The Story Of "300"
Gerard Butler became aware of the project during a meeting with Warner Bros. executives. "They said the word '300' and I knew that there was something fresh and different about it," he recalls, adding, "When I met with Zack Snyder, I knew this is a guy who understands the things you can't explain about this story and what it would require. I could write six volumes about him and his talent, his intelligence, his passion, and his goodness as a person."
Jeffrey Silver notes that Butler had qualities that made him perfect for the role of the Spartan king: "His charisma as a person and leadership qualities set a tone of camaraderie among the actors. He brought this team of Spartan actors together."
Butler relished the opportunity to dive into research on this formidable culture. "Spartans are shown nothing but pain their whole lives to teach them endurance, to teach them fearlessness and to teach them to have no mercy against their opponents," he says. "Everything about it requires a steeliness and a strength of character, from the way the men are trained to the way the women must surrender their children in the name of warfare."
Screenwriter Kurt Johnstad adds, "There is fierce competition. This code of honor and duty and loyalty is beaten into them, and then it just evolves into what they do every day. It's how they breathe...how they act and interact."
A feared and revered military king of the Greek city-state of Sparta, Leonidas rules with the guidance and support of his queen, Gorgo. "Gorgo is, by all accounts, brilliant," says Miller. "She and Leonidas watch each other's backs and she is a great contributor to his strategic thinking. There is a great depth of emotion and intellectual partnership between them. Spartan women are Spartan warriors just like the men. They send the men out first, but you'll see in the movie that the women can play pretty tough, too."
Born in the rugged north of England, Lena Headey possessed an innate strength and grace that proved essential to the role of Gorgo. "Lena is so tough and down to earth and strong. And she's beautiful, with such wisdom in her eyes," says Butler. "Lena brought incredible charisma, intelligence and fire to Gorgo."
Calling the film "a story of honor, fearlessness, passion, blood and faith," Headey was ready to portray the Spartan Queen. Gorgo is not a prominent figure in Miller's tale, so Headey had freedom in crafting the character, guided by her conversations with Snyder. "She's a really strong character in the movie, just because of everything she goes through and is prepared to sacrifice," Headey remarks. "She has already lost her husband, but to admit that would be too much, so she fights, with her heart, in the political arena. I see Gorgo as the heart and instinct of Sparta, and instinct usually guides us through to the right decision."
All that Leonidas is, as a king and as a man, is brought to bear when a messenger rides into town with a warning that the army of a thousand conquered nations is, even then, marching towards Sparta. Xerxes, played by Rodrigo Santoro, has brought the ancient world to its knees mostly through sheer audacity. "He's rich, he's arrogant, he's a very unstable megalomaniac," describes the Brazilian actor who portrays the self-proclaimed God-King. "He just wants to conquer the world. His ambition is unlimited. He wants glory; he wants victory; he wants eternal fame. Underneath all that wanting, though, he's ultimately weak and very insecure."
Santoro first met with the director as a potential Spartan, but after he left, "I said 'I think Rodrigo could be Xerxes,'" recalls Snyder.
A towering, enigmatic figure covered with exotic jewels, Xerxes is carried on a golden throne by crouching slaves. "He has a voice that is smooth and seductive and everything that a God-King should be," says Bernie Goldmann.
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