The Legend of Hercules: Gods, Heroes and Mortals
Hercules, the mythical Greek hero - the son of Zeus, a half-god, half-man blessed with extraordinary strength. Betrayed by his stepfather, the King, and exiled and sold into slavery because of a forbidden love, Hercules must use his formidable powers to fight his way back to his rightful kingdom. Through harrowing battles and gladiator-arena death matches, Hercules embarks on a legendary odyssey to overthrow the King and restore peace to the land.
For the role of Hercules which has been reprised over the years by many, Harlin wanted to cast an actor people could really embrace as a fresh, new face--and someone who could take the character of Hercules and make it his own. "The way we approached the casting of this entire movie, was that we wanted rising actors who weren't necessarily associated with a lot of other previous roles," said Harlin. "I really wanted young faces and great actors."
Harlin searched through Europe, Australia and the U.S. for actors and had them test on screen with different scenes. Some of the actors weren't found until right before production began, including for the role of Queen Alcmene. "We didn't find Roxanne McKee until about the week before we started shooting," said Harlin. "I probably saw about 80 actresses for that role, as I did for most of the roles, because I always had a very clear picture in my head. All of the actors had to feel right for this kind of historical film. I didn't want them to feel too modern and we were lucky enough to find, for every role, just the perfect fit."
Kellan Lutz recalls his connection to the role of Hercules also began as a young boy with a wild imagination living on a farm. "Hercules represents so much to me, and it was always something as a kid growing up on a farm I'd dreamt about playing," said Lutz. "Once Renny had the script, I wanted to meet with him, and I almost felt like if I bugged him enough, and showed him how much this part meant to me, that I'd get the role. So I auditioned for him, and he saw something in me and here I am today just living that little boy's dream."
The infamous character of Hercules instantly came to life for Lutz when he put on the costume and walked onto the grand sets. "You walk into these incredible soundstages and you see the other actors wearing these amazing costumes and the acting just comes naturally from that point," said Lutz.
"This is one of the best experiences I've ever had as an actor and the best group of people I've gotten to work with. Renny is the leader of this massive ship, and he leads with authority, compassion, openness, love and respect to everyone. And that just makes everyone want to prove to him how much they appreciate working on this film."
Starring as Hercules' best friend and partner in battle, Sotiris, Liam McIntyre had also long admired this time period. "I read a lot of history as a kid, and always found Greek and Roman mythology to be so fascinating," said McIntyre. "What I loved most about this time period is that it's the dawn of civilized society if you will--where cohesive, structured, formal armies are forming and religious systems are feeding into their laws." Like Harlin, the actor was also drawn to Hercules' influence on today's heroes. "Hercules was truly the benchmark for men and superheroes. If you go back to that time and look at Hercules you'll see they're all in some way based off of him," continued McIntyre.
"The work our costume designer and production designer have done has been incredible," said McIntyre. "The idea that you can walk into set Monday and be on a ship, and then on Friday you're on a battle field that is as authentic as you can imagine is just phenomenal. And our costume designer has been brilliant-- because one thing she didn't have a lot of was time. She created masterpieces out of thin air. We're very lucky as actors to be working with such a great team."
As Hebe, the Princess of Crete, Gaia Weiss' first impression of the expansive sets had her feeling like a kid in an amusement park. "I was absolutely amazed because everything is so grand," said Weiss. "It felt incredible that it all came from someone's imagination. Renny and his production design team are remarkable at making everything look absolutely gorgeous."
Weiss prepared for her role by creating a soundtrack that would get into the right emotion. "I always get a soundtrack so I can work on my lines with it in front of a mirror where that sound creates an atmosphere for me," said Weiss. "When you're first working on a script you don't know how the sets will look, and sometimes you don't even have a clear idea of what the atmosphere of the film will be, so this soundtrack helps me with that."
Finding the right actress for Lutz to play opposite of was important for Harlin. "It's not only about finding the perfect actor for each part, but how those actors are going to interact with each other," said Harlin. "And we got lucky with not only the chemistry of these two lead characters, but with the chemistry of everyone on that screen."
"I love the Hercules and Hebe relationship because while this film has a lot of fighting and action, it's equally a romance piece," said Lutz. "There's a connection between these two characters that feels true and real. You can see that behind their titles, of princess and demigod are two young lovers full of life."
Weiss finds her character is drawn to Hercules because of his courage as a protector and his sentiments as a kind man who she can't live without. The actress recalls preparing for her role with Lutz and developing the background they imagined for their characters. "Kellan and I had actually imagined different backgrounds, which actually complimented each others," said Weiss. "We had two weeks of preparation which helped us become closer and friendly. And that helped because sometimes you just come on set and you have a kissing scene or a love scene and you don't even know the person, so it can feel a bit awkward."
"Gaia brought this elegance and timelessness to her character and has been an amazing actress to work with," said Lutz. "She's such an easygoing person and we created a friendship hanging out offset that translated into our characters with such ease. As acting partners taking on a love scene it helped because we had trust in each other and could forget about the awkwardness of the cameras."
Beyond Hercules' relationship with Hebe, was the passage of a conflicted young man coming into his own. "Throughout the film Hercules is on this greater journey of finding his identity and becoming the man that his is promised to be," said Lutz. "And in the end he accepts his responsibility as a sort of Robin Hood to the people--fighting injustice with justice to bring honor to his mother, his loved ones, his kingdom and to take his rightful place as this demigod."
The character required the actor to prepare and train for the demanding physicality of his role. The actor chose to perform most of his own stunts and prior to beginning the film, trained with a Bulgarian stunt team and his stunt doubles. Lutz trained for three weeks on sword fighting, horseback riding, spear throwing, and chains for his many battle scenes. "I love doing stunts and action films which is the genre I've chosen as an actor," said Lutz. "Some of the combat is of a grand scale, while other is hand to hand and I've really put all of myself into all of these scenes, with some scars to prove it. With such a great stunt team led by Rowley Llram, I felt really prepared for every fight scene--it's been fun every day."
For the film's stunt coordinator, Rowley Lrlam, his preparations began about ten days before shooting. "Luckily for me, the Bulgarian stunt team was really talented and had the choreography for the first month's shooting down," said Llram. "So I allowed that to continue and spent those ten days prepping and getting my head around the script and the schematics of the sets. We had 80% of the fights in the movie shot in the first month so we had a lot to figure out right away."
"The kind of stunts we've done, and the scope of action we've put together is the biggest I've ever done in my career," said Harlin. "And that's thanks to the amazing effort of everyone who's worked on this film."
With most of Hercules' greatest fight scenes alongside Sotiris, McIntyre embraced his character's role as a sounding board for Hercules and a confidant who brings balance to the demigod's perspective. "One of my favorite things about making this film was collaborating with Renny on forming this character," said McIntyre. "We decided he was the kind of man who came from tough upbringing, isn't glorious and hasn't had the privileges Hercules did. Sotiris plays it safe, is more cautionary and a little wiser about the world because of his difficult life, whereas Hercules always attempts impossibly wonderful things." McIntyre particularly enjoyed that the characters did not like each other at the start, but come together in battle and become brothers in armor with the common goal of survival. "They find they have more in common than they'd imagined with their struggles and their great loves, and the mutual dream to be free and return to them. Sotiris recognizes that Hercules is a special human being unlike anything he's ever seen before and decides to align with him and form a great friendship." McIntyre brought his own experience to the film's battle scenes from his work on Spartacus.
"There's something childlike about doing stunts because it's like being 10 again," said McIntyre. "What I loved most about the action sequences in this film was this slow motion camera that they'd use to capture the smallest motion that just makes it all more dramatic and exciting. It's a great responsibility to do these stunts and pull them off to make it look like you're some incredible warrior from ages ago. Luckily, I have an excellent stunt double, who does all of the things I can't manage, but also guided me throughout every action scene."
Working with horses was relatively new for the actor who once believed he was allergic to the animals and was slowly introduced to them over the years with his work. "There are a lot of action sequences in the film where we're cantering along, galloping along at a huge pace and having to control the animal, deliver lines and look good doing it wasn't all that easy," said McIntyre. "And if I pulled it off, it's a testament to the stunt team on the show who made sure we looked convincing and confident."
WeWeiss was excited by her character's ability to ride horses so brilliantly. "When I read the script, I was really excited that my character was so bad ass and such an excellent rider," said Weiss. "But then I realized I have two weeks to become this person, because I've never been on a horse before. I was nervous at first, but with the adrenalin, I was able to ride well enough to make sure she looked like she'd been riding horses her whole life. And for that I thank our amazing horse master and stunt coordinator."
"My background is originally [in] horses," said Lrlam. "It was a relatively straightforward task of basically fast-tracking their tuition with Cara the horse master and basically giving them an intensive one-on-one tuition, so that hopefully we would be ready in time. Getting them ready was one of the toughest challenges for me because we only had a few days to get them where they had absorbed as many tips and training as possible to do their work."
As Hercules' half-brother, Iphicles, Liam Garrigan had an embarrassing riding moment. "They kept telling me I was doing well riding, and so I was confident I could handle my scene where I'm riding up with Kellan and Gaia," said Garrigan. "But I couldn't control my horse, and it would not stand still for love nor money. It kept smelling the backside of Gaia's horse, and then scared Kellan's horse knocking him off. We got it all on camera--it's a good shot."
While the actor may have struggled with some of the riding in what is his first feature film, his talent is evident in the brilliant performance he gives as Hercules' half-brother Iphicles. The brother's rivalry is obvious early in the film with Iphicles jealous of Hercules' stature and looks which have won over Hebe. Desperate for their father's, (King Amphitryon), love and respect, Iphicles turns against Hercules and spirals into his tyrant father's ways. "Iphicles is a villain, but I believe he's also more of a tragic character," said Garrigan. "It's great fun playing the 'bad guy' as you get some awesome lines, but unless there's something to really underpin his story it can feel two dimensional. So having the opportunity to work with Renny, play around with the lines and really sink my teeth into the role has been brilliant. A fun character to explore."
AsAs King Amphitryon, Scott Adkins has had previous experience playing villains and enjoyed playing the bloodthirsty cruel king. "The one thing this man wants is for his bloodline to survive and his kingdom to be safe--and he will achieve that at whatever cost," said Adkins. "I'm quite good at playing the villain and expressing anger for some reason--maybe I have a lot pent up in me somewhere. But I also understand this character and see him a bit differently in playing him." The actor created a back story for the king that helped explain his desire for power. "The fact is that Zeus has come down from Mount Olympus and had his way with Aphitryon's wife--leading to a son, Hercules," continues Adkins. "And he knows Hercules isn't really his son but to avoid embarrassment, he goes along with it until he's confronted by the truth, and then he's hell bent on protecting his bloodline and ensuring Iphicles will have the throne."
Hercules' mother, Queen Alcmene played by Roxanne McKee is trapped in a loveless marriage with this brutal king. As her husband continues to take over countries, killing people, she becomes desperate to end the violence and destruction taking over her life. Praying to the gods she asks for help and through the oracle, kia, the goddess Hera hears her plight, honoring Alcmene's request with a child born to her and the god Zeus.
"Kakia is an interesting part to play," said Mariah Gale. "Hera speaks through her to tell Alcmene she will have the son of Zeus and it's a powerful scene that changes everything. Kakia is a character that comes in and out, really only flashing into the story briefly, but in quite powerful moments for both Alcmene and Hercules."
"Alcmene finds herself in a dangerous situation where she's the mother of a child that does not belong to her husband, but Hercules is the savior and she must protect him," said McKee. "Her relationship with Hercules is sweet and incredibly special because she loves him not only because he is her son, but because he will save her people and is a gift from the gods."
The queen's love for her firstborn son, Iphicles is frayed when Hercules is sent to die at battle by King Aphitryon. "There is a painful scene where she believes Hercules is dead and she knows that Iphicles feels she loves Hercules more," said McKee. "Iphicles is his father's son and has his own destiny, one not mapped out by the gods. And she's losing feelings for Iphicles because she's seeing him in a new light in reaction to his brother's death. Everything in him is beginning to resemble more of the characteristics she detests within her husband."
The actress was drawn to the journey of her character playing a young 20 year old, to a mother of two grown men. Throughout the film the character is guided by Chiron, a tutor and scholar on the King's court, who protects her and Hercules. "Alcmene feels very close to him and trusts in his wisdom," said McKee. "Her relationship with him is very important because she's able to glean facts and information from him that she wouldn't otherwise obtain and his loyalty to her leads him to protecting Hercules after her death."
Enslaved in Egypt, Hercules is destroyed after learning of his mother's death. "He's captured in slavery trying to get his freedom and get back to his loved ones when he suddenly learns that within that period of time, his mother has died," said Lutz. "And it's strange because of the closeness of the mother and son's bond, Roxanne and I thought we had so many more scenes together than we really did. Hercules is really suffering during this time trying to break free, but when he hears of his mother's death and his identity begins to come together--he knows he must finally break free."
During this period of enslavement, Hercules belongs to the slave trader--Lucius, played by Kenneth Cranham. "Lucius is not a particularly pleasant character," said Cranham. "He's bought Hercules and Sotiris along with several jesters that he has in his repertoire to fight and make money off of. I was really drawn to the film because of Renny. We'd worked together before and I was happy to get the chance to be in Renny's gang again."
Warming up the crowds before Hercules and Sotiris enter the ring and fight for Lucius' wager, are the clowns Agamemnon and Creon who wrestle and amuse as entertainment. As Agamemnon, actor Luke Newberry responded to the relationship between his character and Hercules. "In a film where there's a lot of fighting and aggression, there's this sweet relationship between Hercules and Agamemnon where Hercules really takes him under his wing," said Newberry. And at the same time, at this dark point in Hercules' life, Agamemnon is a bit of comedic relief for him. Together they face this grim world as friends."
Never imagining himself being part of such a big action film, Newberry was excited to get his hands dirty and be more physical in his acting. "My first day on set can only be described as mental," says Newberry. "There's a mud pit full of water and I'm up to my knees in mud and there are about 500 people screaming, shouting and cheering. I've never done such a physical role before where I've had to learn fights and how to throw myself around."
His fellow actors were excited with how the shots were set up with 3D phantom cameras shooting. "I'd never done 3D before," said McIntyre. "It's cool to see this evolve and be created almost live because you're occasionally going to the monitors and seeing with 3D glasses, this whole element come to life in front of you. You can see they're using it to tell a better story and making it more exciting."
"I'd used phantom cameras once before and I've done two films in 3D," said Adkins. "We've definitely tried to get a bit closer with the punches and the blows to get that feeling of depth. The way Renny's used the phantoms impressed me because he's not just using it in the action sequences, but to highlight the peak of the drama in every scene."
For Lrlam, the stunt coordination was a little more difficult with the element of 3D. "Well, 3D is actually the worst thing a stuntman could ever have to deal with because you can see depth of field," said Lrlam. "So normally in 2D, when you punch someone you can miss by six inches and no one knows. With 3D you have to be much tighter. With a phantom shot, normally when you're wrapping around which is the favored move, you're a thousand frames. So everything is in slow motion and you have to be bang on accurate with your moves." Lrlam was very pleased with how the actors and stunt doubles were able to nail their scenes. "It's fantastic when you get to see it," continued Lrlam. "I absolutely love my job and having this constructive role, being a part of the design process and the creative process alongside people like Renny Harlin."
As the film's leading role, Kellan Lutz has equal appreciation and admiration for Harlin's talents. "Renny's such a visionary," said Lutz. "I'm a huge fan, but to be able to work with him and see his genius first hand is incredible. It's the reason we have such an amazing cast."
"Renny has really impressed me with his ability to keep all of this together in his head and at the same time have so much enthusiasm, excitement and a real genuine friendship and love for everybody on set," said Garrigan. "You know he's the man in control, but he always has time for you. At the end of every day Renny gives out an MVP award--which is a bottle of vodka. And that's every single day on the shoot without fail. He's that kind of guy. And it just means that everybody's pulling in the same direction for him and hoping to realize his vision."
From the moment I read the script it filled every requirement for me to really be invested," said Lutz. "It's a full-fledged story with different facets and layered characters. I think a lot of people will be able to see themselves in these characters. When audiences see this movie, they'll be taken on a ride."
"There's just something cool and sad about working on a film with people that you get on with because things are so transitory, and suddenly everyone is gone," said McIntyre. "Everyone has been really interesting and all have dinner together often. And something that is so underrated is how well you can get on with a crew because they really make the whole system work. And our crew in Bulgaria was fantastic. It was like a well-oiled machine."
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