Known for her work in the films “Three Kings Down” and ”I am Tommy Talbot,” Brazilian actress Daniela Junko has a flair for roles that capture the darker sides of humanity.
“Even though we’re talking about movies, the stories were very real. There were no aliens or supernatural powers; there were humans being humans. Happiness, sadness, strength and weakness,” Junko described. “It’s me, it’s you, it’s all of us.”
Junko has performed countless roles in her career, from femme fatale to scream queen. But every actor has his or her favorite film and for Junko, it has to be “Alone.” The 2017 drama takes an intimate, heart-wrenching approach to the subjects of depression and mental illness.
In “Alone,” Junko plays a model named Ella. To the outside world, it seems like Ella and her boyfriend Gabriel have an idyllic life together. But all is not as it seems, and “Alone” looks beneath the surface at the emotional baggage Ella, Gabriel, and every one of us carry.
“In reality, Ella is deeply depressed. Gabriel does his best to help her but she doesn’t enjoy life anymore. She can’t leave her bed, doesn’t want to socialize; despite Gabriel’s attempts to help her, nothing works,” Junko described. “At the same time, [the film] follows Gabriel in his private moments and reveals he is also having a very hard time getting through it.”
Both Junko and her counterpart Swell Soubra, who plays Gabriel, deliver exceptional performances. Capturing the raw, visceral pain of clinical depression was no small task. The characters, and the disease they both struggle with, demanded that Junko and Soubra convey a level of nuance and depth that would challenge even the most seasoned actors. And just when things seem hopeful, like there may be hope for the future, “Alone” reminds viewers that depression can often be silent, invisible — and deadly.
“We finally see her waking up one morning, feeling a bit better. She goes to Gabriel, who’s sleeping in the living room, and tells him she loves him and is sorry for everything,” Junko said. “Gabriel doesn’t answer. Then she sees the pills on the table.”
Tragic and beautiful, Junko’s role in “Alone” is a masterclass for any actor playing a character with depression. But in the 2014 film “The Incision,” she plays a character that could not possibly be more different from Ella. In her chilling performance as Jessica, Junko gives audiences a peek into the mind of an organ trafficker.
“My character, Jessica, is in charge of luring victims to… be drugged and operated on,” Junko said, describing her character’s grisly business. “After taking their liver, the victim is left in a bathtub filled with ice. They will survive, but life won't be the same.”
Playing such a cold, brutal character is bound to take a toll on an actor. That effect is even more profound when an actor is as skilled as Junko. Capable of unbelievable transformations in both body and mind, when Junko embodies her characters it is as though she is actually becoming them — not an easy prospect when that character steals human livers.
“I felt scared that any part of Jessica would stay within me. It was a bit disturbing to think that an apparently normal girl – polite, happy, and generally very pleasant to be around – could also be a source of so much evil. There is a lot of Jessica that I, and many other girls I assure you, can relate to,” Junko explained. “To think that this same girl could be capable of kidnapping a child for organ harvesting was an immensely scary thought. It made me wonder how close the lines between good and bad are within us.”
The film is absolutely horrifying, and not just for the explicitly unnerving acts it depicts. What makes “The Incision” so effective as a horror film is the dichotomy of Junko’s character. It’s impossible to walk away from the film without feeling at least a bit worried that these characters could really be anyone, anywhere. But for an actress of Daniela Junko’s caliber, capturing the mind of a psychopath is no harder than capturing any other person. That is what makes her such a powerful force in front of the cameras.
“It wasn't difficult to play Jessica. It was all very organic,” Junko said. “Like a nice girl hiding a dark secret.”