Toronto 2011: 'Heleno' Star Rodrigo Santoro on Getting Film Cast and Crew to Pull Together

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TORONTO -- For his next movie, Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro (300, Love Actually) set his sights on a film about a religion.

Or soccer more precisely, as the sport is regarded in Brazil.

“Soccer is religion. So we’re going to release it in early 2012,” Santoro said of Heleno, Jose’ Henrique Fonseca’s biopic about 1940s Brazilian soccer god Heleno de Freitas that had its world premiere this week at the Toronto International Film Festival.

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And when talk of Brazil hosting FIFA’s World Cup championship in 2014 comes round, the Brazilian screen star suddenly gets deeply spiritual.

Santoro can't fathom a repeat of World Cup 2010, where Brazil, long praised worldwide for the joy and art its players bring to the global game, crashed out of the competition due to team disunity.

“A team has to play as a team. We know that, and the (Brazilian) coaches are working on it. They’re saying, let’s bring down the egos and lets win the next World Cup,” Santoro said.

“They have to, at home? If they don’t, it will be a major shame,” he added excitedly, now banging his fist on his chest.

And it turns out the talents of a Brazilian national team coach are very much those of a film producer.

“Unless the players are together as one, it won’t work. And that’s also for film. If you have an amazing crew, if everyone is together, it shows, it translates, from the costume makers to the performers, it’s a collaborative experience,” Santoro insisted.

So to hedge his bets on Heleno, Santoro and his fellow producers Eduardo Pop and Rodrigo Teixeira hired Brazil’s top talent, including cinematographer Walter Carvalho, production designer Marlise Storchi, editor Sergio Mekler and composer Berna Ceppas

And on the acting front, up and comer Alinne Moraes plays Silvia, Heleno’s estranged wife who stands by her man, while Madrid-based Angie Cepeda plays Diamantina, a nightclub singer with whom the soccer star has an ongoing and passionate affair.

Cepeda said the true-life Heleno was wealthy and educated, and just happened to pursue soccer out of passion.

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So her role as his mistress was to bring out the 1940’s soccer star’s bohemian side.

“He wasn’t that (high society). He was quite the opposite, and with my character he can show that other side, which for my character is his real side,” Cepeda explained.

At the same time, there was still another side to Heleno that Santoro struggled to portray, that of a Brazilian soccer hero left at the end of his life suffering from syphilis in a sanatorium, and locked up for insanity.

“I had to play him as a human, and not say, now he’s gone mad so I’ll act crazy,” Santoro said of conveying Heleno’s manic behavior as the disease spread to his brain.

To prepare for the sanatorium scenes, Santoro took two months off from shooting to drop 26 pounds.

The Brazilian actor declared the launch of Heleno in Toronto a success, as he and the rest of the film’s cast jockeyed for media attention at the prestigious film festival.

“I’m happy to be in Toronto with this film, it’s such a great venue,” he said of Bell Lightbox, where Heleno had its world premiere.

"But there are many more films, which is tricky, because the media has to choose what they watch. A movie like Heleno, it may take a while to be seen because people have other priorities here. That’s a little tricky,” he added.

Heleno will have its third public screening on Saturday afternoon at the AMC 3 theater in Toronto.

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