'300' sequel faces tough sell without lead Gerard Butler.

Byline: Ryan Pearson

LOS ANGELES -- Selling "300: Rise of an Empire'' was already going to be difficult even before its leading man went missing from promotional duties. Nearly all the main characters died in the original "300,'' and it's been seven long years since the heavily stylized and bloody Greeks-versus-Persians action film became a worldwide blockbuster.

Then last month Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton, who plays the Athenian warrior-general Themistocles, was injured in Thailand seriously enough to drop out of a press junket, any potential talk show appearances and the Hollywood premiere. In addition, production on his HBO/Cinemax series "Strike Back'' was postponed for six months to allow him time to recover.

"We miss Sully and we wish Sully was here today,'' producer Deborah Snyder said at the premiere this week. "But he had an accident after leaving the set one night when he was filming 'Strike Back' so unfortunately he's recovering.''

Stapleton's publicist declined to specify how or even when he was injured. Several cast members at the premiere said that while they had been in touch with the 36-year-old actor via email, they didn't know what had happened to him.

The first "300,'' directed and co-written by Zack Snyder from Frank Miller's graphic novel, earned over $450 million worldwide. It helped make Gerard Butler a star and featured an appearance from then little-known Michael Fassbender. Its signature aesthetic, highlighting muscular real-life bodies against mythical computer-generated backgrounds, is repeated in the 3D sequel, in theaters Friday.

The year is 480 B.C. Greek city-states are defending against a Persian invasion by sea at around the same time as the land-based Spartan fighting in the first film. Rodrigo Santoro...

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