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There’s a lot of preparation that goes into creating an action movie of this magnitude, especially one nipping on the heels of it’s predecessor. 300: Rise of an Empire starts and ends in the same timeline as 300, but the story line, and most of its characters, are far different than the bloodthirsty Spartans.

In the second go-around we’re following a new cast of characters, most of who are trying their best to save ancient Greece from a full-on invasion by Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his right-hand warrior woman Artemisia (Eva Green). On the opposing side is the powerful Spartan queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) and Athenian Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), fighting for what little freedom they have left. There’s a great number of combat scenes that each actor in this cast had to train for, and it sure wasn’t easy. We got the chance to speak with Eva Green, Lena Headey, Callan Mulvey and Jack O’Connell about prepping for their roles, how uncomfortable their outfits can be, and the fighting choreography.

The first film is very mythic, and demanded a kind of theatricality from the actors. This film explores the ambiguities of war somewhat more realistically. What challenges did the actors face balancing a sense of mythmaking with something more emotionally authentic or relatable?
Callan Mulvey: I think you have to be as realistic as you can, but at the same time, you need to give a performance, and it needs to be heightened because there are such high stakes. Although the battles and all of the physical elements of the film which you have to do as an actor certainly help create that, I think you just be as real with that as you can and make it high-stakes. And also, if you keep that real, everything around you, because we were in a green room on a soundstage with a bit of dirt and there’s green walls around you, and you have to trust in the amazingly talented crew and post-production people to create that world, and do a lot of the work for you.
Eva Green: And also, Noam loves classical music, opera, so he used to play opera music. He wanted not for us to be afraid to be theatrical, in a good way. My character is full-on, so to go all of the way and not play natural. So it’s kind of great, it’s cool.
 
Lena Headey: I think there’s a kind of giant science to it, do you know what I mean? It’s like you’re playing a mother who’s losing a son or a father who’s losing a son or a son who’s losing a father… there’s something at stake, and it’s not like you have to write every single word down. Some of it is just done with pure emotion, and this piece is about war and death. So I think we’re already set up to be emotionally raw; I don’t think it needs much more than that. You don’t need to do some big theatrical acting, because that’s mental.
Jack O’Connell: It’s kind of a variation on what Callan said, in the sense that I felt there were two primary priorities with this role in particular, and there was the emotional nature involved in it, and also physicalities, which to some degree were pretty extreme. I believe we all did our own stunts here, so that enabled us to introduce anything sort of outwardly extravagant into the fighting styles – which meant we could afford to be subtle, I guess, with the realities. Which I think with a piece like this gives it a real heartbeat, you know? It’s very astonishing to watch, but to also to really feel and empathize is, as an actor that’s a luxury to be able to perform. But there was definitely a distinction between physicalities and emotion.

What was the choreography like for learning all the fight sequences and stunts?

Eva Green: It’s like a dance. I’ve always been an enormous fan of those Chinese films, HeroCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and all that. So I felt like a little girl and I had great masters. At the beginning, you can’t think too much. You just have to do it. So that’s a great thing, just let it all out. Just go for it. But it takes a while to digest it and be able to do it. It requires lots of work.

300: BATTLE OF ARTEMESIUM

How was it like working out for this film?

Lena Headey: I loved it, but then I’m a sadist and a tomboy. But the sad thing is when it’s over, it all kind of goes, “Bluh.”

Callan Mulvey: I think everybody went straight to fat camp once we stopped filming. I think, for me personally, I never want to look at chicken and broccoli again which is basically all we ate. Just lifted things constantly. We were learning all our fight sequences right up to the shoot and training throughout the shoot so it was quite exhausting. But the great thing was they trained us in such a way you weren’t trained to have your chest look like this or an aesthetic look. You were trained so that you could move and you really see that with everybody in their fight scenes that they could actually move the way they were supposed to and you didn’t have to have the stunt doubles in as much.

Eva Green: I was kind of lucky because I didn’t have to be naked like the guys so I was allowed to have my glass of red wine in the evenings. I’m so not physical so that was such a big challenge. You feel very powerful actually but not straightaway. It’s very scary at the beginning to have to do all the squats and lunges. It’s like, “Oh my God.” It’s painful. But then it helps you for the fights. You can go quite low. After a while you feel very proud of yourself and that was the best thing. I adored it. The stunt guys are just amazing because they’re so passionate. They love it and they’re fun. It was my favorite bit I have to say.

Jack O’Connell: I think my favorite element was feeling triple hard and ready to go, hard in a strong sense, not… [laughs]

How comfortable were the costumes to wear, especially during the fight scenes?

Callan Mulvey: Just one word: Vaseline. You’re wearing leather underpants. They’re not the most comfortable garment to run around chopping people’s heads off in. But the negatives were taken care of by plenty of Vaseline to stop the chafing.

Jack O’Connell: I’d just like to second what Callan said. We went through a lot of Vaseline.

Callan Mulvey: I have to say he loved it. We had an incredible costume designer. I’m sure there was a lot of thought going into what we would have to do within these costumes and it was very easy to move in them, for myself anyway.

Eva Green: Alexandra Byrne is very talented and very brave. I love that outfit that she made with the golden spikes erupting from my back. I look like kind of a dinosaur or something. It was very cool and very easy to move. Sometimes my hair got caught in the spikes but you don’t see that in the film. Otherwise, it’s my favorite outfit. I look like a weird animal. It’s cool.

300: Rise of an Empire comes out in theaters everywhere this Friday.