The original 300 was an intense, hyper-masculine epic about Spartans at war with the Persians. The new movie, 300: Rise of an Empire, transfers its core power to a female villain played by Eva Green, the former Bond Girl.
"She cries and kills, which is a nice combination for a villain," Zack Snyder tells Sun Media in an exclusive interview. Snyder, who directed the original 300, co-wrote and produced Rise of an Empire. Both movies are based on graphic novels by Frank Miller.
The new story is overlaid on top of the original 300. As we see in flashbacks, Green's character is a Greek, and a sexual abuse victim, who grows up seeking vengeance. She goes over to the Persians to lead their navy against the loosely united Greek city states in 480 B.C. -- at the same time the Spartans are defending the Hot Gates.
"I think it's quite rare to see strong women in an action film kicking some ass!" Green says. "So that's cool!"
Noam Murro took over as director of Rise of an Empire, but followed the template Snyder created. Murro did have the freedom to transform Green into a sexualized, terrifying yet charismatic monster as the warrior Artemisia.
"She is this shy creature who eats french fries in her room and does not like to work out," Murro says of the real Green. "She is a bit awkward, and she is wonderful, a little like a rare bird. But when it comes out, it comes out dark and complex because she is like that. She puts out this persona -- as an unapologetic villain -- in an operatic way."
Green loves her crazy character: "She is like a man in a woman's body. She is really ballsy, really brave, and she was traumatized as a child so she kind of built this armour around her to survive. She became so driven by vengeance, so blinded by vengeance and so completely obsessed, that she's bonkers!"
As for working out, all the actors did, from new leads Sullivan Stapleton and Green to support players including Lena Headey (returning as Spartan Queen Gorgo), Callan Mulvey and British upstart Jack O'Connell, who plays Calisto. O'Connell, who was nicknamed "mini-stud" by his co-stars on set in Bulgaria and California, is being touted as a potential breakout star.
O'Connell is playful about his opportunity. "I was very keen to introduce a youth element to the story," he says. "I was in a position of the peak of my life, the prime of my life, at least physically!"
"It's all downhill now!" Snyder jokes.
O'Connell is not done being cheeky: "I think my favourite thing was feeling triple hard ... hard in a strong sense!" That generated more digs from Snyder.
But all the actors, Green included, went through what Murro calls "torture class" with fitness trainers. "I am not physical," Green says, "so that was such a big challenge. It's very scary in the beginning when you have to do all the squats and lunges. But then it helps you for the fights and, after a while, you feel very proud of yourself. I adored it!"