Sitting down with someone who’s been voted Sexiest Woman in the World three times, you’d be forgiven for being a little tongue-tied.
But Juliana Couto Paes, Brazilian phenomenon, is so disarmingly nice – and normal – that she immediately connects on a human level and chats openly about all topics.
The 33 year old from samba country is a huge star in South America; she tells me that if the magazines of her home country knew she was in Cayman, they’d have flown paparazzi up that very same day and cost be damned.
“It’s so good to be somewhere that nobody knows who I am,” she smiles, her huge mirror glasses reflecting the vista of a particularly beautiful day at Seven Mile Beach.
“Here I can look at people instead of people looking at me. I miss being anonymous like that.” Not to say that La Paes is unapproachable; she’s famously warm with her fans, posing for pictures and spending serious time talking with them.
“I can’t say no – I have a good connection with my fans. And anyway, if I said no to just one it would soon get around,” Juliana explains.
The actress and model has just completed work on a remake of the popular TV telenovella (soap opera), Gabriela, which was a huge success on its first incarnation back in 1975, making a massive star from Sonia Braga, the original actress.
“Brazil fell in love with her; it was a very big challenge for me as people expected a lot. It was a chance to show different aspects of the character.
“I did my best. When Sonia started she was 25 and I am 33, so some people did not want me for the role as they thought it should be a younger girl which raised the challenge. But I feel like the mission is accomplished,” says Juliana.
Keeping her relatively busy in the short term is the double whammy of being the face of luxury shoes, handbags and accessories company Arezzo – featuring some steamy ads alongside Cleo Pires – and starring in the campaign for jewellery giants Vivara. Where, by the way, she’s replacing supermodel Gisele Bündchen. So it’s little wonder that she’s enjoying the anonymity here.
That Sexiest Woman accolade was granted by VIP Magazine, one of Brazil’s most-read publications. She also won in 2006 and 2007. To put it into context, she beat out 99 others including current Hollywood star Mila Kunis. Given that Brazil already has the gorgeous beaches, the most beautiful people and the best footballers, I venture, with the economy also booming it’s hardly fair that you guys have all the money, too.
Juliana laughs indulgently.
“Yes, Brazil is the trendiest country; we are on the crest of a wave right now. People feel it which is great for our self-esteem. But, you know, we have beautiful beaches in Brazil but I have never seen a clear, blue, beautiful sea like you have in Cayman. I don’t know any other place that has this,” she says, niftily turning things back around to her Cayman vacation.
She’s here with football agent husband, Carlos Eduardo Baptista, and their ridiculously beautiful 2-year-old son, Pedro.
“With the filming schedule [for Gabriela] I have not had much time to be with him. Right now, I am enjoying waking up with him and just being with him. I really missed it. Sometimes I would not see him for two days, which for a mother is the end of the world.”
The Cayman visit has gone well, she says happily, and the moments spent connecting with dolphins made a huge impression.
“I cried. I felt so connected to nature; like a gift from God. They are so cute – how can me and an animal just connect like that?
“This vacation has been wonderful! I don’t often get the opportunity to relax and reconnect with my family and just be anonymous for a while, but I was free to do all those things here without worry. Everyone we met was very friendly and welcoming. Even the stingrays! What a fantastic experience that was – at first I was nervous but Arthur from Cayman Luxury Charters made me feel so calm and confident I ended up having so much fun. It was truly a memory I will never forget.”
She adds that when she goes home she’s surely going to tell all her friends about the Cayman Islands as a destination.
Cayman, she says, has a very important asset and that is its people.
“We have a mix of cultures in Brazil. The more you have in your society the more elastic your understanding becomes.” She should know; the Rio Bonito-born beauty comes from exotic stock. Juliana is of Azerbaijani, Black, Portuguese, Bolivian, indigenous Brazilian and Spanish descent. As for the sexiest woman tag, the one-time Playboy cover star has ideas on what really does constitute the term.
“When I did the interview [for VIP Magazine] they asked me what is sexy. I said that Brazilian people like a smile, so when I chose the pictures [for the spread] I said they had to use a smiling one.
“Sometimes I have shoots and cannot choose the pictures, the size, the layout but this one I could and it says more about me,” says the model.
The nature of life is that all good things must come to an end; our interview time is over, as a Department of Tourism representative reminds me gently but non-negotiably. However, I manage to squeeze in one last question.
Juliana, I begin, I can’t let a Brazilian go without asking about the 2014 World Cup being held in your country now can I?
Again, she laughs.
“People in Brazil are very, very excited about the World Cup,” she beams.
“We are excited about the team. Neymar is phenomenal; creative, the kind of soccer player that always looks up and knows what is going to happen. “He is the one.
“And he has the coolest hair.”