The No. 1 movie in North America this week is “300: Rise of an Empire,” the second Persian War installment from the graphic novelist Frank Miller. And one of the stars of the No. 1 movie in America is a soccer fanatic.
Rodrigo Santoro, who reprises his role as villainous god-king Xerxes, is from Petropolis, Brazil, 40 miles north of Rio de Janeiro.
“I remember playing with friends all day, even in my cousin’s garage. We would make a grid and play,” he told the Insider in a recent telephone interview from a shooting location in the Atacama Desert in Chile. “And we would play in the street. It was a dead-end street with a lot of car movement but all we needed was a soccer ball. If we didn’t have a soccer ball, we would improvise and make a ball.”
Santoro is a lifelong supporter of Rio club Vasco da Gama and follows the Brazilian national team. (Like most Brazilians, he raves about Neymar.)
“Soccer is in our DNA. It’s part of our culture. Everyone dreams of becoming a soccer player. I was the same.”
With admittedly limited skills, he pursued acting and landed jobs in Brazilian telenovelas. He’s best known to American audiences for playing Laura Linney‘s crush in “Love Actually”; Paulo in the third season on ABC’s “Lost”; alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in “The Last Stand”; the voice of Tulio in the “Rio” animated films; and the successful “300″ franchise.
Santoro also played the lead in, and produced, “Heleno,” a 2012 biopic of self-destructive Botafogo legend Heleno de Freitas. He worked for several months with a soccer trainer and, as a result, “I’m a little better player now.”
He will appear in “Pele,” which is scheduled to hit theaters later this year with Seu Jorge, Colm Meaney and Vincent D’Onofrio. Michael and Jeff Zimbalist, who oversaw ESPN’s acclaimed 30 for 30 documentary, “The Two Escobars,” directed.
Santoro hopes to attend World Cup matches this summer in his homeland but said he might have work conflicts.
Has Santoro’s passion for the beautiful game influenced his show business brethren?
“I always bring a soccer ball with me. Right now, I am looking at one,” he said during a break while filming “The 33,” the real-life story of Chilean miners trapped for 69 days in 2010. “During the break, we relax, talk, kick it around.”