While Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro admits he does not have a formula he uses when choosing his next role in a film, he does make a conscious decision that the work he is doing is helping him learn and evolve in his craft.
“I take a role because it makes sense to me, rationally,” Santoro, 35, told me during an interview for his new film “There Be Dragons.” “I don’t want to be in a position where I’m playing roles I’m comfortable with and making money, but doing it without feeling like I’m growing.”
In “There Be Dragons,” Santoro stars as Oriol, a militia leader during the Spanish Civil War who catches the eye of a Hungarian revolutionary (Olga Kurylenko). The film, which is directed by two-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker Roland Joffé (“The Killing Fields”), also tells the story of Josemaria Escrivá (Charlie Cox), a young priest who later becomes the founder of the Opus Dei.
During our interview, Santoro, who is also known for his roles in “Love Actually,” “300,” and “Che,” talked about the extensive research it took to play his character and what he thinks about some of the controversy surrounding the film.
How much of the Spanish Civil War were you familiar with before you joined this project and what kind of research did you do for the role?
I was familiar with what I learned at school, but it was only the basics. I did some very long and deep research on the war. I was in Brazil at the time and there’s this place called Instituto Cervantes (named after “Don Quixote” author Miguel de Cervantes). The Instituto provided me with so much information – books, articles, films, references, and classes. You can study the Spanish Civil War forever. There is endless information on the topic. It’s pretty intense.
Tell me about your character. Was there really a revolutionary named Oriol who fought in the Spanish Civil War or was he inspired by someone else?
Oriol is a fictional name and a fictional character, but he is a representation of all those anarchists. Oriol’s story is that he’s a peasant working the land and waiting his whole life for the revolution. When it finally comes, he totally gets into it body and soul. He is a very brave man – a man of the people. He represents all of those guys.
Some critics of the film are calling it propaganda for the Opus Dei. Do you have any thoughts on some of the controversy behind the film?
I don’t feel like that. I think this film is about faith, betrayal, love, and redemption. I think that’s the film [director] Roland [Joffé] tried to make. Films are made to express life in all its facets. You can never expect to make everyone happy.
How does faith and religion play into your personal life? Were you able to sympathize with the characters in the film who believe a path to God can be found in an ordinary life?
I’m a spiritual person. I’m not very religious. I was raised Catholic, but I am influenced a lot by Buddhism and Hinduism.
How is a film rooted in so much faith like “There Will Be Dragons” affected since it is directed by a filmmaker who is a self-described agnostic?
When I started working with Roland I didn’t ask him about his religion. It wasn’t about that. It was about the amazing artist he is and the movies he had done before like “The Mission” and “The Killing Fields.” We talked about my character and the big conflict he is going through during war. That’s where my focus was as an actor. All my energy was absolutely concentrated on how to tell a great story and nothing else.