Q & A: The Cast of ‘Spartacus: Vengeance’

Liam-McIntyre-in-Spartacus-VengeanceAre you ready to return to the arena?

Then you’re in luck because Spartacus is back and this time, with a vengeance.

Spartacus: Vengeance picks up where Blood and Sand left off as the gladiator rebellion continues and they begin to strike fear into the heart of the Roman Empire.

Liam McIntyre takes over the lead role of Spartacus from Andy Whitfield who, before his untimely death, told the cast and crew that he wanted the show to continue. Whitfield even gave the thumbs up to McIntyre, saying that he wanted him to have the role. As McIntyre said in the conference call, “To know that the person who made it so wonderful was on your side, as it were, especially considering all the harrowing personal experience he had to survive at the time. That means more to an actor than you can possibly imagine.”

I talked to the cast – McIntyre, Lucy Lawless, Viva Bianca and Peter Mensah – about the upcoming season, the costumes (or lack thereof) and acting in the mud.

Spartacus: Vengeance airs on Fridays at 10pm on Starz

Liam, you played a character that was obviously played by Andy Whitfield. I was wondering, how did you manage to carry on the character that Andy had built, but also leave your own mark as an actor?

Liam McIntyre: Well, I mean I’m very lucky in that I – the writing team is absolutely sensational, and that Starz is really supportive. So Starz early on said, you know, make the character your own, treat it as your own character. You know, that they didn’t expect me to copy anything. I did watch all of Andy’s amazing work. And so I don’t know if any parts was osmosis or kind of like a kind of influenced me in any way. I can’t be sure, but I mean hopefully because he was sensational.

But I mean realistically I just tried to be true to the character which, you know, essentially stays the same. Because the writing is the same and all of that lovely humanity and those difficult choices and all that. Then that struggle that Spartacus goes through, it’s still there this season. So I didn’t get the honor of being able to treat that with respect and truth. And hopefully you have a character that feels the same as the great character that Andy portrayed. 

Are you guys ever affected by the violent scenes you have to perform in? Are you ever surprised by them?

Lucy Lawless: Always surprised, but they look – we’re not affected because they never look that way in actuality. It’s all done in post, you know. Quite brilliant.

Viva Bianca: I think it was David Mamet who said, “An actor must always defend his character.” And so I think as an actor, you become very good at emphasizing a character, however evil or misguided the character is. Certain for Ilithyia or any of the villains on the show. You have to find a reason – or many reasons as to why a character is doing a scene. So like for instance in episode four, Ilithyia does very a brutal thing – I think that’s what you’re referring to.

You become the character, and the truth is for these Roman aristocratic people, they didn’t consider slaves, or people of that class, as people. And to really feel like, for instance, for Lucy and I to get ourselves into that mentality is quite an extreme step. But it is a step that an actor has to make in order to, you know, enter that ancient Roman society, and to play these kinds of women.

Liam this is your first year on this. Do you walk through those sets and see that stuff going on and think, “Wow!”

Liam McIntyre:  I mean I loved the show before, you know, before I got the call to be part of it. So I kind of knew what I was getting into. But that’s one of my greatest memories from the whole year, was watching our director from a distance in what was essentially the sign language version of the scene. So I got to watch him throw his hands around and do all the motions and actions as he described what he wanted to see as this camera panned through there. And that was one of the greatest memories I’ll ever take with me, because that was hilarious.

But I mean there is a moment where I have to attack a gentleman’s (money) making facility, and that was one of the most harrowing moments in my life. Because it’s kind of, you know, a sword, a small little protective kind of steel rig, and his gear, and a whole lot of hope, and so that was one of the very first days of shooting. And I’m like, “Oh god, what have I got myself into?”

Viva, you seem to really enjoy being the bad girl. Does it feel empowering to be that pure evil?

Viva Bianca: I’m a really nice person. You know what, I would so love to play a really virtuous, heroic person after Ilithyia. But Ilithyia’s a very satisfying role to play. And, you know, because she isn’t just pure bad. And the lovely thing in season two is the writers gave me a lovely range and complexity to explore. So I think the audience will get to see many different sides to Ilithyia. And of course there will still be that scheming, naughty girl, and then (almost) a lady now. But yes, I think maybe I see some vulnerability.

Lucy, we all know the show has a lot of nudity in it, is it kind of a source of inhibition when you know that maybe your husband is on set?

Lucy Lawless: No he’s not on the set. And it’s all inhibiting. But if you believe in it, it’s important to the scene.

Liam, you mentioned that you were trying to make the role of Spartacus your own. How did you try to do that?

Liam McIntyre: I guess just you work extremely hard and diligently. And it’s one of those things that early on, you go, well you just can’t – you have to use everything in your power to do the best job you can. And I mean I got trained really well by my first acting coach I hope, and that and you just put your tail between your legs and just work really hard until it’s all finished and cross your fingers. I don’t know, there’s no simple trick, or we’d all be doing it I suppose.

Liam, so this show has crazy, awesome action scenes that are on par with a lot of movies. How did you get in shape for that and what did you go through to handle a sword and all those acrobatic moves they have you doing?

Liam McIntyre: Well it’s a rare and lucky person who gets to be a 10-year-old for a whole year. It’s fantastic. But I mean getting into shape, well I – I mean early on when I started the process of testing for this role, I’d done another film where I was 45 pounds lighter or thereabouts. So I was going for that whole machinist look. And unfortunately I was succeeding. And so getting from that – well first of all, I thought there was no way I’d ever even be considered, but they did consider me.

And I got taught exactly how horrible training can be. In much the way that people say, “Do you get used to sex scenes?” And the answer’s generally “No.” “Do you get used to lifting ridiculous amounts of weights?” No really. I think the point is that you do it and it really hurts. But it’s one of the few things in life where you get to see tangible results. So I guess it’s worthwhile.

So you’re saying you gained 45 pounds of muscle for this role?

Liam McIntyre: Something like that. I haven’t done the math, but a lot. Because, you know, I certainly look a lot more healthier than I did back then.

lucy-lawless-LucretiaThis question is directed at the ladies. Those sex scenes -can you talk about how approach getting ready to do that?

Lucy Lawless: You know what, it gets – I’ve done things again this season that I’ve never, ever done before and never seen on television before. And it was very heavy duty. There were days when I would just go home and have a – just have a quiet little melt-down and be, you know, just go to sleep. Because it was so demanding emotionally.

This does great things for the viewer’s sex life. Not so much for the participants. It’s like aversion therapy.

Viva Bianca: I think some people think it might turn us on.

Liam McIntyre: It’s difficult to have that conversation. “What did you do today honey?” “Well, long story….”

Lucy Lawless: Sometimes I do need a hug because it’s harrowing. It’s really harrowing.

Viva Bianca: Well I think as well what Lucy might be talking about is, you know, some of the sex scenes or storylines in Spartacus that involves sex are actually not in any way of a turn-on. They can be quite brutal. I mean the show is talking about exploitation of slaves and of women and a lot of the violence is actually talking about some very serious stuff. So it’s kind of far from a turn-on. And can be quite horrific, and as an actor to carry that, you know, it can be quite heavy on us.

Viva, you’ll be coming back to Vengeance after a short hiatus from this Spartacus world. And Liam, you come in for the first time. What have your processes been like for getting into these characters?

Viva Bianca: Well I mean like for me, a year had passed pretty much between shooting – wrapping on season one and starting on season two. And yet at the same time, I mean the reality of our show, it was only about eight weeks that had passed between the end of season one, beginning of Vengeance. So it was kind of quite challenging actually. Yes, it was really quite challenging to go back into the world and feel that level of acute – continuity that was required, and to find the character again. But it was actually so fun to go back into the character. I was really happy to do it.

Liam McIntyre: Yes. For me I guess it’s a unique situation. But I mean I watched the first season and Gods of the Arena, you know, countless lines. And so for me I guess it was unique in the way that, I mean I really felt like I was right there with all of (Eddie’s) performances. So I mean, I really felt like I got like Spartacus – I got Spartacus as he portrayed him. So to me more than anything, it was important to make sure that Spartacus as a character continued as that character and not just some totally different person who, you know, was inspired by different things.

And, you know, the world as a different place for him. So I guess I had a unique situation of trying to create a new Spartacus that felt like, you know, the same kind of guy that Andy’s Spartacus was. So, you know, I mean it was a fantastic and very unique process to go through. It must be a really sad thing to have to kind of even look at. But, you know, it was – I certainly will never – touch wood, never have to go through anything like that again in my life, I suppose.

Is it a clash to do what you do and then walk off the set and walk to cars, cell phones, computers, laptops, assistants. Like, does your brain just go what the hell is going on?

Peter Mensah: Your brain needs it because I don’t know if we could survive in that world?

Viva Bianca: We have slaves, we don’t need assistants.

Lucy Lawless: Actually, no, it’s really important to be able to walk away from the modern world, away from your family, away from your relationship and go into this, you know, this make-believe world of ancient Rome. It’s helpful to have that universe separate from your own.

Viva Bianca: I think that’s a lot of what makes actors actors. We love going into fantasy make-believe worlds and playing. So the fact that we get to go into a world that is so far from our own reality is part of the joy.

Lucy Lawless: It’s like having a second life. It’s like having a virtual life experience. And I just love it. I’ve had a really crazy ride as Lucretia this season. The most intense stuff I’ve ever ever shot. And I’m really grateful.

Liam McIntyre: As far as slipping back into the modern world, though, I think it’s not too challenging for some people I think there’s a photo somewhere of most of the rebels on their iPads/iPhones in a row. I think that was quite – that’s something I found really really…

Lucy Lawless: Is that right because that’s banned from our set.

Liam McIntyre: I know. And I think as a result it was banned from ours. But, yeah, there was one.

The first season was largely centered on the House of Batiatus and the (Ludis) and with the second season it seems the story is definitely widening in scope. How did that affect how you approached the character or how they approached the situation?

peter-mensah-OenomausPeter Mensah: I think what was great about it is with each episode we kind of have a little bit more information, a little bit more experience playing your character and I definitely feel like playing Oenomaus it was – it’s a sort of leaning, continuing learning curve always finding out the elements that help at one point, make him who he is and then exploring so the journey as it unfolds, he has to figure out, okay, there’s one structure in life that I was attached to, it’s all gone so now what do I do?

So it was sort of the expanding story. It was actually something I really embraced and I felt it was really useful in playing the character because it allowed for, you know, different platforms to react to. I think (unintelligible) and everybody meets Oenomaus in the first season as Doctore. He’s pretty impassive. He doesn’t’ really let on much.

And as the story unfolds you see a human person and the reasons why he was the way he was when you first meet him and I think in this season we really get to explore when all those structures are gone from him he’s incredibly vulnerable and for an actor it was just great to go to a higher range from being that dominant person to a person who really had to show every single emotion. So I loved doing it. It was a fantastic fantastic season to work.

Liam, how was it playing in the mud in the mine?

Liam McIntyre: That was when I went – you know funny enough, I remember watching Lord of the Rings and the special commentary on that and being told about how freezing cold that lake that Bilbo and – that, sorry, Frodo and Sam try to escape in and how they spent like 14 hour days in there and they were freezing to death. And I was like, “Oh, yes. Sure. I bet it’s really hard being an actor in a huge show.”

That mud was one of the toughest experiences I’ve ever had in my life, and I apologize to every actor that I’ve ever judged because I didn’t think they were tough enough.

Yes, that was sticky. Gross. Freezing. There were – I don’t – with all respect to the makeup team, I don’t have a lot good to say about the mud besides the fact that it looks amazing on screen. That was an experience that I – you know what? I asked specifically that the characters that weren’t involved in that particular episode on our side have an episode all of their own where they run off into the mines and do that just so they can know what it’s about.

Peter Mensah: So kind of you.

Liam, I know that Andy wanted the show to go on. And as Lucy said earlier, he was happy – or he wished that you would take over the role. So, how was it to have his support? How did that impact you?

Liam McIntyre: Things like that are more important than you can imagine. As you know, it’s – especially being a fan of the show, it’s the last thing you want to hear, but it is that – you know, the star of one of your favorite shows has been taken ill. And then it’s also a strange situation to then be told to try and you know keep that thing alive – that character alive.

To know that the person who made it so wonderful was on your side, as it were, especially considering all the harrowing personal experience he had to survive at the time. That means more to an actor than you can possibly imagine.

How did it actually feel for you when you stepped onto the set for the very first day of filming knowing that you were stepping onto a set that he was on earlier?

Liam McIntyre: Humbling is probably the most appropriate word. Very humbling. And a little daunting.

Peter Mensah: But all of us that were on set recognized the sheer amount of work that Liam had put in. He didn’t just show up and walk on. He was there for months – months ahead of time working. Really, he devoted an awful lot of effort to this. So I think all of us on set appreciated how much he had put into to be that character and to step in and take over and keep the role going.

So you know all of us that’d been there originally with Andy, certainly appreciate Liam.

Viva Bianca: That’s right. And he had to become our new leader. And, I think we all agreed that from the Day 1, he dealt with the situation with complete grace and humility.

Liam McIntyre: Whatever – I mean, I know that from my experience ever since the very first test in New Zealand where I had to work with you know, Manu Bennett and Brooke and Craig, and all those – you know, people that were just fantastic in their roles.

That – from the person that picked me up at the airport to the – you know Rob the Producer, it was like working with a family. And it was very hard to leave when I didn’t know if I had the role, because it really felt like I was in a special environment with a family and a bunch of people that really cared. And I was lucky enough to have that with all my cast and crew as I tried to take on this crazy task.

How did it feel for you when you actually said, “I am Spartacus,” for the first time?

Liam McIntyre: Oh, that’s – you know, and – oh, that’s – it’s so – such a big line, isn’t it?

And in this instance more so than any other time. I remember acutely Andy’s – Spartacus saying that in the arena at the top of his lungs, you know. And you know, going back into – you know, to the Stanley Kubrick Spartacus where everybody says they’re Spartacus. You know, it’s – I guess it’s kind of like saying you know, “I’m Bond – James Bond,” or something like that. It’s…

You know, I wanted to do like 100 takes and the director just had to sit down and say, “We’ve got it. Move one. We’ve got to film the show. Come on.” So I – you know, it’s – you just – again, try to be honest and truthful with your character and say it as he needed to say it in the script and hope that you don’t look like an idiot.

When you guys go to the set and you’re in jeans and t-shirts and normal everyday clothes. And when you get to your trailer you put on your wardrobe or I guess lack thereof. How does that help you get into character and I guess transport you into that – I guess the Spartacus world?

Lucy Lawless: It’s not a short process, so you’ve got a an hour and a half minimum every day to – for that character to sort of happen, and I think we just are so accustomed to it that we don’t even realize that’s such a part of our process you know.

Liam McIntyre: Yes. And when that first layer of spray tan goes on, I really start to absorb the character.

Yes. No, it’s – I don’t know. It is one of those things. I remember – again, going back as again an actor, start – that’s in some ways green in terms of experience, that first test where they take us to – you know, they took me and put me in the actual costume. You know, it’s amazing how much it adds to the work you’ve already done on your character.

It just – you know, they’re so – the craftsmen on that set from the set builders to the whole wardrobe department and the wardrobe they create by hand – you know, leather workers and that sort of thing add so much more to what, you know, is already a very interesting character. You know, in – certainly in my case, it’s just – it’s amazing how much more you feel like you’re in the time, in the place when you all the costume on.

Lucy Lawless: Yes. We have a huge workshop of leather craftsmen, jewelry, people dying, specialists. People who make things with rubber and resins and all – whatnot. And obviously, the costume sewing you know, people in design. They’re an incredible team.

Viva Bianca: And obviously Barbara Darragh continually just turned out episode after episode all of these very elegant dresses for the Roman ladies. And for Lucy and myself, you know every morning we would be in our trailers and be dressed in these corset dresses and they’re all very intricate and detailed. And it really helps as a lady to enter you know high society in a frock, and you know it informs every choice you make in your physicality, your breath, your gait, and even the way you use your voice. So it’s kind of impossible to enter that character without the gown really.

Lucy Lawless: And then when they embellish it all with this great confection of hair on your head, you know, the wig work is amazing. So we have a lot of genius designers working on us.

Liam McIntyre: I would love to see a great confection of hair placed on Peter’s head.

Peter Mensah: And for us slaves, not having clothes really gets you into character.

Liam McIntyre: I know. But you know it’s funny. It’s one of those things – as my wardrobe changed, occasionally I would be – you know, I’d be given something where I had more clothes on and it felt odd, and then I felt terrible – I felt weird, the feeling that that’s held on.

What would your advice to actors be?

Lucy Lawless: I’ve given up giving advice.

Pay attention, because it’s like your career is like a marriage. There are good years and bad years. And if you can’t be with the ones you love, love the ones you’re with. That was a big one.

Work breeds more work. Another good one.

VIVA-BIANCA-SPARTACUS-VENGEANCECould you talk about some of the initial acting challenges found both stepping into your roles and finding your respective characters?

Viva Bianca: Well as I said earlier in this phone call, you know that there was quite a hiatus for me in terms of wrapping on Season 1 and starting this – last year on Vengeance. But really, I suppose the way I approached it was the way one would approach any new role, which is understanding the given circumstances in which this character is living.

And the great thing is because I’ve played the role before and had the history of Season 1 behind me, which is really only about eight weeks kind of earlier in the timeline of our show, there was so much to inform the choices that I’d make coming into Season 2.

So much of the research had been done for me, but still you know, I had to go through the process of reentering the very skin, heartbeat, and sort the cell of this woman.

Peter Mensah: Yes. And very similarly, I think that the great thing about this is this – a lot of the underlying story to Oenomaus had been laid out previously by Steven and his writers. But – and in terms of stepping into the character, a couple of things do help.

I mean obviously the story lines themselves are sort of really, really vivid. The sets and the makeup and all the – sort of the support structures are so clearly transformative that by the time you step on set, you very much have entered that world of despair and hardship that Oenomaus lives in. So unlike, you know, real life that every time I’d go to work it was definitely a case of stepping into another world.

Now the story lines themselves take such trajectories that it’s very hard to prepare yourself for them. You sort of have to react to situations as they show up.

Viva Bianca: Which is a great thing, because acting is reacting.

Peter Mensah: Yes, there it is. And there’s plenty to react to in this.

So yes, it was a great challenge, and hopefully we sort of, you know, keep the story tight enough for everybody to enjoy the journey along with us. But, it was certainly fantastic fun doing it.

Viva Bianca: Yes. And just to add to that as well, I think for me coming back into Season 2 was – it was particularly useful having Lucy – Lucy Lawless and Craig Parker being – Ilithyia has kind of two key relationships in the show. And you know, it’s really the relationships your character has that informs who they are and reminds you of, you know, where they sit in the world.

So you know, it was those two actors that kind of kept me rooted in the show and reminded me of my place in the world of Spartacus.

liam-mcintyre-SpartacusLiam, what sort of prep and research did you do for this role once you booked it?

Liam McIntyre: Well, just I guess – I used to play computer games about the Roman Legions and that sort of thing every since I was a little kid, so I always interested in the world. So I came in there knowing a fair amount – I mean a fair bit about the Republic and the Empire that followed just out of a personal interest sake.

But then I was lucky enough to be lent an entire library from one of the producers, Chloe Smith, which I got to ingest and go through. And then you know, really explore what was known of Spartacus and that time in history and his – you know, his position in history and what he did or was taught – was said to have done.

And you know – and it was fascinating trying to piece that together and then seeing what Steven DeKnight and his team did in terms of the story they wanted to tell, and trying to really connect those dots. And then from those sort of outlines, fill it in with an actual emotion that I could understand.

It was – I love history and I love that kind of – I especially love that sort of epoch of history, so it was great to go through that in more detail for more purpose than just, you know, general curiosity.

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