Brazil’s Globo tackles the body-swap format in La Fórmula (The Formula), which sees a scientist transform into a younger version of herself after taking a unique elixir. DQ chats to leading actors Drica Moraes and Luisa Arraes about playing very different versions of the same character.
The road to true love is never easy – but in Brazilian drama La Fórmula (The Formula), the path is particularly treacherous.
The eight-part limited series sees scientist Angelica reunite with her high-school sweetheart after discovering an elixir that can make a person 30 years younger. After she tests the potion on herself, she begins switching back and forth between her real age and her younger self, becoming her own love rival as her boyfriend falls in love with both versions, unaware they are the same person.
The series, distributed internationally by Globo TV International, stars Drica Moraes and Luisa Arraes, who previously appeared together in fellow Globo series Justiça (Above Justice), as the older and younger versions of Angelica respectively.
Speaking to DQ, they discuss the appeal of the roles and how they worked together bring the character to life, in more ways than one.
How would you describe the story of The Formula?
Drica Moraes: The Formula is a story about the reunion of a couple of scientists, Angelica, played by myself, and Ricardo – Fábio Assunção – 30 years after a confusing break-up when they were young. In the past, both were students and competed for a place at Harvard University. She gets it, he doesn’t. However, Angelica devises a plan to swap the exam results and make Ricardo think the opposite happened. Ricardo leaves for Harvard and becomes a major businessman in the cosmetics industry and Angelica graduates in Brazil and has a prestigious academic career. They meet again 30 years after breaking up, at a conference where Angelica mysteriously ends up developing a formula that can make you 30 years younger. She applies the formula to herself, becoming a test subject for her own invention. A third character is born from this experiment, Aphrodite – played by Luisa Arraes – the rejuvenated version of Angelica, but with a personality of her own. Ricardo slowly learns that there are two women in one. So begins an unusual love triangle in which Angelica is her own rival.
Luisa Arraes: It’s a story about age and its peculiarities. Angelica discovers a formula that makes her 30 years younger and, with her maturity and experience, she sets off to live her life in the body of a 20-year-old. This causes a lot of confusion, because this new body begins to have feelings and even a new identity, named Aphrodite. And these two women begin to fight for their existence.
What was the appeal of playing your character?
Moraes: We had several resources to create a unique, multifaceted character with a double identity. The basis was intense training between Luisa and me. We researched similar gestures, rhythms and dynamics. The directors bet on a language based on long, continuous shots, with heavy use of hand-held cameras – and their relationship with the actors’ ‘ballet’ also helped build the illusion of the characters’ split personality.
Arraes: It was wonderful because I’ve always been a fan of Drica, especially after I started working as an actress. So playing the same character as her and studying her way of acting was amazing. One was a young, still innocent Angelica; the other was a mix of Angelica’s intelligence and maturity with Aphrodite’s expansiveness. Angelica gets crazier when she becomes Aphrodite.
How are they different from each other?
Moraes: Angelica is a focused, serious, thoughtful woman with a stagnant sex and love life. On the other hand, Aphrodite is a pure explosion of hormones. The fun in developing these characters comes from this contrast in their personalities.
How does their story progress through the series?
Arraes: In each episode, Aphrodite becomes increasingly independent of Angelica, developing another personality and becoming almost a villain in the love affair between Angelica and Ricardo. She wants to exist, but when she does, Angelica doesn’t. Therein lies the conflict.
How does the series balance drama and comedy? Are there many funny moments?
Moraes: The plot is half drama, half comedy. A love triangle in which the female protagonist becomes a rival to herself is so absurd that it creates unexpected moments of drama and comedy. An example is when Aphrodite decides to get pregnant with Ricardo’s child, but Angelica can no longer bear children. This creates significant dramatic tension. On the other hand, the mix-ups in which the young woman places her counterpart at risk are very fun.
Arraes: There are many funny moments. The series sometimes uses humour and drama in the same scene. It’s sort of like laughing at misfortune.
How did you work together to ensure you were both playing forms of the same character?
Arraes: Drica and I were joined at the hip from the start and we studied each other a lot. I watched all her scenes and she watched mine. We gave each other tips. Sometimes I didn’t know how to play a scene and I asked her to do it, and vice versa. We worked together.
What did your preparation for the series involve?
Moraes: We did a one-month immersion involving readings, improvisation, several types of contact with the text and many exercises – including body, voice and mirror exercises – plus work in scene adaptation. This was all very useful on the set.
Arraes: A lot of interaction among the cast, studying with the directors and preparation with casting associate Eduardo Milewicz. Every day before filming, we all sat down to discuss the scenes.
Tell us about filming the scenes where Angelica would transform into Aphrodite. How was this achieved?
Arraes: Most of the scenes were resolved with sequence shots and stage tricks, not computers. This was director Flavia Lacerda’s brilliant idea. The actors make the transformations believable, not the effects. Sometimes we made very lengthy sequence shots and Drica hid on the set to pick up where I left off, and then I jumped behind the curtains so they could continue the scenes.
We’ve seen many ‘body swap’ films and series made – why do you think it’s a popular format for a story?
Moraes: I think plots that involve body swapping and transmutations ask a direct question: what would my life be like if I were someone else? How would I feel? Would it make me happier?
What does the series say about vanity and the struggle for eternal youth – and do you agree?
Moraes: The series paints a picture of how women historically have been forced – often by themselves, but also by society – to meet certain beauty and youth standards to be accepted. These values are changing quickly but are very ingrained. It’s a fight that will go on for many years. I believe the benefits of aesthetic medicine can bring pleasure and happiness when in the right measure. Otherwise, it becomes a disease, an obsession, in which women are always fighting a losing battle. Time goes by and this is normal. It would be very nice to be able to make peace with this fact.
Arraes: I think it denounces without moralising. There’s a study that says people have a harder time with ageing than dying. We need to talk about getting older; being young can’t be the only option.
Why do you think this series would appeal to international viewers?
Moraes: The Formula has long sequence shots, which brings some freshness to the acting. It has a ‘live’ feel, a sense of ‘filmed theatre,’ which can be quite entertaining for the audience in general.
Arraes: It’s a very high-quality series made in Brazil with engaged actors. Ageing is a universal issue.
Do you prefer acting in short-run series or longer telenovelas, and why?
Moraes: I prefer series. We start with a better notion of the whole and greater care with the product’s final outcome.
Arraes: I prefer series too, because we normally have more time to prepare for scenes. But the telenovelas usually have amazing plots as well.
How would you describe the current state of Brazilian drama?
Moraes: The market is always booming because we have some of the best TV shows in the world. Globo’s telenovelas and series are very high quality. The content and themes are generally very current. It’s an economy that never stops. The variety of audiovisual formats extends the market to everyone – artists and technicians.
How will the business change over the next few years?
Moraes: I believe telenovelas and series will always exist and that there will be new developments in shorter formats for broadcast and cable TV, as well as programming that already exists for the digital universe.
Arraes: I think we have no way of avoiding the strong influence of the internet on dramaturgy. And with respect to the scenario, the plus side is that world is getting closer with every new device.