Meet Carmihno, the Mesmerizing Singer From the Oscar-Nominated ‘Poor Things’

Her scene lasts only a few minutes, but it is as memorable as it is relevant for the narrative of Poor Things. Portuguese fado singer and songwriter Carminho plays “O Quarto (Fado Menor)” in the Oscar-nominated film, captivating Emma Stone’s Bella, and marking a turning point in the character’s arc. And you don’t need to speak the language to get the feeling of melancholy.

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Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, Poor Things follows the evolution of Bella Baxter, a young woman brought back to life by the brilliant and unorthodox scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter (played by Willem Dafoe). In the scene with Carminho, Bella is alone, strolling through a fantastical version of Lisbon, where she traveled with lover Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo) in a coming-of-age journey of self-discovery. Suddenly, she is completely captured by this piercing, emotional voice.

“I was very happy to see how beautiful the scene was, how intense. It’s the first time there’s silence in the movie and Bella is alone,” Carminho tells Billboard Español. “I thought this is the transition of Bella’s character from a child to a woman. It was very beautiful to see that Yorgos used the fado to make that, because there’s such feeling of sadness in fado, even if we don’t understand [the lyrics,] there’s a little bit of pain in each of those interpretations,” she adds of the popular Portuguese music genre, characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics.

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This is not Carminho’s first movie appearance. Before Poor Things, she participated in the Spanish filmmaker Carlos Saura’s Fados (2007), and then in the Portuguese director João Botelho’s Filme do Desassossego (2010), in one case as a singer, in the other as herself. “But this is my first Hollywood movie,” she says, beaming.

And is also the one that has put her more on the international map. Armed with a Portuguese guitar — an iconic 12-string instrument Carminho learned to play specifically for the role — her powerful vocals were recorded live in only one shot, enough to fill the room with commanding force.

How she got to be in such a big production — one of the most acclaimed movies of 2023, with 11 Oscar nominations (including for best picture, best director and best actress) — is something that took her by surprise. “The director of casting just sent an email to my team asking if I was interested in doing a cameo in this film with this director, and I was completely excited with that idea — but I needed to understand first what the expectations were from Yorgos, and what he was looking for,” she recalls. “I needed to understand what he was seeing when he invited me.”

So, they had a “beautiful meeting” where Carmniho remembers Lanthimos saying, “‘I was looking for you because I think that you work the traditional fado [with a contemporary twist].’” She got to ask the director all the questions she had for him, and even suggest the song to play: “O Quarto (Fado Menor)” — “something very melancholic, something simple and traditional”, which is public domain and which she had just recorded for her then upcoming album. “I made the song in the film with music and lyrics that I wrote, and in my album Portuguesa, I do the same lyrics with another music,” she explains. “So, the version in the movie is unique.”

And “the lyrics were perfect for the moment,” she recalls the director telling her, translating part of it during our interview in New York City: “In this room so tight that I thought was just mine/ Infiltrated such a poison, it’s the loneliness and I/ And then, I don’t know how, the cold came in/ So now we are three, and the three don’t make one […] You come in as you don’t see me/ A heart that’s broken is this room that is so empty/ Even the air won’t fit.”

Carminho

Carminho attends the “Poor Things” premiere at DGA Theater on Dec. 6, 2023 in New York City. Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Daughter of the renowned fado singer Teresa Siqueira, Carminho released her debut album Fado in 2009, followed by Alma in 2012, Canto in 2014, Carminho canta Tom Jobim in 2016, Maria in 2018 and Portuguesa in 2023 — the last of which earned her a Latin Grammy nomination.

Beyond that and her Poor Things-stealing scene, last year was a big year for the artist, with dozens of shows in Portugal and other European countries — as well as in Brazil, Mozambique, and the United States. She also performed for Pope Francis in Lisbon during a World Youth Day celebration, and sang at the New York City premiere of the Academy Award-nominated film.

Now she is set to come back in April to the U.S. as a guest on Caetano Veloso’s The U.S. Farewell Tour, where she’ll join the Brazilian legend to sing their collaboration “Você-Você,” included in his 2021 album Meu Coco.

Watch Carminho’s scene with Emma Stone in Poor Things here:

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