If you look at Xerxes in the graphic novel, you will never think I could be the right actor to play him
Fans might remember Zack Snyder’s 300 for Gerard Butler’s powerful performance as King Leonidas. But standing up to him in the film and delivering an equally enthralling performance as the Persian God king Xerxes was Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro, a villain not just intimidating in his demeanour, but with his looks as well. In an email interaction with the actor, we learn that the role was not easy to play by any means, but he considers playing Jesus in the film 2016 Ben-Hur to be personally enlightening. We catch up with Santoro on how life changed for him after 300, his current projects, and his stint on television.
God of all things
Based on the graphic novel of the same name by Frank Miller, 300 is the story of Sparta’s 300 best soldiers, who go to war against the Persian army of 300,000, led by Xerxes, the God king. When the role first came to him, the 42-year-old actor admits he was apprehensive about playing the character. “If you look at Xerxes in the graphic novel, you will never think I could be the right actor to play him. But it actually taught me a lot,” he confesses.
Understanding the character was key for Santoro, who says he was inspired by the depiction of the character in the graphic novels. “To prepare for the role and to understand Xerxes better, I studied a lot of Herodotus (a historian). The film, however, stays loyal to the graphic novel, which too, I combed through thoroughly for references,” he says. The look of Xerxes, was something that was never seen before, and it did involve a lot of work. “When you watch the film, you don’t see all the work behind it, but I had to learn how to work alone because it was all green screen. The preparation was intense. The makeup took six hours to put on, every day. The physical preparation involved three months of eating the right kind of food, at the right time and working out for three hours a day. It was like we were going to war or something,” shares Santoro.
Best of both worlds
For Santoro, it is important to connect with a role before he signs it on.“It is like when you become friends with someone. Something happens that you can not explain, like a chemistry that bonds two people. For me, it is very similar to the roles I choose to play. I feel somehow connected to them, each time is something different,” he says. Once that connection is established, he is willing to go to any extent to perfect it. Case in point, his upcoming film Translator, where he speaks Spanish with a Cuban accent in one half of the film and speaks Russian in the other half. “I have a knack for learning languages, and I can express myself well, so it wasn’t too tough,” he concedes.
Santoro also stars in the TV show Westworld, where he plays a wanted criminal with a bounty on his head. Ask him which medium he prefers to work in, film or TV, and he says, “Both because I think when you go from one to the other, you can recycle the way you approach the process. Your tools — your body and emotions — are working in a different pace for TV and for film, and they adapt, which only helps you hone your skills.”