Based on Frank Miller's graphic novel and brought to life on the big screen by writer-director Zack Snyder and a cast that includes Gerard Butler, David Wenham, Rodrigo Santoro, Lena Headey and Dominic West, 300 tells the story of the Battle of Thermopylae where 300 Spartans fought valiantly to the death against the overwhelmingly large Persian army. Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro is all but unrecognizable as Xerxes, the Persian King who imagines himself as a god, in the epic drama that's earning rave reviews from critics.
The 6'2" Santoro spent four hours getting made up each day in order to get into the golden (and hairless) 7' tall character. Despite the makeup process, Santoro believes it was all worthwhile just to get the opportunity to be a part of 300.
On Frank Miller and the Graphic Novel: “I was aware of [Miller]. I didn't know 300 was going to be a film, but actually since Sin City, there was a friend of mine who is very, very into all the comic book world. He showed me 300 and I looked at it and said, ‘Well, that could be a great film.’ Then after months, years…two years, I think…I heard that 300 was going to be a film through one of the producers on the film. [Producer] Gianni Nunnari was actually the one who brought up my name and asked me to audition for this role.”
Translating Miller’s Vision of the Character onto the Screen: “The inspiration was basically the graphic novel. I wanted to be very faithful to what was there, because I do believe that Frank Miller's vision is pretty clear for the character. I do see a soul for the character. You just try to be faithful to that, and just try to bring it to life, just adding what I had to add to the character, but also respecting his vision.”
On the Set of 300: “It was blue, very blue. You were working on blue screen and you didn't have anything around you. We did have the graphic novel, so we could know what final result we were going to see. But once you're there working, it's all about imagination, the ability you have to live in the world of imagination. You make it up, especially a character like Xerxes who is this sort of self-proclaimed god who believes he is above everything and everyone on the planet earth. He's a little bit of an egotist in my opinion. It's all about imagination, what he creates, his perception of reality, it's just his world.
The makeup process, four hours and a half, was a great time for me to get into character because he's so much about himself. I just took that time for myself to get into that character and just be a megalomaniac giant believing that he was just beyond anything.”
Sacrificing His Hair for the Part: “I had my whole body shaved. We started waxing - and I had a lot of respect for women after that - but I left for the girls [the eyebrows], because it just hurt so much that the next day I asked for a razor and shaved my whole body. But here we actually tried some prosthetics on first — tried to change my forehead or something like that. And then Zack [Snyder] just said, ‘No, no, no, I just want Rodrigo the way he is.’ The eyebrows were actually the makeup artist's idea, just to cover with prosthetics. There was no need to, really. ‘Oh, after all my body, I'm going to be scared of this? No.’”
The Appeal of Playing Xerxes: “I was actually salivating when I saw the picture, when I saw the drawings, because I thought, ‘This is amazing. This is a great opportunity to play something completely different from everything I've done before.’ The process is completely different. Everything was new for me.”
Working in the word of graphic novel adaptations can be daunting, and Santoro admits to being slightly concerned about the process. “It's a risky character. It's a very tricky one. To find the right measure and to fit with all the performances with this operatic stylized comic book, so it was tricky. I just made a choice, just had to go for it.”
Working with Writer-Director Zack Snyder: “I'm going to tell you my point of view and how he helped me. We were shooting overnight and it was like a long shoot, and he was like from the beginning to the very last minute with the same great energy, which was very pressing. Like it’s 5.30 and he was, ‘Let's go guys,’ always up there. He was a true warrior. He just wanted to win that battle and he would give anything. He was just willing to give, and very open to hearing what everybody had to say.
He would come to me and say, ‘How do you feel that? How do you think Xerxes should say that or should do that?’ He was open. But on the other hand, he knew exactly what he wanted for the film. There was no trying here and there. He knew it. He already had everything in mind. He already knew what he was doing, so he was very precise and secure and confident. But on the other hand, just open, so it was a perfect combination. It couldn't be better. I had a great, great relationship with him. I give a lot of credit to Zack Snyder.”
Preparing Physically to Play Xerxes: “My story is a little different from the Spartans because they had to go to training for fighting. Since I'm up there on my throne, I didn't have to do that. But my interesting little story when I auditioned for this role, I was shooting something in Brazil where I had to lose 35 to 40 pounds. I was like just bones and skin and when I put myself on tape, Zack and the producers saw it. They said that they liked it but I was too skinny. I said, ‘This is the character I'm playing here and how many months I’ve still got…’ In about four or five months we're going to start shooting. And then there was my physical training. I had to just put all the weight back on and also just build — not to be too big, like muscle bound, just to be a giant, to be like this towering figure.
It was a lot of strict diet and a lot of weights and sweat, and a lot of work. I did most of it in Brazil and then I came to Montreal and that was two weeks before we started shooting. I have a personal trainer here in Brazil that helped me a lot. It's basically just discipline. That's what it is. It's just eating the right stuff, just working out, working out. It was great. It was very healthy, but very strict.”