"In Brazil, football is pretty much everywhere. You play at school, on the streets, even at home. It is part of our DNA."
Like most kids in Petropolis—the hilly, subtropical city just north of Rio de Janeiro—Rodrigo Santoro grew up with a ball at his feet.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing [football] with my friends,” he says, although, he admits, he “never really played at a high level.”
Santoro, who stars as King Xerxes in 300: Rise of an Empire, opening Friday, has never drifted far from his footballing roots.
In fact, the 38-year-old actor has often sought an intersect between film and football, going so far as to produce and star in the 2011 biographical drama Heleno, which tells the story of the iconic and self-destructive Botafogo legend Heleno de Freitas.
“In order to prepare for the part,” Santoro says, “I had a professional footballer coaching me for two months.”
He adds: “Because of that training I became a much better player.”
Santoro’s preparation for the Xerxes role was rather different, involving prosthetics and a full body shave before becoming director Zack Snyder’s “God King” in the first 300 film.
“At first I didn’t think I had the natural physique to play [Xerxes], but it became an incredibly interesting experience undergoing the physical transformation,” he says.
Initially fascinated with the image of Xerxes designed by graphic novelist Frank Miller, Santoro immediately wanted to play a character he saw as “complex” and “powerful.”
“The most interesting thing is that in 300: Rise of an Empire the audience will have a chance to see a bit of Xerxes' back story,” he says. “This provides an opportunity to show so many more dimensions to his character.”
Santoro is also working on an upcoming Pele biopic, in which he serves as associate producer.
Football is back on the Vasco da Gama fan’s mind, and he fancies his home country to do well at the upcoming World Cup, which it will host in June and July.
“I think Brazil has a great team,” he says, citing the “incredibly talented” Neymar and “experienced” Julio Cesar.
“A lot of the players are currently playing in Europe though,” he adds, “so the important thing in my opinion is to get them to train together and get really strong as a team.”