Rodrigo Santoro on the 'Very Intense' Experience Portraying Jesus in Ben-Hur

Nazanin Boniadi and Rodrigo Santoro from Ben-Hur
Nazanin Boniadi and Rodrigo Santoro from Ben-Hur

Ben-Hur Star Rodrigo Santoro on the Intense Experience Portraying Jesus

Some roles define a career. This one defines humanity. Playing Jesus in the new version of “Ben-Hur” took Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro on a deep and surreal emotional journey.

“It’s a huge responsibility and very intense, as it should be,” Santoro tells Made in Hollywood reporter Kylie Erica Mar. “I can’t compare it to anything else I’ve done.  … It was something that made me feel in many different ways, made me feel and understand so many many things about myself, about just how we are as human being and how hard it is to follow the teachings.”

Rodrigo Santoro Meditated Between Takes to Play Jesus in Ben-Hur

Best known outside of Brazil for appearing on HBO’s “Westworld” and “The 33” with Antonio Banderas, Santoro would be quiet and alone between takes — “I was meditating, I had to,” he says — preparing himself for the crucifixion scene that would be so intense he remembers little about it except the frigid weather.

“It was probably the moment in my career that the biggest challenge was to be more than ever connected to my heart,” he says. “I knew the weight of my responsibility and that (it) defines society –it’s before and after that moment. … I’m just grateful to have had the opportunity to go there.”

Co-star Nazanin Boniadi, who plays Esther, adds: “It was emotional, I think for all of us, me witnessing it, he living through it by acting it. It was such a profound scene watching you up there, and I felt everything that he was feeling.”

Boniadi, seen on “Homeland” as FBI analyst Fara Sherazi, says audiences will see a different kind of Esther in “Ben-Hur” than they may be used to in biblical films and television shows.

“The thing that resonates with me about Esther is that in this version she’s a lot more strong willed, she has a stronger voice,” says Boniadi. “Usually where you see films set in this era you see women who are more docile and demure, and Esther is anything but.”