On appearances alone, you would never know sitting across from Rodrigo Santoro that you are in the presence of the man who brought Xerxes to life in Zack Snyder's 300. Between his full head of hair and his trimmed beard, there isn't even the faintest resemblance to his most notable role since he made the jump from Brazil to the United States. He'd built a nice acting career for himself over a number of years in his homeland between film and television, but once he made an appearance in CHARLIE'S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE, things became to take off for him in America. He followed that up with a part in LOVE ACTUALLY, and since then has added films like CHE, I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS, RIO and WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE EXPECTING to her arsenal. Outside of his larger-than-life role in 300, he's probably most remembered for his turn as one-half of the much maligned Nikki and Paulo duo during Season 3 of LOST.
In THE LAST STAND, he plays Frank Martinez, a former war veteran who never lived up the the potential he had back home, who gets a second chance to do something with his life in standing up next to Arnold Schwarzenegger to make a last ditch effort of stopping a ruthless cartel boss from making it back across the border.
When he rolled through Miami last week, I had a chance to sit down with him and talk about his reaction to the chance to work with Arnold, in addition to his experiences on LOST and what we can expect from 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE. Enjoy...
The Infamous Billy The Kidd - Because I’m a huge fan of the show I want to talk to you a little bit about LOST.
Rodrigo Santoro - Okay.
The Kidd - I know it’s been a couple of years since everything ended, and you kind of had a tumultuous time on the show... Were you at all prepared for the fan backlash that came with the emergence of Nikki and Paulo at that point in time?
Rodrigo Santoro - Yeah, I think that something that was never really explained was how we got cast and how they sold the situation, right? Which is the backstage. I will get it to you. Knowing LOST, you know that every season they hire new people... Because they kill some people. That’s basic. So they hired us. And I asked, “Who are we going to be playing? What’s the character?” We don’t know yet. That’s kind of the whole thing about LOST. Even the actors, they didn’t know exactly what it was about. And I was like, “you know, what’s cool, it’s new for me... I would love to prepare, but if this is the way things are, that’s great. Let’s do it.” Because I loved the show. I thought it was very interesting. I loved the fact that it was in Hawaii... Everything was very attractive. Anyway, we went there... Then what happened was that was the beginning of season three. So the fans wanted to know who are The Others... The first question is, "Who are The Others," and they wanted to have more of the relationship, the triangle, between Jack, Sawyer and...
The Kidd - And Kate.
Rodrigo Santoro - Right. Kate. So those two are the priorities. The studio told the writers, “You guys gotta work on this now.” So we were barely introduced in the beginning, and then... I had a deal for... I had an arc. I was never a regular in the show. So I had like... I remember how many months, because I had commitments afterwards... Same with Kiele [Sanchez]. I don’t know exactly her deal but that was it. They developed all of that part, you know; The Others, explaining all those things. When they got back to us, my contract was expiring. Like a month away. So they had to come up with... “How do we explain and how do we deal with these characters now?” And that was it. And then they came up with an amazing episode, which I loved, and they explained everything. They gave us an amazing death, which was very interesting.
The Kidd - Yes! The spiders, buried alive...
Rodrigo Santoro - Buried alive... I couldn’t get anything better than that, so I was very happy with it! It’s just like in between that they could be developed. They couldn’t develop because they had other priorities to do. And then they fans kinda go like, “Where did they come from?!” They wanted to know! “Could you let us know what’s going on?” So it was nobody’s fault, it was just the timing of it...
The Kidd - It was a weird situation, because you had this core group that everything was kind of focused around, and there was kind of this wonder of, “Who else was on this plane?” And then it was... And then they got who else was on this plane and then...
Rodrigo Santoro - They didn’t explain!
The Kidd - Where did they come from? They just kind of show up.
Rodrigo Santoro - Right, right. Because the time that they should have been developing it, they had other priorities. Which was actually the demand from the audience, which was “Who are The Others? We want to know more about these guys. What about that triangle?” So, yeah, it’s how it goes.
The Kidd - So do you think that expanding the character base or... Had they done it a different time or at a different priority that it could have worked better off than it did?
Rodrigo Santoro - I dunno. That’s a question for the audience. We never know. As an artist, I tried to do the best I could in that... The opportunity. I really had a great time. It was beautiful... The people that I was working with... We were working in Hawaii. I was living there... I’m a surfer, myself, so I was in Disneyland for surfing. I loved the directors, the writers... We really got our own very, very cool people. Every single person. I remember the experience, the human experience on set... It was beautiful. I have great memories.
The Kidd - Well, like I said, I was a fan, so I owe it to...
Rodrigo Santoro - Maybe next time! LOST 2!
The Kidd - There will never be... I can’t imagine anything being even remotely close to it.
Rodrigo Santoro - Yeah, yeah... But I would love to work with those writers, you know? Because they were... I never had an experience to talk to writers like that. I remember the first meeting. They were there, we talked about it... They were very nice to me the whole time. They told me, “look, we’re doing this.” They always let us know what was going on... not about the character, because that was part of the whole thing... But they were very, very nice and warm to us. And they were genius, I think. They came up with that thing? LOST was huge.
The Kidd - Yes. And from week to week? You were...
Rodrigo Santoro - It was huge. And I remember... I wasn’t very familiar with the show, and when they offered me the part, I put it all together, season one and season two, and started watching it all in one weekend. I couldn’t stop! Like, “Jeez! This is really good, man!” The hook... the writing was amazing...
The Kidd - Well let me just transition to THE LAST STAND...
Rodrigo Santoro - Yes. I don’t get killed in this one.
The Kidd - No. [Laughs] When you get presented with this... This is kind of Schwarzenegger's return to the screen. He had done smaller stuff with THE EXPENDABLES, but this was Schwarzenegger's grand return. So what is your reaction when you get a project like this that comes to you that’s like, “hey, we want you to be a part of Schwarzenegger...”
Rodrigo Santoro - Look, let’s start with a 14-year-old kid watching THE TERMINATOR and going, “Wow!” And CONAN, then KINDERGARTEN COP. Like, “Wow! And he’s funny!” So all that build up... that guy was an icon for me. And now, he’s... they said he’s coming back, and I’m like, “He said he would be back...” So he’s doing what he promised and I think that’s great. He’s going to be back shooting films? Cool. So who’s directing it? And they told me, “This South Korean director.” And I’m like, “Who is it?” And they said his name, and I didn’t know exactly his name, so I ask, “What did he do?” And they said, “Well he did THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD.” And I go, “I watched that! That’s great!” And then I’ve seen THE TALE OF TWO SISTERS, his other movie.
The Kidd - And I SAW THE DEVIL is fantastic as well.
Rodrigo Santoro - Yeah! I saw that later, but when they told me, I had seen A TALE OF TWO SISTERS and THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE WEIRD, and they’re completely different movies. And I’m like, “This guy’s amazing, man!” They’re going to bring this guy from South Korea to direct this? It sounded very interesting at first. And then I ask, “Who else is in the film?” I wasn’t expecting any big names because you have Arnold. Then they go, “Forrest Whitaker is going to do it, and Luis Guzman,” and I’m like, “This is... this is going to be good. So can I read it?” “Yeah of course.” So I read the script and I saw the character and I just liked it. I thought that the character had a journey and there were still working on it. And they said, “We really wanted to make him with a backstory, he’s coming from this place and we’re going to have an arc for the character.” I never played anything like that before, like a former veteran, or in that kind of universe. I thought it would be interesting to explore that. Also action. I’ve done 300, but I was never involved with action sequences. Because I’m the king, and I’m up there in the throne and, you know, just... So I thought that could be fun, to do some of my own stunts. And I got a chance to do it, and it was amazing. I had so much fun. It was so cool... Now I understand action stars... the thrill you get out of it. The adrenaline. It’s a rush you get. It’s... But you’re working. It’s that you have to be responsible, also. It’s a combination.
The Kidd - Yes. It’s still... I’m sure you had to go through certain bits of the weapons training, in order to know how to handle it.
Rodrigo Santoro - Yeah, we did. Well I have done it before. I did a movie called CHE, about Che Guevara, and I had this kind of training before. In this one it was pretty simple. I have a 9mm and that’s all that I handle in the movie. So I was more focused on trying to rehearse... It was very tricky. The way he shot, also, the way he broke down the scenes, it was very much like, “We’re gonna do the end, then we’re going to jump to the beginning...” I wanted to understand because I wanted to do my own stunts as much as possible. Like when I drive the bus and I’ve gotta take care of the guy that lands on the roof... There was all this little stuff that I just wanted to get right. So I’m like, “Can I rehearse, can I really try to get it to feel organic?” So I can not worry and act. Because that’s the whole thing... If you’re just running or whatever it is, but when you have to show that something’s going on with the character... So you have to act and on top of it you have to execute actions, like accomplish things. You have to find a balance between the external and the internal. Like what are you doing with your hands, and whatever is the physical part of it, but also you’ve gotta show what’s going on. So I rehearsed... and we had a great stunt group. We rehearsed... They were great with us all the time... So we knew exactly what we were doing all the time.
The Kidd - I just saw it last night, and the thing that struck me is that it feels very “old-school action film.”
Rodrigo Santoro - Yes. That’s the director.
The Kidd - It’s very hard for... at least now, for films like that, to kind of break through. Everything is bigger, and CGI and explosions...
Rodrigo Santoro - Right... right... He didn’t do CGI. There’s almost nothing.
The Kidd - There’s no digital sprays... It’s all squibs, which kind of gives it that old feel, because nobody’s doing it anymore.
Rodrigo Santoro - You’re totally right. You’ve got it totally right. And that’s the director. He wanted to do it like that. I think that’s his... I think he just has a great vision and style. It’s a very unique style. He was so precise about every single detail Like everything! He knew exactly how he wanted it. And he’s an amazing actor’s director, which I was like like... It was such a great surprise. Like, “Okay, it’s going to be like action, and it’s going to be fun,” but then this guy was like, “So what do you think?” He was open to hear anything. Like, “Okay, he’s invested. That’s great.” So I started to bring things to the table. “I think this, I think that, what about this...” little suggestions, and he would accept! Like there’s this little moment at the end of the film where... I don’t know if you remember, but I give the badge back to the sheriff. That was... It was written in the moment... Like I feel like I want to kind of... give him back something, because he gave me the opportunity. I was always this troubled guy who never got anything right... Like what could I do? And I’m like, “Yeah, that’s what I should do. I’m gonna do this.” And I didn’t want to surprise him. I went to the director... To the translator, because we had translators on set. Like, right before we shot, “Hey, I thought about doing this? I thought about just giving him back this? I don’t know, how do you feel?” And he’s like, “I like it. Let’s talk to Arnold.” And I’m like, “Sure.” So we talked to Arnold... The whole shoot, he was very generous. If anything makes sense, he’s open to it. And he’s like, “Okay, let’s try it, and we’ll see how we react, and we see if it works.” And we did one take. That was it, we did it. And he even dropped a line, he said something like, “You deserve it,” or...
The Kidd - I think he says something like, “You earned it,” or something...
Rodrigo Santoro - “You can keep it!” I loved it! And it justs adds a little... it came in the moment and it adds a little layer and closed the relationship, like the father and son relationship that I was building. This is not something that is so clear, but for us, as actors, we build those little things that... They tie together. You know.
The Kidd - It gives you a base of the character to kinda work with as opposed to... “This is what’s on the page, but this is kinda how I see it and I can bring something else to it.
Rodrigo Santoro - Yeah! And it’s nice to have people open to that. The director was like that, Arnold was like that, so we had a great environment to work.
The Kidd - I know because he’s from South Korea and everything’s running through the translator... Did the language barrier ever become a problem in terms of communicating the vision? Or was everything still very streamlined?
Rodrigo Santoro - No... the opposite. You know, the interesting thing is that, week two, we were like... body languaging... We almost didn’t go to the translator. He was like, “Oh yeah, go like thiiiis!” He was like mimicking it, and he was amazing. The director is really amazing. Like an artist.
The Kidd - Yes. All his previous stuff is fantastic. You watch it and you eat it up and there’s... It’s very... there’s not a lot of American filmmakers that can pull stuff like that off. It’s bringing a different sensibility, from where he’s coming from, to here.
Rodrigo Santoro - That’s what I think is new for this film. It brings that old style. It’s like a western, but it’s modern and contemporary. It’s an adrenaline rush, and there’s comedy... Just the way he shoots... His DP... There’s an atmosphere... When Jerry dies... I don’t want to give too much...
The Kidd - That’s okay. SPOILER ALERT!
Rodrigo Santoro - SPOILER ALERT!
The Kidd - [Honks] BWRAAP!
Rodrigo Santoro - Just like the mood... He has a mood in the movie... There are different moments where you go, “Ohhh... okay... OH! OKAY!” And then you go back and the characters... you kinda care about the characters... I think that’s his talent.
The Kidd - That’s another thing that... you definitely have... Outside of Arnold you have all these secondary characters, and they’re small roles but they all feel authentic and they’re fleshed out and they all have their own moments. So when you have... as opposed to some other action films where it’s just action action action, here you give a shit what happens. And you root for them along the way! But you have these bad people coming in, and rather than just saying, “Okay, we’re gonna have a gunfight,” you’re going, “I hope this guys make it out okay! I hope everybody’s all right!”
Rodrigo Santoro - Exactly.
The Kidd - I want to talk a little bit about 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE, because I know that’s coming up. As far as... Do you see... Is there any difference between the way it comes together, and feels? Because you’re moving away from Zack Snyder doing the first one to Noam [Murro] now. You’re probably one of the few holdovers...
Rodrigo Santoro - The only one! Well, Gerry [Butler’s] not in this one. Leonidas is not. Look... for me it was a real challenge to revisit a character after six years. I’ve never done that before. So the whole idea it was like... “Wow, I’m gonna go back...” Especially this character. There’s so much to be done to achieve that... You watch and you go, “Oh, it looks pretty cool.” You think it’s CGI. No, it’s not. It’s three months in the gym, getting back into that shape... Hairless... You’ve got to shave all over, like shave for real. Like, you know? So, and then, four hours and a half in the makeup chair every day, plus an hour or so to remove it... So it’s a lot of work. But I thought that was the cool part of it. How can I go back? I’ve got to match it. It’s the same character. But there’s a little bit about his backstory, which i thought was very interesting that I could play something different and fresh... And how do I play the same character six years later?
The Kidd - While going to a younger... At that point you’re talking about the rise of Xerxes. So how do you play something like that though, while you’re... It’s challenging you as an actor and you’re able to do something different while also...
Rodrigo Santoro - Trying to match.
The Kidd - Remaining consistent, yeah.
Rodrigo Santoro - That’s the challenge, and I worked with details. With little things. And Noam... The thing is that Zack is very involved. Because he wrote it, he’s producing it, and... But Noam is directing. I think that’s a great combination. Because you’re going to have Noam’s vision to it, but I think it will follow the same language as the first one. Visually... It’s so beautiful, man. I think the fans are going to be very pleased. I haven’t seen the movie at all, but I’ve seen some stuff where, because the special effect people, they’re all there. So you do it and they kinda do a little... Kind of place together the images, and... psh. It was beautiful.
The Kidd - So aesthetically it’ll be something very similar to...
Rodrigo Santoro - Very similar, but there’s something very fresh about it. Which is beautiful. Even the colors... I think it’s going to be really, really cool. For me it was... I felt like, “Okay, six years later, technology has evolved, I’m not going to talk by myself anymore. Because that’s how you do it, right? You talk to a sticky tape. This time? It has evolved! I talked to a tennis ball. So that’s the big news! I talked to a tennis ball, which was great! Like Tom Hanks character in the movie, just talking to the ball? I was talking to the tennis ball. But I knew that that’s the way you work against a blue screen. Especially this character, because Xerxes is described in the graphic novel as a giant. And that’s one of the main reasons. It’s not because of the blue screen. It’s because I’m a giant. And in order to... pull that off, like how do you... I don’t understand the special effects, like how they do it, but basically I have to be by myself all the time, So that’s very challenging.
The Kidd - Well especially when you’re going from something like THE LAST STAND where everything is practical, to do something...
Rodrigo Santoro - Opposite. Imagination, here, it’s like, “Look at this...” There’s a blue wall. “Look at that!” There’s another blue wall. Behind me, another blue wall. It’s all blue, and it’s all about your ability to be in that moment and create and project what’s not there. But you’ve got to project for yourself, because you have to believe in order to make you believe, that you’re watching me. So it takes a lot. Your internal hard drive? It’s massively busy trying to picture all those things for yourself. I think it’s a great exercise for an actor. It brings me to essential stage, where you have a chair, a light, and audience... And the actor starts, and you kind of have to build all those things that are not there. It’s very raw in that way, and I think it’s very interesting.
The Kidd - And how... I guess just to go into the nuts and bolts of it... How much of the film revolves around Xerxes and the rise of Xerxes, and how much revolves around this other bigger battle that...
Rodrigo Santoro - Well... It’s all... You have a naval commander, which is a new character, you have an Athenian, which is a new character... So it’s basically in the battle... I’m not really allowed to talk much... I would just say that I think the fans are going to like this. I think it’s... You have the feeling of 300... They don’t even call it a sequel, or a prequel. They call it a spin-off, because it’s just a different angle. And you’re going to remember the first movie, watching this, but you’re watching another movie, another point of view. I think it’s going to be fresh and cool.
The Kidd - Alright, thank you very much. I appreciate it.
Rodrigo Santoro - Thank you.
THE LAST STAND opens in theatres this Friday, January 18.
"The Infamous Billy The Kidd"
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