By Donna Bowater
In one of the ubiquitous street-side bars in the west of Rio de Janeiro, Leandro Firmino sits sipping water dressed in the shirt of his beloved Flamengo football team. In Cidade de Deus, the community where he grew up, he knows almost all who pass by and gives them a thumbs up or a wave.
He could be any of the million who live in the city’s favelas. But his famously haunting eyes are unmistakeable.
A decade after playing the terrifying drug lord Li’l Ze in the unexpected box-office success, City of God, he shows few other signs of the fame he achieved back then.
The film, which begins in the 1960s and ends in the early 1980s, follows the lives of Li’l Ze and Rocket, a young photographer who chronicles the decline of Cidade de Deus, against a backdrop of drugs, criminal rivalry and wanton violence.
Now home to around 40,000 people, the community was originally built for families relocated to the outskirts by Rio’s authorities to rid the city centre of its favelas. However, it became notorious for its gangsters, criminals and dangerous streets.
In one of the most memorable scenes, Li’l Ze orders a boy to choose another boy to shoot dead.
Felipe Silva, one of the children in the scene, recalls: “I was scared to death of Leandro Firmino. They kind of made me fear him so I could cry in that scene.”
Firmino, now 35 and father to a 21-month-old boy, was recruited directly from the favelas to make the film, an adaptation of Paulo Lins’s novel.
“It’s gone pretty fast,” says Firmino. “I’m surprised people remember it. It’s very much alive, even among children of 11 or 12.”
Read More BBC News – City of God, 10 years on.