One of the biggest stars from Brazil in Hollywood is Rodrigo Santoro, an accomplished actor that soon we will be seeing him playing Jesus Christ on the Timur Bekmambetov-directed remake of the classic film Ben-Hur.
The so-called Tom Cruise of Brazil spoke with us about his fascination with Cervantes, with Don Quixote. You may recognize Rodrigo Santoro from his roles in movies like Love Actually, 300, What To Expect When You’re Expecting, and Che, among others. The Brazilian-born international talent has a range of films under his belt, from comedy to drama, action to foreign. His latest subtitled flick has the 43-year-old actor playing Jesus, the more challenging role of his career.
Q: How do you get into character in the world of Jesus?
A: First I don’t look at it as a character, at least not as another character. It was a very personal journey for me and that was my approach to this part. I couldn’t do it other way. I step on this world and everything that he represents with respect. My first reaction was to be scared, because it is a character played so many times in so many ways that I didn’t know what I could bring to it. But this movie has a specific approach as Timor wanted to do it very human. As he was living with the people of the time and I thought it was a good idea. If we listen to what he taught he was accessible to people, he didn’t try to preach, he will give example. He would do more than talk about it. Is such a unique experience that is difficult to talk about it. Preparation was a mix of reading from the Bible to books about him, to physical preparation with yoga, meditation and basically trying to put myself in that space. It was pretty transforming
Q: Did you change?
A: Yes, of course. There is no way you play this character and you don’t change. Just to have a little glimpse of understanding what this love means, to be in that space for a little bit change my perception, my sensibility. I would say that my heart was rewritten. I visited a place within myself that is really different and had never experienced before. All that came through work, putting myself there, centering myself, and getting there. Of course I am far, far away for what we think he was, but it doesn’t matter because just the direction that I was going to and what I experience trying to do that was already completely worth it. The more I try to rationalize what he said the more confused I got, so I try to be simple, humble and approach it with my full heart.
Q: Jesus has a bigger role in this version than the one made in the fifties with Charlton Hesston
A: Is different because in that one you don’t see him. Is a conscious choice because here he has almost a personal relationship with Ben-Hur. It brings him down and humanizes him. That was the idea. He shows up in key moments of the story.
Q: Is this movie more religious?
A: I don’t think so. It’s more human and talks about those values like forgiveness, or his passage on earth but Timor wanted to do a more realistic kind of approach to the film.
Q: Are you doing Pele?
A: Yes, but I am only an associate producer. Many people are asking me about that movie but I’m in it ten seconds. I’ve seeing a rough cut. Is his story, his point of view, as Pele is also a producer, and is his tell on his earlier days when Brazil won the World Cup? The movie shows his glory moments.
Q: You are an actor that can work in different languages. How does it affect your job?
A: It is different. I feel much more free in Portuguese, I just can’t compare it. I just came back from working in Brazil on TV, it’s being ten years since I worked there and it was a very freeing experience. I was in heaven. I didn’t grow up speaking in English or Spanish; I learned to work and still am something that my brain doesn’t assimilate well. Working in another language makes me think and does exactly what you don’t want when you are acting.
Q: Have you ever read any Spanish author?
A: Yes. Cervantes, I played Don Quixote. I love Cervantes. I played a metaphor of Don Quixote, he was a homeless, crazy, don’t really … and it was the best character I played in my live. It’s a rereading of Don Quixote, that made me learn a lot of things about Cervantes that I didn’t know. Where he did come from, he was a soldier that didn’t feel that it was recognized, I was interested in the figure of Cervantes, in his life story.
Q: Are you a fan of Cervantes?
A: Yes, I read a lot about him. Now is 400 years of this death the same than Shakespeare and they died the same day. Cervantes wanted to travel to America but they didn’t let him do it. He had a lot of frustrations.