The search of the being, the desire to know who she is, has always been a challenge in Fernanda Montenegro's life. Perhaps, because the deep silence that this search usually reveals as an answer, Fernanda has undergone so many transformations along her life. This was probably the major reason why she opted for her career as an actress.
Descending from Portuguese and Italians, Arlette Pinheiro Esteves da Silva, after her marriage with the also actor Fernando Torres, in 1953, changed her name to Arlette Pinheiro Monteiro Torres. But, she became widely known as Femanda Montenegro, throughout Brazil, and more recently around the world with the success attained by "Central do Brasil ". The name Fernanda was chosen during her adolescence because it had, according to her, a sonority that reminds the characters of the romances of BaIzac or Proust. Montenegro was adopted after a homeopath doctor that she didn't know personally, but who was a friend of her family and held as capable of true "miracles".
The "magic name" Fernanda Montenegro showed up for the first time when she was working on the radio, making translations and adaptations of Iiterary works into the soap opera format. She was under 20-years-old when, to earn extra money, gave Portuguese classes for foreigners at Berlitz, the same language school where she learned English and French. Based on inspiration, but also mainly on perspiration, Fernanda projected herself as one of the best actresses and may be appointed today; as an actress, that built her carrier all by herself, a true self made woman. Together with colleagues from Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, like Sérgio Britto, Italo Rossi, besides her own husband, helped to give more dignity to the Brazilian Theater during the 50's and afterwards.
Fernanda Montenegro's artistic career became divided among the theater, the television and, with greater intensity in the last years, the cinema. Her debut in the theater actually happened in 1950, in the play "AIegres Canções nas Montanhas" along with Fernando Torres. The relationship with the actor culminated in a marriage that lasts until today. This marriage resulted in the birth of the also actress Fernanda Torres and the scenographer, visual programmer and now movie director, Cláudio Torres. Her first contact with television happened in the beginning of the 50's, with participation in detective drama stories.
Fernanda took advantage of that period to improve her knowledge about theater and, since 1952, she opted for the stages, without belonging, however, to a definite dramatic school. . In a short time, she became a respected character in the Rio-São Paulo artistic life. She performed in several plays along with her husband and actors like Sérgio Britto, Cacilda Becker, Nathalia Timberg, Cláudio Corrêa e Castro and Italo Rossi.
In the beginning of the 60's, already established in São Paulo, she acted in television, staging more than 170 plays in the program "Grande Teatro Tupi". Since 1963, she began to participate in television soap operas. But it was only since 1979 that her presence became more outstanding on the screen. Fernanda became the authors' - and the public's - favorite name having acted in several productions of Rede Globo, including soap operas, special programs and short series.
Fernanda Montenegro made her debut in the movies in 1964, when she acted in the adaptation by director Leon Hirszman, from "A Falecida" by Nelson Rodrigues. But her participation in films is few when compared to the performance in the theater and even in television. The most well known performance, prior to "Central do Brasil" was in "EIes Não Usam Black Tie" (1980) of the same Hirszman. In this film Fernanda acted with Gianfrancesco Guarnieri and the production won the Golden Lion prize as the best film in the Venice Cinema Festival.
As a matter of fact, the theater never failed to be her priority. In 1982, for instance, she won the special and best actress Molière prizes for her performance in "As Lágrimas Amargas de Petra von Kant". There are countless prizes conquered by Fernanda Montenegro during her career in the theater.
Pointed-out by stage colleagues as an actress capable to merge as nobody else, technique and instinct, Fernanda proves Vittorio Gassman's theory, according to which the actors live a kind of guided schizophrenia, a form of creative insanity from which many don't return, as it was the case of Antonin Artaud.
For her excellent expressiveness, she was classified by a critic as the actress talented with a "rubber face", in view of her enormous capacity to change expressions and adapt to the character's features, always in a convincing way. One may say that such an attribute was inherited by her daughter, actress Fernanda Torres, who was honored, as best actress, with the Golden Palm prize at the 1986 Cannes Festival, for her performance in the film "Eu Sei Que Vou Te Amar".
In spite of being extremely versatile, Fernanda Montenegro considers herself a conventional actress. "I belong to a non-romantic generation, without much glamour. I don't like interpreters that only work when the center of the stage is his or hers. I also hate subservient casts. I like to work with prominent actors, which are part of the ritual and isolated from destructive competition."
Such grandiosity, only found in personalities that recognize humbleness, afforded her the invitation to participate in the political life. In 1985, José Sarney, then President of the Republic, invited her to be Minister of Culture. She obtained unanimous support of the whole artistic class and the public opinion, but refused for she knew it wasn't her real vocation.
But her relationship with power was not always so friendly. In 1979, still during the military rule in Brazil, Fernanda and her husband were object of an assault carried out by one of the several paramilitary groups that acted under the disguised cover of the prevailing system. She was left unharmed, but, in that period, needed to cancel some shows, acted with the theater spotlights always on and was protected by security agents during some time. Eventually, the military years went by and Fernanda Montenegro's talent could be sung freely in the voice of the singer Milton Nascimento, which honored her with the music "Mulher da Vida".
A Woman devoted to the stage, to the television studios and now, more than ever, to films, Fernanda Montenegro, is achieving a deserved recognition in the international scenery for her performance in "Central do Brasil", by director Walter Salles. Apparently, the "virus" of the movies seems to have conquered her once and for all. The actress can be seen in "Traição", a film divided in three episodes, having as central theme the adultery. Fernanda has special participation in all of them. In one episode, her son, Cláudio Torres, directs her.