Interview : Frank Miller


Executive Producer and Writer of “300”

“The Dark Knight Returns”, “Sin City”, “Ronin”, “Rusty the Robot” – all creative output of comic book and artist, Frank Miller, a wizard of inked offerings who first came to attention in the 70s. Though he’s dabbled in the film world before (he wrote the screenplays for “Robocop 2” and “Robocop 3”), Miller’s now spending a lot more time in Hollywood -he recently co-directed “Sin City”, and currently serves as executive producer on “300”, a big-budget take on Miller’s legendary graphic novel.

What inspired you to write “300”?
FRANK MILLER: I was a 5-year-old boy when I saw “300 Spartans”, a movie made in 1962. I had never seen a story where the heroes died before. It led to a life long fascination with that battle and that war, and it became a story I never stopped talking about. So, once I thought I could draw and write it well enough I went to Greece and began the research, and a few years later produced the book. It haunted me ever since I was a little kid.

It feels like a Spartan wrote it.
FRANK MILLER: It was meant to be that way. I wanted it to sound as if it had been told by an old warrior over a campfire and to look as we would vision it while listening to him. I wrote it for that 5-year-old me.

How did your graphic novel evolve into a movie?
FRANK MILLER: My book had been out for a few years; and it seems to be a story that every generation has to revisit, the same way “The Alamo” is. [Producers] Gianni Nunnari and Mark Canton wanted to adapt my book. I was hesitant, the same way I always am about my comics turning into movies, but they convinced me they were sincere about really doing my story. They brought Zack Snyder in to direct and, after a couple of conversations with him, I was confident that this would be as harsh a retelling as I wanted.

What was it about Zack Snyder’s vision for “300” that made you confident that he could tell this story right?
FRANK MILLER: He understands the battle as well as I do, and that is saying a lot. My historical knowledge is spotty in certain ways, but I know an awful lot about a three-day battle. And his understanding about the intent of the piece was identical to mine. If anything, he wanted to amplify it. Also, he was up on all the technological stuff that was necessary to make the movie. I liked him – I liked his confidence and also his sense of humor regarding the material. He knew how to push the boundaries and he didn’t want to make something that was star heavy and then collapse, because he wanted to be faithful to the story.

How did you collaborate with him on the film?
FRANK MILLER: To tell the truth, I didn’t do much. I had just become a director myself on “Sin City” and realized that the last thing he needed was a bunch of people yelling at him. So, as the script came in I spoke my mind about it and quibbled here and there, went over some of the early cuts and so on; but my remarks were minimal. It was Zack’s movie and that is what I wanted it to be. I love what he did and I am glad I held back.

Being a director yourself: Had you ever thought of getting more involved and maybe even directing it with him?
FRANK MILLER: Of course it crossed my mind; but once a film starts working, if another director jumps on board nobody knows who to listen to. And I didn’t want to do anything to mitigate his authority.

How did you feel when you visited the set?
FRANK MILLER: I was there for a couple of days. I felt like that little five year old sitting in the middle of the movie theatre, seeing those men in red capes fighting all the bad guys. I was transported.

What concerned you the most about the cinematographic adaptation of “300”?
FRANK MILLER: I was concerned about it getting softer, more reassuring or even happier. It is not a happy story, though it is inspiring, and it doesn’t have a happy ending. But I believe it gets to the heart of what a hero really is.

So, what is a real hero to you?
FRANK MILLER: A hero is someone who does the right thing for his tribe, for his honor and for his society because it is right and not to be rewarded in any material sense or to even be given credit of any kind. My heroes may die disgraced, while they may be the only ones who know that it isn’t true, but they also know they have done the right thing.

What kind of research did you conduct for the project?
FRANK MILLER: I read everything from Herodotus onwards, studied the ancient world’s history and put it in context. And I traveled through Greece, saw those tall cliffs and cruel skies, and realized what a formidable place it would be to attack. I also met with the people and saw how they could move across those impossible places like mountain goats, which explained to me more about the nature of that battle than anything else I could have done.

How would you describe Sparta?
FRANK MILLER: Sparta was a very peculiar culture. I find them to be a bit of a conundrum. When the Greek isles were initially threatened, the Spartans were the most militaristic and efficient of the Greeks to defend them. They were very strange people, and because they had such a rich farmland they were built entirely for defense. Their warriors formed the most unbreakable shield you could imagine.

The Spartans were free people, and defenders of freedom, facing an army of slaves.
FRANK MILLER: Absolutely, and it is ironic that a tribe that was as tyrannical to so many of their subjects was also a fountainhead of freedom, but those were times full of irony. Without Sparta there would never have been a flourishing of Athens, and without Athens we wouldn’t have had Rome. So, while the Spartans were a very rough bunch, they were also necessary against a tyrant who had swallowed the rest of the world.

Why did Xerxes go to the Hot Gates?
FRANK MILLER: Because they were the path to conquer Greece. And, as his father had already tried and failed at the Battle of Marathon, it became his life’s mission to succeed. That is why he put together such an overwhelming army. He didn’t think that tiny Greece could do anything against it.

Leonidas chooses to face the most powerful army in the world with only a handful of men. Why does he do it?
FRANK MILLER: It is easier to understand if you consider what he achieved. First of all, he showed Spartan superiority in combat. And he delayed them for three critical days, demoralized the Persian troops and inspired the rest of Greece to rally to a series of victories that utterly destroyed the Persian effort. Therefore, it was a perfect case of winning by losing. And also a big part of it was the glorious idea of dying in battle, with honor, which was considered the highest achievement. Anything else would be a shame for a Spartan. None of them wanted to die in their beds.

What qualities do you think Gerard Butler brings to the role of King Leonidas?
FRANK MILLER: I thought he brought to the role exactly what it needed. He was a real hammer-fist in a role that you rarely see these days, the kind of part Kirk Douglas played in “Spartacus”. He is all man, all the time, with no policies. I think that in the case of Leonidas, raised the way he was, with the life he had and the decision he was making, anything less than that degree of energy would have come across as terribly modern. I didn’t want this to exist in a certain time, but to be what it really is: not just a classical story, but also an eternal one.

What is Gorgo’s relationship with Leonidas like, and how does she contribute to his struggle?
FRANK MILLER: Gorgo was renowned for being a brilliant politician. Very little is known about their relationship or of how romantic it was; but as a political team they were formidable. Spartan women had more rights than any women of that period of History, which contradicts in a way the fascist image of so much of their other behavior. It does seem to be clear that Gorgo was probably Leonidas’ most important counselor.

Did you like Lena Headey as Gorgo?
FRANK MILLER: I think she is hard to dislike on any level. Lena does a very good job. She was seductive, but when she had to move she was also quite lethal.

How do you see Xerxes and what do you think of Rodrigo Santoro’s performance?
FRANK MILLER: Besides being the God-King of Persia, I see him as the absolute opposite of Leonidas. We could even call him his nemesis. He is the final word in “spoiled brat”. He has been raised with his every will all day, and with inconceivable wealth. In his mind it was also inconceivable for any man to say “no” to him. And now contrast that with the bare-chested, brutally honest Leonidas, with as tough as an upbringing as you could ever ask for. I loved Rodrigo’s Santoro’s performance: it was very restrained, but threatening in all the right ways.

What did you think of the movie when you finally saw it completed for the first time?
FRANK MILLER: I almost couldn’t believe I was seeing it, and I also couldn’t believe how many of my favorite lines had been kept. There were lines I was praying would make it, like when Xerxes spoke of sharing a culture and Leonidas answered: “We have been sharing a culture with you all morning,” referring to have been slaughtering them all morning. Honestly, I was practically doing handstands when I saw it!

It is clear that Zack Snyder has made an effort to be as faithful as possible to your graphic novel.
FRANK MILLER: Yes, and he also amplified it a great deal. I think he did a superb job.

And it also seems that Hollywood has recently been turning its head towards graphic novels in order to find good stories.
FRANK MILLER: Well, they have to find them somewhere. For a long time, when these graphic novels have gotten into Hollywood’s hands they have been turned inside out; but now a younger breed of producers and directors are showing up who want to keep the material as vigorous and vital as what they first saw on the printed page. Also, we have moved ahead technologically to a point where the excitement of the drawing can be translated onto the screen. So, I can see Gerard Butler in combat; but the sky behind him looks to me like it was painted by Lynn Varley, who did all the colors in the original book. This way, you are able to take the readers to a brand new place where in the past only the artist’s hand could.

A technology that, as is the case of “300”, should serve the film and not the other way around.
FRANK MILLER: Yes, and that is what we were also after in “Sin City”. When you start with something as structured and focused as a book that is drawn by hand, it removes many questions. You are not hunting around in the dark, so it is a matter of using the new technology to improve it.

After this experience and “Sin City”, what do you think the next incarnation will be of one of your works?
FRANK MILLER: “Sin City 2” is next. The script is written and we will start casting very soon. Robert Rodriguez and I will co-direct together again.

Zack Snyder’s next project is Dave Gibbons’ and Alan Moore’s graphic novel “Watchmen”.
FRANK MILLER: It is a massive undertaking; but, if anyone can do it, it’s him.