How does a filmmaker cast a role that is larger than life? In the case of Alexander, it meant finding an actor who was eminently human, yet physically impressive and who possessed the range to paint a full portrait of the complex character. Stone found his man in Irish actor Colin Farrell, star of such films as Tigerland, Minority Report, Phone Booth and The Recruit.
"Like Alexander, Colin has the spirit of a rebel and the confidence of a warrior and a leader. He became Alexander on many levels - he led the actors as a group, he built himself up physically, mastered the horse and sword, and fought like a lion to give his best. I often offered to replace him with a stuntman, both on horse and foot, but he truly wanted to hang in there himself and do as many of his own stunts as possible. As crazy as he might be sometimes, he is one of nature's noblemen. It's an honor to have met him at such a moment in his life."
"Oliver wrote an incredible script," says the actor. "I never in my life read anything as dark and as light and as full of potential as that script. It was, very simply, the best I had ever read in my life.
"Alexander was a man who would stop at absolutely nothing to achieve his dreams," Farrell continues, "which I truly believe were based on much more than greed and the desire for conquest. All his life, Alexander was looking for answers, and I also think that he was looking for love all his life. Alexander had an almost insane passion for everything he did. He could have lived a fine life in Macedonia in his palace, taxing his people and enjoying the luxury befitting a king. But there was a hole in his chest that couldn't be filled, and his search for answers took him to the ends of the earth."
Farrell took his inspiration not only from the man he was portraying, but also from the man who created the film. "Oliver is more Alexander than I could hope to be," the actor states. "He strives for excellence at any cost. He's an amazing filmmaker and he's a brilliant leader. Oliver is always working his arse off. We wrap, and while we all bitch about what a long day it's been, he's off to the editing suite. The man is a complete inspiration to be around."
Central to Alexander's character are the expectations and deeply held beliefs put upon him by his mother, the intense Olympias. "Part of what the movie deals with is Alexander's bargain with his mother," says Stone. "In our script, Olympias tells Alexander, 'In you lives the light of this world. Your companions will long be shadows in the underworld, when you will be the one, forever young, forever inspiring - never will there be an Alexander like you - Alexander the Great.' Olympias put the mythology into Alexander's head that he had a destiny that was equal to Achilles, and that like Achilles, he would die young. That was the trade-off. Great fame, but early death, as opposed to long life and little glory."
It was essential that Stone find a talented actress who possessed the intensity, presence and passion to play the woman who would set Alexander the Great on his path to destiny. His choice was Academy Award-winning actress Angelina Jolie. "I met Angelina soon after she did Gia," recalls Stone, "and I thought she was a spectacular young actress. A lot of modern actresses play the polite middle, but with Angelina, you have more of the Bette Davis tradition. She goes for it in a strong, determined way, and it's rare to see that with young actors. They don't have that confidence. But Angelina had developed a strength that was just right for Olympias. You couldn't ask for a better match."
Jolie was attracted to the challenge of bringing to life a woman who has intrigued readers of history for centuries. "I think you have to love every character you play," says Jolie, "and understand them or at least support their flaws. If you think they're crazy or just wrong, you can't play them with conviction. I am a mother now, so I simply saw Olympias as a mother. A lot of people say that she was insane, but I don't know that I wouldn't do exactly the same for my son. That might sound scary, but in 330 B.C., when people were being murdered left and right, it was a harder way of living and so Olympias was a hard, sometimes frightening woman. But in the end, she wanted Alexander to be as great and as strong as he could be, and I identify with that."
Characteristically, Jolie plunged full force into her character. As a worshipper of Dionysus, the Macedonian queen was accustomed to being surrounded by snakes, and Jolie had to quickly become comfortable having a number of serpents draped around her neck and writhing at her feet during filming.
While it might seem anti-intuitive to cast Jolie as the mother of an actor only one year her junior, the scant age difference between Jolie and Farrell made little difference, as most of her scenes were filmed with the child actors who portray Alexander at different stages of boyhood. Although no one really knows how old Olympias was when she gave birth to Alexander, Robin Lane Fox surmises that, typical of the era, she may have been only 16 or 17 years old. Thus, in Jolie's few scenes with Farrell, she's playing older - with an assist from the hair and makeup departments - while he's playing younger.
Also influential in Alexander's life was his father and Olympias' estranged husband, King Philip II of Macedonia, played by multi-talented actor Val Kilmer. Kilmer had previously portrayed Jim Morrison in Stone's The Doors to critical raves more than a decade before, and was excited to re-unite with the filmmaker. "Oliver's vision is really vivid, and he's the perfect director for this story," says the actor. "He and I talked about Alexander when we were doing The Doors together. He plays it as a very personal story, which is unusual for screen biographies, especially epics. The film has a kind of intimacy that we've never seen before. The makeup of the character of Alexander is really the subject of the story, told against the backdrop of a world in which myth was very much alive."
Whereas many of the actors were required to buff up for their roles, for Kilmer it was the opposite: to portray the formerly powerful, now dissipated king, Kilmer was required to gain weight, much as he had done before for sequences portraying an increasingly unhealthy Jim Morrison in The Doors. Kilmer also had to undergo an hour of daily makeup to don the scar tissue that covers the eye that Philip lost in battle.
"Philip established all of the foundations for what made Alexander great," says Kilmer. "He was from all accounts a grand character - loud, an insatiable lover, and a drunk, but he obviously had unimaginable power in battle, as his son did. Philip keenly understood human nature, and once he had taken over an area he established peace and connections through marriage. He was a prisoner of war for several years, during which time he learned and refined new, advanced and very successful techniques for war, and he was able to employ them in a way that made his people richer and more secure."
READ MORE ……...