Miguel Damião: “Portugal could learn to eat barnacles instead of snails”

Miguel Damião and I met a few years ago for a voice-over. Two Azoreans, one from São Miguel and one from Terceira (historically rival islands), were called to do an advert related to the archipelago’s dairy products. We were going to be two shepherds toasting with our milk, each with their own accent. We had a great time, little imagining that — three hours later and after the myriad of subtle opinions from accounts, creatives, technicians, marketing and clients — the spot would end with such a lack of pronunciations that it would have been just as easy for us to record as it was for two official accounts technicians from Arroios.

Miguel Damião is enormous, in talent, in heart, in dedication. And he is unstoppable. He debuted “Sobreviventes”, by José Barahona, at the last Indie Lisboa; he will be the protagonist (with Gonçalo Waddington) of the RTP series “A Travessia”, about the epic of Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral; to be released after the summer will be “Azul”, filmed in the Azores by Pedro Varela; and by the end of the year we will still be able to see him in cinemas, in “Mal Criado” by Vicente Alves do Ó. Oh, and ‘Padre António’ will return in the second season of the international hit “Rabo de Peixe”! In the midst of all this hustle and bustle, Miguel found time to provide me with 9 sublime answers and also leave recommendations about our common archipelago. Here you go, boy.

Read the interview with Luís Filipe Borges, from the Embassy of the Azores, by Pedro Almeida Maia.

A Hollywood producer is dying to make a film about your life, but he has yet to convince the studio, which will only go ahead if Spielberg directs it… and then you find yourself in an elevator with Mr. Steven. How would you sell yourself?
I would say that when I was seven years old, I saw “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, probably the first, or one of the first “adult” films I saw and I was completely “hooked” and in love with the film. The scene in which the Humans contact the spaceship through musical sounds/chords, in a supposedly common language with the aliens, remains for me one of the most beautiful scenes in cinema. The imagery of UFOs and aliens has always fascinated me, perhaps also because of the proximity of the Azores to the USA, since this theme was mostly “imported” from the USA at the time, either through cinema, literature and even through reports of supposedly real “sightings”. That said, I found myself venturing out alone, on several occasions, to my paternal grandparents’ farm, in Fajã de Baixo in São Miguel, at night, escaping the supervision of adults, in the hope that a UFO would contact me and I would have an encounter with extraterrestrials, similar to what happened in the Steven Spielberg film, including the desire to be taken by them, through the Galaxies, like the boy in the film is taken, in the scene where a beam of light takes him out of an oven where he is hiding. Psychoanalysis obviously explains this, but I wasn’t going to bore Mr. Spielberg with such Freudian details. I would simply say, after telling him this childhood story, that since the film about my life was in the works and had names like Meryl Streep playing my mother, Robert De Niro as my father, Judi Dench and Anthony Hopkins as my grandparents, which could give a “little help”… I would say that, obviously, this episode from my childhood, related to his film, would have to “be” in the film about my life and who better to portray/film it than him himself? After all, he always had a huge influence on me and was responsible for triggering such a fascination with extraterrestrials, on lonely summer nights, amidst the mystery and magic of a farm, where every corner of moonlight promised an adventure. That’s how it would be, Mr. Spielberg, I would say. A moment when his life became intertwined with mine, in the sense that it must have been his own desires — and once again Freud explains that almost everything has its origins in childhood — that led him to write and film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and provoke, if not the same, at least a very close identification with his own, in another child, lost on one of the 9 islands, in the middle of the Atlantic. It would basically be a “Kid meets Kid” kind of thing! And we all know that this thing of making films and acting, is “drained” in its essence from playing like when we were kids. Once again, Freud explains!

When and why was the happiest day of your professional life?
It’s difficult to answer this question because there have been so many happy days, for very different reasons… I’ll choose randomly and succinctly: the day I worked in the theatre with Ana Bola and Vítor de Sousa, my idols from Herman José’s programmes; the day I met Herman himself, the greatest idol of all; the day I was invited by Carlos Pessoa to join the Teatro da Garagem team, a leading company in Lisbon, when I was still in my second year at the Escola Superior de Teatro e Cinema, and it made me think: “Okay, I must have some talent…” (where I worked for several years and learned a lot); the day Bruno Nogueira invited me to be part of the cast of “Último a Sair”, because regardless of the success of the programme, it was one of the most fun and “free” jobs I’ve ever done, and for the same reasons; “Grande Salão”, a theatre show by Martim Pedroso, a satire on Facebook (which was all the rage at the time) with a huge cast of 14/15 actors and actresses, which is very difficult to achieve nowadays; the day I had the privilege of spending time with Zé Mário Branco at the Teatro Meridional and the impact that had on me, being alongside one of the “makers” of the 25th of April, through his art; the day I acted alongside Ruy de Carvalho in a TV movie… so much responsibility and nerves. In short, everything related to people and what they provide and teach you.

What could mainland Portugal learn from the Azores?
I could learn to eat barnacles instead of snails. I could use the gerund because it’s so much nicer to say “I’m eating, I’m walking, I’m talking, I’m looking…” because it’s a continuous action and, in sound terms, the verb conveys this implicit “movement”. I would say that the sentences become more “alive”. I could have a more privileged contact with nature and with the entire rural world, which comes with a certain innocence and a genuine way of “being” that enriches us as individuals and enhances our interpersonal relationships. I could have more quality “time” in life, to breathe and the rest comes as an addition. Oh, and I could add ground pepper to all the food we make!

How does the Atlantic character, the Azorean identity, and being an islander influence your creative process?
All easy questions with short answers… None of them are given to daydreaming, and I could spend hours here rambling without reaching any conclusions, which is synonymous with a good conversation. I would say that humidity plays a crucial role in the creative process of the Azoreans. It allows ideas and thoughts to always be well-oiled. The mental gears do not jam and reason as well as emotion always remain in a state of imminent “slippage”, given the humidity — which means always being alert, therefore in “survival” and action mode, and from there “is born” creative productivity. There is also the privileged contact with Nature and its immensity, whether in the Sea or in the Sky, which makes us, I would say, more humble, in the face of the evidence of how “small” and insignificant we are in relation to this unknown power that emanates from it and that is as frightening as it is attractive. There is also the permanent volcanic energy that (and I believe there are scientific studies that corroborate my thesis) healthily contaminates creativity and “focus”, also keeping us in a high and productive frequency. That is why every time I start a professional project, I spray myself with water vapor and do a vigorous “body shake” in order to keep the moisture and energy always present.

What’s the biggest nonsense you’ve ever heard about the islands?
Maybe the typical one… “You all know each other there, don’t you?” The one I personally like to spread the most is: “when the tide goes out we can walk along the rocks to the nearest island!”

What crime would you commit if there was no punishment?
Another very easy question, because it is not only the lack of punishment that counts, but also the conscience that one is left with after the crime, and if there were no “burdens” of conscience and moral values… I would say some crimes directed at some, let’s say, 50 people who are currently sitting in the Assembly of the Republic… but since I have values ​​and conscience, I will move on to a computer fraud (which is a subject I have complete knowledge of) that would allow me to completely embezzle – and I will not advertise any of them – from a bank. It would really be like “swiping” all the money, I say ALL of it again! And using that money, not only for my own benefit and that of those close to me, to resolve various mundane matters, such as plastering some walls here at home because of the humidity here on the island, traveling – because that must be one of the most beautiful things one can do for our spirit – but also financing various charities that help people, animals and the environment, since I think that would still be some money and would be enough for all of that. I know this sounds like a speech from the Misses but it’s genuine, I would help in any way I could. Don’t tell me that the money in the banks also comes from the people and they would lose their savings if I made that embezzlement, because now it’s done and I’m not going back on it… “One for all and all for one!”, my goal would be to be a Robin Hood but with a more modern outfit, more Dior, I would say… (I know the quote is from the Three Musketeers but it also fits here, perfectly).

How does your family react to your profession?
Nowadays she no longer reacts, she has already resigned herself and so, let’s say that they are left to applaud whether I deserve it or not, because that is what family is for!

Is that dream coming true?
“And the Oscar goes to… Michael Damien in “My Life”, directed by Steven Spielberg!”

Finally, to end on an easy note, what is the meaning of life?
In an easy way? Nothing was easy, except for the first one with Spielberg! (laughs) I don’t know if I’ll ever reach any conclusion, but as I said, the best thing to do is breathe and the rest will come as an addition! Along the way, you have to make the most of people and situations so that you can feel really good about yourself. But I say that planting a tree and knowing that it will be here long after you are gone helps you to “raise yourself up”.

Favorite restaurant?
Rooftop Viewpoint, at Hotel Senhora da Rosa, Rua da Senhora da Rosa nº3, in Fajã de baixo, Ponta Delgada, São Miguel, Azores. Sushi and Asian-inspired food by Chef Mycon, to die for, with a terrace under the hotel’s farm, from where you can watch fabulous sunsets. The hotel belongs to me and my sister, but that doesn’t matter now.

Favorite view?
From Lagoa do Fogo, in São Miguel, for its untouched wild beauty and the tranquility and silence, once you get down to the lagoon. On the island of Flores, the path leads down to Fajã Grande with the different waterfalls in the background, on the hillside.

Favorite bathing area?
Amora Beach, in Ponta Garça, São Miguel. Practically deserted, I don’t know for how long. Vila Franca do Campo Islet, São Miguel and São Lourenço Beach on the island of Santa Maria.

Ritual or tradition?
I would say Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres in São Miguel and the Sanjoaninas on Terceira Island, but I’m more into the ritual of drinking and eating well, as well as dancing with the family.

An artist?
Apart from the classics Vitorino Nemésio and Antero de Quental, Zeca Medeiros for the dynamism and pioneering of Azorean Television and how he made the Azores, its culture and “our” stories known on the Continent and “abroad”.

Must visit?
Apart from the natural beauty of the islands, I would say the historic center of the city of Angra do Heroísmo, on Terceira. Beautiful architecture as well as the design of the city itself.

Talk to me Do you have any tips for Azorean spots that are worth checking out? Stunning, lesser-known sights? People worth meeting? Would you like to suggest a story to the Embassy of the Azores or tell a hilarious story about people from abroad who tried to catch the metro, thought they had to swim to the nearest ATM or were convinced there was a river in São Miguel? Send an email to embaixadadosacores@nullnit.pt.