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300 - Rodrigo Santoro interview

Rodrigo Santoro in 300

Interview by Rob Carnevale

RODRIGO Santoro, star of Lost, talks about some of the challenges of playing God-like Persian leader Xerxes in Zack Snyder’s 300 as well as his role in the TV series and why it’s as much a mystery to him as it is to viewers…

Q. Did you have any mixed feelings about your appearance in 300 because you’re virtually unrecognisable?
Rodrigo Santoro: Not really. I found it quite entertaining actually. It’s a very, very different experience for me – from the comic book world, working against blue screen and playing a character like that. The costume is part of the character. It was a very challenging experience on many different levels. I had to master many different things – technical things. It was all about the body language. For me, it was trying to build this imposing figure with a God-like quality. So it was much more about the body language and the way he carries himself.

Q. Was it cold working in a warehouse in Canada?
Rodrigo Santoro: It was cold. It was hard work. It was a long process, especially because when I auditioned for the part I was shooting a project in Brazil and I put out around 40lb, so I was very, very skinny. I had to put it all the way back on.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit more about the training regime?
Rodrigo Santoro: Basically, it was a strict diet. No chocolate, no ice cream, a lot of workouts. My sessions would last for about two hours. I had this personal trainer in Brazil who is a good friend of mine and I showed him the picture of the character so that we actually worked with a direction. It didn’t have to be muscle. It wasn’t about that. I had to be long. The way we worked was very focused on the character. We didn’t just go for more and more weights.

Q. What exercises did you do to make yourself taller?
Rodrigo Santoro: [Laughs] It was special effects, man. I think they actually shrunk the other actors to put it in perspective. But the whole character is 9ft tall with the voice of thunder and it’s a comic book character. He had to look like Frank Miller’s vision.

Q. Was it the most challenging role of your career so far?
Rodrigo Santoro: One of them, yeah, but in a different way. It was more the technincal side of things. Working against a blue screen is such an experience. You have nothing around you. At the same time, you don’t have any boundaries. It reminds me of the stage a lot because it’s the actor and what you have to express in terms of what you’re feeling and the words you’re saying. There’s no props, you don’t have any help in terms of location, so it brings you to the essence.

On the other hand, it requires a lot of imagination so it’s very draining. You need to be fully concentrated all the time otherwise you lose focus.

Q. Did you do any research into the history of the period, or your character in particular?
Rodrigo Santoro: I did but it’s hard because it’s based mostly in fiction. Xerxes existed but this is so different from the pictures that we had. But I did research with the Greek historians. There’s so much controversy though – some people say this, others say that and I thought we were trying to do the graphic novel. That was Zack Snyder’s intent, so we had to be very focused.

Q. Do you find it surprising that people have taken the film as some sort of commentary on current situations? Do you think there is a message about how your character is perceived?
Rodrigo Santoro: I think the message is up to you. It’s up to the viewer. We’re just trying to reproduce the graphic novel and make a piece of entertainment. There could be a lot of message in it; it’s a movie that talks about war, that talks about tyranism, so it could be very political. But it’s really about the way you see it.

Some people go and watch it and just see those characters from the graphic novel. Others don’t know the graphic novel and it’s such a different experience. You can analyze the film in many ways and get out of it whatever you feel. But it’s really up to you.

Q. Did you know the graphic novel before you took the role?
Rodrigo Santoro: I didn’t know it that well, or study it, but I was aware. Since Sin City came out I’ve been much more aware of Frank Miller’s work.

Q. When you were growing up in Brazil was it considered unusual to want to be an actor, rather than something more obvious like a footballer?
Rodrigo Santoro: Yes and no. The film industry in Brazil was quite dead for a while because of a lot of political things. But in the last six or seven years it came back and is growing and growing. The theatre was always alive and television is huge in Brazil. There’s a studio called TV Global who I worked with for a long time. They were always there. When you say you’re going to be an artist you always get that point of view that this is a crazy career and you might not make it.

In my case, it kind of happened. It wasn’t that I grew up saying that I wanted to be an actor. It was always a hobby for me since I was very young, as a kid. I actually went to university to be a journalist and studied for two and a half years. But what happened was that I started doing street theatre when I was 17 and finally got a job as an actor where I got paid. So I started to realise that I really liked acting and that I could make it a living. After a couple of jobs, I began to trust that it could be my profession and so I had to quit the university.

Q. Where does Lost fit in with all this. Did you do Lost before 300?
Rodrigo Santoro: No, after. We shot 300 in January 2006 because post production has taken a year and two months. So I got involved with Lost in July last year. I’d met one of the producers of Lost a couple of years ago for another series called Alias. But I was working in Brazil so I couldn’t take that role. But he brought my name to the table for Lost and I met with the writers and directors.

Q. So who are you in Lost? You’re actually quite unpopular at the moment because no one knows much about you?
Rodrigo Santoro: It’s a quite unique experience. Maybe it’s meant to be that way. I don’t know. What I can say is that you cannot build the character because I don’t know who he is. I don’t know his back story, I just know his name. I know as much as the audience knows.

People think we hide, but we don’t. We don’t have the information but that’s the beauty of the experience. You really feel lost, you don’t know what’s going on and you cannot get prepared. You learn the character with the audience. A couple of days before we shoot we get given the script. Then you try and get as much as you can but the most you can do is be in the moment and be true to what you’re doing.

Q. Will your characters be explained?
Rodrigo Santoro: We will, yes, and soon. Episode 14.

Read our review of 300

Read our interview with Lena Headey