Cine Latino: Rodrigo Santoro's Obsession with Soccer Legend 'Heleno;' 'Filly Brown''s Jenni Rivera Remembered

Cine Latino: Rodrigo Santoro's Obsession with Soccer Legend 'Heleno;' 'Filly Brown''s Jenni Rivera Remembered

Dec 14, 2012

Earlier this year Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro charmed us as a loveable, understanding newlywed in What to Expect When You're Expecting opposite Jennifer Lopez. He returns to the screen with his final film of the year with an intense title role in Heleno. Currently in limited release, the movie is based on the life of popular Brazilian soccer player Heleno de Freitas, who died in 1959 of syphilis at 39 years old. I got a chance to chat with Santoro about his massive weight loss for the role and why he couldn’t walk away from Heleno.

"I had no idea about his story," said Santoro. "He's a very important character in Brazil's soccer history. He was a prince among society and was helping put Brazilian soccer on the map during the 1940s. He had a very controversial life story, a very quick journey. I was fascinated."

Heleno de Freitas, nicknamed Prince Cursed, was a popular striker in Brazil during the 1940s. He was known for his charismatic ways, a playboy of sorts, cultured, well-mannered and a perfectionist. 

"He had a great sense of humor," said Santoro.  "What's interesting about his character is his complex. I don’t think he was bipolar, he just had a very troubled personality. I think he was trying to live really fully, intensely and overcome his own limitations. He believed that he could be more, more and more. I think where he found trouble is when he wanted people to be like him."

Santoro said the project became such a personal interest, it was hard to walk away from the project when financing seemed impossible.

"At first I didn’t think that producing was for me. I told the director that I wanted to focus all my energy on playing the character, it was difficult and challenging enough. But eventually I decided to join him and produce; it took us about five years to develop the whole thing. It was all very difficult."

Santoro had to drop over 25 pounds for the role in a very short period of time and while he felt physically weaker he remained committed to the character.

"I dropped about 28 pounds. I actually lost more than I needed to but it was for the story," said Santoro. "Shooting took two months for the first part and then we stopped so I could drop weight for a month and a half and then we came back and shot the last part of it."

"The experience really changed me. I hear people say, 'You are what you eat,' but you are what you don't eat, too. It feels very different to be that skinny. Your energy changes, your state of mind changes. Physically I was weaker but I was stronger inside somehow. I was very focused in trying to play the character during that time in his life. I'm happy with it. It's a passion project for me."

Remembering Jenni Rivera (1969-2012)

Mexican-American singer, entrepreneur and actress Jenni Rivera touched millions of people around the world with her music, personal struggles and philanthropic work. On Sunday, December 9, 2012 after performing to a sold-out crowd in Monterrey, Mexico, Rivera climbed into a private plane in the early morning hours to Toluca, Mexico. A few minutes into the flight, at more than 28,000 feet in the air, the plane nose-dived at approximately 600 miles per hour, according to Mexico's Secretary of Communications and Transportation Gerardo Ruiz Esparza. Rivera was traveling with her attorney Mario Macias, makeup artist Jacob Yebale, publicist Arturo Rivera and stylist Jorge Sanchez. There were no survivors. Rivera's remains were transported to her hometown of Long Beach, CA last night.

As the nation mourns her death we remember Rivera for her stellar breakout role in Filly Brown, an indie film that premiered at Sundance this year. Rivera played an incarcerated drug-addict mother whose daughter (Gina Rodriguez) takes on rapping in order to free her mother. Rivera costarred with Edward James Olmos, who also produced the film, and Lou Diamond Phillips.

"News of the plane crash tore my heart out," Olmos told Billboard Magazine. "Jenni was just an amazing force. From the very beginning I’ve said that she could garner an Academy Award for her work in Filly Brown. She had a tough life, but she also had an extraordinary gift. She touched millions of people and she’ll be missed."

The film is scheduled to hit theaters in spring of 2013. Check out the clip below to witness Rivera's acting chops. Click here for a candid interview with Rivera, Phillips and Rodriguez via

Will you be watching Filly Brown? Share your thoughts on La Diva de la Banda.

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