Regency Enterprises and Twentieth Century Fox invite you to MEET THE SPARTANS, from the new masters of the parody genre - writers-directors Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. After successfully skewering Hollywood's scariest movie (as two of the writers on "Scary Movie"), romantic comedy franchises ("Date Movie"), and Hollywood blockbusters ("Epic Movie"), they now set their sights on "300," as well as on other movies that have become part of our pop culture zeitgeist.
The heroic Leonidas, armed with nothing by leather underwear and a cape, leads a ragtag group of 13 - count 'em, 13! - Spartans to defend their homeland against the invading Persians (whose ranks include Ghost Rider, Rocky Balboa, the Transformers, and a hunchbacked Paris Hilton…no one is safe when the Spartans take on the biggest icons in pop culture).
With MEET THE SPARTANS, Friedberg and Seltzer bring together what they call "the highly stylized and oh-so-cool" world of the Sparta depicted in "300," with a non-stop assault on our media-blitzed pop culture. They set their parodic sights on other blockbuster films, like "Transformers," "Shrek," "Casino Royale," "Spider-Man" and "Happy Feet"; TV reality shows like "American Idol," "Dancing with the Stars," "America's Next Top Model" and "Deal or No Deal"; the video game "Grand Theft Auto," and celebrities Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Donald Trump, Dr. Phil, Tom Cruise, J-Lo, and "Brangelina."
In Friedberg and Seltzer's Sparta, men greet men with a kiss and women with a special handshake. Marching off to war, these heroic 13 warriors skip along, singing "I Will Survive." Their Leonidas battles a "happy-footed" penguin; the hunchback sandman who betrays the Spartans turns out to be Paris Hilton; and the set of "Deal or No Deal" magically appears, replete with the models and their suitcases.
What was it about "300" that made it the filmmakers' prime target of parody? "We liked the movie and how it was so committed to the world of violence and leather underwear," Friedberg deadpans. "The characters are overly macho - and the film is rife with homoerotic undertones. We picked up on all those themes, which seemed like they'd be a lot of fun to explore in a parody."
Seltzer elaborates: "The characters in '300' take themselves very seriously. Their humorless natures gave us a lot to explore. In MEET THE SPARTANS the characters still treat themselves and their situations seriously, but we juxtapose the dialog and actions in ways that parody the original film."
The sexual undercurrents from "300" run throughout MEET THE SPARTANS in both subtle and unsubtle ways, from the original film's painted-on look of the characters' abs, to Seltzer and Friedberg's invention of a Spartan tradition of the turned-around Spartan greetings.
"Well, it's not like we invented [the homoerotic undertones]," says Friedberg. "A lot of the reviews of `300' referred to it. And it's our understanding that in the original graphic novel the characters weren't even wearing codpieces. They were in the nude, just like the classic Greeks.
"So we didn't have to scratch the surface very deeply to come up with that theme. And it certainly seemed right for parody. But it's never meant to be mean-spirited; it's all in fun."
To cast the role of the Leonidas, who leads the valiant 300 - er, make that 13 - into battle against overwhelming forces, the filmmakers met with hundreds of actors. British-born Sean Maguire, who has worked in film and television on both sides of the Atlantic since childhood, captures the nuances of "300's" Leonidas (played by Gerard Butler), including the character's gravelly voice and inflections, unique stance and walk, and take-no-prisoners attitude.
Maguire impressed Seltzer and Friedberg with his choice to play the character minus obvious comedic "winks." "To make this kind of comedy work," says Friedberg, "it's important for the lead actors to play their roles grounded in reality. During his audition and even while filming, Sean often seemed oblivious that he was even acting in a comedy."
"In a parody, it's an actor's job to poke fun at the other movie but try and play it as straight as possible," Maguire elaborates. "Then, hopefully, you find the comedy."
Maguire's decision to not overtly play to the jokes points to his and the filmmakers' affection for the subject of their parody. "We made MEET THE SPARTANS with love and admiration toward `300,'" says the actor. "Although it may look like we were just being silly with it, we really do appreciate that film. And I tried in almost every scene to sort of pay homage to Gerry Butler and the incredible job he did in the role of Leonidas.
"I think there's something about taking the audience through the memorable `300' moments and then doing a left field comic turn by ridiculing the film. That was kind of the joy of making MEET THE SPARTANS."
The role also proved to be a physical challenge for Maguire who knew he'd have to be in the best shape possible to capture Gerard Butler's performance - and sculpted form - in "300." "I had three weeks to put on about 14 pounds of muscle," recalls Maguire. "I was working out twice a day. I had a trainer and nutritionist and, basically, my life as I knew it before was pretty much gone for that time. It was no drinking, no carbs, no fat, no sugar - and no fun." It all paid off handsomely, says Seltzer. "Sean's a straight-up badass in the film, just like Gerard Butler was in `300.'"
Playing Leonidas' wife, Queen Margo, is Carmen Electra, a "veteran" of the previous Seltzer-Friedberg collaborations "Date Movie" and "Epic Movie." Electra, say the filmmakers, shares their sensibilities. "Carmen really gets our comedic spin," says Friedberg. "She's obviously beautiful and very sexy, but she also has great comic skills" - all necessary qualities to pull off the role, which mixes sex and outrageousness.
"I'm always attracted to doing parodies, and especially to Jason and Aaron's specific brand of humor," says Electra. "Their films are a lot of fun to make. I love to go to work every day and laugh, get to do all this silly stuff, and even make fun of myself. You do have to walk into a movie like this with an open mind and be willing to poke fun at yourself a little bit and put yourself out there."
Electra particularly enjoyed the way Seltzer and Friedberg subvert audience expectations as to which characters end up shedding clothing…or codpieces. "I'm usually the one who's hardly wearing anything in a film, but in MEET THE SPARTANS the guys are actually a bit more naked than I am - which is kind of nice for a change. It was cute the way some of them were so shy they kept trying to cover themselves up."
For the role of Leonidas' right hand man, the Captain, the filmmakers cast Kevin
Sorbo, no stranger to the sword/sandal/codpiece genre through his years as the titular hero in the popular television series "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys." "We liked the concept of casting someone as Captain who was in the mold of a real tough guy, with great physical presence," explains Friedberg. "Obviously, Kevin was an ideal choice; he was the ultimate tough guy - Hercules - for so many years."
The filmmakers and Sorbo even reference, in MEET THE SPARTANS, the actor's signature role. Friedberg explains: "It's fun to play off a role in which one of our actors is closely identified," says Friedberg. "For example, Kal Penn, in `Epic Movie,' has a line of dialog pointing to his character's familiarity with White Castle" - a parodic nod to Penn's role in the popular comedy "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle." Similarly, says Friedberg, "There's a line in MEET THE SPARTANS where Kevin Sorbo says, 'I'm going to go Hercules on your ass.' And [test] audiences seemed to really like that line. It's a bit of a wink, but it's fun. And we like to occasionally include stuff like that."
Sorbo, who did much of his own stunt work in "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" and in his follow-up series, the science fiction epic "Andromeda," found the sword fighting action in MEET THE SPARTANS very much in his comfort zone. But in addition to the usual action heroics, he was required to pull off a very non-traditional mode of combat. "The Captain is pitted in a brutal kind of dance contest," says Sorbo. "We have a stomp-off instead of an actual fight sequence."
In "300," the character of Xerxes, King of Persia, was a nine foot tall "God King" - a formidable figure even matched against the muscle-bound Spartans. For MEET THE SPARTANS, Friedberg and Seltzer envisioned the character very, very differently, casting the corpulent comic actor Ken Davitian in the role. Davitian, who co-stars in the upcoming film comedy "Get Smart," is best known for his role as the Kazakh producer Azamat, who engages in an eye-popping nude wrestling match with "Borat." In MEET THE SPARTANS, Davitian, with his formidable bulk swathed in gold chains and jewels, is quite something to behold.
Friedberg and Seltzer knew audiences would have fun with the way Davitian's casting would turn the role of Xerxes upside-down and inside-out. Unlike some of the other key cast members, Davitian is physically dissimilar from his counterpart (in this instance, Rodrigo Santoro) in "300." Moreover, many "Borat" fans believed the Los Angeles native actually speaks with the accent he used in "Borat"; hearing him use his real American accent adds yet another twist to the character.
Davitian himself seems to be emerging as a new "god king of comedy." "I was ordained the God King of Persia when the filmmakers called and said they needed one," jokes Davitian. "Xerxes has taken over all of the free world. And he keeps going and going, just like the Energizer Bunny. But all of my troops are beaten into submission, so it's not really a volunteer army."
Co-starring in MEET THE SPARTANS is Diedrich Bader, whose many comedy credits include "Napoleon Dynamite" and the series "The Drew Carey Show," as the treacherous Traitoro. "Traitoro is, well, a traitor," deadpans Bader. "I betray everyone I can. It's a wonderfully dastardly role to play - and how often do you get to wear a codpiece in a film?"
Bader says he's a fan of "300," but the film did raise some questions for him: "Why does everybody shout through it?" he ponders. "Are they deaf in Sparta? What's wrong with them; even when they're just standing around talking, they're screaming."
Jareb Dauplaise portrays Dilio, which is based on the character of Delius in "300." Dilio is a young, eager Spartan warrior who narrates the film and is the only survivor of the Spartan's battle with the Persians. Dauplaise had worked with Friedberg and Seltzer on "Epic Movie," in which the young actor parodied Jack Black as Nacho Libre.
Dauplaise, a "twentysomething" actor with a "generous" physique, was delighted when the directors asked him to audition for MEET THE SPARTANS, but puzzled by the role he was up for - a chiseled Spartan, 30-40 years old. "Physically, the role wasn't me," laughs Dauplaise. "But I did the best I could with the audition and somehow got lucky."
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
The biggest challenge for the filmmakers was to emulate the look and size of "300" - but on a significantly smaller budget. To avoid costly computer generated imagery, Friedberg and Seltzer worked with production designer William Elliott to create "old school" visual effects achieved in-camera, or through other cost-effective means. .
Elliott replicated the original film's look at much as possible, avoiding over-the-top designs and sets. "We tried to keep the sets grounded in reality and let the laughs come from the script and the actors," explains Elliott. "The sets and locations were there to give them a good, firm foundation in which to work."
Elliott collaborated closely with director of photography Shawn Maurer to create the film's Sparta. "Bill [Elliott] and Shawn pulled off an amazing feat in getting so close to the look of '300,'" says Friedberg. "We told them what we wanted, what we were thinking and how much money we had - and those guys just made it happen. They're the real studs of the movie."
Like "300," MEET THE SPARTANS was filmed almost entirely on soundstages, for exteriors as well as interiors. On two stages in New Orleans, stunt coordinator Keith Adams, whose credits include the "Kill Bill" films, had the challenging task of emulating some of "300's" massive battle scenes. Some of the members of Adams' stunt team had even worked on "300."
Special effects makeup supervisor Matthew Mungle also had his work cut out for him. He performed makeup magic on look-alikes playing real (or reel)-life characters, such as Rocky Balboa and Paris Hilton. He also painted on the impressive "six-pack" abs of the actors portraying the super-cut Spartans.
"Date Movie" and "Epic Movie" both featured elaborate song and dance numbers, so it was inevitable that the Spartans would warble and bust a move or two. "We use music in our movies whenever possible," says Friedberg. "In MEET THE SPARTANS, we had a lot of fun with a scene in which our 13 Spartans sing the disco classic 'I Will Survive' as they merrily skip off to war." The tune is reprised by all the key actors at the end of the film. "It's like bringing all the actors out for a final curtain call," says Seltzer.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
JASON FRIEDBERG (Director, Writer, Producer) and AARON SELTZER (Director, Writer, Producer) are longtime writing partners who are now also directing their own screenplays. Their first two box office hits in this capacity were "Date Movie" and "Epic Movie."
They have sold more than 20 screenplays over 18 years, including the very successful lampoons "Spy Hard" and "Scary Movie" (they were two of the six credited writers on "Scary Movie"). Seltzer and Friedberg then wrote and directed "Date Movie." (Due to a DGA ruling, only Seltzer received a directing credit.) Then came "Epic Movie," which Seltzer and Friedberg co-directed.
Friedberg and Seltzer, both natives of Southern California, met at the University of California in Santa Barbara, where the duo developed several businesses together while putting themselves through school. By graduation, they owned two successful shoe stores on trendy Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood and had sold their first screenplay, "Spy Hard," which was produced by Hollywood Pictures. Before long, they were selling original screenplays as well as adaptations with such frequency that they decided to sell the shoe stores and focus exclusively on their movie career.
THE ART OF COMEDY