Preparing to Play Jesus with Rodrigo Santoro
Whenever Hollywood remakes a movie, the inclination is to compare it to the original. In 1959, Ben-Hur won an unprecedented 11 Oscars. Sixty years later, the story was reimagined and Brazilian-born actor Rodrigo Santoro was cast to play Jesus. We interviewed Santoro in 2016 and talked with him about how he prepared to play the role of Jesus as well as how he decides which scripts he wants to be a part of.
Santoro opens up about how he prepared to portray Jesus especially in light of so many people having a personal and intimate relationship with Him.
“I asked myself many times, ‘How do you prepare for this experience?’ Honestly, I have to say, it wasn’t a part, it wasn’t a job, it was a personal journey. That is the very reason I decided to do this movie. It was very personal. My question to myself was, ‘What can I add? What is the reason for me to do this?’ The answer was, ‘It will be a personal journey.’ I am not going to be able to explain it to you, I took it as a spiritual journey, but of course I knew as an actor, and a professional, I had a mission to accomplish, which was to portray this character, in this movie, in specific situations. As an artist you try to step into another person’s heart. That’s what we try to do when we are portraying different characters. So you try to understand as much as you can about the character and do your research and then you have to approach it and try to find the humanity of that part, otherwise the audience will not connect. The only way for people watching to connect is if they see humanity. So in this case, because like you said, it is a character known all over the world and billions of people have very particular and intimate relationships with this figure, there is so much expectation. And because it is so personal, every person will have their own expectation. The first thing I had to do was to forget about all of that. Otherwise I would be frozen. I would not be able to fulfill those expectations, it’s not possible, and that’s not the goal here. The goal is to try to portray, in a very human way, and try to be the most faithful to my heart. There was no other way. I realized as much as I research, as much as I read, as much as I try to comprehend rationally everything, at the end of the day, there is only one way to do this; with my full heart, my open heart. There was no other way. Otherwise it would be very mechanical, and maybe stereotypical, portrayal. It was a gigantic challenge and responsibility.”
“Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.” Hebrews 2:14-15
Santoro explains how he picks scripts and what types of characters he enjoys playing.
“There is really not a formula for that. I almost believe that we choose the characters, but they choose us too. It’s a relationship that happens between you and the characters and story you are reading. Something happens. I think it is like when you become friends with somebody, and you cannot explain it. Let’s say you make friends with somebody and you try to understand, why am I friends with Paul? Because Paul is fun. Because I like him. There is something that happens between you and Paul and you become friends and it’s not so rationally explainable. Sometimes it’s what they call chemistry. There is something there you just can’t explain. I feel that with characters and stories. So my approach, whether I am doing Shakespeare or a popcorn blockbuster film, from the moment I chose to do it, there was a reason. It’s really about the relationship. Sometimes it sparks fire inside yourself, sometimes it makes you scared and that can be very interesting…There is a lot to be said about fear. Of course you have to understand it and know how to translate it, but fear is not essentially a bad thing. It’s really case-by-case, but generally I can say I have an appetite for non-average Joes. I am interested in characters whose realities and nature are far away from mine. It’s just the way I learn…”
Be a light. Whether it is to a classmate, neighbor, or co-worker, there are people all around us that need to hear about the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ. Pray about sharing your testimony or something that God has taught you with them and ask them what they believe. Ask God to soften the heart of the person that you are sharing with that they would be open to having a spiritual conversation.
Host a movie night. There are so many great faith-based films. Gather your small group or a group of friends and have everyone invite someone that does not know Christ or is seeking Christ. Select a movie that everyone approves of and agrees upon. After the movie, discuss what it. Many movies have questions that you can use to guide the conversation.
Spend time with God. It can be easy to get caught up in the business of life. Take time this week to step back and spend time with God. Take a walk and pray. Read your Bible and journal about what you learn. Find a quiet spot that is free from distractions.
To read our entire interview with Rodrigo Santoro, click here.