Spartacus' Katrina Law Talks Slavery, Freedom, and Love

By , Contributor

STARZ Entertainment

Katrina Law as Mira

As a slave in the House of Batiatus, there is no deciding what you will or will not do. You learn from a very young age and/or at the start of your involuntary servitude that you no longer have free will. You are told what to do and when to do it, and heaven help you if the task at hand is not completed to your master’s satisfaction. That is the lot in life facing Mira, a beautiful young slave girl introduced in season one of the hit STARZ cable series Spartacus: Blood and Sand. For actress Katrina Law, taking on the role of Mira was initially very much akin to stepping into another world.

“In Blood and Sand, Mira is a house slave in the House of Batiatus. She was born a slave and has never known what it’s like to be free,” explains the actress. “Mira has always been told what to do, where to go, what to eat or who to sleep with, so she’s never been able to make a choice in her life, Perhaps when she hit her teen years she rebelled a little bit, but I think she learned very quickly that the best way to stay alive and not get beaten, starved or punished was to just do as she was told and as fast as she could.

“So Mira was very much into the slave mentality, and as a modern woman it’s difficult for me to understand that. I have freedom of choice. I can choose to do something or not. That’s not a luxury Mira had, and as an actor that was the hardest choice for me to think, ‘Okay, I have to sleep with this guy because I was told to,’ and in Mira’s mind she wouldn’t even question it. She probably taught herself a long time ago not to think about it. I think there was also the fear of knowing that she might be punished or killed for something as small as not shining a vase bright enough. That was also a bit difficult for me to wrap my head around at first, because I’m not facing imminent life-threatening situations in my every day life.”

Prior to Blood and Sand, the actress first caught the attention of STARZ for her performance as Lana in a sci-fi web series called The Resistance. “That was a little guerrilla-style production with its own money and production company,” she says. “The Resistance was created and directed by Adrian Picardi, and eventually STARZ and [Sam Raimi’s] Ghost House Productions saw the series, picked it up, and started funding us. We then re-shot the web series, which ended up airing on the Syfy channel.

“It was through this project that I first heard about Spartacus and asked to audition for it. Initially I was told I couldn’t because at that time they were just casting in Australia and New Zealand. However, a couple of months went by and they decided to extend the audition process to the States. They [the network] then asked if they could audition me first for the role because they had enjoyed my work on The Resistance, and that’s how I wound up getting the job.”

Blood and Sand tells the story of a warrior (Andy Whitfield) who leads a rebellion against the Roman republic. Initially he agrees to fight alongside the Roman army, but is later betrayed when returning home to defend his village. The warrior is subsequently captured by the Romans as a deserter and his wife forced into slavery. Taken to the city of Capua, he is to be put to death by the gladiators, but instead proves himself a worthy fighter. Earning the name Spartacus, our hero is sent to the House of Batiatus to be trained as a gladiator. He has his first encounter with Mira in the episode “Whore,” the filming of which was, once again, quite an adventure for Law.

“The first big scene that sticks out in my mind is one where I was standing there completely naked,” she recalls with a chuckle. “Thankfully Lucy Lawless [Lucretia] and Brooke Harman [Licinia] were in the scene with me along with Lesley-Ann Brandt [Naevia], so they made me feel really welcome and at home. At that point, though, the crew had been doing this for six months and had already seen every naked person there was to be seen on that show. So I was old news by the time I walked on, and they already knew where to keep their eyes focused. So it was an intimidating process but a very comfortable one at the same time, if that’s not too weird to say.

“I have to tell you that meeting Lucy Lawless for the first time was amazing. That’s a big memory that I will forever keep in my register along with, of course, being naked. Again, that was a bit daunting, although by the end of my first episode I was totally at ease walking around naked in front of the crew and the rest of the cast. I think I was more overwhelmed, though, by the casting process, because I was hired and then three days later was flown to New Zealand. I had three days to pick my life up and get it ready to be moved to a different hemisphere. So by the time my first episode was over I felt like I had just jumped into a tornado and finally got spit out. It was quite the whirlwind.”

In “Whore,” Lucretia uses Mira to prepare Spartacus for a masked sexual encounter with Licinia. The gladiator’s response to the slave is, to her, a surprising one and gives her food for thought. “When Spartacus was introduced into the mix and denied Mira, I think it was the first time that had actually ever happened to her,” says Law. “Again, in her world you were told to do something and everyone involved just did it. Suddenly this man was saying, ‘No, I’m not going to do this just because someone told me to, or you to.’ Mira had never seen a man who was head over heels in love with a woman the way that Spartacus was with his wife.

“I think when she saw that, she envied it and was maybe a little bit jealous, but definitely wanted a ‘piece’ of that. For the first time in Mira’s life she thought, ‘I might actually have the chance to have a relationship like that.’ As the season went on and Spartacus was pushing more towards freedom — something that my character had never even dreamt of because it was a completely useless dream — she began to think that this might be the right road, especially after Naevia had her hair chopped off, was beaten and sold, Crixus [Manu Bennett] was whipped, and Hector [Tim Foley] the guard, had his head chopped off because he lost a key. All of a sudden Mira is realizing, you know what, now that I’ve seen the other side, I don’t think I can live here any more. I think that’s why she ended up killing the Roman guard and helping Spartacus spark off his war to end slavery in Rome.

“I don’t necessarily believe that Mira was in love with Spartacus, but rather that she was intrigued by and had strong feelings for him, but I think it was more the temptation of, see, there is life outside these walls.”

In Blood and Sand, Spartacus was played by the Welsh-born Andy Whitfield, who subsequently passed away from cancer in September 2011 at the age of 40. Law speaks highly of the late actor.

“I enjoyed every minute working with Andy,” says the actress. “There was a great deal of laughter, and he was very open. Andy had a beautiful wife and children and he constantly talked about them. He was a wonderful person to be around. Andy was extremely generous with his spirit. He loved talking about the scenes, where he was coming from and where the scene potentially might go. When it came to our little ‘naughty’ scenes, Andy made light of the entire situation and always made me feel comfortable. I had never done anything like that before as an actress, and by that point in the show, most of the male characters had slept with pretty much all the female characters. So he was great about it. It’s so sad that Andy is no longer with us, but it was a beautiful experience and one that I’ll hold in my heart for my entire career and life.”

In “Kill Them All,” Blood and Sand’s season finale, Spartacus enlists Crixus’ help to lead one final revolt in order to bring about the downfall of the House of Batiatus. A bloody massacre ensues and culminates with Spartacus and the gladiators as well as all the slaves gaining their freedom. Following a miniseries prequel, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, the series has returned in 2012 for a second year with Spartacus: Vengeance. In the opening episode, "Fugitivus," Spartacus (now being played by Liam McIntyre) and Crixus begin training their group of freed slaves and gladiators. Stepping back in front of the cameras was quite a memorable time for Law and the rest of the Spartacus cast and crew.

“It was like jumping back onto a bike; you’re a little bit unsure and wobbly, but at the same time you still remember how to do it,” she muses. “It was interesting coming back to Mira a year and a half later, especially the year and a half that it had been for everyone. It wasn’t the easiest of times, not knowing whether or not the show was going forward with everything that was happening with Andy and his battle with cancer, not knowing if he was going to be okay, and then him having the second bout of cancer.

“It was just a very tumultuous year and a half, so personally I came back more mature and heavier — not in the physical sense, at least I hope not — but mentally, and when I reentered Mira’s world I felt that she, too, was a more mature and heavier character. Also, the writers had written her part to be bigger in season two, so she’s had more to do than stand in the background to the gladiators. Needless to say I was very happy to be back in the role.”

While Mira may have secretly dreamt about being free in Blood and Sand, she is now experiencing that as a reality in Vengeance, and there is no question that it has changed her outlook on life.

“When she finished season one with the rest of the slaves and gladiators, I don’t think Mira had quite thought out what her next move would be,” notes Law. “I think she just reacted, knowing that something had to be done. All of a sudden she’s now on the run and, together with the rest of the house slaves, is thinking, ‘I’m cold, I’m homeless, I don’t know where my next meal is coming from, I don’t know how to protect myself,’ etc. You see her realizing that at the beginning of Vengeance.

“Somewhere in the back of her mind I think Mira had this fantasy of now that we’ve broken out and are free, we’re all going to run away, live happy lives, have families, and maybe Spartacus can be my husband now [his wife Sura having been killed in Blood and Sand]. As this season goes on, she realizes that that’s a naïve dream, and if she wants to hold onto this freedom, she has to fight for it. Also, in episode two [“A Place in the World”], when Bonnie Sveen’s character of Chadara comes in, it opens up Mira’s eyes for the first time as to how some people might see her, and it’s not a pleasant viewpoint.

“Suddenly, Mira is thinking, ‘Wait, I’m more than Spartacus’ side thing, woman, plaything, whatever you want to call it…or am I?’ From there on in, she realizes that she needs to pick up a skill as well as being able to house, clothe, feed, and protect herself. That’s her journey right along with the rest of house slaves, because they’re totally beholden to the gladiators for everything that they need to stay alive, So that’s a big step forward for Mira, realizing she can’t just be in Spartacus’ shadow. She needs to be her own person.”

Mira’s eye-opening response to her freedom also needs to extend to her relationship with Spartacus, but that is easier said than done. “Their relationship is an intricate one and definitely not your fairytale romance of, oh, now we have a crush on each other and everything is going to be alright, because there really is no guarantee of that,” says Law.

“I think the interesting thing about Mira is that there are a lot of red flags that she’s constantly pushing down because she wants love and she wants Spartacus. As time goes on, she really has to ask herself, 'Am I actually in love with Spartacus, or did I just grab onto the first person who was thrown my way? Does he actually love me or am I making all this up in my head?’

“I look at Mira as being a strong woman, but I think the thing that keeps her tied to Spartacus is that there are these moments of bliss and purity where it seems like they’re living in this happy bubble and have a real connection. Something from the outside world suddenly then comes along, whether it’s a fight or a gladiator or slave needing help, that pops that bubble and makes everything disappear again. I think Mira is holding onto the hope that eventually maybe that bubble will become reality. It’s going to be fun to see where things go and if she is willing to fight for Spartacus and vice versa.”

As with Andy Whitfield, the actress is nothing but complimentary when speaking about Spartacus’ new leading man Liam McIntyre. “He is a beautiful human being as well,” she says. “Liam is just as generous, humble, and open. He knows he walked into a seemingly impossible situation, but he came into it with his head held high. Liam is constantly paying tribute to Andy Whitfield in the work he does, but at the same time he’s also embellishing on it and bringing his own characteristics to the role.

“So he’s staying true to Andy’s Spartacus, but also making it his own, which I think is the way to go and he’s done a terrific job so far. Also, Andy gave Liam his blessing to continue on with Spartacus, as he did with all the cast and crew, and I don’t think without Andy’s blessing any of us could have moved on.”

Growing up in New Jersey, Law considered several career options including cardiologist, police officer, and dancer before deciding to study physical therapy. That, of course, was not her final choice. “I remember on my first day of school thinking, ‘Why am I doing this?’” says the actress. “Then I switched to marine biology and studied that for a year and a half. I had a 4.0 grade-point average and then I was cast as Cassie in A Chorus Line. It was the first time I acted and danced onstage at the same time and I fell in love with it. My G.P.A. dropped to 2.0 because I did absolutely nothing else but focus on the play. With the full support of my parents, I decided at that point to switch my major yet again.”

Graduating with a theatre degree from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, the actress continued her training in Philadelphia and New York. She has since gone on to appear in a number of made-for-TV movies as well as guest star on such series as Third Watch, Reba, The Rookie: CTU, and Chuck. The actress also played the recurring role of Garren in the fantasy series Legend of the Seeker as well as the regular role of Lana in the aforementioned The Resistance. Law could not be happier with the direction her acting career has taken and has her own philosophy for keeping things on the right track.

“I’ve really lucked out in the projects that have been offered to me,” she says. “It’s kind of been the sci-fi/fantasy/swords and sandals-type genres, which are my personal favorites. They’re so much fun and as an actor you can completely immerse yourself in those worlds.

“When it comes to what makes this [acting] rewarding — and I’ve learned this lesson the hard way as well — it’s that you have to enjoy the journey almost more than the destination, because the journey is more than likely going to be 99.9% of everything you do. Also, you very quickly find out who your real friends are and the people who truly love and support you and want to see you do well. I think that goes for all aspects of life, though. You’ve got to keep those people near you and make sure their opinions matter more to you than comments on a message board, whether those comments are good or bad.

“I also think as an actor or, again, with any career, once you accomplish something make sure you enjoy the moment because pretty soon it will be gone and Lord knows if you’re ever going to get it again. So I just feel it’s a matter of living in the moment, really enjoying what you have and saying thank you and I love you to the people around you and for the things you have in your life.”

Looking ahead at the remaining Spartacus: Vengeance episodes, what can Law reveal about Mira’s story line? “Well, in last week’s episode [“Chosen Path”] Mira fires a bow and arrow, and man, is she going to love that bow and arrow,” says the actress with a laugh. “It’s a turning point for her, because prior to this I don’t think you’ve seen Mira fighting. She was a house slave her entire life. She polished vases and poured water and wine. She has no idea how to fight. Yes, she’s been holding her own along with the gladiators, but I think everything she’s done up to now has been out of fear, instinct, and a primal response to survive.

“So Mira is very happy when she finally gets a bow and arrow in her hands and begins to hone a skill, one that’s her own and she can claim all the credit for. I think it’s going to do a lot for her confidence, and you are going to quickly find out whether or not Spartacus truly loves Mira. She has an exciting couple of episodes coming up, and hopefully anyone who likes badass female characters will be rooting Mira on.”

Please note, all Spartacus photos copyright of STARZ Entertainment, while Katrina Law photos by and copyright of Joe DeAngelis.

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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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