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The Life of Braga

Times Staff Writer

Something happened this year to Sonia Braga. She turned into a goat.

And before men everywhere go into a panic, the sultry Brazilian star of “Dona Flora and Her Two Husbands,” “Gabriela” and “The Kiss of the Spider Woman” hasn’t literally become a goat. She’s been behaving like one.

“I started getting into hiking this year,” Braga, 41, was saying with a stretch of her arms. “What I really want to do is get into rock climbing when I get more muscles!”

Relaxing on the veranda of her villa at the Sunset Marquis Hotel, Braga certainly didn’t look like an international sex symbol.

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Braga’s long, thick black hair was pulled back into a ponytail. She wore black jeans, a tank top and no makeup (one might add Braga doesn’t need any). She propped her feet up on the chair and wrapped her sweater around her shoulders.

Braga, who makes her home in New York, was in town briefly to loop lines for her latest film, the Lifetime comedy-drama “The Last Prostitute,” premiering Wednesday. Braga plays the title role-a legendary prostitute named Loah who retired from the world’s oldest profession to become a horse rancher. Wil Wheaton and David Kaufman play two teen-agers, eager to become men, who escape from summer camp and travel across country to find her.

“There are a lot of things about this character which are great,” Braga said in her slightly shaky English. “She is so many people. She is one person with one boy and is another with her lover. She is another person with her horses. She goes from maximum strength and power to very, very fragile to completely down and depressed. The best women I know are like that. Translation: passion. That is what the top of life should be-passion.”

And Braga’s biggest passion right now is to do everything she didn’t get an opportunity to try as a child. “I learned how to play tennis,” she said. “I learned about this crazy thing about health, body and weight loss and happiness through that.”

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Braga shrugged her shoulders. “I am a very curious person,” she said. “I have always loved nature. Everything about nature, especially men in nature. A lot of things I am doing now I didn’t have time to do before because I started working too early or I didn’t have a chance to do (Braga quit school when she was 14). I love walking, hiking and climbing.”

Just the day before, Braga had been hiking in Utah’s Zion National Park. “Do you know this trail called the Subway?” she asked. “It was an eight-hour hike walking through water that was like 46 degrees where the sun has never been before. I did things I have never done before like going down ropes and repelling.”

And she even swam, which was something of a miracle because Braga said she doesn’t know how to swim. “I swam in the cold water,” Braga said with amazement. “Maybe something happens to you when you are out there.”

While on the trail, she said, she saw a snake, several rabbits, birds and lizards and made eye contact with a deer.

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Braga started to laugh. “You know what I saw?” she asked. “Turning frogs!” Turning frogs?

“Yes,” she said excitedly. “They are not quite frogs.”

Tadpoles?

“No, they were turning into frogs,” Braga said. “They had everything but weren’t quite frogs. I think in more hours, they would be frogs.”

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After living in this country for three years, Braga said, she feels more comfortable speaking English. “I can express myself now.”

Though 1985’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman” was in English, she could barely speak a word of the language when it was filmed. Braga learned her lines phonetically.

“Basically when I came here and started doing interviews, I wanted to learn this language,” she said. “I never thought I could. I thought English was so beautiful and I could communicate with it wherever I would go, like in Europe.” Over the past three years, Braga has appeared in such U. S. films as “The Milagro Beanfield War,” “Moon Over Parador” and “The Rookie.” But she didn’t plan on a career here. “I thought I would do films in Brazil and promote them to the world,” she said. “And then I stayed a bit and a little bit more. It has been like that for three years.”

Still, she misses her native country. “I just spoke to my mother,” she said wistfully. “It is her birthday today. It’s OK because, you know, our relationship is great. I miss them and they miss me. I miss the country and the food and the people. I miss everything about Brazil.”

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So why doesn’t she go back?

“I am a traveler,” Braga explained. “I want to explore worlds. If I thought it was hard for me not being there, I would be there. If I was sad not being there, I would be there. If I thought it was important to be there, I would be there. If I felt it was important to the country, I would be there.”

“The Last Prostitute” premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m. on Lifetime; it repeats Saturday at 6 p.m.; Sept. 16 at 9 p.m. and Sept. 20 at 9 p.m.


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