Seu and Steve Zissou

Star of the Brazilian pop scene Seu Jorge on his "Life Aquatic" experience

by Angus Wolfe Murray

Riding along the bottom of the ocean in The Life Aquatic

Riding along the bottom of the ocean in The Life Aquatic

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou is one of those rare movies - recently released on DVD - in which originality and imagination is bursting out all over. There is no point in discussing logic, credibility or rational themes. That's what you do at screenwriting class.

Seu Jorge is a case in point. He's from Brazil. He doesn't speak English. He's a musician and, thanks to City Of God, an actor. What's he doing in Wes Anderson's pastiche of all things Cousteau?

Singing David Bowie songs, of course - in Portuguese.

The whole thing is so surreal, it's perfect. Jorge was in London for the DVD promotion and he told me that he "adapted" the lyrics to suit the characters in the film. In other words, he rewrote Bowie to be closer to Zissou.

He is 35 years old, loquacious, open minded, laid back, with a natural sense of humour that ripples under the surface of everything he says. Here is a man fully enjoying life, who is not so much grateful as appreciative of the world around him, as if each day is a gift from a generous stranger.

To say that he was a homeless urchin in Rio is like calling Billy Elliot a working-class miner's son from "oop Norf." There's more to every stereotype than you can flick a stick at and Jorge won't let lazy journalists off the hook.

"I wasn't from the favellas," he said. "I was living in the streets. There are a lot of good things about the favellas. It's not all like the violence and the films. People look after each other; there is compassion."

At 19, he joined a drama school and became involved in street productions. At 23, fed up with living rough, he started sleeping in the theatre and began being offered small parts. Already his guitar playing and song writing, in what he calls "the melandro culture," a new Afro-Rio sound, was becoming known.

He was about to make a film for Walter Salles's company when he was pulled out of it and put into another, which told the story of growing up amongst the drug fuelled gun crazed street gangs of Rio's poorest district.

"Everyone had doubts about whether it would have an audience," he said and yet it turned out to be the biggest box office success ever in South American and went to become an international hit. The film was City Of God.

"I don't do much media in Brazil," he said. "I am known as a musician, not an actor."

Wes Anderson sought him out and sent him the script of The Life Aquatic. It made him laugh and gave him the opportunity to leave Rio and "have a great adventure."

Although he was familiar with Let's Dance from the radio, "Bowie's music never reached the favellas." He had to learn them from scratch.

The fun on set that feels infectious when you watch the movie was not faked. "It was incredible," he said. "Nothing went wrong - no arguments. I miss the whole experience very much."

When he saw the finished film for the first time, he thought, "It can't stop there. It's got to go on - like life." But that might be worse for him, because his character is dead.

And then he laughs again

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