Rodrigo Santoro Discusses "300"

Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes Photo
Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes in "300.". © Warner Bros Pictures

Based on Frank Miller's graphic novel and brought to life on the big screen by writer-director Zack Snyder and a cast that includes Gerard Butler, David Wenham, Rodrigo Santoro, Lena Headey and Dominic West, 300 tells the story of the Battle of Thermopylae where 300 Spartans fought valiantly to the death against the overwhelmingly large Persian army. Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro is all but unrecognizable as Xerxes, the Persian King who imagines himself as a god, in the epic drama that's earning rave reviews from critics.

The 6'2" Santoro spent four hours getting made up each day in order to get into the golden (and hairless) 7' tall character. Despite the makeup process, Santoro believes it was all worthwhile just to get the opportunity to be a part of 300.

On Frank Miller and the Graphic Novel: “I was aware of [Miller]. I didn't know 300 was going to be a film, but actually since Sin City, there was a friend of mine who is very, very into all the comic book world. He showed me 300 and I looked at it and said, ‘Well, that could be a great film.’ Then after months, years…two years, I think…I heard that 300 was going to be a film through one of the producers on the film. [Producer] Gianni Nunnari was actually the one who brought up my name and asked me to audition for this role.”

Translating Miller’s Vision of the Character onto the Screen: “The inspiration was basically the graphic novel. I wanted to be very faithful to what was there, because I do believe that Frank Miller's vision is pretty clear for the character.

I do see a soul for the character. You just try to be faithful to that, and just try to bring it to life, just adding what I had to add to the character, but also respecting his vision.”

On the Set of 300: “It was blue, very blue. You were working on blue screen and you didn't have anything around you.

We did have the graphic novel, so we could know what final result we were going to see. But once you're there working, it's all about imagination, the ability you have to live in the world of imagination. You make it up, especially a character like Xerxes who is this sort of self-proclaimed god who believes he is above everything and everyone on the planet earth. He's a little bit of an egotist in my opinion. It's all about imagination, what he creates, his perception of reality, it's just his world.

The makeup process, four hours and a half, was a great time for me to get into character because he's so much about himself. I just took that time for myself to get into that character and just be a megalomaniac giant believing that he was just beyond anything.”

Sacrificing His Hair for the Part: “I had my whole body shaved. We started waxing - and I had a lot of respect for women after that - but I left for the girls [the eyebrows], because it just hurt so much that the next day I asked for a razor and shaved my whole body. But here we actually tried some prosthetics on first — tried to change my forehead or something like that. And then Zack [Snyder] just said, ‘No, no, no, I just want Rodrigo the way he is.’ The eyebrows were actually the makeup artist's idea, just to cover with prosthetics.

There was no need to, really. ‘Oh, after all my body, I'm going to be scared of this? No.’”

The Appeal of Playing Xerxes: “I was actually salivating when I saw the picture, when I saw the drawings, because I thought, ‘This is amazing. This is a great opportunity to play something completely different from everything I've done before.’ The process is completely different. Everything was new for me.”

Working in the word of graphic novel adaptations can be daunting, and Santoro admits to being slightly concerned about the process. “It's a risky character. It's a very tricky one. To find the right measure and to fit with all the performances with this operatic stylized comic book, so it was tricky. I just made a choice, just had to go for it.”

Working with Writer-Director Zack Snyder: “I'm going to tell you my point of view and how he helped me.

We were shooting overnight and it was like a long shoot, and he was like from the beginning to the very last minute with the same great energy, which was very pressing. Like it’s 5.30 and he was, ‘Let's go guys,’ always up there. He was a true warrior. He just wanted to win that battle and he would give anything. He was just willing to give, and very open to hearing what everybody had to say.

He would come to me and say, ‘How do you feel that? How do you think Xerxes should say that or should do that?’ He was open. But on the other hand, he knew exactly what he wanted for the film. There was no trying here and there. He knew it. He already had everything in mind. He already knew what he was doing, so he was very precise and secure and confident. But on the other hand, just open, so it was a perfect combination. It couldn't be better. I had a great, great relationship with him. I give a lot of credit to Zack Snyder.”

Preparing Physically to Play Xerxes: “My story is a little different from the Spartans because they had to go to training for fighting. Since I'm up there on my throne, I didn't have to do that. But my interesting little story when I auditioned for this role, I was shooting something in Brazil where I had to lose 35 to 40 pounds. I was like just bones and skin and when I put myself on tape, Zack and the producers saw it. They said that they liked it but I was too skinny. I said, ‘This is the character I'm playing here and how many months I’ve still got…’ In about four or five months we're going to start shooting. And then there was my physical training. I had to just put all the weight back on and also just build — not to be too big, like muscle bound, just to be a giant, to be like this towering figure.

It was a lot of strict diet and a lot of weights and sweat, and a lot of work. I did most of it in Brazil and then I came to Montreal and that was two weeks before we started shooting. I have a personal trainer here in Brazil that helped me a lot. It's basically just discipline.

That's what it is. It's just eating the right stuff, just working out, working out. It was great. It was very healthy, but very strict.”

Page 2: Santoro on the Battle of Thermopylae, Joining Lost, and Fame

Page 2

Rodrigo Santoro on His Knowledge of the Battle of Thermopylae: “Well, I'd heard before when I was in school. I always loved history so it was something that I was aware of, but I went researching in the great historian book, Herodotus, which was the best source. There was a lot there, actually, about the battle, and there was a lot about Xerxes. He's very controversial, Xerxes, according to Herodotus.

There is a piece of information there that I found very interesting. It actually helped me with the character, because he says that Xerxes' father has more — I think two more sons, and the power could have been passed to any of them. For some reason, it went to Xerxes. He doesn't explain and he thinks it's very controversial. And there is a sculpture in the Palace of Persephone of Xerxes in front of his father's sculpture with an inscription saying that he was his father's choice. He wanted to make sure that everybody knew he was meant to be the king. That kind of made me think that underneath he was very insecure. He was very scared of everything. It helped me [understand] this Frank Miller vision that he is this god king, and I think he put out this figure in order to protect a lot of insecurity and a lot of stuff underneath.”

Hollywood and Fame: Santoro’s very well known in Brazil but is he prepared for Hollywood?

“Well, I don't know man. I always think about what I'm doing right now, so if I start to think about everything, it's just too overwhelming. I never make a choice thinking about the results. I'm never going to take a role or a project thinking where, ‘What this could bring me?’ or something like that because you've got no control about anything, actually.

I just do the work, get the material and try to make my choices based on my instinct, what I feel. And the rest is like really a consequence that you have to deal with. So, I don't know. I'm not thinking about that. What I'm thinking is that I hope - like this work right now with this movie - I hope that people are going to go and watch it. Most of all I really hope that it's not just for people who are into graphic novels. I think it's a very original, interesting, unique piece and it could be a great ride for any viewer.”

Joining the Cast of Lost: “It's great, man. Lost is another unique experience, just like this one. You literally don't know what's going on, so there's no control. Actually, it's hard to build a character like that. So it basically puts an actor in a position where you just have to live the moment once you get the script, which is not long before you start shooting. You've just got to go from there and be in the moment. It's this kind of ‘lost’ feeling, actually. You feel like you're a little like, ‘What's going on?’ You don't know. And I think that's the beauty of this experience.”

Santoro Can Keep a Secret: Asked if his character is going to get a flashback, Santoro responded, “Yes.

I can't say a word, man. If I say it, we'll all have to kill you.” Santoro’s sworn to secrecy. “I can't say anything. I tell his name - Paulo. I don't know a lot about my character at all.”

Getting Hooked Up with Lost: “I met one of the producers on the show for Alias two years ago. I was shooting something in Brazil and I could not do this. He offered me a guest star or something on Alias, and they brought up my name when he joined the Lost show. And then I had two meetings with everybody - J.J. [Abrams], all of them, and it was from there.”

Santoro was familiar with Lost before being hired to join the show. “Yeah. I was working in Brazil on and off so I didn't have a lot of [time]. I wasn't following anything, but I heard of it. But Lost is, even in Brazil, it's huge. Everybody's aware all over the world, so I watched a couple of episodes.

I wasn't following it. But when I got the role, they sent me seasons one and two and I watched everything in a row, like a long feature film. It was really cool.”

Hanging Out on the Lost Set: “Well, I have a couple of friends there. Ian Cusick is someone…we play soccer together. He's a nice Scottish friend, he loves soccer and we play soccer on Sundays.”

Paolo’s Place in the Land of Lost: Will we see more of Paolo next season? “Who knows? I'm not saying anything,” replied Santoro. “If we knew more, we cannot say because that's part of the whole mystery of this show. But we do not know a lot of information at all. We have very little. Any actor, any character in the show, will tell you the same thing. We have very little information. That's part of the experience.”

Filling His Free Time During Lost’s Hiatus: “There are projects in Brazil and projects here in the States that I'm considering. I just don't know exactly and am trying to find one that I think's going to be right and interesting to do. It's very difficult after something like 300, which I found very interesting. It's difficult to find a part like that. But, you know, it's looking and seeing what could be right.”