How ‘7 Prisoners’ Star Rodrigo Santoro ‘Completely Transforms’ for Human Trafficking Drama (Video)

TIFF 2021: “The fact that people are doing a double take, it just shows the great lengths he went to,” director Alexandre Moratto says

For his human trafficking drama coming soon to Netflix, director Alexandre Moratto looked to Brazilian star Rodrigo Santoro to play the film’s menacing villain Luca. But though Santoro stands out in “Love, Actually,” “300,” “Westworld” and “Lost,” Moratto argues that he’s nearly unrecognizable in this film.

“Some people don’t even recognize him in this role, because he completely transforms himself for the film,” Moratto told TheWrap at the Toronto International Film Festival. “He’s such a massive global star, and the fact that people are doing a double take, it just shows the great lengths he went to to completely transform himself for this role.”

“7 Prisoners” made its premiere at TIFF and is the story of a rural worker in Brazil named Mateus (Christian Malheiros) who travels with a group of other young men for a job in Sao Paolo at a junkyard. Over time they learn that they’ve been trapped in a vicious cycle of work and aren’t allowed to leave by Luca, who oversees the junkyard and becomes something of a slave driver.

Mateus, in his effort to find a way out, then ends up more deeply involved and even complicit in this criminal world. It becomes a powerful social commentary for how entrenched human trafficking is around the world and what Moratto describes a form of “modern day enslavement.”

“The reality is that a lot of these people who are making our clothes, they could be making the clothes that you and I are wearing, they could be powering the electricity that’s running this computer, they could be making the phones that are in our pockets,” Moratto said. “That’s really what I wanted to look at with this story.”

For Santoro’s character Luca, Moratto realized that no one wakes up one day and decides they want to be a human trafficker. While it was tempting to cast him as the villain, the character’s backstory turns out to be far more complex, and Santoro’s performance had to bring that depth to the role.

“He wanted to come to a place of realism and respect for this character, and it’s such a tough and challenging role,” Moratto added. “He can do anything he puts his mind to, but I’ve never seen him fully transform himself physically like this for a role before. Just the depth and courage for him to take that on, it was not an easy role. I think it just goes to show that everyone was taking this topic and the story so seriously, and I’m just very proud of the cast for the lengths they’re willing to go to.”

“7 Prisoners” made its premiere at TIFF last week and will play in theaters and on Netflix globally in November. Check out the full interview with Alexandre Moratto above.