Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro has traveled all over: he’s done English dramedies (“Love Actually”), Cuban history (Steven Soderbergh’s “Che”), American action (“Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle,” “The Last Stand”), and even played aggressively-pierced 7-foot-tall Xerxes in the “300” movies. For “The 33,” about the 2010 Chilean mining collapse, he got to mix it up with an international cast with members from Spain (Antonio Banderas), Ireland (Gabriel Byrne) and France (Juliette Binoche, who early on gives him a good slap across the face). He plays Laurence Golborne, the nation’s new mining minister, who has to go from ineffectual bureaucrat to a guy who helps organize the international rescue mission.
First off: What’s it like to be slapped by Juliette Binoche?
It was an honor. It’s something I will definitely tell my grandkids. I asked for it, so it’s all good.
Her character helps make your character do the right thing, but it seems like he’s always been good. He just needs her to bring the decency out of him.
I don’t see him as a hero or a good guy. He was new on the job. He wanted to prove himself. He got there and saw it was bigger than he thought. He saw the families, who were in incredible pain and desperation, and he starts to get it and relate to it. He’ll probably be a better politician afterwards because he knows their needs and gets what they’re feeling.
You spend a lot of your early scenes being screamed at by large groups. What is that like, even if it’s staged?
Among the extras we had people who were actually there [during the real incident]. So I would get surprised in the middle of shooting: they were shouting at me, cursing at me. But it was a very Zen exercise for me, because this guy was in the center of a huge storm, with pressure from every angle. He was like a manager who doesn’t have any experience. He had to figure it out — how to keep calm with so much pressure. Those were the questions I asked [the real Golborne] when I met him. I wasn’t interested in imitating him, it wasn’t about his behavior. It was like, “How did you do it? How many nights did you actually sleep?”
You weren’t part of the cast that had to act in an actual mine, but you were still in the desert.
It was great and it was harsh. It was hot. Around 3 p.m. was the strongest — just hot and intense and dry. We were in the middle of the desert; we had tents and the trailers were more like containers, not real trailers. I was out there in the sun, with lots of water and very little food. But it was incredibly, incredibly unique — the landscape, the atmosphere, the silence. I would just walk and sit down and listen to the silence. It was so powerful. It immediately puts you in a very particular place. It makes you go within yourself. It made you dive down and everybody inside your mind is just talking. There was the most eloquent silence I’ve ever heard. It’s a different dimension. Maybe I was tripping — not tripping-tripping, but naturally tripping with the environment. It was a pure immersion.
You were also in the middle of nowhere, just the cast and crew. How much time did you get to spend together?
We all stayed in the same hotel, so we had time to get along, talk, get to know each other. We became a big family. We developed relationships. It was very humbling because in the desert, there’s nothing around. When you don’t have distractions you turn to each other. That’s what we did. That’s why we remain friends. It’s rare for that to happen on a film. We were isolated, so there were no distractions — movies, theaters, restaurants. It was just about sitting down and chatting.
The cast is also comprised of people from all over, so that’s many different cultures to absorb and learn from.
It’s a reflection of how we live right now. There are no boundaries anymore. We had something we called “the table of philosophy,” which is every night we had dinner and, of course, we weren’t talking actual philosophy. But we would go on and on and on about different cultures, talking about everything. We didn’t talk about movies, we talked about life. That was the rule: we weren’t going to talk about being actors. We talked about simple things and got to know each other. It was beautiful.
Acting is a great way to learn how to be open to other cultures. You’ve certainly traveled all over the place since your breakthrough in Brazilian cinema.
I’ve been blessed with a lot of different opportunities and been able to work lots of different people. It’s been 12 years since I began traveling outside of Brazil. I’m going back there now to do something after a long gap. It expands your point of view and you learn to be more human, more respectful, more understanding, less prejudiced. You learn to go through life without going through it — making something out of it, expressing who you really are and not just trying to please people and become a big whatever. You learn to do what is connected to what you believe in.
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