Walking through a hot Toronto in the midst of last Autumn’s film festival, we were trying to find Chilean actor Alfredo Castro in a sea of people, as we had an interview scheduled. Then he became visible, sat down outside a coffee shop; he looked the part. Sipping on an espresso, shades on, the stage was set – and he did not disappoint. Having made a huge impression through the work of Pablo Larrain, now he’s collaborated with Benjamin Naishtat on Rojo, and yet again he’s picked a fantastic project. This creative, politically charged thriller was one of our highlights of the festival – and is now (finally) receiving its UK release. Which is handy for us, because now we can share this chat we had, where we talk about the film, its politics, and of course the current wave of superb South American cinema, and why Castro believes this to be the case.
What attracted you to Rojo?
The attraction was the script, it was so well-written, so fantastic in its imagination, that from a very subtle scene in a restaurant, that happens every day, the drama starts and it gets into political stuff, and that was incredible for me. Also, to work with young directors, they are rethinking our history, from their new point of view about all of that violence, and I was attracted by that.
When I was watching the film, I kept wondering – when is Alfredo going to come in? Your character’s introduction is about halfway through – so when reading the script, was it exciting waiting for his arrival?
Yeah, and I think it allows the film to breathe until that point. Everything changes when it comes to the investigation. I love it. I hadn’t seen it until last night and I was very surprised. Not of the talent of Benjamin, I think he is a really talented guy, he’s very clever, and sensitive, and the actor Dario Grandinetti is a great, great actor, and I think we did some good scenes.
Although being able to tell from the screenplay how creative this film would be, it feels like a lot of that was added post-production; the use of colours and the atmosphere. So when you saw it last night, was it a surprise to you how it was all put together?
Absolutely. I couldn’t imagine how it was going to be, you can’t when you read a script or do an audition. You do your best but you never know. I couldn’t imagine how far he would go with the shooting of it.
I feel like I haven’t seen a movie like this for a long time – did it feel when you shooting it like a unique experience?
Yeah, it was. We shot on an Argentinian plain and there were plenty of flies. I think I swallowed one during the shooting and it was very disrupting. Andrea was very angry with the flies, and asked if they were going to be used. Of course, Benjamin said, I think it was great, we’re talking about a corpse in this desert, use them, and that suggested something very intelligent from the director.
I’ve only seen one of his films before this which was History of Fear, but you can tell he’s so talented. What was he like to collaborate with?
I think really I just love working with young people., it’s great for our history because they give a new point of view of the dictatorship in Chile, we have almost the same dictatorship, with the Condor Operation in all South America, all the dictatorships altogether, killing so many people. So to get a young guy who wants to rethink the story, I think it’s very important.
You’ve worked with arguably the best young director working today in Pablo Larrain. It must give you so much faith in the future of cinema that there are voices like this coming through?
Yes! Yes. I am so happy to be working with the future. They tell the stories from other points of view, not the violence putting militias on screen, and tanks and battles and bodies. That’s the same for Pablo and Benjamin, you’d never seen a militia in a scene and you can still tell this story is about the violence of these country’s at this time.
Pablo went and made Jackie, and Sebastian Lelio has also moved to Hollywood. Does that interest you at all, to work in the English language?
If it comes, I will take it. But I am not thinking about that, I am working in Latin America, in Madrid or in South America, this is my target. I am too old to think about Hollywood. I have never been attracted by that kind of movie. Except for indie productions.
From the outside it feels like there’s an exciting new-wave of Chilean cinema. Is that something that Chilean’s can recognise as well? Are you aware of how strong cinema is in your country at the moment, or is that something you can only appreciate when you’re outside of it?
No, we have become very aware of that. I remember the first film was Tony Manero, that was in Cannes, and it was a surprise for everybody. The film was not finished so they had to finish it very quickly to go to the critic’s week in Cannes and that was the point when it started the movement of Chilean film. The young directors are very aware of that.
Why do you think it is?
Because they’re telling the stories again. Old stories with another point of view, with a new style, a new aesthetic. With a certain way of writing a script. Nobody thinks that a young guy from Chile could shoot these films, so it’s been a surprise for everybody.
In this project, you’re the lone Chilean in an Argentinian movie. The character is an outsider coming in – did it help that in real life, you were also coming in from a different culture – did that inform your performance?
Yeah, it’s a comedy character, I think. He goes to the church, he really believes in God, he prays, but at the same time he collaborates with the detectives, and there are so many lies to tell. So I enjoyed playing him very much, I think it’s a wonderful role and I did my best Argentinian accent and dialect.
What are the main cultural differences between Chile and Argentina?
We are more cynical in Chile [laughs]. We lie a lot more than the Argentinians, because of the era, we are more isolated. So we’re more melancholic. Argentina have an Italian passion, it makes them more energetic and more clear.
You remind me in the movie of Al Pacino, and in the past when I see you in films I see shades of John Cazale, and of course in The Godfather they play very different characters. Did this role feel like a shift from you – to go from being a Fredo to a Michael Corleone?
Yes, I think in Tony Manero, the first film of Pablo, one critic said that I was the double of Al Pacino – the Chilean Al Pacino. So I’ve had that name before, but I don’t care, I love it. Someone said I was the double of Tony Manero, and somebody else said Al Pacino, but either way I never was myself.
When playing a detective, do you find your performance is informed by cinema as opposed to real life? Because detectives and cops are so ingrained in cinema, did you almost base your performance on fiction?
Well the director Benjamin wanted me to look at Columbo. And I did. I don’t want to imitate anybody else, I was always just thinking which is the most emotional scene in the film, and I go to that scene. All my work went towards this big, final scene.