RIO DE JANEIRO — One of Latin America’s highest-profile actors in Hollywood and beyond, Brazil’s Rodrigo Santoro, a memorable Xerxes in “30,” has hardly stopped.
But the parts he’s played of late not only underscore the illustrious thesping company he keeps, but just how far Latinos have come in sloughing off Latino type-casting.
Santoro wrapped two weeks ago his first TV series, playing an outlaw on the pilot for HBO’s “Westworld,” helmed by Jonathan Nolan for Bad Robot and Warner Bros. TV, and a series inspired in concept by the Yul Brynner movie classic.
He features in Steven Bernstein’s “brilliantly written” “Dominion,” produced by Richard Gladstein, with Rhys Ifans as Welsh bard Dylan Thomas, living out his last day on earth, and John Malkovich as his doctor, shot over the summer in Montreal. Santoro plays “a mysterious character who will reveal himself.” Santoro’s character is called Carlos, “but we don’t talk about where he’s from. It doesn’t matter.”
In Gavin O’Conner’s “Jane Got a Gun,” with Nathalie Portman and Ewan McGregor, a Relativity U.S. release, Santoro plays Fitchum, sporting a southern, Tex-Mex accent, which he worked on with dialogue coach Gerry Grennell.
Maybe Santoro got lucky. He has played Latinos – Raul Castro in Steven Soderbergh’s “Che,” a Lessing role in Pablo Trapero’s Cannes competition entry “Lion’s Den.”
But from his origins, on international productions, Santoro has slipped the Latino stereotype. Santoro has played large roles, ethnics less.
Meeting casting director Mary Selway at Venice, where he was presenting Walter Salles’ 2001 “Behind the Sun,” he was cast for “Love Actually,” playing Karl with a “K.”
“Richard Curtis did not change the name of the character. It did not become José; it was still Karl. Then it happened again in ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting,’ where my character was Alex, who is completely American, completely American-written. When they ended up casting me, they didn’t change the character.”
Santoro also sees a larger picture for Latino actors, however.
The danger of Latino typecasting “is still out there, but I believe it has changed,” he said at the Rio Festival, where he was invited to present one of its major awards, a reflection of the esteem in which he is held in his home country.
Non-Latino casting “is happening more. I think it’s a reflection of globalization. The market’s opened itself more and more, not only for actors but artists from all over the world,” he added.
Curiously, when Santoro plays Latinos, he still has to work at an accent. Shot last year in New Orleans and Buenos Aires, Warner Bros.’ Will Smith starrer “Focus” is also in post. Here Santoro limns a Spanish car racing team owner.
“I had my accent but had to work with the Spanish accent when speaking English, which is different from mine. Very different,” he said in Rio, where he was invited to hand over the Rio Fest’s best picture prize.
On Patricia Riggen’s “The 33,” inspired by the Chilean mining accident, and now in advanced post, where Santoro plays Chile’s Minister of Mining, Santoro had to adopt a neutral Latin American Spanish, so that the films’ characters didn’t speak with disparate Latam-pudding tones.
Accent, however, said Santoro, is only “a detail,”” part of the craft, and of the work, and of the character, and of the process. But it is not the first thing.”
For the last 11 years, Santoro has worked so much that now what he craves in his career and life is “balance so I can spend some quality time with my family and do my projects here and keep working outside of Brazil.”
Going forward, Santoro would love to do stage-work. Also, though he doesn’t have a production company, he’d like to be involved in the creative process of production, he said. He associate produced “Heleno,” a b/w Brazilian movie about the 1950s’ biggest soccer star, and takes an associate producer credit on the Imagine-produced “Pele.”
More Santoro homecomings could aid boost some highly interesting movies coming out of Brazil with Santoro leveraging casting – as Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Antonio Banderas in Spain – to give Brazilian movies more of an international reach.