Pulp Fiction Actress Maria de Medeiros On Pulp Fiction's Enduring Appeal

Yitzi Weiner @ Authority Magazine

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First I want to say I’m really super-proud to have been part of that film. I think it shows how free cinema is-and should be- because if we look at it, Quentin completely disobeyed all the standards of what a film should be! Hollywood’s films have standards which are very recognizable, and Quentin did something completely different. I mean, it’s a challenge, it’s a mind challenge to put the pieces of the puzzle together. And so, I think it’s formidable to see Quentin’s amazing intelligence being displayed in that film, with its completely unusual form. I mean, we in Europe are very used to this proximity between literature and cinema, but Quentin, because he’s so curious and cultured, and he absorbs, and he’s very interested, he’s got a literary quality about his films that is amazing. I think when actors work with Quentin, they don’t change a word because it’s perfect. Basically, I think it’s amazing that he proclaims his freedom as an auteur.

We had the distinct pleasure to talk to Maria de Medeiros. Maria, born in Lisbon, is an international actress and director. At eighteen, she settled in Paris to study philosophy and theatre. She quickly began to perform both on stage and film. She was awarded the Coppa Volpi for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival for her performance in “Two brothers, my sister” by Teresa Villaverde. She played “Anaïs Nin” in Phil Kaufman’s “Henry and June” and Fabienne in Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction”. She worked with Guy Maddin in Canada, Bigas Luna in Spain, Manoel de Oliveira in Portugal, Antonietta de Lillo in Italy, Luiz Villaça in Brazil and many other directors all over the world, performing in 6 languages. She also did a lot of theatre and recorded 3 albums as a singer and composer. In 2007, Maria de Medeiros was honored with Unesco’s title of Artist for Peace.

Her first feature, “April Captains”, on the famous Portuguese “Carnation Revolution”, was presented at the Cannes Film Festival, in the “Un certain regard” selection. It received many awards throughout the world.

She also directed the feature-long documentary “Je t’aime, moi non plus — artists and critics” on the complex relationship between artists and critics, interviewing some of the biggest names of world cinema. Her latest documentary on the Amnesty and Reparation Commission in Brazil, “Bacuri’s eyes”, was three times awarded in Gramado Film Festival 2013, with the Jury Prize, the Critic’s Prize and the Don Quijote Prize. It won Best Film at the Ficip (International Political Cinema Festival) in Buenos Aires.

Her new feature film as a director, shot in Brazil: “To our children”, came out in 2022 in France and Brazil. It addresses important and universal topics like transmission between generations and children in gay couples.

Maria, thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to get to know your background and the story of how you grew up. So, can you please share with us the story of your childhood?

I’m Portuguese, but grew up in Austria. My dad is a classical composer and pianist, so that’s how I grew up, listening to Mahler, Mozart, Beethoven, and living in that Central European culture. Then, something very important happened — there was a Revolution in Portugal. Portugal was the oldest dictatorship in Europe, and the Revolution really changed the lives of all Portuguese. I was raised in this artistic elite milieu. My mother was a political journalist, and of course, these childhood experiences influenced my future choices. But everything in my life really happened by encounters, surprises, and unexpected things. I never made plans! I always thought, and everybody in my family thought, that I would do fine arts because I was one of those children drawing all the time. When I was 15, people were really enjoying freedom and a new democracy. There was no commercial cinema in Portugal at that time, and everybody was into really artistic films. This was the context, when I met a very important film director, João César Monteiro. He was a very talented, and crazy artist. And he decided I should be the main character in his new film. It was called Silvestre. It was a beautiful medieval story. I always say he’s guilty of my career, because I had never even thought of making cinema. And there I was, 15 years old and discovering cinema and how wonderful it is. Because it’s the dream machine! It’s the best toy on earth, it has all the languages mixed in: it’s image, it’s writing, it’s poetry, it’s geometry, it’s architecture, and it’s music. And so from that moment on, I was very fascinated not only by the acting, which of course is a lot of fun, but also by the other side of the camera. That’s why my career was always on the two sides, acting and directing. At the beginning, I directed experimental arty films. But because I had lived all that revolutionary period in my country, my first feature was about the Revolution, called April Captains. For 13 years I worked and did very intense research with the protagonists of the revolution. It’s not always the case that you can actually talk to the heroes you want to portray! Telling their story became like an obsession. By that time, I had started performing in American films, like Henry and June by Phil Kaufman, who is a wonderful director, or Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. But I really wanted to do my own film, so I came back to Europe to direct it. I’m very happy I could do it. And then I stayed in Europe because, though I love to work all over the world, I think the EU, the European project is an amazing one. Imagine building something together, when we are so diverse.

You probably have a lot of fascinating experiences, and maybe this is hard to limit to one or two, but can you share with us one or two of the most interesting stories that have happened to you since you began a career as a filmmaker, actress, and music star?

I’ve been lucky to work with people who are really cult-directors, like Quentin Tarantino, Bigas Luna, Manoel de Oliveira or Abel Ferrara. But I remember that The Saddest Music In The World by Guy Maddin was really a very intense experience.

When he contacted me, I was doing a Portuguese theater play and I had just discovered I was expecting my second child. But I didn’t mention it. We talked online and I said, “So Guy, we’re shooting in Winnipeg, it’s one of the coldest places on Earth. But I know Canada. I know that inside the studio, it will be warm and cozy.” And he said, “Yes, don’t worry, you’ll absolutely be warm.” And I arrived in Winnipeg. The cold was amazing, especially for a Portuguese girl. Actually, the studio was really not a studio, but a warehouse. So, it was minus 30 Celsius in the studio. I mean, the cold was incredible! We had beer glasses, and they would pour the beer just before we shot. By the time “action” was said, the beer would be hard, it was already frozen. And so basically, he wanted me to slide down and fall into a swimming pool of beer. Of course, he had lied to me saying I wouldn’t be cold. But I hadn’t told him the truth, that I was expecting a baby. I couldn’t possibly do the scene. That shot was never done. There was no way I could do it. So, it all started with two lies, but a wonderful film and a wonderful friendship came out of it.

The second story I could tell you was much more recent. It was during the shooting of a beautiful film by a woman director. She’s half Costa Rican and half Iraqi, an amazing woman and artist, Ishtar Yasin. She shot this movie called Two Fridas, about Frida Kahlo’s nurse. I was playing this quite unusual nurse, who fell in love with Frida.

For a few days, we were shooting in one of the most dangerous spots in Mexico and actually, there was an attack by Narcos on the set. My driver behaved like a hero and a saint, he took me away from there. So I could escape. That was something I won’t forget. But the film got done, the film is beautiful, and all went okay at the end, because the police actually showed up and liberated the crew.

I’m just curious. This wasn’t really one of my intended questions, but in how many languages have you been an actor?

Actually, I speak six languages. I don’t think it’s a big deal, because I learned them when I was a child. And it’s much easier when you’re a child. I was lucky that I could actually perform in all six of them: Portuguese, French, English, Spanish, Italian, and German. I even did a whole film, it’s actually one of my favorite films, called Trip to Portugal, in Russian. Although I don’t speak Russian! Luckily, I had a wonderful coach. It’s the true story of a Ukrainian woman who came to work in Portugal. She spoke Russian. The film is about how this woman’s life is entirely destroyed just in the airport. She never got out of the airport, because of prejudices and unfair immigration rules. It’s a very, very strong film. So, I did the best I could in Russian. I learned my lines, knew exactly what I was saying, but couldn’t actually speak the language. The film was presented at the Odessa Film Festival, in Ukraine, in 2011. I thought that this was going to be the humiliation of my life. But, no, the public saw the film, they really enjoyed it and they could understand everything I said! And it wasn’t too much of a shame at the end.

That’s amazing. You see, I imagine that one part of the brain is used to act and perform and another is used to speak a foreign language. To do that together at the same time, to have the presence of mind to act, is really amazing. And then, speaking that language…

There’s something very interesting that happens. Each language reflects a certain vision of the world. And so, when you speak a language, you change your character slightly, because the language already drives you towards something. It may sound a little bit cliché, and it probably is sometimes, but the French language drives you to a certain rationality, to a certain way of seeing the world. The Portuguese language, which is my language, is probably the most difficult for me. Because it’s in our own language that words carry the most weight, the most history, the most senses and subtle nuances. Probably the language I’m more afraid of is my own. There’s something shy about it. The Spanish language, especially the European-Spanish, is very direct, it forces you to a certain attitude, different from other languages. And this, I think, is completely fascinating.

It has been said that our mistakes can sometimes be our greatest teachers. Do you have a story about a mistake that you made when you were first starting, and then the lesson that you learned from it?

I’ve made many mistakes and learned from them, certainly. But I suppose there’s been too many for me to talk about.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person that you’re grateful towards, who helped you to achieve the success you currently enjoy? Can you share a story about that?

There are so many people I’m grateful to, but I think of one person in particular. His name is Jerry Rudes. For 25 years, he organized a beautiful tiny festival of independent films in Avignon. I don’t know if you know Avignon, it’s a gorgeous medieval city in the south of France. It’s mainly known because it has the biggest theater festival in France. It’s the equivalent of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom. It takes place in July. Avignon has an amazing palace, the Palace of the Popes. For a while, the Popes left Rome and came to Avignon, and it’s a very beautiful, impressive place.

But just before the big theater festival, Jerry Rudes, this American living in Avignon, organized a small Independent American and French film festival. And because it was so tiny and very relaxed, everybody got to know each other, make friends and play Pétanque. I was in Avignon rehearsing a theater play, and Jerry had contacted my agent to invite me to his festival. But my agent told him I was too busy with the theater festival. At the hotel where I was staying, I met another person I have to thank because she was so helpful, Christa Fuller. She was there for Jerry’s festival, and she said, “Oh Maria, you have to come to our little festival!” Anyway, it so happened, unexpectedly, I met all those amazing young directors, who were there most of the time with their first independent film. That’s where I met Quentin Tarantino. So I must say it was an incredible help by Christa and Jerry. This is the magic of cinema encounters for me. Sometimes small events can be more important than big events, because in a huge festival, you don’t really get to meet anyone.

You have so much impressive work. Can you share with our readers a bit of what you’re working on now and what you hope to be working on in the near future?

I just finished a film, called To Our Children, that I directed in Brazil. It’s about current topics, like children in gay couples, dialogue between generations, mothers and daughters, and how each generation carries its priorities: our private choices reflect the times we live in. Brazil went through very strong and violent changes these last years, and it somehow got reflected in the film. We got caught in the political and sanitary turmoil of the pandemic in Brazil, but finally the film opened in France and recently in Brazil. It has won a few prices in International Festivals and we’re still working on its distribution worldwide.

At the same time, I performed in a big series for Brazilian TV. I love to work in Brazil, we share the same language.

I’m also doing a theater play by Jean Cocteau in Europe, opening in Paris in February. And I’m writing a new film. So, like often, several projects are going on simultaneously.

On the musical front, I’m singing in an Italian show called Ossessione Napoletana about Neapolitan music and artists, a wonderful invitation by Mauro Gioia, the Italian singer. So, those are pretty much the projects going on at this moment.

Photo byAuthority Magazine

So I think our readers, who are mostly in the United States, will be most familiar with you from your role in Pulp Fiction. IMDB list’s Pulp Fiction among the top films of all time. In your opinion. What do you think it was that captured people’s attention about that particular film?

First I want to say I’m really super-proud to have been part of that film. I think it shows how free cinema is-and should be- because if we look at it, Quentin completely disobeyed all the standards of what a film should be! Hollywood’s films have standards which are very recognizable, and Quentin did something completely different. I mean, it’s a challenge, it’s a mind challenge to put the pieces of the puzzle together. And so, I think it’s formidable to see Quentin’s amazing intelligence being displayed in that film, with its completely unusual form.

I mean, we in Europe are very used to this proximity between literature and cinema, but Quentin, because he’s so curious and cultured, and he absorbs, and he’s very interested, he’s got a literary quality about his films that is amazing. I think when actors work with Quentin, they don’t change a word because it’s perfect. Basically, I think it’s amazing that he proclaims his freedom as an auteur.

So this is the signature question that we ask in all of our interviews. Maria, you’ve been blessed with a lot of success. For those who are looking to follow your path, can you share five things that you need to create a successful career in television or film?

I don’t know, I’m not sure everybody would want to follow my path because my path is not very classic. I really follow what Picasso used to say: I don’t search, I find. That doesn’t make a genius of all of us, of course, but I think it’s very important to be attentive to what we find.

And this is really advice I could share. It’s important to be attentive to what we actually find, what we encounter, what comes to us. Because if we’re only focused on something we want and will probably never happen, we may not see the actual good things that are happening, which will make us grow.

Also, I think it’s very important to maintain a critical spirit, but also freedom. It’s very tough for actors to admit that, of course, we have a range of choices. But more than choosing, most actors are chosen. And this is sometimes difficult to admit, but that shouldn’t make us lose a certain sense of humor. It humbles us.

Maria, you are a person of great influence. A lot of people look up to you. If you could inspire movements that would bring the most amount of good to the most number of people, what would that be? Because you never know what your idea can inspire?

Yes. Well, there are so many things that are necessary.

One- to think for ourselves

Two, it might sound like a cliché, but — be kind. We have one life, and if we don’t spend it looking at others and being open to others, we will never even understand anything about ourselves.

Three, I would say we shouldn’t lose the consciousness that things are complex. Our world and our society tend to oversimplify everything. That will lead, of course, to a parallel world. There are incredible amounts of people in the world nowadays, living in parallel realities, because reality is complex. The canvas of our reality is not that easy. But I think that the complexity of the world is so much more fun. It’s great when things are complex and subtle. Otherwise, I think over simplicity is just boring.

How can our readers best continue to follow your work?

Well, I’m on Facebook and Instagram. I’m not a huge user, but people can more or less follow what I do on my trips, shows and my new adventures and projects.

Beautiful. I want to thank you so much for your gracious time.


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Yitzi Weiner is a journalist, author, and the founder Authority Magazine. He is also the CEO of Authority Magazine's Thought Leader Incubator, which guides leaders to become prolific content creators. Yitzi is also the author of five books. In 2017, he created the popular, “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” series that highlights the empowering lessons learned from the experiences of high-profile entrepreneurs and public figures. This series has inspired a mini-movement among writers, with scores of writers worldwide profiling inspiring people to share their positive, empowering, and actionable stories. A trained Rabbi, Yitzi is also a dynamic educator, teacher and orator. He currently lives in Maryland with his wife and children.

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