Fernanda Montenegro has been a leading actress in theater and television in her native Brazil since the 1950s, though it wasn't until 1998 that she would win her greatest acclaim outside her homeland, with an award-winning performance in Central do Brasil (Central Station).
Born Arlette Pinheiro Esteves da Silva, Fernanda Montenegro began her acting career in radio, appearing on Brazilian soap operas while still a teenager. She made her stage debut in 1950, when she appeared in a production of Aiegres Cancoes with actor Fernando Torres. Torres and Montenegro would later marry and have two children, both of whom would work in film and television, actress Fernanda Torres and director Claudio Torres. In the early '60s, Montenegro began working in television and by the end of the 1970s, she became one of Brazil's best-known actresses, appearing in many popular soap operas, detective programs, and drama specials. She continued to be active in the theater as well, winning the Moliere Prize in 1982, for her role in As Lagrimas Amargas de Petra von Kant, a stage adaptation of the film The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.
Montenegro's feature film work has been sporadic but well-regarded. After making her film debut in 1964, with A Falecida, she won the Best Actress award at the 1970 Moscow Film Festival for her performance in Em Familia. Her work in Tudo Bem earned her the Best Actress honors at 1977's Taormina Film Festival in Italy and, in 1998, she received the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival and a U.S. Academy Award nomination for her role in Central do Brasil.