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Bruna Portugal was born and raised in a very small city in Brazil called Teófilo Otoni. Her hometown had one church, one pharmacy and zero movie theaters.

Portugal remembers asking her mother why they didn’t see famous actors in their hometown. “Mom, what’s going on,” she would ask.

“It’s because you don’t live in the same place, you live in this little city and no one comes over here,” Portugal’s mom once responded and the words made an impression.

When Portugal was 6, her mother showed her on a map where they lived and where in comparison the famous actors Portugal looked up to lived in Hollywood and Los Angeles. Portugal remembers breaking down into tears over the news. From then on, she promised her mother that she was going to leave one day. By the time she turned 16, Portugal moved to São Paulo for modeling work. Even then she knew she didn’t want to be a model, but saw the opportunity as her first step in chasing her dreams of being an actress.

Today, while still on a path to her dreams, Portugal performs on stage as a comedian in Los Angeles at the Laugh Factory and Flappers Comedy Club and Restaurant.

WHEN DID YOU START ACTING?

I started in church. I’m a church girl. I grew up in a church where we would do plays about the bible and everything. So, I started in church singing and acting, but later on I started doing work as a model when I moved to São Paulo and it’s a big city in Brazil. At some point, I was caught up. I was working a lot and I was going to law school because I thought I had to graduate first to be able to make a living. At some point, I just started doing theater a lot and I never stopped.

IS IT HARD BEING A BRAZILIAN LATINA WOMAN IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY?

Yes, because when I say I’m Latina and Brazilian they think I do porn. It is difficult. I feel like it’s already hard being a woman, but when you are a Latina people always tie you with sexuality because you know we’re gorgeous – but men are just, ugh. The men in this industry really think you would do anything for a job. One thing that I learned is that every single guy tries to take advantage by telling me ‘I did this for you, I did this and that,’ and I know what they’re trying to do. Most men are not nice. Some of them want something in return. It’s hard but in this industry you just have to be smart and alert.

WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY OF WANTING TO BE AN ACTRESS?

In Brazil, we have these soap operas and it’s a big thing over there. I grew up wanting to do that. I remember watching them and they always had this comedy part to them and I would love that. After seeing them on TV, I would go in front of the mirror as a kid and redo all the scenes and pretend that I was one of the characters. And my mom would just be like, “OMG, Bruna!”

“I’m really [freakin’] good at it,” says Portugal of her budding comedy career. “I’m great. It’s insane.”

WHO HAD THE GREATEST INFLUENCE ON YOU GROWING UP?

My mom, 100 percent. She’s always been the strong one and always supported me since I was a little kid. My mom was crazy. The thing is, my mom had me when she was young. She was like 20 or 21 when she had me. She would tell me a lot of stories about how she lived and how she left her parent’s house when she was young. She would tell me all these stories so that I wouldn’t do the same thing, but I would tell her ‘I can always do the same thing,’ and then I ended up leaving her house when I was 16. It just made me feel like I could do that as well.

HAS YOUR STRONG ETHNIC ACCENT HARMED YOUR CAREER?

When I came to school here in the states, the teachers scared the [crap] out of me about my accent. They would tell me, ‘OK, you want to be an actor, you have to work on your accent.’ They would tell me from 1,000 roles, you’re only gonna have one audition. I understand, I can’t get the role of a daughter of an American person. There are a lot of things I cannot do, but there’s a lot of stuff I can do. Every day my accent is getting better, but I never had a problem in auditions because when I submit my application I let them know that I’m a Brazilian actress with an accent and I don’t want people bothering me about this [crap]. If you invited me to your audition you know what to expect. It’s because I say it up front and I’m not pretending like I don’t have an accent. This accent comes with me if you’re looking for a person like me. In school, a lot of people would make fun of me and I would tell them, ‘I speak three languages. How about you?’ I speak English, Spanish and Portuguese.

WHAT HAS YOUR CAREER TAUGHT YOU SO FAR?

It taught me that I have something special about me, and it taught me how to be strong. The thing about acting, it’s never about you, it’s about the character. It’s not that you’re not good, they’re just not looking for your type of character. It has also taught me to not take things personally. I just need to do my best and [I believe] what’s yours is gonna come to you and that’s it.

WHY DO YOU LOVE COMEDY SO MUCH AND WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE COMEDIAN?

Wow, I love comedy so much because comedy saved me in the worst moments of my life and I want to do the same for other people. When you are sad and you turn on your TV and there’s something funny, it warms up your heart. And it’s the best thing and I like that feeling. I want to be that for people. I think it’s very genuine to want to make someone happy when your going through difficult moments in your life, that’s why I love it and because I’m really [freakin’] good at it. I’m great. It’s insane.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR YOUNGER SELF?

I would tell her I’m sorry, and that it’s just me being hard on myself. I think I could do better than what I already do. I know I’m doing great, but I think I could do better. I just want to tell my younger self that, first of all, I’m gonna be OK, and we can do this together. I would also give her advice and ask her to believe in herself a little bit more because I was downplaying myself. I would let people talk down to me about what I had to do. This is why I decided to leave people behind, because if you don’t you won’t grow.

Amairani Hernandez

Amairani Hernandez is a native of Los Angeles and a graduate of the California State University of Los Angeles with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. She is a freelancer and focuses on stories about Latinos,...