God bless all things Portuguese. The sultry gene pools of
Brazil and Portugal have spawned for us bronzed glamazons like Gisele Bündchen,
dashing demi-gods like bad boy soccer superstar (and unabashed Emporio Armani
underwear model) Cristiano Ronaldo, and sexy screen stud Rodrigo Santoro (best
known as the silver-sheathed, Spartan-slaying Xerxes in 300). He's bouncing
into town this weekend for the Miami International Film Festival to promote the
U.S. premiere of his latest feature, Heleno. A black-and-white ballad set in the 1940s of Brazil's legendary and original bad boy of soccer,
Heleno de Freitas.
Santoro blazes on screen as the impetuous player of Rio
de Janeiro's much-beloved Botafogo soccer club, whose groundbreaking feats on
the field (and eyebrow-raising antics off the field) endeared him to millions
of soccer-obsessed fans and catapulted him to icon status as Brazil's first
bona fide celebrity. His tour-de-force
performance showcases de Freitas' meteoric rise, raucous reign and rapid fall
from grace, into a syphilis-induced demise at the tender age of 39.
New Times sat down with Santoro (who is,
refreshingly, much taller than expected in person) to discuss Heleno, the painstaking research Santoro conducted for the role, his
copious collection of cleat-induced blisters he saved during filming (gross!),
his dramatic weight loss that halted production, and his next Hollywood moment.
New Times: Your character, Heleno de Freitas, played for Botafogo in the 1940s. Which team is your favorite club in Brazil?
Rodrigo Santoro: I'm with Vasco de Gama, but I have sympathy for Botafogo, as well.
Tell us about Heleno de Freitas.
There's one thing about Heleno that really impressed me: his commitment and his passion for soccer. He was seeking excellence. He didn't tolerate mediocre people. The problem was he was too radical, and didn't always deal well with people. But the place he was coming from was very noble.
What was the hardest part of transforming yourself into Heleno de Freitas?
Like any Latin man in this world, being a professional is different than playing for fun. I took classes. I had to learn [Heleno's] technique, how to receive the ball with your chest; Heleno was known for that move. I trained for two months to try to show the elegance of the way he played.
What else did you do?
I also took some dance classes, as well. I found an amazing teacher, who taught me the fox trot--that was huge in the 40s. I don't really dance. Oh, and I dropped a lot of weight.
Really? How much? Was the filming that grueling?
We stopped production for two months. I had dropped 12 kilos [about 26 pounds]. For me that was tough. It was the physical training and the emotions of the role that caused it. Heleno's personality is almost the opposite of mine. When you have a role that's very different from you, it's easier to play because it's not you, but it can be very tiring.
Tell us something funny that happened on set during filming.
I used to collect my blisters. The costume department built the actual soccer shoes from the 1940s, some super old guy they found to help build them. They were very rough, stiff and raw. All of soccer sequences were at night, in the rain. I was soaked and in pain, but I enjoyed every single moment of it.
That's kind of gross. So, how many did you collect?
I have no idea, but I had a full collection, all over my feet. Like they say, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. At the end of the shoot, I was using two socks.
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Your next big project is U.S. theaters is the dramedy What to Expect When You're Expecting, co-starring Jennifer Lopez. So, be honest: Who is the more beautiful leading lady: Angie Cepeda in Heleno, or Jennifer Lopez?
Oh, oh... that's not even fair. They are both beautiful in their own way. They are both Latin.
Heleno screens at 7 p.m. tonight at the Olympia Theater in the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, 174 E. Flagler St., as part of the Miami International Film Festival. Before the show, meet star Rodrigo Santoro and director José Henrique Fonseca on the red carpet, starting at 6:15 p.m. For tickets: 305-405-MIFF or click here.