Peter Mensah: “The greatest experience for an actor is working”
You’ve seen Peter Mensah in tons of things but most notably 300, Hulk and Hildago. He’s usually the menacing or authoratative guy who gets in the way of the main character but in real life, he couldn’t be nicer. Maybe I shouldnt say that… I don’t want to ruin his authoritative cred!
Peter is starring in two great upcoming projects, James Cameron‘s Avatar and Spartacus: Blood and Sand.
In my exclusive interview I did at this summers Comic-Con, we talk about his Spartacus character (Doctore), working with green screens and he even offers up some advice to actors.
Is this your first Comic Con?
This is my first Comic Con. I’ve done some sci-fi fantasy. I did 300, etc., but I’ve not really attended, usually because I’m working somewhere else at the time. This time around Rob [Tapert - Executive Producer of Spartacus] and the guys actually flew me back for this.
Tell me about your character.
I get to play a character called Doctore on Spartacus, and Doctore is the gladiator trainer. And it’s his job fundamentally to bring up the up and coming new gladiators and also to prepare sort of the well-schooled gladiators for each and every fight. And you know what’s fascinating about doing this is you sort of get to see how Roman society worked way back when, I think 73 B.C. And the fact that these stadiums could house 80,000 people, would come in and watch these fights. Physically. They didn’t have pay-per-view. They had to show up.
I think you guys shot in New Zealand, right?
Yeah and we still are. This is halfway.
Kind of on a little break?
Yeah, we do sort of little breaks where we come and introduce the show to everybody. And we’re in Auckland and we have a crew that is really familiar with big feature work. Head of makeup, Jenna Kens, has done a number of things, The Grudge. She did Zena of course way back when. Done a number of quite successful shows. Similarly for wardrobe and the stunts. Our stunts are really phenomenal. I think they do Narnia, you know, some of the guys worked on Lord of the Rings, so these are really good blood and sandals guys.
How do you get mentally and physically prepared because this is a long shoot, right?
Yeah, it is a long shoot. It’s a change entirely of your year when you’re away for 8 months working. But it’s the job I love to do. And it’s a great environment to do it in. So, yes, I’m not at home, but I’m exploring the world. I’m in New Zealand, which is just beautiful.
Have you gotten a chance to jump off that tower?
I’ve watched many people do it, but thank God – (laughter) I think our producers would be – I think they have enough with us rolling around on the ground and all the stunts that we do, that they probably not going to let us do any jumping.
Now are you doing your own stunts or you try to as much as you can?
Yeah, at this point. You know in my particular character’s case, yes I do everything myself. As I say, they’re so talented, they’ve actually designed things that we can actually do that are really exciting and sort of visually impressive, so yeah.
Going into this did you have any sort of say in your character, the look of your character, what your character says?
I was very fortunate. This was a project that Steve DeKnight and Rob Tapert picked me for.
Oh wow, that’s gotta be great. You just kind of walk to the mailbox and see the script.
Well, your managers call you and say here’s what we want. And hey, by the way, it’s Rob Tapert, who let’s face it is one of the more successful guys you could want to work for.
Hard to say no.
Absolutely. It’s do this or do a cop show. What would you prefer? And this is just so brilliant. So there’s that. So what it meant was that there was already some pre-thought to what the character would be like, and so I don’t, there wasn’t any real need to collaborate on the look or any of that. They had that really well-designed. I think as you see from the clip and when you see the picture it’s so beautifully shot.
It looks amazing.
People are gonna get a movie every week. And there’s beautiful phantom moments where there’s several thousand frames per second and you’ll see and it’s brilliantly choreographed.
Oh I’m sure (laughter). Are you guys shooting a lot of green screen?
Yeah, the set managers have built most of the environment surrounded by green screen to create the atmosphere and on occasion of course with special effects definitely on green screen. So it’s a combination of built set and green screen. Very graphic novel-esque. And also vividly colorful in the fact that it’s really taking everybody on a ride to a whole different time period.
Now you’ve obviously done green screen before. Now does it get easier?
I think the familiarity allows you to sort of not think about it, but I do really, really think that you know it’s kind of part of the job to just enter your story and go for it. We’ve got brilliant DPs and sort of camera people who capture the work, so I tend not to notice. I really don’t notice. It’s sort of you know, we’ve got a story to do. Your other character’s in front of you, you interact, and that’s what we do. And so the environment often doesn’t really impact. If anything, because they’ve built some of the set, this is actually one of the more fun ones to work on because it’s sort of you stand in the gladiator arena, and it just, you feel it. You’re in the sand, and you’re going oh my goodness, I mean, it’s pretty cool. I really like doing this.
Do you still get nerves on the first day of shooting?
Absolutely! I mean, and it’s also part of the fun of it is the butterflies that you always get just before action. And you sort of, you’re prepped, you’re ready to go, you know the arc, you know where you’re going, and you’re in costume and there’s still a sense of like (takes deep breath) OKAY. But I’m working with Andy Whitfield, the lead, who’s brilliant. And John Hannah, who’s just a fantastic guy to work with. And Lucy [Lawless] keeps us all loose, and you know, it’s a great environment to be working in.
When you’re not working, are you training acting-wise, or what’s your downtime like?
Well, truthfully, there’s not a lot of downtime. There hasn’t been a lot on this particular environment. One of the greatest experiences for an actor I think is working. The truth of it is being so fortunate to get to perform I really appreciate the fact that I’m actually getting to do this thing on a day-to-day basis. And for the past four months I’ve done it 5 days a week. And so, the downtime is often in the sort of prepping and getting ready and then in studying the choreography for the next you know, and so there’s always work. And when all that is completed, then I get a chance to get into a car and explore New Zealand a bit. And that’s how I’ve been living (laughter).
Do you have any advice for actors?
Honestly I think that if, I don’t know if it’s advice as much as a learning, I think it’s really important to love what you do. And ultimately in every step, I find myself checking and realizing, one, of course I’m so grateful to work, but just realizing I’m working at something I really enjoy doing. And I think if anything just keep that joy. Keep the joy of acting. It’s more useful than learning the business or getting very clever, I think just love acting.
Check out my interview with his Spartacus: Blood and Sand co-star Erin Cummins!