Aracajuan actress Maria Menezes gained solid popularity in Bahia, where she moved at the age of 18, deciding to enroll in the Data Processing course at UFBA. She passed the entrance exam, but later realized that her path was on stage and screen.
National fame came from the painting of the National Institute of Metrology, Quality and Technology (Inmetro), shown on the global program Fantástico from 2007 to 2018. In it, Maria Menezes captivated Brazil by embodying Dona Encrenca, a character who gave lightness and humor to the agency analyzes of various products.
The actress recently returned to her home state to star in the Sergipe Commerce Federation campaign for Sergipe Week, held by the entity from the 24th to the 29th of October.
Briefly away from the theater to dedicate herself entirely to her son, Maria Menezes celebrates her 30th anniversary with the play “Maria AO VIVO! (or Mamãe está aqui)”, an autobiographical monologue currently on tour in the interior of Bahia and which reproduces the jocular and cheerful style characteristic of the actress’ work.
Among her many activities, Maria Menezes granted the F5 News the interview below.
F5 News – What led you to move to Bahia?
Maria Menezes – I came to Salvador to take the entrance exam for Data Processing at UFBA. I was very CDF, a very good student, and I was curious to go to a bigger place, to be alone, without my family. I really like traveling, meeting new people, different environments and there was also professional ambition, to do something different. I ended up passing the entrance exam, but right away I didn’t adapt to the course. I took several entrance exams, I passed, but I didn’t like anything. Until by chance – this surprise that fate gives us, because you don’t plan, it seems like the universe is set up to favor that – I went to take a theater course. It was kind of a relaxing thing. I was so lost, my father was still supporting me and I needed to be independent, without finding a profession that I liked.
F5 News – Did you find this path in the Theater course?
MM – Yes, right from the beginning I fell in love, I saw that it had something to do with me, that I was interested. It was a gift from destiny because I got a teacher called Hebe Alves, a person who prepared everyone in a very generous, very loving way, with something about self-knowledge and I needed that too. For me, it worked very well. Her approach was a lot about going deeper into yourself, understanding yourself, knowing your potentials, your limits and all of this made a lot of sense. For the moment I was in, it was an opportunity to discover myself and, at the same time, understand myself as someone who made people laugh.
F5 News – How and why did you get into comedy?
MM – I already knew this a little because I was always the funny one in the class, but I realized in an artistic field that that also worked, that my humor translated to the stage. I always liked it when people laughed at me, it pleased me. Many people don’t like it when people laugh at them, they get offended, but in my case it was acceptance, I empowered myself as someone who was really funny. Since I started doing theater, I have always preferred comedic roles. It’s good when it switches to other moods and other tones, but my specialty really is comedy. That’s how a friend suggested this course to me: he saw me doing something funny, all completely by chance, without planning, without searching. But when you’re in the moment, things appear.
F5 News – How was your first contact with theater, through the course?
MM – It was very pleasant, full of discoveries and joys, always deepening my interest in the performing arts. It was a course that included several languages, so we studied different approaches to theater and I fell in love with it. Soon after, I took the entrance exam once again and ended up graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Performing Arts.
F5 News – Did success come quickly or was it difficult?
MM – After I found the theater, I started working nonstop, I was very well received in Salvador as an actress. I was highlighted as a new actress, I was nominated for awards right away. I played a character, Albertina, from a chronicle by Fernando Sabino, who was very funny and became very famous. There was “The Wedding of the Petit Bourgeois” (1994), I played the bride. There was another play directed by Hebe Alves, ” Isso Assim Assado no Inferno ” (1997), nominated for several awards, I won best actress at festivals.
I also arrived at a time of great effervescence in Bahian theater. A Bofetada had happened and I participated in the second public phenomenon, which was that of the group Los Catedrásticos, in which I was soon invited to participate. They had this piece called “Recital da Novíssima Poesia Baiana”, where they recited the lyrics of the axé music that was beginning – from opening Sara Jane’s circle to Durval Lélis. And also that of Pharaoh, an anthem from the beginning of the popularity of this type of music.
It was a public phenomenon. When I met Los Catedrásticos, the play was already a success, I replaced an actress and stayed in the group. We kept selling out all the theaters in Bahia. We even went to Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo. We did several versions of this type of approach or recital, reciting the lyrics.
F5 News – And how did you get to TV?
MM – Through theater I made my first appearance on television, which was in a series called Brasil 500 Anos, exactly ten years after I started my first course, in 1990. In 2000, I was having this series in between Fantástico and the director was João Falcão, a director from Pernambuco who is now very famous. He created small episodes about historical facts and I made a very beautiful one about the Brazilian flag, telling how it was created. This was in a flag factory, sewing the Brazilian flag among the seamstresses.
In the second episode, I was invited by another person from Fantástico who liked me – Eugênia Moreira, who was the program’s series and staff director. She invited me to a very funny episode, talking about the history of radio and Brazilians’ connection with popular things on the radio. And then I got to know this director. In 2006, she remembered me and invited me to do a series called “What about me with this?”. It was election time and Júlio Mosquéra, a journalist, was going to do a series about the relationship with politics, whether Brazilians had a political interest or not, did they remember who they voted for in the last election, etc. And he talked about concepts, the role of the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary powers, he explained these topics.
Eugênia chose me for the humor thing. A funny character was relating politics, powers, with the daily lives of Brazilian men and women, of housewives. And then I was at Central do Brasil, I got on trains, I also got on buses and talked to passengers, it was a bit documentary and I talked to people about politics – that you participate, that your relationship on your street is political, that relationship within your work environment is political.
F5 News – Is that where Dona Encrenca came from?
MM – From this series onwards, I was invited, in 2007, to do the Inmetro series. At the time, it was a Fantástico painting that already existed, it had mathematics, full of numbers, tests, information that is not so palatable. I needed comic relief and Eugênia cast me as Dona Encrenca, this popular character who was dealing day-to-day with the products that were being analyzed.
This bridge with humor brought the theme of that product into everyday life. This Inmetro painting was really cool and really fun to do. We had to create the theme based on the analyzed object, create a script and, for ten years, I was Dona Encrenca on Fantástico. It only ended when the painting left the program.
F5 News – How did this role that brought you national fame impact your life and career?
MM – It was a wonderful story, with great acceptance. The level of my career changed a lot because I became an advertising person. They wanted to advertise with me from Rio Grande do Sul to Amazonas, because I appeared on Fantástico as practically a seal of quality. Dona Encrenca endorsed, she said what Inmetro analyzed, approved or disapproved. So, I ended up being a quality voice. I did a lot, a lot of advertising, in various segments, I became very popular, it was excellent. But I never stopped doing theater.
F5 News – In your film career, what marked you most?
MM – I did Central do Brasil, by Walter Salles; Cidade Baixa, by Sérgio Machado; Quincas Berro D´Água, also by Sérgio Machado; I made Suely’s Heaven, by Karim Aïnouz. These are films that I am proud to have participated in, very interesting, artistic, with very peculiar language. Recently, I also did a series by Sérgio Machado, Irmãos Freitas, about the life of the boxer Popó.
F5 News – You’re still on TV, aren’t you?
MM – I became a mother late, at 47 years old, this is also in my piece. After I became a mother, I became very devoted to my son and stopped theater for a while. But I have participated in a program – Mosaico Baiano – for 16 years in Salvador, on Rede Bahia. This program gives me a lot of popularity, I am very, very well known in Bahia, which is why I toured the play through the cities in the interior of Bahia.
The TV audience is very loyal. My mother loves my Instagram because she sees people write: “my mother never misses you”, “you are the joy of my Saturday”, things like that.
F5 News – How is your play now on display, “Maria AO LIVE! (or Mom is here)”?
MM – I completed 30 years of career in 2020, but, with the pandemic, I only premiered the play in 2023. I became a late mother and returned to theater recently with this show, a monologue. It has been a success. I talk about my departure from Aracaju, my arrival in Salvador, various aspects of my life, opening up to very relevant issues of this madness that is the life of contemporary women. Anyway, the assignments and still wanting to be a mother.
I underwent insemination and, in my treatments, I saw scenes that I thought were in a play and everything is in it, associated with a washing machine. There’s this metaphor to talk about life, I associate the stages of life with the cycles of the washing machine. It’s a very fun show, autobiographical at first, but which goes beyond the stories of people, of life. It’s fun and also moving. Now I’m touring the interior of Bahia and dying to take the play to Aracaju.
F5 News – What was the experience of starring in Fecomércio’s Sergipanity Week campaign, in a way returning to your roots?
MM – I was super happy with this invitation from Fernando Carvalho [então presidente interino da Fecomércio Sergipe], because, as I participate in the Mosaico Baiano program, every Saturday for 16 years, I am very well known in the state of Bahia, very much so. In Sergipe, I was better known when I was playing Dona Encrenca, because it was shown on Fantástico.
I loved the team, I loved the professionalism of the people, and it had this character, yes, of a rescue of my Sergipanity, of my love for Aracaju, for Sergipe, which is very great.
Aracaju is a city that impresses me a lot every time I return – the prosperity, growth, modernization and, at the same time, the quality of life. Many people from Salvador are going to live in Aracaju, grow old in Aracaju, people from various states.