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|Rodrigo Santoro titillated us as the evil surfer in last summer's Charlie's Angels flick.
But there's a deeper side to Brazil's biggest star.
His next film, the British ensemble comedy, "Love actually", is out this month. When we sat down with Santoro, we found a serious actor trapped in a very buff body.
(index's Zo╬ Bruns and Santoro chatted at the Sutton Place Hotel in Toronto.)
ZOË: Along with your films, your many roles on Brazilian soap operas have helped make you a huge star in Brazil. The soaps there are nothing like American soap operas. They're more akin to shows like The Sopranos.
RODRIGO: There is no place in the world that makes soaps like we do in Brazil. When you think about American soaps, they're just shows that run forever, with characters that don't have a lot of depth. But Brazilian soaps last only a month they run for eight months at the most and the stories have a beginning, middle, and end. The production values are quite high. They're all produced by TV Globo, a company in Rio de Janeiro that's like a big Hollywood studio.
ZOË: So is Rio the Brazilian version of Hollywood?
RODRIGO: You could say that. And São Paulo is our New York. In São Paulo you find more theater, in Rio more films and television.
ZOË: In your first feature film, Bicho de Sete Cabeças, which in English means Brainstorm, you played a teenage skate kid whose father commits him to a mental institution because of his drug use. You were really convincing.
RODRIGO: It was a risky project for me, with a first-time feature director, a woman named Lais Bodanzky. I found the script very moving, but kind of over the top. I was afraid of overacting. I thought, "How am I going to portray someone going through electro-shock treatment?" Even though the movie was based on a true story, I was worried that it would seem fake.
ZOË: In the end, you won eight awards for it, including a best actor prize at the 2000 Brasilia Film Festival.
RODRIGO: Yes, but winning an award doesn't make you feel like a better actor. Everyone says, "Well, he was great in that but what about his next film?" It just challenges you to always do better work.
ZOË: You seem to worry quite a lot! Is that why you're attracted to playing quiet, introspective guys?
RODRIGO: I like characters who have conflicts and who suffer especially if they're very different from me. In Carandiru, the Hector Babenco film I just finished, I play a transvestite.
ZOË: That film is based on a real event at the Brazilian prison Carandiru there was a riot due to overcrowding. When the police were called in, they killed over a hundred men. Even though it's an ensemble movie, your portrayal stood out. Your character Lady Di falls in love with a short, geeky fellow prisoner and actually gets married in jail.
RODRIGO: But Lady Di could have fallen very easily into stereotype. I wanted to portray the truth, so I interviewed real transvestites in Rio about their lives and their feelings. The first one I approached was named Michelle. She was so sweet. She said, "There is no doubt I'm a woman. I was just born into the wrong body." That was the key to the role. I couldn't just alter my body movements I had to look at the world the way a woman does.
ZOË: Did you talk about the role with any women?
RODRIGO: I analyzed my friends, my mom, my sister, every woman I could. And I realized that women come from another species. We are totally different I am talking about our souls.
ZOË: The name Lady Di is quite evocative.
RODRIGO: It's an homage. My character's goal was to be like Princess Di, kind and beautiful.
ZOË: Sitting in your trailer, how did you stay in character?
RODRIGO: I didn't have a trailer, I had a cell. [laughs] I spent forty-eight hours locked in a prison cell on the set, eating, sleeping, getting crazy. It was part of the process.
ZOË: Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle was your first American movie. How did it compare to working in Brazil?
RODRIGO: I was just a foreign actor who was there to help tell the story. I loved it. In Brazil, when I step out the door, I see paparazzi on the street waiting. In Brazil,
everywhere I go people come up to me. I'm always stopping to have my photo taken or give autographs.
ZOË: How do you handle that kind of fame?
RODRIGO: I live my life. I still go to the theater, the movies, the supermarket. I manage to maintain some degree of privacy. The press always wants to know about my girlfriends and my family, but that's off-limits.
ZOË: Doing Charlie's Angels must have been a nice break from all that stuff.
RODRIGO: I've always wanted to do an action film. I like to surf and ride motocross, so when they told me I would play this bad guy who surfs and rides motocross, I thought, "How fun!"
ZOË: You certainly seemed like a natural.
RODRIGO: I am totally into sports, snowboarding as well. I go snowboarding in Argentina, Chile, even California.
ZOË: Do you ever think about doing something else?
RODRIGO: When I was a kid, I wanted to be a fisherman. My grandpa had a farm where we used to fish. I still enjoy it it's therapeutic to spend time in the countryside.
Zo╬: What's next for you in the U.S.?
RODRIGO: Well, I've been working for eight years without stopping, so at this point I really have to fall in love with something before I'll do it. In America, it's very easy to get stereotyped as the Latin lover and that doesn't really interest me. We'll see what happens.