Spartacus Q & A with Liam McIntyre, Lucy Lawless, Peter Mensah and Viva Bianca

By , Contributor

STARZ Entertainment

Actor Liam McIntypre in action mode as Spartacus

Betrayal, sword-fighting, romance, more sword-fighting, treachery and, yes, you guessed it, even more sword-fighting — just another day in the lives of the beefy, beautiful, cunning and often desperate characters in the upcoming STARZ cable TV series Spartacus: Vengeance.

Premiering Friday, January 27 at 10:00 p.m. EST/PST, Spartacus: Vengeance is the second season of and sequel to the popular Spartacus: Blood and Sand, which aired last year on STARZ. In its finale, “Kill Them All,” Spartacus led a brutal rampage at the House of Batiatus that paved the way for a new and uncertain future for him and those around him.

Spartacus: Vengeance picks up just a few weeks after that massacre. Capua is in an uproar. The gladiators have escaped and formed an uneasy alliance. Spartacus wants revenge on the man responsible for killing his wife, but he will soon understand his life is about something greater than avenging Sura’s death. His mission is to build an army, set free the slaves and topple the Roman Empire.

Spartacus: Vengeance stars Liam McIntyre, who takes over from Andy Whitfield in the title role of Spartacus (Whitfield was forced to leave the role due to illness), Lucy Lawless as Lucretia Batiatus, Peter Mensah as Oenomaus, Craig Parker as Glaber, Viva Bianca as Ilithyia, Manu Bennett as Crixus, Dustin Clare as Gannicus, Nick E. Tarabay as Ashur, Cynthia Addai-Robinson as Naevia and Katrina Law as Mina.

Last week, Liam McIntyre, Lucy Lawless, Viva Bianca and Peter Mensah (who joined the call later on) chatted on the phone with me and other journalists about their work on Spartacus: Vengeance. The following is an edited version of our Q & A (beware of minor spoilers). Enjoy!

Lucy, your character of Lucretia is crazy when the season starts and she comes upon Ilithyia, who’s taking care of her. Lucretia doesn't really know that Ilithyia isn’t her friend and hates her. Does she find out Ilithyia’s bad side as the season progresses?

Lucy Lawless: Or does she find out mine? I don't want to give away too much. Needless to say, Lucretia and Ilithyia continue to have a very fraught relationship. My character has to work very hard to make Ilithyia care about her again, or at least need her, because Ilithyia just wants her dead.

This question is for Viva Bianca. Just to follow up a little bit on the previous question. We've seen Lucretia's side of the equation. One of the best parts of the first season was, of course, Ilithyia and her scheming ways. Can you give us a bit of a look at what we might see in the second season?

Viva Bianca: Obviously what we saw in season one was that Ilithyia developed into more of a complex woman. In season two, Spartacus Vengeance, Ilithyia has that whole recent history of a guilty past and a suitcase full of treachery, lies, and deceit. She also has a lot to fight for as well as against. In the season opener, Ilithyia lands right back in the place that she so much wants to escape from, and it turns into a fight for her life.

LL: It’s a fight for her life, and her husband's affections.

VB: That's right, and with regards to Ilithyia and Lucretia, I think what's so interesting in season two is that because of their current circumstances, they’re forced into becoming a lot closer than they even were in season one. Because of that, there’s the potential for drama and the unraveling of relationships. There is a great deal in store in for this female relationship in the second season.

Liam McIntyre: That's what I like about all the characters. I think it's safe to say that every single one of them, from Spartacus on up to you guys, has death lurking at every turn.

VB: Yes. It was not a kind or gentle society, that's for sure.

My first couple questions are for Lucy. I just have to know, is Lucretia that crazy, or is there a method to her madness?

LL: That’s up to you to decide. I will tell you that by the end all will be revealed.

Lucy, when you're filming, does your inner Xena (Warrior Princess) ever come out? Do you want to pick up a sword and fight alongside the boys?

LL: Not even once. It's a stinky, smelly world down there. I have no intention of going. I'm going to sit up with Ilithyia and eat Turkish Delight.

Liam, since Spartacus has been renewed for a third season, is there anything you want to change about how you played your character in Vengeance for the next season?

LM: I just want him to keep growing. To be honest, I've been given a great honor in carrying on this legacy and I feel, especially in the latter episodes of Vengeance, that Spartacus is really getting to a very interesting place. It's been great getting to grow with the character, and going into season three, there's even more craziness in store. So I’m really looking forward to exploring that. Again, it’s a great privilege.

I was just wondering Liam, if you were going to be trolling the pages of Facebook to see what the reaction is to your character?

LM: I'm a bit of a dork and I know how I can be with things I'm passionate about. Keeping that in mind, I'll probably insulate myself from that a little bit and just let the fans judge as they will and make their own decisions. I'll just curl up in bed and hope for the best.

Viva. I don't know if you can answer this, but I'm sure the world wants to know, who is Ilithyia’s baby’s daddy?

VB: Well, that’s why you have to watch Spartacus Vengeance. That is the big question on everyone's lips, and as Lucy said, all will be revealed eventually.

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

LM: Well, I'm very lucky in that the writing team is absolutely sensational, and STARZ is really supportive. Early on, the people at STARZ said, “You know, make the character your own. Treat it as your own.” So they didn't expect me to copy anything. I did watch all of Andy's amazing work, so I don't know if there was any osmosis or if that influenced my performance in any way. I can't be sure. However, because Andy was sensational, I just realistically tried to be true to the character of Spartacus, who essentially stays the same. The writing is the same as is all that lovely humanity as well as those difficult choices. So I got the honor of being able to treat that with respect and truth, and, hopefully, you’ll see a character that feels the same as the great character that Andy portrayed.

Liam, which do you feel will be more important to Spartacus, his personal issues or the cause he has sustained?

LM: Obviously the show is called Spartacus: Vengeance, and a large part of that vengeance is that vengeance he feels against Glaber (Craig Parker) and the Roman Republic as a person who's been wronged. My character’s family's been taken away from him, too, and that drives him throughout season one and into season two.

I think the biggest challenge that Spartacus faces is embracing that bigger cause that I guess ultimately left its mark on history. He has to take these disparate rebels, and build them into a force that is, at least for a while, certainly a match for Rome. It's something he really has to get to the bottom of in season two and something I really made a point of exploring this year.

Viva, your character was involved a great deal in all the bloody intrigue that happened in the first season. So will Ilithyia be punished somehow, or will she at least she feel guilty about what happened?

VB: She is such a naughty girl. Look, this show calmly comes and bites everyone in the ass, so yes, Ilithyia will get her own, but there's going to be a real journey for her in season two. Just when she thinks she's going to break through and attain her dreams, the rug will be pulled from beneath her and she'll feel like she's falling through to the depths of the Earth. So it's a real dramatic roller coaster for Ilithyia this year.

While you guys were filming this, were you ever affected or surprised by the violent scenes?

LL: We’re always surprised, but we're not affected because they never look that way in actuality. It's all done in post (production), you know? It’s quite brilliant.

VB: I think it was David Mamet who said, "An actor must always defend his character,” so I think as an actor, you become very good at emphasizing a character, however evil or misguided he or she is. Certainly for Ilithyia or any of the villains on the show, you have to find a reason or many reasons why a character is behaving they way he or she is.

For instance in episode four, Ilithyia does a very brutal thing, and afterwards I was like, "Oh, my God, I can't believe what Ilithyia just did,” insofar as the reality of what one human is doing to another. You become the character, though, and the truth is that these Roman aristocrats didn't consider slaves or people of that class, as people. So for example, for me and Lucy to get ourselves into that mentality it’s quite an extreme step. However, it’s a step that we have to make in order to enter that ancient Roman society and play these kinds of women.

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

LM: I loved the show before I got the call to be part of it. So I kind of knew what I was getting into, but one of my greatest memories from the whole year is 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 the camera panned through. I’ll always remember that because it was hilarious.

There’s another moment where I have to attack a gentleman's “money making facility,” and that was one of the most harrowing moments in my life. It was a sword, a little protective steel piece, his “gear,” and a whole lot of hope. That was one of the very first days of filming and I was like, "Oh, God, what have I got myself into?"

Viva, you seem to really enjoy being the bad girl. Does it also feel kind of empowering to play someone who’s pure evil?

VB: I'm a really nice person. I would so love to play a really virtuous, heroic person after Ilithyia. She’s a very satisfying character to play, though, because she isn't just pure bad, and the lovely thing in season two is that the writers gave me a wide range and complexity to explore with her. So I think the audience will get to see many different sides to Ilithyia. Of course there will still be that scheming, naughty girl, but I think maybe you will see some vulnerability as well.

A lot of this show has to do with some really crazy, awesome action scenes that are on par with a lot of movies. Liam, how did you get into shape for those types of scenes where you’re handling a sword and doing all those crazy acrobatic moves they have you doing.

LM: Well, it's a rare and lucky person who gets to be a 10-year-old for a whole year. It's fantastic. As far as getting into shape, early on when I began the testing process for this role, I'd done another film where I was 45 pounds lighter or thereabouts. So first of all I thought there was no way that I'd ever even be considered for this role (of Spartacus), but they did consider me, and I was 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, not 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.

Liam, do you think fans will look past the loss of Andy Whitfield and come to really embrace you as Spartacus?

LM: I mean, I would demand the scrutiny of fans in that sense. I hope they come asking difficult questions because, frankly, I would if the situation was reversed. I'm not trying to pretend that I am Andy or that I'm going to be matching Andy in any particular way. I just hope that I do the character justice and that...

LL: And you do. You do.

LM: Thank you, Lucy. And with time I hope that fans can like my Spartacus in a way that not only keeps him a compelling character but also in a way that they loved Andy's portrayal, you know? At no stage is that for me to decide in any way. I guess time will be the judge of that question.

LL: People report that they were surprised at how very quickly they accepted you in the new role as Andy wished.

LM: Well, I worked hard. That's all I can say. I worked bloody hard.

VB: Well, it was evident to all of us as cast members that Liam did what any great actor could do, which was to bring integrity to the role as well as his own imagination, individuality and history.

LM: I've got the sweetest cast. Thanks, guys

Lucy, your character starts off in a pretty bad place at the beginning of this season. I was wondering, if you could give Lucretia any advice, what would it be?

LL: Just to keep breathing and pay attention to all the people around her, as she does, and it’ll all work out fine. In the end, Lucretia gets everything she wants.

Peter, we’ve seen in the second episode Oenomaus’ back story, and now we see him adrift this season. How did the knowledge of his back story help inform how you approached the role this year?

PETER MENSAH: The back story was actually useful all around just in terms of having opportunity to flesh out the character and allow the audience to see more of who he is. So this season, which takes place a number of years later, it’s a continuation of that character who you met in the first season as opposed to the prequel that the story really picks up with.

So it was an opportunity to explore sort of the human Oenomaus as opposed to the tough trainer of gladiators, and the circumstances in the story hinge so very much on exposing who he is. The situations are completely new now, and if anything, he is in such a vulnerable position at the beginning of the show. When you think things couldn’t get worse, they just keep getting worse for him.

So I think you're going to see quite a journey with my character, and I’ll just say that, yes, it’s informed by what happened before, but, again, there really are new situations for him.

Viva and Peter, what were some of the initial acting challenges you found stepping into your respective roles and finding your characters.

VB: There was quite a hiatus for me in terms of wrapping Season One and starting on Vengeance. But really, I suppose the way I approached it was the way one would approach any new role, which is trying to understand the given circumstances in which this character is living.

The great thing is because I’d played the role before and had the history of Season One 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 Two.

So much of the research had been done for me, but I still had to go through the process of reentering the very skin, heartbeat, and sort of the cell of this woman. And a woman who had, I think, grown up a lot by the time we find her in Season Two. Ilithyia has a whole new set of hopes and dreams and plans for her future.

That’s kind of where we find Ilithyia with Glaber in Rome in the first episode of Vengeance. However, her hopes are quickly shattered and then she is dealt this hand of cards that kind of isn’t at all what she planned. Suddenly the princess who had everything, very quickly ends up in the heap of all the other characters grappling for their lives and livelihoods.

PM: Very similarly, I think that the great thing about this show is that, again, a lot of the underlying story to Oenomaus had been laid out previously by (executive producer) Steven DeKnight and his writers. But in terms of stepping into the character, a couple of things do help. Obviously the story lines themselves are really, really vivid. The sets, the makeup and all the support structures, if you will, are so clearly transformative that by the time you step onto the set, you’ve very much entered that world of despair and hardship that Oenomaus lives in. So unlike real life, every time I would 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.

VB: Which is a great thing, because acting is about reacting.

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

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

Lucy, you’ve played a lot of wonderful, really strong and driven female characters. What do you enjoy perhaps most about those types of roles and how do you try to make each one different from the other?

LL: If the person appears to be strong, I want to show their vulnerability. If the person appears to be evil, I want to show their capacity for love. I want to bring the flip side of their humanity through so that you will relate, whether they’re a good person or not.

Even if they’re a wicked person, I try to make you relate and maybe even love them. So that’s my mission in life. If they’re a really good person, if they are an upstanding citizen, I want to show their vulnerability and frailty. It’s all about light and shade.

Liam, what sort of prep and research did you do for this role once you booked it?

LM: I've played computer games about the Roman Legions and that sort of thing ever since I was a little kid. I was always interested in the world, so I came into Spartacus knowing a fair bit about the Republic and the Empire just out of a personal interest.

Then I was lucky enough to be lent an entire library [of episodes] from one of the producers, Chloe Smith, which I got to ingest and really explore what was known of Spartacus and that time in history as well as his position in history and what he did or what was said to have done. 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. From those sorts of outlines, I tried to fill it in with actual emotions that I could understand.

I love history and especially that sort of epoch of history, so it was wonderful to go through that in greater detail for more purpose than just general curiosity.

Please note, all photos above copyright of STARZ Entertainment,

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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