300 (2007): Characters and Actors in Snyder’s Historical Epic

300 depicts a ferocious retelling of the ancient Battle of Thermopylae in which King Leonidas and 300 Spartans fought to the death against Xerxes and his massive Persian army. Facing insurmountable odds, their valor and sacrifice inspire all of Greece to unite against their Persian enemy, drawing a line in the sand for democracy.

Gerard Butler as King Leonidas

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 cant 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. Its how they breathehow 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 Frank Miller. She and Leonidas watch each others 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 youll see in the movie that the women can play pretty tough, too.

Lena Headey as Gorgo

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 shes 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 Millers tale, so Headey had freedom in crafting the character, guided by her conversations with Snyder. Shes 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.

Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes

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. Hes rich, hes arrogant, hes 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, hes 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. You see that people would follow himthat he would seduce as well as conquer.

Dominic West as Theron

Leonidas shows the Persians what he thinks of their threat by literally killing the messengers. But the politicians of Sparta do not want to fight. Theron, played by Dominic West, represents a new kind of Spartan, more interested in negotiating for power than fighting for freedom. Theron is not an honest politician by any means, and his duality first manifests itself in his being a treacherous appeaser of the Persians, says West. Hes the politician, not the warrior. Its always good to play a villain; they usually get the best lines, the actor smiles.

The Spartan Council sends Leonidas to consult the Oraclea young woman corralled by Ephors, ancient men who interpret her signs. Leonidas, through a gigantic leap of imagination, understands exactly what Persia is up to and knows how to stop them, says Frank Miller. But he has all the odds against him. The council doesnt want to have the battle for their own reasons, so they use the Carneia celebration of the moon as an excuse not to go to war.

Leonidas would sooner die fighting than kneel before any conqueror, but if he is to take Xerxes on, it will have to be without the Spartan army behind him. Leonidas is probably the most decisive character I have ever played, but when he has a moment of indecision, when he needs assurance that hes right, he looks each time to his wife, says Butler. And she explains so eloquently why he has to go to war, which is, Go and die. Ill never see you again, but youll do this as a free man. Dont answer this question as a king or as a Spartan citizen but as a free man. That really is the essence of the Spartan woman.

Though she is not at the Hot Gates with Leonidas, Queen Gorgo must also face a battle on their home ground. Gorgos sacrifice for Sparta and its future king, her son, is equal to that of Leonidas. Gorgo is as much a warrior as Leonidas. She must rally her city and her country to her Kings aid, affirms Johnstad, while also fending off the political maneuverings of Theron.

Deborah Snyder adds, She gives herself, but, to her, it is nothing compared to whats at risk. It means nothing because the stakes are so high. Gorgos words are the perfect challenge to a Spartan warrior. His nation has been asked to do the one thing they dont do, which is to submit to another ruler, Butler avows. Theres a time to stand back and resist, and then theres a time to take action. He understands like nobody else the relevance of this mission. It isnt just a mission to save Spartathis is his moment to show the world, not just Xerxes, for all the centuries yet to be, just what Spartans are made of.

An all-volunteer personal guard, made up of 300 of the most skilled and courageous Spartan warriors, coalesces around Leonidas. He cannot declare war, but he can give Xerxes a shock. When Sparta decides to fight, theres no holding back. These are insurmountable odds hes facing, but perfect for a Spartan king, states Butler. So he takes his elite force to Thermopylae to make a stand.

David Wenham as Dilios

Dilios, a Spartan warrior and storyteller in the graphic novel, is played by David Wenham, an Australian actor whose popularity increased dramatically in North America when audiences were introduced to him in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The character of Dilios solved for Snyder the puzzle of how to bring Millers unique voice as a storyteller into the film. We hit on the idea of having a narrator tell the story, which allows Franks fantastic world to come to life, Snyder offers. That was really important when it came to weaving Dilioss story through the moviehow awesome it is to have this storyteller that can render Franks prose in the picture.
I love telling stories, so to have the opportunity to be a storyteller is a gift, comments Wenham. Dilios spends a lot of time entertaining the troops when theres down time, telling stories about the first Olympics or other tales. He is also probably one of Leonidass best friends, and a great warrior who is highly respected among the men.

The film unfolds with Dilios as a guide; his version of events thus becomes the narrative that future generations will pass along. Dilios is a guy who knows how not to ruin a good story with the truth, necessarily, says Snyder. Hes going to make it bigger where it needs to be bigger, and do whatever it takes to motivate and excite the Spartans. His voice provides the poetic flux of the movie.

Vincent Regan as the Captain

The core trio leading the 300 Spartans is Leonidas, Dilios and an enigmatic warrior called the Captain, played by Vincent Regan. The Captain is probably one of the most intense of the all the 300 Spartans, along with Leonidas, says Regan. Historically, he would have been one of the three captains of the bodyguards of the king.

Tom Wisdom as Astinos

The Captain brings with him to battle his eldest son, Astinos, played by Tom Wisdom. In a way, The Captain makes a great sacrifice in bringing his eldest son with him on the expedition because its seen as a suicide mission, Regan asserts. After all, there are only 300 Spartans against a million soldiers of the Persian Empire. But he is extremely faithful to his king and his city, and hes prepared to sacrifice all that he hashis own life and also his sons lifefor the ideal of freedom for his city and king, who is also a close friend.

The role of Astinos marks Wisdoms feature film debut, a detail that might have played in his favor. I suppose one reason I was cast is because I share similar characteristics with Astinos, who is a novice in battle, he says.

Michael Fassbender as Stelios

Astinos and another soldier, Stelios, played by Michael Fassbender, represent the enthusiasm of the young Spartan warriors. Stelios is very spontaneous and very passionate, says Fassbender. He sees this as his chance to prove himself on the battlefield and die the glorious death that he craves in order to fulfill his destiny as a Spartan warrior.

Stelios is very spontaneous, very passionate, says Fassbender. Its his chance to prove himself on the battlefield and die the glorious death that he craves in order to fulfill his destiny as a Spartan warrior.

In Xerxess army, the Spartans have finally come up against a worthy adversary. Xerxes has willed into being an exotic and extraordinary force comprised of physical oddities, brute strength, wild African animals, magic practitioners, and his elite guard, called the Immortals. The Immortals are his special force, says Santoro. They are very skilled, scary, fierce-looking masked warriors. They are his finest men.

Leonidas is the opposite of Xerxes, who sits up in his high tower, who bribes, who seduces, who kills his men to achieve victory, Butler remarks. Theres a great line when Xerxes says, How can you ever stand against me when I would gladly kill any one of my men for victory And Leonidas says, And I would die for any one of mine. That, to me, is the essence of Leonidas.

As soon as the horizon darkens with the awesome sight of Xerxess forces, the battle is on. The story of the 300 Spartans is about more than just a battle, says Frank Miller. Leonidas knows these 300 men cant defeat the Persian army. 300 is about fighting, knowing you cant win. The act itself holds more power than the sum of the 300 warriors arrows. These people, these men at the Hot Gates, are ready to die. In fact, Leonidas intends them to die. He knows theres no chance of survival. He clearly doesnt care, because he knows something will be achieved. I regard the Spartans as the victors of Hot Gates. You can win by losing.