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At San Diego Comic-Con  the cast of 300: Rise of an Empire were on hand to talk their sequel to the 2007 hit. Director Noam Murro and Rodrigo Santoro (reprising his role as Xerxes), as well as newcomers Sullivan Stapleton and Eva Green shared their experience working on the action drama.

Noam Murro on keeping the visual style created by Zack Snyder and Frank Miller:

Noam Murro: I think that the idea was very much like Zack had Frank Miller in the back of his head when he did 300. This was very similar in that way in that I had 300 as a point of reference. The idea was always to take the DNA of that movie and being able to look back at it and use it as a reference and build upon it. There is enough 300 DNA in Rise of an Empire, but there is a lot of new stuff in it. That was the goal and the challenge. How do you keep enough of it and still create something very new?

The cast on joining the film and their relationship with the first one:

Sullivan Stapleton: It was an honor to be asked to make another film such as that one because we have all seen the first. I loved it. I auditioned like everyone else, I think. Luckily enough, I got the gig. It’s an epic film.

Eva Green: For me, it’s my first action film so that was really cool. I’ve done serious films before when it was all pretty much in my head, so it was a challenge to be violent, cut people in half, and kill lots of people. It was lots of fun.

Rodrigo Santoro: Well, for me, they thought that I looked like the guy that played in the first one. Just kidding. I was part of the first one, and when I heard that they were doing a second one, I was very excited. Actually, in this one, there’s a little bit of the Xerxes backstory, so it was real cool to try to bring some humanity to this character, and I was really excited about it.

Murro on the visual effects of Rise not straying too far from Snyder’s 300

Noam Murro: From a visual point of view and from a storytelling point of view, we kept the same methodology… A lot of the imagery is about creating these massive, epic scenes in post. We certainly kept that, but there was a very important character here which was the water, which was not ever created in the original 300 because it was all a land battle. When you create and think operatically, you can’t control water unless you can control it later in post. So that was the challenge and it was also the opportunity — to take the water and operatically manipulate it to do what you want it to do stylistically and thematically, if you will. This is really what the wonder is — the sheer idea that this is all a naval movie that happens in the water. The complexity of telling a story on the water and navy battles was fantastic. We had the tools to do it now which I don’t think six years ago you could, and that’s really the difference.

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Eva and the cast on her character Artemisia’s evil and scary capabilities:

Rodrigo Santoro: She scares the shit out of us.

Noam Murro: All of us.

Eva Green: Yeah! Watch out.

Sullivan Stapleton: And also in the film.

Eva Green: She’s so bad. I mean, it’s great because as an actress it’s hard to find strong roles. Most of the time, you’re offered the love interest or the boring girlfriend. And here, she is full-on the mission. She doesn’t do anything half way. She’s an extreme character and completely obsessed with vengeance. I enjoy playing evil, but not one-dimensional evil characters. I like the ebbs and cracks in the armor. She’s ruthless and a badass.

Noam Murro: She’s a badass. Yeah. Also, the beauty of it is that there is a complexity there to her character and unapologetically so. In a lot of roles, strong women feel like they need to apologize. But men don’t need to apologize for being ruthless and women somehow do? That’s what’s so nice here. We talked about it from day one, about having a female role that is not apologetic. That’s pretty cool.

Sullivan on his training for Rise

Sullivan Stapleton: Of course, I did train. I went through hell. It was about 10 weeks before we started shooting they came out to Africa. I was working on another show so I’d leave that set and go to the gym. It was an hour and a half of swords. That was the warm-up. It’s not fun. After that, it was an hour and a half with weights. There were a couple of exercises that these trainers had made up and you would think that that was the workout. But that was the warm-up. And so, whenever we’d go to work out, it just went on and on and on. And then, when we were shooting, I was hoping to maintain this. I found out that having to maintain this meant that while everyone else was at lunch, I was in the gym. Also, Noam actually decided to work out as well.

Noam Murro: You can see it on me.

300: Rise of an Empire opens in theaters March7.