- Associated Press - Thursday, March 6, 2014

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Selling “300: Rise of an Empire” was already going to be difficult even before its leading man went missing from promotional duties. Nearly all the main characters died in the original “300,” and it’s been seven long years since the heavily stylized and bloody Greeks-versus-Persians action film became a worldwide blockbuster.

Then last month Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton, who plays the Athenian warrior-general Themistocles, was injured in Thailand seriously enough to drop out of a press junket, any potential talk show appearances and the Hollywood premiere. In addition, production on his HBO/Cinemax series “Strike Back” was postponed for six months to allow him time to recover.

“We miss Sully and we wish Sully was here today,” producer Deborah Snyder said at the premiere this week. “But he had an accident after leaving the set one night when he was filming ‘Strike Back’ so unfortunately he’s recovering.”

Stapleton’s publicist declined to specify how or even when he was injured. Several cast members at the premiere said that while they had been in touch with the 36-year-old actor via email, they didn’t know what had happened to him.

The first “300,” directed and co-written by Zack Snyder from Frank Miller’s graphic novel, earned over $450 million worldwide. It helped make Gerard Butler a star and featured an appearance from then little-known Michael Fassbender. Its signature aesthetic, highlighting muscular real-life bodies against mythical computer-generated backgrounds, is repeated in the 3D sequel, in theaters Friday.

The year is 480 BC. Greek city-states are defending against a Persian invasion by sea at around the same time as the land-based Spartan fighting in the first film. Rodrigo Santoro returns as menacing Persian king Xerxes, but Eva Green hijacks the film with her unhinged, sexually aggressive performance as his ally Artemisia, a Persian warrior-queen.

“She’s such an extreme character. I think lots of men are going to be scared of me from now on, said Green, the French and British actress perhaps best known for her role in “Casino Royale.”

The leather-clad character kisses one man on the lips after beheading him and later shares a violent sex scene with Sullivan. “It’s kind of a love-hate fight scene. It’s not vanilla sex, that’s for sure,” she said in an interview.

Artemisia is the latest in a string of dark - and skin-baring - roles for the 33-year-old actress, who also played a witch opposite Johnny Depp in 2012’s “Dark Shadows.”

“It always has to be justified. It can’t be gratuitous or otherwise I would be a porn star,” she said, laughing. “I’m like a little bird in real life so that’s why I enjoy playing those ladies.”

Green, next starring in the Showtime horror series “Penny Dreadful,” says whatever audiences may think of her shipboard sword-twirling in “300,” she’s ready to fight for something else back in Hollywood: a lighter role.

“I hope I won’t be typecast forever as the bitch,” she said. “In this business, people put you in boxes . because they lack imagination. So you have to be a warrior.”


AP Entertainment Writer Nicole Evatt contributed to this report


Follow AP Entertainment Writer Ryan Pearson at twitter.com/ryanwrd

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