Time Out Rio de Janeiro

Five minutes with... Suzy Brasil

The Queen of the gay scene, Suzy Brasil, is the creation of Marcelo Souza. He talks to Time Out Rio about make-up, homophobia and men who dress in drag for carnival.

Meeting Marcelo Souza for the first time, it would be easy to walk past him in the street. A muscly, tattooed man, his appearance has little in common with the outrageous - and occasionally horrific - glamour of his drag act, Suzy Brasil. Suzy can be found every night of the week from Wednesday to Sunday gracing the stages of clubs Galeria Café, Boate 1140 and Sinônimo where her acerbic wit and sublime dress sense entertain the crowds. Currently preparing for carnival, arguably the biggest drag act of them all, Marcelo talked us through life as Suzy on and off the stage.

How did you create the character of Suzy Brasil?
I’ve been Suzy Brasil for 18 years now. It started when I was about 17, when I used to have parties with my friends and I would always dress as a woman. Somebody baptised my character Jaqueline Fonté, but then she became Suzy Brasil, because Suzy is a name people here give to their dogs, and I chose Brasil because she is a bit of mess and Brasil is a bit of a mess, too.

Describe Suzy’s personality...
She’s an ugly woman who thinks she’s beautiful, and she wears the kind of clothes which only beautiful women wear. She speaks about a lot of things which affect the gay community, like getting acceptance from your family, discovering your sexuality, or not getting a job because of being gay. These are all things which the audience can relate to because it touches their lives.

Is that why Suzy is so well-loved on the gay scene?
I think so, I pick up on things I’ve heard people actually say and then use them in the act, but it’s all good fun. If people are at a nightclub, drinking, laughing, they don’t want something heavy or that is delivered in a boring way.

Is there still a lot of homophobia in Rio?
Things are a lot better than they used to be. Now there are gay characters in novelas (Brazilian soap operas) for example, showing a reality that a lot of people just didn’t know about before. It can still be difficult for someone very visibly gay to get a job. Rio is a big gay holiday destination, but here the men have a very macho image to live up to. If you go to Lapa or Farme do Amoedo you will see gays holding hands, but at the same time, some gay men have been attacked coming off the beach. There is still a long way to go, but in my opinion Rio is more tolerant than São Paulo.

How long does it take you to turn into Suzy Brasil?
I don’t shave my eyebrows off or anything like that, because I want to look like a man the rest of the time. I do all my own make-up and costumes, and it usually takes at least an hour to get ready if I want things to be perfect. I usually have a beer before I go on stage, just to get into the same mood as the crowd. Once I’ve put that wig on, I can feel myself turning into a different person. Suzy is a lot more sociable than I am, and a lot more tolerant!

What or who inspires her look?
I have taken some influences from old film stars and people like Madonna, but most of the time I get my ideas from Brazilian stars, people like the Brazilian TV presenter Xuxa.

What will you be doing for carnival?
I always parade as Suzy with the samba school Unidos da Tijuca, and I’ve got a special costume lined up this year. It’s something I look forward to doing the whole year. It’s funny, because during carnival there are a lot of heterosexual men dressed up as women. I think those guys wait all year too, for a chance to show their feminine side. We drag artists call them “banda das piranhas” (piranha is a rude Portuguese word for an unattractive woman). If someone is dressed as an unconvincing woman, we always say “go and join the banda das piranhas!”

Where are the best places to go during carnival?
The area around Campo do Santana, close to Central, is good, as is the Rainbow Kiosk near Copacabana Palace. Banda de Ipanema always has a good atmosphere, and a club called Gafieira Elite (Rua Frei Caneca 4, Centro (21) 2232 3217) is always a top gay spot during carnival.

Have you always liked dressing up as a woman?
When I was a child, I never liked doing typical boys things like playing football in the street, I preferred playing with my Mum’s make-up. I’ve never wanted to be a woman however; in my case it’s about performance.

Does everyone in your life know that Marcelo is also Suzy Brasil?
I’m also a biology teacher, and I used to teach in a prison before Suzy was in the newspaper Extra, with a photo of me as Marcelo, and I decided to give up in case there were any repercussions. Most of my students know I’m Suzy and they love it. My mother has been to see my shows and she really enjoyed it, but I didn’t. Suzy is very rude, and I worried about what she was going to think!

Is there a future for Suzy as the star of her own television show?
She was interviewed on Jo Soares (Brazilian chat show) and I’ve done quite a few other TV shows as Suzy too. Anyone who says they don’t want to be on TV is a liar. I think some people see sketches of Suzy’s on youtube and think it’s too outrageous for TV, although I always adapt the show for the audience. I’m writing a play at the moment, so let’s see what the future holds.

Words by Beth McLoughlin

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