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ALEXANDER

Final Production Information

FINDING ALEXANDER

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."

Cast as Alexander’s closest lifelong companion Hephaistion is Jared Leto, rising star of such films as Panic Room, Requiem for a Dream and Girl, Interrupted. "It was my first audition since Panic Room, which was a couple of years before, and I was completely petrified," confesses Leto. "There were 50 other people there to meet Oliver, and it was incredibly intimidating. But when I auditioned, thankfully, he saw something in me that he thought might be right for Hephaistion. I’ll be eternally grateful to him for believing in me and giving me this experience. He works harder than any other person on the set. He’s obsessed, he’s a mad genius, like Van Gogh or Beethoven. He’s taught me a lot on this film, and I’ll carry those things with me for the rest of my career."

Leto also appreciated the presence of his co-star. "Making the movie with anyone other than Colin wouldn’t have been such an incredible experience," says Jared Leto. "First of all, he’s a friend. He’s also a tremendous actor, really generous, and incredibly committed. He raised the bar for all of us. He’s got a lot of Alexander in him, and it was easy for us to see Colin in that part."

"Colin was Alexander," concurs Rosario Dawson, who was cast by Stone as princess Roxane, Alexander’s first wife. "Colin’s just got that presence, and you can see the Pied Piper in him. It was magic, and it was really wonderful for me. Young actors don’t usually give you that much – they’re not that generous, or prepared, or confident in their own talent."

Working with legendary director Stone drew Dawson to the project immediately. "I always wanted to work with Oliver," she enthuses. "When I first heard about the film, I wondered what kind of roles there were in it for women. We talked for a while, shot a screen test, and after an hour-and-a-half he was calling me ‘Roxane.’"

For two relatively brief but crucial roles, Stone reached out to two of the world’s most distinguished actors. As the elder Pharaoh Ptolemy, the film’s storyteller and central voice, Anthony Hopkins was only too pleased to reunite with Stone eight years after their fruitful partnership on Nixon. "Oliver Stone is one of the most extraordinary directors, and I’ve worked with some really great ones," notes Hopkins. "There’s nothing safe about Oliver, and there’s nothing safe about his films. They are brilliant and outrageous."

"Once Anthony gets it right, he doesn’t let go," Stone says. "He’s like a dog with a bone. He works quietly, methodically, and as he goes, sucks more and more of the marrow. On his last day in front of the cameras, Anthony worked until three or four in the morning to finish, which means it was an eighteen to twenty hour day. It killed everybody except him – Anthony loved it. He said ‘I love to work hard, and I don’t like to sit and screw around on set. I wish you had come to me with seventy days of pain!’"

"They were pretty intense days," Hopkins confirms, "but I felt fantastic at the end of it. Working with Oliver is intense, because he drives and needles you in a good, constructive way. But it was the most satisfying time I’ve had on a set for a long time."

For the role of the immortal Greek philosopher and naturalist Aristotle, who as Alexander’s boyhood tutor influenced the king throughout his life, Stone approached Christopher Plummer, an actor whose remarkably prolific career spans several decades and dozens of films. Although the role would require that he journey from his home in the United States to Morocco to be on camera for just two days, Plummer was excited by the prospect of breathing life into Aristotle, and undaunted by the notion of portraying the great thinker. "He is a difficult creature to play because we can’t really know him," the actor notes. "It’s impossible to research a character like Aristotle, because there are millions of argumentative thoughts on the chap. So I gave up searching and put myself in the trustworthy hands of Oliver Stone. I tried to infuse the character with as many colors as I possibly could to suggest Aristotle’s intellect, his wit, and also his energy and mesmeric powers of teaching."

Aristotle’s lectures to Alexander and the boys who will later become his closest companions – including Hephaistion, his lifelong best friend – touches on many subjects: geography, politics, the gods, and sexuality as it was understood in the ancient Hellenic world, a time in which contemporary definitions were meaningless. Alexander deals with the sexual mores of the era naturally, with neither apology nor sensationalism.

"There was a philosophy in that period that the sharing of knowledge and the physical was a very pure thing between men," explains Farrell. "It was Eros, pure love, about growing, sharing and educating. There was no ‘homosexuality’ or ‘bisexuality.’ There was just an inevitable sexuality whenever it happened. Hephaistion was a friend who Alexander grew up with, and someone who, from the start to the finish, never had an agenda. He was the only one in Alexander’s life who in the truest sense of the word was a real companion and a true friend who just wanted the best for him."

"I think that Alexander and Hephaistion had an instant kinship and brotherhood that transcended mere ‘friendship,’" adds Leto. "Most important was the love they had for each other, which wasn’t based on the physical, but on spiritual kinship. They played a part in each other’s destinies, which was a source of real tension between Hephaistion and Olympias, and later Roxane."

In the wake of casting his leads, Stone had to come to a carefully considered decision about how the language in his script would be spoken on screen. Ancient Greece and Macedonia were melting pots of different dialects – people moved around the ancient world constantly, mixing their own dialects with the local tongue. Philip extended the borders of Macedonia to include territories in which people from different backgrounds had settled. As a result, the people of Macedonia in Alexander’s time had varied ways of speaking. Even the high-country Macedonians and the low-country Macedonians spoke in different dialects. To southern Greeks, Athens being the center of Greek culture, Macedonian Greek would have a pronounced accent. To reflect this, the actors portraying the Greeks and Macedonians speak with outlying English accents (Irish, Scottish, Welsh). The modern equivalent would be the way in which English is spoken in different dialects throughout the British Isles. As Greek royalty from an outlying Greek kingdom, Angelina Jolie as Queen Olympias has her own distinctive accent in the film.

Stone enlisted the aid of British dialogue coach Catherine Charlton to work with the actors, and she in turn worked with Robin Lane Fox to ensure that all the pronunciations of ancient names and places were correct. The end result is that while all the film’s Greeks, including the Macedonians, speak a master English tongue, their accents synchronize with the various outlying kingdoms from which they hail.

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