The stars of ‘Spartacus: Blood and Sand’ spill the beans on their characters, casting, green screen and nudity
Spartacus: Blood and Sand is a retelling of the classic story of a Roman Gladiator who eventually rises up to lead a massive slave rebellion. But this is not your Dad’s Spartacus. This is much cooler. Much, much cooler. I’ve seen the first 4 episodes and they rock.
In this exclusive interview, Andy Whitfield (Spartacus), Lucy Lawless (Lucretia) and Executive Producer Steven S. DeKnight talked to me
Spartacus: Blood and Sand premieres this Friday, January 22nd on Starz!
Side note: This was a much longer interview but about halfway during the call, I noticed my cat chewing the cord that I use to record the audio. I quickly replaced the cord but missed a lot of great questions. You can thank my cat for that. And if you listen to the audio of the call, you’ll be able to hear her “meowing” in the background. Ah… the pleasures of working at home.
Let’s pick up the action…
[My question was: How do you get mentally prepared for a long shoot like this?]
Andy: stay present and go, what do I have to achieve today and collaborate with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever worked with. It’s achievable. It does take its toll at the end. Everyone needs a big rest, but even on the last day, everyone was there, the crew were there, and you could just feel how proud and how excited and how exhilarated everyone was. You almost could feel like they could have two weeks off and start again.
Do you guys both still get nervous before a big scene?
Lucy: If I’m naked, yeah probably (laughter). I don’t know. Now that there’s such a relationship of trust between the actors and you’ve got directors that are really just fantastic –
Andy: Yeah, I think, I mean I think that is true. I think, you know, from what we have achieved – that gives you a lot of confidence. But I also am conscious that there is always a necessary amount of fear just to have everything sharp. You know, it’s that thing, no pressure, no diamond. And I think you just sort of get used to it and accept that it will always be there.
For example, if I had to audition for something tomorrow, I would be as nervous as I was before. And I’d spent nine months doing the best training for acting I could possibly ever have. And I think that’s appropriate. I think that you just accept that that’s gonna be there. And just trust it’s gonna go away it’ll go away the second you commit to what is there.
Do you guys have any advice to aspiring actors?
Andy: I would just say… know what you know and know what you don’t know. Control the things you can. Don’t be attached to the outcome, because if you’re attached to the outcome, it’s going to tear you apart. You just go in there and attack everything with commitment and joy. And if it’s right, it’s right. And you will get that part.
Stephen, I have a question for you. You mentioned earlier about finding Andy and obviously, Lucy, and Erin. But how do you go about finding the other actors for the show, somebody like Peter Mensah.
Stephen: You know we cast a wide net. We auditioned in Los Angeles, Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain. So there was a lot of auditions tapes, a lot of discussion. Peter was a little different. Peter was actually a personal friend of one of our staff writers, Miranda Kwok. And she suggested in the room one day, hey what about Peter Mensah. And Rob and I, both lit up and said, oh that’s great. You think we can get him? And then of course it went around and around with casting directors telling us, “There’s no way you’ll get Peter Mensah!” I’ve got to say, that’s one of the cases where Miranda Kwok basically just asked Peter, “Hey, this is a great project. I think you should take a look at it.” And he is fantastic in the role, and my God, so magnetic.
And with the rest of the actors, you know, one of the most delightful things about this show for me is finding new talent. And we really wanted to find as many fresh faces as possible that have not been seen. And Andy Whitfield obviously being the defining example. And also you know, actors like Jai Courtney and Viva Bianca and Lesley-Ann Brandt and Manu Bennett. Names that people may not know, but I think are gonna be thrilled to see they’re just fantastic performance.
And I gotta say, one of the hardest parts besides Spartacus, which of course we tortured ourselves over, because it’s called Spartacus, was the role of Batiatus. It was literally a nail-biter. It was like the last thing we cast, and you know, literally we hired John Hannah, and he had to hop on a 36-hour flight to get there in time to get wardrobe and start shooting. But when we landed on John Hannah, I think it was perhaps one of our most brilliant moments. Because I think he is going to absolutely shock and amaze people at how fantastic his performance.
Lucy – ancient Greece or ancient Rome. Which do you prefer?
Lucy: Rome. Not so much the place, I think. Doing Xena was awesome but that was a product of its time. It was the 90s. We were young and foolish and laughed our asses off through six seasons and had a great time. And now everybody’s all grown up. And working with a lot of the same crew and everybody’s up-skilled tremendously. They’ve been off, they’ve shot Lord of the Rings, and they’ve shot Avatar and whatnot. And they’re so happy and they’re so proud to be producing this show with their hands and their sweat. So, this is very, very satisfying to be part of my most grown-up role.
Could you speak to working with the delightful John Hannah, who has shown himself capable of very dark things?
Lucy: Very dark. And you ain’t seen nothing yet. I mean, he takes incredible subtlety, his characters an orator, so he can do very wild things. But he’s a consummate actor, he’s a really charming, even gassy, human being. And he just kept us all laughing through the rain, through the cold. Through the long winter. And he was summer to us.
Andy, with [the film] Gabriel, you had a background already in working with green screen. How does that compare to what you’re doing now? And how does working with green screen work for you personally?
Andy: You’re right, on Gabriel there was a fair amount of green screen. That actually was my first experience with it. I don’t really have a problem apart from the fact that I don’t really like the green that it is. It’s a bit like a fluorescent light in an office block. It’s not a comfortable, calm thing to be around.
But in terms of your acting, your performance, you just – it’s not there. It’s really not there. There are a million other things to focus on in that moment. So, yeah, I really don’t mind it. Only one of the sets that I really worked on, which was the arena, which obviously had to be a green screen because of the scale, the rest of them we built sets, solidly made and beautiful craftsmanship and that does make it easier. But you just get around it. It’s just part of the job to ignore that green screen.
Does that mean that when you’re working in the arena, you’re focused more on the other actor, and so there’s less distraction?
Andy: I’d say, obviously, your antenna is up for whatever focus you can have in that moment. It just forces you to focus more into the work. Yeah in that way it does sharpen.
For Lucy, this kind of Lady MacBeth role was different than anything we’ve seen you do before. What really attracted you to this role, and what challenges did it present?
Lucy: Well, obviously, having to do anything naked is new and challenging. But what attracted me to the role, I just knew this was going to be a new kind of television. I had never read a script before I accepted the job, but I knew from the way Rob [Tapert] talked about it and from the team that he was putting together that this was not a project that I could afford to walk away from.
Andy, stepping into this role that was made iconic by Kirk Douglas, has that affected your performance, and what are your feelings on that?
Andy: First of all, I’d just like to quickly acknowledge Lucy, I probably haven’t told you this so I’ll do it now, on the phone. I think you are brilliant in this, and I remember a time where there was me, and I had five of the hottest Roman women with cleavage and big hair. And those were the days where I really, really did need to focus on what the hell I was saying. And to go back to your question –
Lucy: And then they were rubbing you down with gold paint or something.
Andy: Hang on, hang on. Ok, I’m back. So the question was… yeah, I mean obviously it’s hard. The last thing any actor wants to do is to mimic or try and recreate someone else’s performance, particularly someone being so iconic as Spartacus, the movie.
I just love – the thing I took most from it was that he didn’t assume leadership, this guy. He wasn’t, “You must follow me.” He was presented that leadership by the people who were inspired by him. He modeled his dignity and his unwavering commitment to righting a few wrongs and so that was kind of the tone I wanted to take on. And they have similarities our Spartacus to that Spartacus, but the story is vastly different, so it’s not too hard to stay away from, you know, treading on someone else’s toes.
The historical aspect of this all, for Steve, how was that for you to find someone to look for these small details?
Steven: There’s so many little details that I don’t think people will even pick up on that are story play accurate. It’s little things like originally we had written the gladiators are in the bath, and they said well no, actually, they get oiled up and scraped down. And I thought well that’s great, I haven’t seen that. Let’s do that. Stuff about what kind of wine people drank.
The whole thing in the pilot with Mythrodotes and Coda, all of these details, which is not to say anybody should write a term paper based on this because at the end of the day we’re not making a documentary, we’re making a piece of entertainment. And we try to stay as historically authentic as possible. But at the end of the day, we also realize that sometimes story must trump history. And we always like to say we will bend history, we will try never to actually break it.
Andy, how was it to follow that detail? I mean, down to your costume, no less?
Andy: My costume is not the biggest costume (laughter). There are certain practical considerations – that look awesome. I’m sure, Stephen, you were delighted when you came to set. But then, the practicalities are that you’re rolling around on a hard floor with rocks gouging troughs in your skin and stuff like that. So, I guess it made it real. You know, there was no getting around the fact that we were gonna be fighting every day and there were no, particularly for the slaves, there were no creature comforts…
Lucy: For the gladiators, you know you think the gladiators enjoy some pleasures – no way man. They were in these horrible little cells. That’s all historically accurate, right? Their bedrooms were just cells.
Steven: Yeah. Andy, you’ll be pleased to know, one concession we made to history was that gladiators actually fought barefoot, but we gave all you guys –
Andy: Those shoes were killing me (laughter).
Steven: Oh, were they killing you?
Andy: I’m joking.