Over the years, the accessibility of foreign films in America has significantly increased. With the rise of streaming and on-demand services, films that used to be impossible for world-cinema lovers to watch are now only a few clicks away. However, the struggle for foreign actors and directors to break into Hollywood and appeal to American audiences is still incredibly difficult.
While amazing Latin filmmakers like Alejandro Iñárritu, Guillermo del Toro, Javier Bardem, and Alfonso Cuarón — to name a few — have managed to break through to American audiences and carve out their respective places in Hollywood, there are still a number of stars who are still waiting for the attention they deserve; one of them is Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro.
Over the past fifteen years, Santoro has slowly but surely been building his résumé stateside. Starting with a small role as an assassin in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, Santoro has gone on to appear in a wide range of films, from animated children’s movies like Rio to romantic comedies like Love Actually, to blockbusters like The Last Stand and 300. These films may have given Santoro decent box office exposure, but the roles in these films failed to provide him with a real chance to show off just how good an actor he is.
However, that might all be about to change for Santoro, who may finally be primed for a breakout. Recently, he’s been garnering plenty of attention for his role in HBO’s Westworld, in which he portrays the grizzled gunslinger, outlaw, and host, Hector Escaton. He may not always be front and center in Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s sci-fi western series, but he undoubtedly gives one of the best performances of his career to date. What makes Santoro’s role in Westworld stand out is how it allows him to return to the type of role that caused international filmmakers to recognize him in the first place—in fact, it’s the kind of role reminiscent of his initial breakout in Behind the Sun.
Santoro plays the lead role of Tonho in Walter Salles’s 2002 Golden Globe nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, which follows the “eye for an eye” rivalry between two families in the badlands of early twentieth-century Brazil. After his older brother is murdered by their rivals, Tonho must avenge his death by returning the favor to his brother’s killer.
The backbone of Santoro’s role in Behind the Sun is also the greatest strength of most of his performances: minimalism. In the movie’s many tense and emotional scenes, Santoro never resorts to “big” emotional demonstrations that reflect his character’s inner turmoil. Instead, he harnesses the film’s emotional energy, using subtle shifts in body language and facial expressions to reveal the despair of his character’s situation. Some may perceive such a performance as shallow, but Santoro’s stoic nature allows him to exercise a deep sensibility that quietly exudes innocence, vulnerability, fear, and love.
Such a nuanced performance helps direct the focus of the film away from its inherent violence to contemplation of that violence, and the effect it has on the psyche of a confused young man. In Westworld, Santoro provides a similar effect. He may be a mysterious, intimidatingly calm killer, but he’s also passionate and loyal. Hopefully, with performances like these, audiences and collaborators will begin to realize Santoro’s untapped star power and begin offering him more roles that allow him to maximize his ability to deliver subtle, nuanced, and wonderful performances.
Watch Now: Rodrigo Santoro’s breakout performance in Behind the Sun, now streaming on Fandor.