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300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE

Casting
"So you fight strong today. You fight for your brothers. Fight for your families. Most of all, you fight for Greece."

War is coming to Greece. The only question is whether the individual city-states will unite in time to defend their borders against the Persian God-King Xerxes and his innumerable forces. Sparta's King Leonidas is already marching his 300 best men to meet the enemy on what can only be called a suicide mission.

But Athens is not Sparta.

"Themistokles is not a king; he must operate under a different set of rules," Murro says. "Athenians have the freedom to choose whether to go to war or to try and negotiate peace. Themistokles must win the people's hearts; he has to work on multiple levels, psychologically, philosophically and politically, to get their support, and that's where he excels."

Sullivan Stapleton describes his character as "a military man who is very proud and extremely patriotic. The idea of the Persians coming to take their land and enslave them is enough to drive him to fight to the death to defend Greece. But before he can be a soldier, he has to be a politician, so he demonstrates his skills as a statesman as well as a tactician."

Zack Snyder comments, "Sully brought great charisma to the part and the confidence that Themistokles clearly has to have in order to persuade people that what he is saying is right and that his way is the only way. Those are pretty important qualities to have when you're pushing people into war and trying to convince them to shed blood for a cause."

The Persian armada is commanded by Artemisia, a woman who has no use for diplomacy. Cunning and bloodthirsty, she tolerates no excuses and accepts no defeat. Any failure is met with the most severe consequences.

From the start, the filmmakers had only one actress in mind for the pivotal role. Canton confirms, "Eva Green was the only name we discussed, and she was everything we could have imagined and more. Eva's Artemisia is a thousand percent woman and a thousand percent badass naval warrior. And she is dazzling as both."

"She's dangerous, she's beautiful, she's sexy, she's conniving, and she has a sword and knows how to use it. It's really simple: don't mess with her," Murro laughs. "For Eva, it was about creating a woman who is unapologetic about her goals or her ruthlessness in achieving them."

In fact, Green embraced her character's dark side, noting, "I love playing evil characters, but especially those who are complex and have a reason to behave in such a way. It's always more interesting."

Though born a Greek, Artemisia was betrayed as a young girl by her own countrymen who, in their cruelty, unknowingly sowed the seeds for the death and destruction to come in their own land. "That explains why she harbors such hatred for Greece," says Green. "What I like about Artemisia is that she's ballsy and utterly fearless. Her tragic flaw is her obsessive need for revenge."

Despite being mortal enemies, Themistokles and Artemisia come to develop a mutual admiration. Stapleton attests, "It is two soldiers respecting each other's tactics. If they had met under different circumstances, they might not be trying to kill each other, but they are plainly on opposing sides, and this is how it's got to be."

Green offers, "Themistokles turns out to be such a fierce adversary, and so clever, that Artemisia comes to admire him and will do anything to bring him to her side. She wants to possess him, but things don't go as planned so she reverts back to the battle at hand, more determined than ever to defeat him."

Artemisia has the will to destroy the Greeks but, alone, lacks the power to wage war on them. However, with the death of Persia's King Darius, at the hands of Themistokles, she sees her opportunity...and seizes it. Twisting Darius' deathbed warning that "only the gods can defeat the Greeks" to her own ends, she convinces his son and heir, Xerxes, that he must now become a God-King.

The director says, "I have always felt that the relationship between Artemisia and Xerxes is one of the most intriguing facets of this movie. Is it only she manipulating him or is there manipulation from both sides? Is she using him to take her revenge on the Greeks, or is he using her to get the power he wants because she is a brilliant general and can fulfill his ambitions? It was important that we not make him look like he doesn't know what he's doing. He's warped and evil, but he is not a fool."

Rodrigo Santoro, who in "300" portrayed the God-King Xerxes in all his splendor, notes, "The great thing about 'Rise of an Empire' is that we get to see Xerxes as a young man and understand how he transformed himself into this amazing being. The way I see it, it was an act of courage on Xerxes' part because he had to commit himself to a kind of death before he could experience this rebirth."

Goldmann says, "Through Rodrigo's performance, you feel the power of Xerxes in his godlike form, but he also has moments early on where you get a glimpse of the man he had been. I think it adds more depth to the character, and Rodrigo did a terrific job bringing that duality to light."

"The origin story of Xerxes came out of one of Frank Miller's concepts," Zack Snyder offers. "I think the fun of telling it is making mythology out of reality, which has been happening around campfires since the dawn of time."

In "300: Rise of an Empire," the story is being recounted by Sparta's Queen Gorgo, the wife of King Leonidas, who takes over the narrative reins from David Wenham, appearing again as Dilios. We are reintroduced to Gorgo in this film when Themistokles comes to entreat the Spartans to ally with Athens and the other city-states so they can stand as one nation. Spartans are born and bred for war; nevertheless, Gorgo does not give Themistokles the answer for which he was hoping.

Returning in the role of Gorgo, Lena Headey expounds, "Spartans were raised to fight, but only for Sparta, so she tells him that Sparta has no intention of joining forces with them. They will not sacrifice their lives for another's cause and do not share Themistokles' dream of a united Greece."

"It was wonderful to have Lena back as Queen Gorgo; she is such an integral part of the cast," says Deborah Snyder. "Her role here is quite emotional because when we first see her, we already know Leonidas' fate. And when we return to Sparta, she has just endured the enormous loss of 300 of their best men, including her husband, who was also their king. Now she has been left with the huge responsibility to rule Sparta and must concern herself with its preservation above all else. But something in what Themistokles says to her-and the fact that she wants to avenge Leonidas' death-may be more motivating factors."

Unlike the Spartans, Themistokles' Athenian brothers-in-arms are not career soldiers. Case in point, his closest friend and advisor, Aeschylus, is a poet and philosopher. Hans Matheson, who plays the role, remarks, "That made me question what would compel him to go out and fight. To me it was about the vision of democracy at that time, which offered up cultural benefits and a greater potential for mankind to explore science, drama, religion... So he has to defend his country and, with it, the possibilities that were opening up to them. And he also wants to stand by his good friend in any way he can."

"Hans has a deep quest for knowledge and to understanding the motivation behind everything he does, and that's part of who he is in the movie," says Murro. "Aeschylus is not made to fight, but he knows he has to. He is a true friend and advocate for Themistokles."

The toll of war on fathers and sons is personified through two more warriors who fight at Themistokles' side: Scyllias and his son Calisto, played respectively by Callan Mulvey and Jack O'Connell. While Scyllias is willing to risk his own life-even venturing behind enemy lines as a spy-he does not believe his son is ready to be a soldier. Calisto, meanwhile, is impatient to prove himself on the battlefield.

Mulvey says, "Scyllias is prepared to sacrifice everything to protect what he cherishes most. He loves his son dearly and struggles with acknowledging that he's a man. He does not want to let go of Calisto being a boy, because then he would have to face the prospect that he could lose him."

Ironically, it is Scyllias' own example that inspires his son to fight. O'Connell affirms, "My character looks up to his father as a war hero, so that crafted a lot of Calisto's aspirations. He wants to take his earliest opportunity to earn that kind of respect. He enters the film as a boy, and then through the harsh realities of war he's made to grow up pretty fast."

Murro believes the two actors were well-suited for their familial roles. "There is a maturity to Callan, while Jack is a bubbling ball of youthful energy. They were very much like a father and son on the set-there was a true connection between them that served the movie in a thematic way."

The ensemble also includes returning cast members Andrew Tiernan, who is again unrecognizable as the traitorous Ephialtes, and Andrew Pleavin as the Spartan soldier Daxos.

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