In the Starz original drama, Spartacus: Vengeance (premiering on January 27, 2012), the gladiator rebellion continues, on the heels of the bloody escape from the House of Batiatus, and begins to strike fear into the heart of the Roman Republic. With all of the blood-soaked action, sexuality, villainy and heroism that has come to distinguish the series, Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) is now presented with the choice of satisfying his personal need for vengeance against the man that condemned his wife to slavery and eventual death, or making the larger sacrifices necessary to keep his budding army from breaking apart.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, Aussie actor Liam McIntyre talked about the challenges of taking over the iconic character for the much-beloved Andy Whitfield, getting in shape for the intensively physical role, saying the “I am Spartacus!” line for the first time, being torn between personal vengeance and responsibility, and how much bigger the scale and scope of Season 2 is. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
LIAM McINTYRE: No. I’d watched the show, and really liked the show. My agent called up and said, “They want you to audition for Spartacus.” And I was like, “Oh, wow, I love that show. What role?” And they said, “Spartacus,” and I was like, “They’ve got a guy for that already.” And then, they told me about Andy [Whitfield] because I hadn’t heard, and that’s heavy. It puts things in perspective, very quickly. It came up completely unexpectedly, and I was in shape for a different role, which means I was 45 pounds skinnier than I usually am.
For a whole lot of reasons, it was this big, crazy thing. It was so hard, but as an actor, just wanting to be able to act, there was that side of things as well. Every day was the best day of my life, for awhile. But, it’s a weird situation. You wish you didn’t have the chance to go for a role, when it’s done so amazingly well by a guy that you respect yourself, but then when you do, you have that inner obligation to yourself, as a fan of the show, to do the best job you can. That’s just hard work and doing everything you can to honor the script and be truthful to it.
Were you worried that because you were so much thinner at the time, that they wouldn’t even consider you for the role?
McINTYRE: Yeah, I was sure of it. I remember going for that first test and thinking, “Well, it’s nice to be asked to audition.” If someone came back to me a couple days later and said, “Hey, Liam, you did a good audition,” that would have been such a good thing. And they did, but they also said, “Do another audition.” There was a time there where I was like, “Are you guys crazy?” But, Starz has always shown, and still continues to show, so much faith in me that it’s quite humbling. They trained me while they were still thinking about it. I can only imagine what that must have been like, from their side of things, with everything including Andy [Whitfield] and the big responsibility of making a decision with all their money, and how expensive the show is. They had me, and I wasn’t the right build for it, at the time. They kept putting me through training, which at the time, I wasn’t grateful for because it was really hard, but obviously the opportunity presented was so unlike anything I could ever dream of. I learned a lot of things about how far I was prepared to push myself for something, that year. In a way, it was liberating.
McINTYRE: Starz has been supportive, in the sense that they said, “Make it your own.” The most important thing, as an actor, is that you make it your own, in the way that you can. The writing is still the same. Spartacus is still Spartacus. The emotional qualities, like the human relatability that Andy captured so well in Season 1, that makes him not just the big, titanic man that he is, but also a human character, are all still there. That’s the most important characteristic to take, and I work really hard at that. He had that unique vocal quality with that accent, which was a little bit Australian and a little bit English, and straddled the boundaries. For me, when I went into it, I was like, “This guy is Thracian and Andy defined what that is, in that world.”
A lot of people ask, “Do you want to copy what he’s done?,” and I don’t really think that’s appropriate. Season 1 is his Spartacus, and it’s amazing. My job is to take that character and try to recapture that, in the way I can. I look different and I will sound different because I’m a different person. I’ve had different life experiences. I don’t think anyone would want me to mimic him, in some way. Ultimately, that would just be a shadow of Andy’s Spartacus. The responsibility I have is to try to capture that same essence and make it my own. That’s hard, but more realistic than trying to copy someone who’s done it so well.
Was it important to you, and really reassuring, to have that support from him and to have him be behind the decision to go on with the series?
McINTYRE: More than you could possibly imagine. You don’t know how to think about something like that because it’s one of your heroes, on screen. What a big guy to have that happen and still reach out to me and say, “Good luck!” That must have been hard. I know how much I love this role, and he would have been the same. I think that speaks volumes about who he was. It meant the world to me to know that the guy who defined the role and was the only reason I had a chance at a job, not only told Starz that he wanted the show to continue because he loved it so much, but told me, “Well done. Good luck!” That must have been hard, but it made it a lot more doable because the guy who was the guy gave me the blessing.
McINTYRE: That was one of those moments that was very strange. For so many reasons, how do you say a line like, “I am Spartacus!” There’s the part of being the fan that remembers Andy saying the words, “I am Spartacus!,” so there’s that emotional weight there. But then, there’s also the responsibility to the script. Knowing that this is your job now and you are Spartacus, you honor the script that you’ve been given, and you just treat it with the respect that it deserves and requires. That was a very strange moment, for so many reasons, but that’s the role.
What can you say about what fans can expect from this season, and the struggle with Spartacus wanting to have his own personal vengeance, but also being responsible for other people as well?
McINTYRE: For me, that is this season. They’re almost in a different world. They’ve moved out of the pressure cooker ludus into this unknown. In some respects, the unknown is scarier than the known. Nobody wants to be a slave, but at least they know what that means. They’re in the wilds and suddenly they need food and they need shelter, and they need to not be killed by the Romans. There are a whole lot of questions. So many of the players, like Crixus (Manu Bennett) and Agron (Daniel Feuerriegel) and Mira (Katrina Law), and the new characters that we introduce, have opinions on how to approach that. It gets so big because now they’re against the Republic, and not just against that segment. Their vengeance is not just one side, and Spartacus has to learn how to be a leader.
In Season 1, he lost his wife and was put into slavery, and it was about balancing the scales. That still drives him, but he now has a responsibility to so many people. It’s where he starts to own and understand what that means. So, his journey is a very difficult one because, even a person who may be a natural born leader learns that it’s not an easy mantle to take up. He has a very difficult journey, in becoming the leader of these disparate people through Italy to try to take on Rome. It’s a difficult path that he’s chosen.
What do you think will most surprise people about this season?
McINTYRE: Honestly, the scale. It surprises me. It’s everything you love about the show, but it’s bigger. The things that they can achieve boggles the mind. When we watched the first trailer, as a cast, we went, “Woah!” It’s even bigger than we thought it was, and we already thought it was big. There’s all the blood, the guts, the sex, the violence, the intrigue, the back-stabbing, the double-cross and all that, and that’s all ramped up because the stakes are so much higher. Any wrong decision ends in death, and they just find a way to push that, further and further. Now, it’s not a battle against the small world, it’s a battle against the whole world. It is immense.
McINTYRE: Fan of Spartacus or not, if you watch Episode 5 and are not blown away, I would be surprised. That episode, especially, is bigger than anything I’ve ever seen. It is huge. And, there’s at least one moment like that, in every episode, where you just go, “Wow, I cannot believe that!” That’s a pretty exciting thing to be a part of.
What’s been the most surprising thing about shooting this movie-quality series on a TV budget?
McINTYRE: On a regular basis, they’re like, “We’ve got 20 minutes to do something that you’ve never done in your life. Good luck!” There are different stunts where you’ve suddenly got to be very good at things you’ve never seen. There are locations where you walk in off the street and just stop and go, “Wow!” And then, you see it on the monitor and it looks even better. They’re constantly surprising the actors, all the time, and hopefully the fans as well.
What was it like to have that initial feedback at Comic-Con and know how the fans are embracing you?
McINTYRE: I couldn’t have expected that. I know how it is to be a fan and how passionate people are, but I embrace that. People are so excited to have the show back, and everyone has been so warm and welcoming. I cannot thank the fans enough for embracing the show again. It really put a smile on my face.