300: Rise of Empire–Military Training

The sculpted Spartan physique was among the most talked about visual elements of “300.”  The filmmakers knew it would be vital for the cast to be in top form for the new film, but there was a distinction.  Zack Snyder explains, “The free Greeks are not the same as the Spartans; they are less tribal.  It made sense this time for the trainers to take a more individualized approach for each actor.”

Trainer Mark Twight and his team were again enlisted to get the cast in fighting shape.  The actors were all immersed in a demanding regimen, involving both diet and exercise.  “The training was customized, but the guidelines for all of them were similar,” Twight offers.  “We set a target for each actor and said, ‘Okay, this is where we need to arrive.  What do we have to do to get you to that point?’  We adapted to the individuals and adjusted the training along the way while always keeping in mind the ultimate objective.”

“When you’re an actor in a ‘300’ movie, you have to accept a few ground rules,” says Murro, “and one of them is that you have to go through physical training in order to get fit.  And Mark is no-nonsense about it, so you’d better come prepared to commit.  He’s such a force and such an inspiration; you know you can trust that he will get you where you need to be.”

Twight says that one of the largest hurdles to overcome was that the actors were not assembled in one training camp in the weeks leading up to filming, as they had been on the first film.  “This was more difficult because they were all in different places so we didn’t have the competitiveness that being together in a group can produce.  For instance, Sullivan Stapleton was, for all intents and purposes, on the other side of the world, so we had a very short time once he arrived on location to get him into condition.”

Perhaps the most daunting task fell to the actors who, almost seven years after filming “300,” had to appear onscreen as if no time had passed.  In particular, Rodrigo Santoro had to measure up to the standards of a god to portray Xerxes.  The actor attests, “The process was as intense as the first one—hours and hours in the gym and weeks and weeks without ice cream or chocolate.  But that’s the price you pay to be a God-King,” he smiles.

Andrew Pleavin underwent what Twight calls “the biggest transformation in the shortest timeframe.  He had about a four-week crucible of incredible pressure put on him to recover the form he had then.”

Pleavin recalls, “When I got there I was fitter than the average guy, but by Mark Twight standards I was in pretty bad shape, so I was very happy with what we achieved so quickly.  It’s a privilege to be guided someone of Mark’s caliber, and I’m grateful that I’ve experienced it twice in my career.”

The exhaustive training program was not exclusive to the men, and Twight has high praise for both Eva Green and Lena Headey.  “Lena has the attitude and physicality and could be graceful and imposing at the same time,” he says.  “She learned quickly and was psyched about the whole process.

“Eva was ready, willing and able and a total treat to work with,” Twight continues.  “I loved watching her work on fight choreography and seeing her flawlessly execute some tricky moves with two swords.  She’d be explosive coming out of a low stance and I would think, ‘Okay, there’s the result of our work.’  She made me proud.”

Eva Green relates, “I’m not the most coordinated person so it was a bit scary in the beginning.  Mark would tell me, ‘Don’t think.  Do.’  Fighting with two swords was a big challenge, but the core work I did helped a lot.  And the stunt guys are the best ever; I was in awe of them.  It was so much fun.  I felt like I was living my dream.”

Stapleton shares her enthusiasm.  “The sword training was definitely fun.  I’d never done anything like that, and it’s always rewarding to learn something new, especially when you’re working with the best of the best.  We started off going through the motions with sticks and worked our way up to swords.  It was a lot to take in so we worked on it every chance we got, slowly piecing together all of the battles.  Those boys were fantastic.”

Damon Caro, another “300” alumnus, served as the stunt coordinator, as well as the second unit director on “300: Rise of an Empire.”  Gianni Nunnari says, “Damon was our stunt coordinator and choreographer on the first film, so who better to drive the second unit on this one?  We had an unbelievable team between the people who prepared the stunts and those who executed them.”

Choreographing Fights

In choreographing the fight sequences, Caro was mindful of the contrast between the expert warring methods of the Spartans and those of the Athenians.  “We needed to adjust the style so it wasn’t as slick but still very cool,” he details.  “Other than a few of our key characters, we were dealing with more of the common man, the working class who had left their homes and jobs to go out and fight.  One major exception was Themistokles.  As a general and a veteran of many battles, he had to be more polished.  For the Persians, we stayed with similar techniques as before because it’s still Xerxes’ army, even though we’ve cut to the sea.”