Brazilians Blur Line Between Real Life And the Soaps

So powerful a medium are Brazilian soap operas that one finds life often imitates art.

In 1992, Guilherme de Padua and Daniella Perez were costars of the prime-time soap called "Body and Soul" ("Corpo e Alma"). He played Bira, a jealous and brooding man rejected by Ms. Perez's sexy Yasmin character. Mr. Padua, who says he had an offstage affair with Perez, later stabbed her 18 times. The murder shocked the nation and temporarily eclipsed news of impeachment proceedings against then-president Fernando Collor de Mello, who resigned in a corruption scandal. Early this year, Padua was convicted and sentenced to 19 years in prison.

Last January, actor Andr Gonalves, who played a homosexual confronting discrimination in the 1995 novela "The Next Victim" ("O Proxima Vitima"), told reporters that he had been harassed by gay-bashing Rio street toughs. Mr. Gonalves, a heterosexual, has hired bodyguards.

An even more intriguing case of merged stage and personal identification is that of actor Carlos Vereza, Senator Caxias of "Cattle King," who has been treated like a real politician. When newspapers poll legislators on agrarian reform, they also query Mr. Vereza. The minister of agriculture has invited him to lunch, and government workers regularly write the "senator" asking for advice or urging him to run for president.

Last year, Vereza even lectured President Fernando Henrique Cardoso when the latter visited Globo studios. The actor implored him to accelerate the government's agrarian reform program, and the president "told me what he would do before his term ended," Vereza recalls.

Finally, two prominent real-life senators - Benadita da Silva and Eduardo Suplicy - appeared in an episode in which they consoled Senator Caxias's wife at her husband's wake. In a January episode, Caxias was assassinated in an ambush while trying to disarm ranchers and peasants fighting over land.

After Caxias's "death," two more senators made public comments: Sen. Pedro Simon sent condolences from the actual Senate floor, while Sen. Darcy Ribeiro, who has since died, wrote a column in the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper dedicated to "my senator, an invented senator, but more credible and more passionate than all of us senators of the republic."

"Never has Congress so crossed a line in which reality and fiction have been so jumbled together," wrote Villas-Boas Correa, a columnist for the Rio daily Jornal do Brasil. "The fictitious senator has become news, a symbol of what should be and isn't."

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