Female characters are not generally given much to do in war movies.
But not only do Eva Green (above) and Lena Headey get to pick up their swords in 300: Rise Of An Empire, their characters also make the key decisions as they lead the Greek and Persian armies in an epic clash.
At a press conference for the movie in Los Angeles, the actresses say they were thrilled to get the chance to play-fight, as did their male co-stars Callan Mulvey and Jack O'Connell.
Reprising her role in the 2006 film 300, in which she first played the Spartan queen Gorgo, Headey threw herself into the fighting on set.
"That's why I came back," says the 40-year-old Briton, who is best known for playing the scheming noblewoman Cersei on the television series Game Of Thrones.
The adrenaline buzz of filming the movie's many action scenes was addictive. "I loved it," says Green, the 33-year-old French actress who was Bond girl Vesper Lynd in 2006's Casino Royale.
Her character in this film, Artemisia, is a formidable warrior who expertly commands the Persian navy and goads her king into waging war on Greece. "It was so exciting to be able to fight with two swords and feel like a man, you know? It's quite cool and it's very empowering."
The regimen put together by the movie's lead trainer, Mark Twight, changed her attitude to physical fitness as well. "I'm very grateful - now I exercise every day, thanks to him."
The larger-than-life Artemisia was also a fun character to inhabit "because she's so big - and a tiny bit mad".
Green says: "It's so exciting to play such a physical character. She's kind of a samurai figure, fuelled by revenge.
"You have to embrace it fully because she's so irreverent and ruthless, she doesn't tolerate cowardice. I'm so far away from this character in real life, so it's fun in a weird way."
In the film, both women are presented as complex characters driven by vengeance - Gorgo by the death of her husband Leonidas, the Spartan king, and Artemisia by a childhood trauma that made her turn her back on her Greek heritage and fight for the Persians instead.
"These two women are coming from places of revenge but for different reasons - one is morally questionable and one is morally strong," says Headey. "So I think there's a difference in the way they fight."
Green says she needed to maintain an emotional distance from it all, as much as she enjoyed bringing the violent scenes and character to life, and hopes that viewers do too.
"It is pure entertainment. We have to be careful because lots of teenagers are going to watch this. This is fiction, so I maintain lots of distance from it."
And she hopes her would-be suitors would maintain the same distance between real and reel.
Describing her character in the movie as "quite mad", she says in jest: "I hope I'll find a boyfriend after this."
Evidently, the actress, who once dated New Zealand actor Marton Csokas, did not find one on set, though she did initially enjoy working with the dozens of male actors, many of whom had buffed up to play scantily clad warriors.
"In the beginning you can't help but look, and then you get bored."
O'Connell laughs this off but admits he was concerned about looking good once he took his shirt off.
"I'd seen the original film and was looking forward to getting in shape. And I hopefully looked decent," says the 23-year-old Brit who plays Calisto, a Greek boy who longs to fight alongside his father Scyllias.
Mulvey, the 39-year-old Australian who played the latter, says he "absolutely loved learning how to do the fight sequences".
"There's a child in every man that wants to run around with swords and play-fight."
With all the swordplay, however, it was important that the film paused for some moments of tenderness between father and son.
"To be able to introduce a genuinely deep father- son dynamic is a total luxury," says O'Connell. "It's nice to be able to balance this with the physicality."
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