'Westworld' Star Rodrigo Santoro on 'Disappearing' Into His 'Reprisal' Character (Exclusive)
By Jennifer Drysdale
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Rodrigo Santoro is barely recognizable in Hulu's new revenge drama, Reprisal. But that's exactly the way he wants it.
The Brazilian actor's Joel Kelly is bearish, burly and sports a full gray beard. He's a gruff and intimidating gang member, and a far cry from the suave, slick host Hector Escaton who Santoro plays onWestworld. The 44-year-old actor filmed both projects simultaneously, but welcomed the challenge; he couldn't say no to Reprisal after seeing Josh Corbin's vision.
"The premise is very clear," he told ET of the noir series, which follows a femme fatale (Abigail Spencer) on her vengeful journey to make her brother and his gang pay after leaving her for dead. "But where we're gonna go with the journey is what the show's about. It is not about the revenge. That's just the premise. That's just what takes her there."
Among other details of the plot, the "when" or "where" of Reprisal is not immediately clear, but it's all done with intention. Episode by episode, the series unravels and the puzzle pieces start to fit together -- or at least that's what he promised ET during our sit-down interview in July.
ET: This show doesn't tell us everything about the world or where the story is going. Having worked with similar conditions on Westworld, was that appealing to you with Reprisal?
Rodrigo Santoro: Yeah, Westworld has a lot of layers. This is different, but what I like about it is we don't know when or where [we are], and that's part of what Josh has been working on. There's a reason for that. It's not just to be a dystopian. There's a reason that he chose to tell the story like that. I think that at the end of the day, whatever you see in terms of style, references in time or whatever, it's just the atmosphere to help build what it's about. It will come down to family. It will come down the relationships between families -- both blood and not. I think it has to do a lot with families that you choose. What do you find along the way as you go? It's more dense, the core of it.
Our first impression of Joel is that he's a tough guy, but we also get a glimpse of him with his daughter. What can you tell us about how that dynamic fits into the puzzle that is this show?
He has two worlds. One, let's call it his work. He's got a big responsibility at his work. It's a very violent world. ...The thing about my character, what really attracted me to the part is exactly that, the complexity of the part, the internal battle that this man is going through raising this daughter, trying to be a father, and trying to do what he's gotta do -- but being torn between both.
It's not like, "Oh my god, I regret what I've done. I'm a daddy at home." He's not a daddy. He's trying to raise her. He loves her, but not traditional daddy. It's a very different in a relationship between them. It's nothing to do with just father and daughter normal traditional relationship. It's kind of inverted sometimes.
Seeing you with this beard was really striking, does it help to step into the character?
The beard was growing. I never know exactly what it is. I just let it grow and then I go shaping it. The process is very instinctive and nobody told me to grow a beard for the part.
I had it much shorter. I started to think about Joel, "What is he? What's the world like? What is real for him?" He's not a guy really worried about his appearance. So that was the first thing: "OK, let it grow." Then there was the whole thing about you know, how if you see even gangs, they are very stylized. I don't want to have a style for my hair. I don't want to have a style for my beard. Beard's gonna grow. Whatever comes out, it will be that. And hair's gonna be like I cut it myself. That's what it came down to.
I barely recognized you. You sort of disappeared into the character.
It's a good thing. Look, I'll tell you one thing for sure -- when I'm doing my job...
You don't want people to notice you?
Not that. I don't want to do a brilliant performance. I want to disappear. To me, that's the key, because then I allow the viewer to feel and to buy what I'm selling. It's not hiding. It's just like, "Where can I go with this character and be less of a Rodrigo that people are used to seeing?" So I'm always concentrated, focused on that. How do I help people that are watching to be invested, engaged, and not to judge, "Oh he's different in that?" I really take the focus out of the vanity of how I want to be different from the other stuff I've done. That beard and this hair is what felt to me at the time to be the most realistic, even though the show is not very realistic. I want it to feel real to the character. So that's how I proceed.
How else did you prepare to play Joel?
My character's is ex-fighter. So I had to get into fighting, which is something completely new for me even though I'm Brazilian. A lot of people know that jiu jitsu is a big thing in Brazil and I wasn't ever fighting before. Now I'm training a lot. I got into it for the part, but I actually learned a lot. They are kind of athletes. So, I have much more respect.
That's a lot of commitment and learning for one role. How did you balance it with your work on Westworld?
I'm learning it as I'm going. The good thing is that they're very different. Hector and Joel are very different. The only thing they might share is they both can figure it out a situation if they need to, but it's just very different. Hector's not even human.
Are you happy with how it's going so far?
Yeah, I mean Westworld is such a -- I can't compare to any experience I've had before. It's great, but this [show] doesn't fall behind. We are shooting episodes four and five right now and I'm very excited.
Anything else you can tease about Reprisal?
It's just, it's engaging. It's not about hot rods. It's not about gangs. It's not about that. The way [Corbin] writes, it's so delightful to read. It's so engaging and it's all about the characters. Give it a chance. You give it one, two episodes, and you're going to be sucked in right away.
All 10 episodes of Reprisal are available to stream Friday, Dec. 6 on Hulu.
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