Born in Caracas, Venezuela to Chilean parents and raised in Canada, England, Spain and Romania, actor Santiago Cabrera has always been interested in the various cultures around the world.
Best known for his role as prophetic artist Isaac Méndez during the first season of the popular NBC show “Heroes,” Cabrera now stars opposite Benicio del Toro in “Che: Part One,” the first half of the biography on revolutionist Che Guevara. In the film, directed by Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic”), Cabrera plays Camilo Cienfuegos, one of the top leaders of the revolution who was named to the rank of comandante in the late 1950s. During this time, Cienfuegos helped defeat the regime of dictator Fulgencio Batista.
During a phone interview, Cabrera, 30, talked about how he prepared for his historic role.
How much of Che Guevara’s history did you know before starting this project? Did you have to study for your role?
I read a lot about it. I read John Lee Anderson’s biography [Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life] 10 years ago just out of personal interest. Still, this was a much deeper investigation into the subject.
What other books did you read to prepare for the film?
I read Guevara’s memoir [Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War], which the movie is based. One of the introductions of his diaries is on Camilo [Cienfuegos] because when he was writing it, Camilo had recently died. Even those three or four pages were a huge insight to Camilio’s life.
So, it was important for you to learn about both Guevara and your character?
Yes, very much especially in the context of the country and history of Cuba. You want to be in their heads and understand where they were coming from as much as possible.
When reading about Camilo Cienfuegos, you find out he had an influence on Guevara over the years. Was there anything you learned about the man that surprised you?
Yeah, he wasn’t an intellectual. He didn’t go to a university. He didn’t have a military background or anything like that. He was just an ordinary guy with amazing character. He was so young when he became one of the leaders of the Cuban Revolution. It was very inspiring to represent someone with his characteristics.
Was Benicio del Toro someone you looked up to in the industry before this film?
Absolutely. He is definitely one of the best actors out there and I was a huge fan of his work. The opportunity to work with him was fantastic. It lived up to my expectations. You have to be at the top of your game when you’re acting with him. You have to be at your best.
Did working on this film change any of your political ideas about the Cuban Revolution at all? When Cienfuegos died, some people considered him a martyr.
What I was really focused on was his character. I think that’s where my opinion is most relevant. It was finding an essence of what drove Camilo to what he did and what he achieved. That’s where my interested started. I didn’t want to think about any political ideas. I just wanted to understand instinctively where he was coming from.
I read your father was a diplomat. Would you consider yourself someone who is naturally interested in politics? Did any of his political views rub off on you?
My parents’ generation was very political. Living in Chile during a dictatorship, it was like that. It’s only been about 20 years since we’ve come out of it. I kind of shied away from politics because it was so present, but I think in the last few years and the way the world is today we don’t have an excuse anymore. It’s not about being political; it’s about being informed.
Your name has been mentioned in rumors that you could be playing Aquaman in the 2011 film “Justice League.” I don’t think many people would have guessed a Latino would play this superhero.
Yeah, I just think it’s important to tell good stories and know that it’s possible for something like that to happen. If you don’t, then you’re limited and what’s the point? Stories are stories and people are people. I don’t think race or culture is important in some cases.