Rodrigo Santoro insists he’s never chosen a role that didn’t make him at least a little bit uncomfortable. “What drives me is the material,” he tells me on a recent Zoom call. It may sound unlikely but the sentiment begins to click when you consider the sheer variety of roles the 47-year-old has played across decades, genres and even languages.
Santoro started out in Portuguese telenovelas in his native Brazil not long after ditching university studies. He quickly moved on to edgier roles in films by local auteurs like Héctor Babenco, Walter Salles and Laís Bodanzky, winning the Brazilian equivalent of an Oscar for his leading role in Bodanzky’s Brainstorm. The performance drew the attention of Canadian director Robert Allan Ackerman, who cast Santoro in his first English language role alongside Helen Mirren in a TV movie adaption of Tennesse Williams’ The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. And so began two decades of balancing Hollywood roles in blockbusters like Ben-Hur and 300 with more artistic projects in Brazil and Europe.
While Brazilian audiences revere Santoro for his daring performances, English language viewers most likely recognise the actor from a small but memorable turn in the ensemble holiday film Love Actually opposite Laura Linney. As you’ll discover, Santoro has no ego about being primarily known in the West for a role in the kind of rom-com Hollywood once churned out monthly. On the contrary, the star embraces his reputation as a leading man to some of Hollywood’s biggest female stars – from appearing as Jennifer Lopez’s husband in What To Expect When You’re Expecting to playing Nicole Kidman’s love interest in an unforgettable CHANEL commercial.
Like most movie actors, Santoro has also learned to adapt to technological changes which have transplanted the lion’s share of decent roles off the big screen and onto cable networks and streaming services. Hence, the actor’s roles in “prestige” shows like J.J. Abrams’ Lost and HBO’s Westworld. When he speaks with Schön!, the star is back in Brazil after a lengthy press tour for his latest role in the Paramount+ series Wolf Pack, a supernatural teen drama from Teen Wolf creator Jeff Davis. Co-starring with genre icon Sarah Michelle Gellar (aka Buffy), the show is a new type of challenge for the actor.
Santoro chats to Schön! about Wolf Pack, finding meaning in his projects and what it’s like to back at some of his most iconic roles.
Hi Rodrigo! Congratulations on Wolf Pack, what attracted you to the role of park ranger Garrett Briggs?
At first it was curiosity. I like to try new things and when I read the script I got very involved with the characters and the narrative. The environmental aspect of it speaks to me on a personal level because I’m from Brazil and grew up in nature. The supernatural aspect works for me as a metaphor; to me monsters are real but they live inside us and we deal with them all the time.
I found the first episode with the wildfire scene incredibly impactful and it got me thinking about the intersection of humanity and nature which recurs throughout the show. Do you hope Wolfpack brings more awareness to the human impacts of climate change?
Absolutely, especially for this audience because they’re going to be the future and it’s exactly the right time to have this conversation. At first, it’s the wildfires but that’s just the first season. Jeff [Davis, series creator] told me from our first meeting about where he wants to go and why this guy is a park ranger in the second season.
The thing about Jeff Davis is his shows tend to run for years and years. If Wolfpack is to come back for a second season and beyond, would you be open to becoming a series regular?
That’s a question I asked myself before walking into this show. I tend to vary and go from film to TV [but] I don’t have a formula. I’ve learned throughout my experience as a human being on this planet that planning, especially long-term, is something you have no control over. I think if it goes on it’s because it’s speaking to people and it’s good. If it’s good then I’d probably want to be a part of it. Of course, it depends on what the character is doing and where the character goes. The last show I did that went on was Westworld and I was enjoying being a part of it. It was the longest I’ve stayed on any project in my life. Before that it was always movies, then the streaming revolution came and there’s so much greater material in series. What drives me is the material. As long as I can keep exploring and getting deeper into the character and if it’s still interesting to me then I’ll feel stimulated to go on.
Your co-star is Sarah Michelle Gellar who is a real icon of the teen drama genre. Has working with Sarah helped acclimatise you to this world?
Definitely. It was an interesting experience because, like you said, she’s an icon in this world. To have someone who has such in-depth experience in the supernatural world is helpful for sure. She’s a producer on this too so she’s very hands-on and she made it very pleasant and light.
One of the things I admire about your career is the mix of roles you’ve done – from iconic films like Love Actually to dystopian Westworld. What do you look for in a project these days?
I love learning and I’m a very curious being, that drives a lot of my choices. I love the research. I always want to be a better version of myself, and the work that I do is very human. I’m constantly exploring humanity and what we’re made of. I start with what I haven’t done before. For example, I’ve never done action. 300 was a big action piece but I never got to do real action.
Is it surprising to you when one of your projects becomes really classic or iconic or can you sense it at the time?
It’s totally surprising. Wolfpack is the perfect example because it grew. It came out, it started well, and then after episode three and four it ramped up. I saw the response climbing up and it feels great to be part of something that reaches people. That’s why you do it – to reach people and talk to them and make them feel or think. Any show or film you make only ends when it lands with an audience. When somebody watches it they have a singular experience and that’s when the magic happens. It happened with Westworld, it happened with Love Actually and it’s happening with Wolfpack. But when I’m working or choosing the project I never think about it.
I’m Australian so I just have to ask this: It’s almost been 20 years since you appeared in that legendary CHANEL No.5 commercial with Nicole Kidman and Baz Luhrmann. Did you ever expect the commercial to be so impactful?
Yes, because it was Baz and CHANEL is so prestigious and respected. It was a dream, I couldn’t believe it. Baz had just directed Romeo+Juliet and I was over the moon that he chose me. I got a call saying they’re looking for someone for a commercial with Nicole Kidman and CHANEL. When I got there and it was really Baz with a little Leica camera he said “hi” and there was a curtain and he took some shots, talked a little bit and then “thank you very much.” At first, I thought at least I’d been in the same room as Baz Luhrmann but then they called and I booked it. As you said, it was a commercial but it could have been a movie. I got there and Baz showed me all these storyboards and started building a character. And Mandy [Walker], that’s the same cinematographer who just got nominated for Elvis!
On that note, where do you think the future of storytelling is – is it streaming or will we go back to a traditional cinema experience?
That’s the million-dollar question. I can answer you about what I’d like to see. We’re riding that moment where there’s a lot of content and platforms. Honestly, Reilly, I see both. Top Gun did super well and I think Tom Cruise has even been awarded by the industry for bringing people back to the theatres. I hope we can do both because there is a very democratic side of streaming platforms because it’s reaching all over the world, so it’s trying to find a balance. There’s room for you to share the experience of a film and go in a dark room with a projector and have the movie theatre experience.
Wolf Pack is out now on Paramount+.
photography. Eduardo Rezende
fashion. Marianna Baffa
talent. Rodrigo Santoro
grooming. Mario Marques
interview. Reilly Sullivan
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