors play the same character and have almost the same age – I believe, I’m a little older than Robson. But he made a division almost by personality because Robson is a calmer, gentler guy and I’m more explosive. So, he managed to unite these two sides of Tim Maia. (…) For me, who am a fan of Tim Maia, this experience will remain marked for a long time. “Tim Maia, thank you so much for existing!”

BRAZILIAN WAVE – In addition to being an actor, you have a band and an audiovisual project. How do you find time for all this? Do you think your participation in Big Brother Brasil (BBB20) helped to give visibility to these projects?
BABU SANTANA – Yes, yes, yes … I have 20 years of work experience before the BBB and that few people had access to. I don’t blame people, but the system in our country doesn’t privilege cinema or theatre, nor culture in general. To give you an idea, since you are in another country, I don’t know now, but prior to that, 0.4% of the government budget was made available to apply for culture – and that’s not even 1%! So, public policies have always been deficient in our country. My work, therefore, was limited to those people who consumed theatre and cinema. BBB is the most popular reality show here in the country and, of course, it helped me bring my work to more people. Today the challenge is to look for a job that doesn’t break our identity or the whole journey we’ve had so far. Of course, BBB contributed a lot so that people had access to all this baggage that I built throughout my career. But I was very afraid that people would forget about all my work that was done before because I arrived in the program in VIP status. This “Big Brother” phenomenon was a great projection for me here in Brazil. And one of the most impressive things I found was the access I had to the kids and that was cool. So, in addition to the current surprise that Babu Santana has become, there are even more surprises out there, because I captivated a child audience that in ten years’ time will become a consumer audience. I hope to be able to exceed expectations and that these children continue to accompany me. “A kiss for the little friends who cheered for Babu! Thanks!”

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BRAZILIAN WAVE – You said earlier that you suffered prejudice from a very early age. Were these negative experiences important to strengthen you and teach you to position yourself currently?
BABU SANTANA – Absolutely! And not only me, but every man and every woman, especially the black woman, every black man, the citizen of the ghetto and the periphery must use all these ailments as a springboard. My goal was always to prove people wrong; it was always to be part of a positive statistic. So, all these hardships helped to strengthen me, while they also hindered me so that I could grow more. It took a television advertising phenomenon for me to be able to achieve certain things I’ve always craved. But it was also this man forged in the ghetto who impressed an entire country. So, all the difficulties forged Babu Santana, Alexandre da Silva Santana. Therefore, they were fundamental for me to become who I am. I think that, suddenly, the challenges made me a stronger person so that I could get to the same place as someone else, only in a more difficult way. So, when you go to drink the wine of victory it seems like it’s sweeter.

BRAZILIAN WAVE – Was it worth participating in Big Brother Brasil 20? If so, in which aspects: financial or for the new job opportunities that emerged after the game?
BABU SANTANA – Look, it was 100%! And if Boninho wants to call me to BBB 22, I’m there. I’m a guy who has a popular taste, I was already into “Big Brother” and being part of it was a very big personal wave – bathing in that pool, staying there for 90 days wearing a cap, fighting for a million and a half real… Financially, it was very important and for my projection even more, since we are in a world where engagement and the Internet are very important. During the pandemic, all entertainment migrated to the Internet. Whoever is there in the clubs enjoying something, is crazy, is out of this world (laughs)! So, doing BBB gave me an artistic boost, not in the result of the art, but in the dissemination. Also, because more people knew who Babu Santana is. I did “Big Brother” and if they ask me again, I will. “We’re there, Boninho! Come on, my partner!”

BRAZILIAN WAVE – Your character Nanico, in the soap opera “Salve-se Quem Puder”, had an air of heartthrob and was one of the first seductive characters you made. Was this important for your self-esteem? What will this role do for you?
BABU SANTANA – I think it’s not the first seductive character I play, but nationally for sure. Suddenly, it will mark me the most because I’ve become a better-known person. And, more than that, more than a seducer, because being a seducer is humour
. It’s that most improbable and funniest love triangle. The importance of having participated in this soap opera was that, for the first time, I saw a soap opera author rooting for me. (laughs) A kiss Dani! And, therefore, it was very important to be present in this guy’s work in this regard. Then, being with those two wonderful actresses that I’ve always admired, working with that wonderful cast and having this popular contact, putting the black body somewhere else, that’s revolutionary and very important.

BRAZILIAN WAVE – If the Babu Santana of today were to meet Babu Santana who was entering the theatre “Nós do Morro” in 1997, what would one say to the other?
BABU SANTANA – “Hey buddy, go deep!”