Actors Talk Spartacus: Vengeance: Character Struggles, Frenemies and, Yes, About Filming Those Sex Scenes….

After being part of an interview via conference call Tuesday with four lead actors from Spartacus: Vengeance, the upcoming third season of the series on Starz, I’m even more excited for the premiere on January 27th.

The phone interview included stars Liam McIntyre (Spartacus), Lucy Lawless (Lucretia), Peter Mensah (Oenomaus/Doctore) and Viva Bianca (Ilithyia). They talked about their characters, gave hints to the upcoming season and spoke about what it’s like filming all that sex and violence. (Hint: not as much fun as it looks onscreen.)

For those impatient people, you can watch the first episode free on Facebook on this Friday, January 20th.

Spartacus: Vengeance © 2011 Starz Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.

The real fun of the interview for me wasn’t the minor spoilers for the upcoming season or hearing the actors answers the questions. It was the easy banter between the four of them.

They seemed relaxed and comfortable with each other, sometimes even answering questions by starting a conversation among themselves. It made for an enjoyable time on the other hand and made me wish I could’ve been sitting in a bar having a good time talking about the show with them.

(Also, Liam McIntyre gives great phone voice. I have a thing for voices. This was sorta like the Aussie version of Alan Rickman. But I digress….)

For those awaiting season three eagerly, some broad hints were offered.

McIntyre, who bantered through much of the interview, became serious when talking about the responsibility of taking over the role of Spartacus from the late Andy Whitfield. McIntyre said he was a fan of the show even before he auditioned and what he wanted most to do was be true to the character that Whitfield created.

“I watched all of episodes countless times. I felt like I got Spartacus as he portrayed him. To me was important to continue as that character.” In that, McIntyre said he was lucky because the writers ensured that would be the case.

“I’ve been given this great honor to carry on this great legacy.”

He said Spartacus’ main challenge this year is to move past his vengeance and dedicate himself to a higher cause. Eventually, he has to become the person who melds his disparate group into a real fighting force that can challenge the power of Rome.

In response to a question about whether Spartacus could fall in love again with Mira, the former slave who aided in freeing them all, McIntyre said that’s something Spartacus struggles with as well.

“Who doesn’t need love deep down? He certainly wants to love again and he’s going to try but it’s a constant struggle throughout the season.”

Spartacus: Vengeance © 2011 Starz Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.
Asked how the relationship between the four major male leaders–Spartacus, Crixus, Oenomaus and, eventually, Gannicus–McInyre said they won’t instantly bond.  “That’s one of the great parts of the season,” he said. “All the alpha males of the ludus have a very difficult journey to try and get along because of the nature of who they are. Crixus and Spartacus try to work together but have very different views of the world.”

Bianca and Lawless said that their characters would continue to spend much time together especially at the beginning of the season.  Lawless said that it was a “very fraught relationship” especially since, because of the massacre at the end of season one, “Lucretia has lost her marbles.”  When asked if Lucretia was truly crazy or she had some sort of plan in mind, Lawless said that people would just have to watch and see.

When asked if she ever wanted to pick up a sword and go at it like Xena with the gladiators, Lawless laughed and said she’s never tempted. “The ludus is dirty and sweaty and I’d rather stay upstairs and be fed grapes and drink wine.”

When Bianca was asked who’s the father of Ilithyia’s baby (Spartacus? her husband?), she avoided the answer but Lawless jokingly suggested it was her via turkey baster. Bianca said it was a very dramatic roller coaster for her seemingly evil character.  She also said she doesn’t see Ilithyia as evil, despite her actions.

“You have to find the reason why the character is doing these things, as an actor. These Romans didn’t consider these slaves as people. I and Lucy have to take these extreme steps to enter this ancient Roman society. I would love to play a virtuous woman after Ililthyia but there’s something very satisfying about playing the scheming naughty girl. Still, you’ll see some more vulnerability this year.”

Asked if the year-long layoff between seasons one and two made it difficult for her to get back into the role, Bianca said it took some work. “A year had passed for me and yet in the reality of our show only eight weeks had passed. It was quite challenging to go back into the world and feel that acute continuity that was required. It was fun and I was really happy to do it but it was a challenge.”

Lawless said all she had to do was put on the wig and she was back as Lucretia. She credited that to filming the prequel, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena. “Gods was a help because it was such a pleasure to explore the past and helped round out the character.”

Mensah said this season would find his character somewhat adrift. “Aiding the rebels was for him being caught in a no-win situation. He knew what was going on with Batitus was wrong and so he assists Spartacus’ rebellion. That leads him into a no- man’s land. If you have nowhere to go, what do you do with your life? This season is a journey that he undergoes to find a place in the world.”

Of course, there were questions for all the actors about how they deal with all that sex and nudity that is shown on-screen.

“I’ve done things again this season that I’ve never done before and never seen before on TV,” Lawless said. “They were very heavy duty. Some days I went home and had a quiet little meltdown because it was so demanding.” She said the sex scenes might do great things for viewer’s sex lives but not so much for the actors, joking that it was kind of like “aversion therapy.” She said her husband, series producer Robert G. Tapert, is never on set when they’re filming nude scenes. “All that nudity is inhibiting. We’re really like funny little middle class people and it’s very hard for us to be comfortable with nudity and sex scenes. But you believe in the work and the story and  it’s important to the story. That’s why you do it.”

McIntyre jokingly said one of his “greatest moments” was watching a director manage an orgy scene. “He had this all set up and was doing what was essentially the sign language of the scene. Watching that was hilarious.” He said being a fan of the show, he obviously knew what he was getting into and that it wasn’t likely Spartacus would get pants or even shirt anytime soon.

All four actor emphasized how much they enjoyed portraying the layered characters created by the writers and agreed that the overt nudity is a part of getting a great story on-screen. That reflected my own view of the show which is that while it can appear outwardly to be all about sex and gore, it’s really about power, the uses of power in an ancient society, and class differences.

It’s not just about the slaves seizing power from themselves.

Lucretia has power but only so far–she cannot cross her husband openly. And, now, without her husband’s protection, she’s even more powerless. Ilithyia is from a higher class of Roman society but only has the freedom granted by her husband. And Batiatus, who met his death in the first season finale, was so consumed with moving up in class and gaining power that it led to a massacre. Given that Ilithyia’s husband Glaber is a regular cast member this season, it appears she’s going to be caught without power of her own again.

It’s layers like that that have me eagerly awaiting more of the story.