Ricardo, you have been working with Globo for decades, on such hits as Irrational Heart, Tropical Paradise and God Save the King. What attracted you the most to Edney Sivestre’s If I Close My Eyes Now?
I have already single-handedly written, co-authored and supervised more than 25 telenovelas over the course of my 35-year career. Telenovelas are huge productions, with about 180 sixty-minute-long chapters. I wanted to create a shorter work, with a lean plot, without having to stretch it across 7 months. The investments that Grupo Globo have been making in series provided the perfect opportunity to develop my project, inspired by the book by Edney Silvestre.
I read the novel when it was first released and immediately felt it would make for an appealing TV adaptation. I found the time and place in which the story is set to be very interesting – 1961, in a small but prosperous country town controlled by traditional and powerful families. The rite of passage of the two teen protagonists – Paulo and Eduardo – is fascinating. The plot first reveals two naive boys, as they should be at their age. Viewers, however, gradually see them mature as they are exposed to the sordid side of life. The dramatic mood of the narrative rests on a crime story. And I’m a fan of the genre. The strong point, however, was, in my opinion, using aspects of a thriller to unveil the characters’ lives. Secrets, betrayal, racism, repressed homosexuality, hidden perversions, alcohol and drug consumption as a way to alleviate frustrations, corruption, deviations from the Catholic Church, femicide, men oppressing women who struggle to become more independent. I am really interested in addressing these issues.
Tell us a little bit more about the story in the series; will it follow the novel exactly?
I don’t follow the novel’s romantic plot exactly. I find it an excellent book, but I took some dramatic liberties so as to substantiate the series. I developed characters that were just mentioned in the book, created new characters, and added love and family relationships and plots that didn’t originally exist. I also invented different reasons for certain characters’ attitudes. And I changed the ultimate crime endpoint. So, anyone who has ever read the book will be well surprised by how the narrative culminates.
At the same time, though, I was faithful to the overall tone of the story and the atmosphere of the book: parochialism in a country town controlled by the patriarchal, violent and oppressive elite, prejudices of past (and present) times, characters who hide their true nature and live double lives, self-righteous hypocrisy and overrated second and third opinions. The storyline revolves around issues such as “who is the killer?” and “why did this person kill?” to scrutinize characters’ emotions.
What were the most important elements from the book that you included in the TV adaptation?
The starting point is the same: two teenagers escape from school and go for a dive in a lake on the outskirts of the town, on a hot April afternoon in 1961. They discover a young girl’s body. The police charge them with the crime. They are arrested until, surprisingly, the widower takes the blame for the murder. We’re talking about the most reputable dentist in the region. A man in his 70’s, in a poor state of health, with effeminate features, who, visibly, couldn’t have killed his young wife. Another character dies soon after in the adaptation I created for the story, and one of the teenagers, Paulo, decides to investigate the crimes, with the help of his best friend, Eduardo, who at first doesn’t show much interest in the case. Paulo is black, has lost his mother and is constantly beaten by his father. The boy is extremely touched by the girl’s violent death, yet he only knew her by sight, and is attracted to the mystery, although he cannot explain what motivates him to take action – this will be cleared up throughout the plot. Paulo will end up uncovering the truth about his own family background while investigating the murders.
Have you consulted with Silvestre on the TV adaptation?
Before I started writing the series, I showed him the changes I would make to the book’s plot. And he agreed with the additions, because he understands that literature and drama make up different narrative styles. He didn’t get directly involved in the adaptation process, but I emailed him the chapters as I wrote them.
According to him, the adaptation turned out an “electrifying” piece (in his own words). And he sent me a text message that truly touched me: “I created a world, but you populated it with complex and fascinating humans”. In addition to being an excellent writer and journalist, he is an intelligent, educated and fun man. This work brought us close and we became great friends.
What resources did you use to write in a new way about the difficulties of love, family and social relationships, and the secrets each one hides to represent his role in a community?
I dug deep into the 1960’s vocabulary to use appropriate phrases and slang. I also studied about the most popular topics of the time, such as the flight of the Russian astronaut Yuri Gagarin around Earth and his famous remark: “The Earth is blue”. This event is featured in the book and I mentioned it in the series’ first episode. The conflicts between Americans and Soviets in the Bay of Pigs area, Brazilian politics, Pele emerging as the greatest Brazilian football star, among other hot topics, are also featured. I got to listen to a lot of the most popular music from the late 1950’s and early 1960’s and included a Dalida song on the soundtrack. The characters mention her show at Olympia, in Paris. I also researched on fashion, TV shows, magazines and advertisements. I studied behavior, especially to build the younger characters. Unfortunately, some topics are still very current, such as racism, intolerance, prejudice against homosexuals, sexual abuse, oppression by the white and patriarchal elite to perpetuate power, sexism and repression of women’s rights.
What are the main challenges today for a writer of telenovelas and series, and what are Brazilian and international viewers mostly interested in this kind of content?
Telenovelas are still extremely relevant on Brazilian television. Spectators are loyal and ratings are always high. In fact, when it comes to ratings and repercussion, telenovelas are an unbeatable product on Brazilian television. The end of telenovelas has been widely anticipated by the press and specialized critics, but such predictions have not come true. They continue to engage the public, are frequently featured in print and digital media and incite discussions throughout the country. By the same token, series and other short formats that cater to a more segmented audience have also been gaining ground, especially on paid TV and streaming services. I believe the challenge, not only in Brazil, but around the world, is to keep creating culturally, socially and economically relevant shows for different age groups and wide and diversified audiences.
Angela, you are officially presenting If I Close My Eyes Now at MIPCOM. Tell us in a nutshell what will make this brand-new series Globo’s next hit?
If I Close My Eyes Now is a psychological thriller shrouded in secrets and mystery with meaningful characters and compelling dramas, which we are sure will generate strong identification among the public. In addition to being a flexible product suitable for several display windows, it meets the different demands of our partners around the world. The series takes place in the 1960s and revolves around the story of two young men who find a woman’s body and embark on a dangerous investigation of the crime, which involves some of the most important figures of the city where they live. The plot develops as these two young men make revealing discoveries that looks can be deceiving and there are always two sides to every story: what you see and what you don’t.
Which stars will we see in the series?
One of the limited series’ highlights is the cast of talented artists, praised by audiences in Brazil and throughout the world. The ensemble includes Murilo Benício and Débora Falabella, recurring stars in Brazilian drama productions such as the telenovela Brazil Avenue and, more recently, Nothing Remains the Same, in which they play the leading couple in a limited series on the early days of the television industry in Brazil. The production is being distributed in Eastern Europe by Visionary Thinking. Names like Antônio Fagundes, Gabriel Braga Nunes, Mariana Ximenes and many others round out the cast.
What are Globo’s other highlights for MIPCOM this year?
The catalog is entirely comprised of our new breed of series, including five new releases. This is another step we are taking to expand our offer of cross-platform content, especially with short formats that are relevant to audiences around the world. Besides If I Close My Eyes Now, we have the limited series Harassment, featuring a group of women who come together to report a series of sexual assaults committed by a physician. It is a fictional work freely inspired by a book by Vicente Vilardaga, which addresses a current issue that has been widely discussed around the globe. Another new feature is Iron Island, which is mainly set on an oil rig and revolves around the story of Dante (Cauã Reymond), an oil worker torn between the dramas of life on dry land and the turbulent work atmosphere at sea. The series features elaborate visual effects and a second season has already been confirmed. We will also feature the second seasons of Under Pressure and Jailers in Cannes, which, in addition to the great ratings in Brazil, have also been conquering audiences on the international market. The series are a major hit: they have been screened and won awards at major festivals, and have also been licensed to major industry players.