In Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert’s new costume drama Spartacus: Blood and Sand, Lucy Lawless portrays Lucretia, who along with her husband Batiatus (John Hannah), own a gladiator camp.
Devious and manipulative, the character couldn’t be more different than the one which propelled her to stardom, Xena, the Princess Warrior. It was a role that would change her personal life forever as well, as she met and married Rob Tapert during the run of the series.
Now back in New Zealand working on the series, Lawless enthusiastically spoke of her role and the show.
Can you tell a little about your character of Lucretia?
Yes, to her husband, Batiatus, she’s his Lady Macbeth. If he has to do something psychotic and it’s against the rules of the time, and there were not very many things against the rules at the time, she’s going to shore him up. She’s going to say, ‘Don’t talk about it. We’re going to make this happen.’ I think she sees herself eventually as the power behind the throne of Batiatus. Not initially.
They’re an upstanding Roman couple. She loves her husband. It just happens it’s a slightly toxic love between them, and modern people might call them the bad guys. But there’s no nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Tonally, this is like nothing else I’ve ever done. It’s very naturalistic acting, and we try to keep it real.
This is your second period drama – what is it that you found in this that you wanted to do it again?
It’s about the role and the company you are in. I nearly didn’t take this role. I was so nervous. I felt like I still want to adventure on in life, and I’m so happy in L.A. And I felt like, ‘Oh, I’m going back to Idaho or something.’ But the universe always knows what’s good for you. And not only has this been great for my family, but the role is just knockout. I’m so grateful to them for writing such brilliant women’s relationships, there’s a lot of intrigue. It’s terribly deadly and very subtle. That’s what attracted me.
The special effects and make up department are used extensively on this series.
The makeup department is amazing because we’re on a TV budget. It’s awfully expensive to do all these technical backgrounds and effects. Shooting with a phantom background takes a lot of time. And the make up department is told, ‘We’re writing a bit where the guy goes and cuts the other man’s face off.’ And they’re like, ‘Holy cow, we’ve got two days to produce a face that works. It’s got to be practical, because you’ve got to see the face coming off.’
How would any of us know how a face behaves in that circumstance? And they’re going, ‘It’s not floppy enough,’ and they go, ‘Let’s bung it in a microwave.’ It’s really like flying by the seat of your pants, these people are just amazing. They’re so accomplished and have a lot of intuition about how to make things and that’s kind of the Kiwi way actually.
The miniseries Rome balanced this pre-Christian civilization morality with its action. Are you trying to do something similar?
There’s a lot of sex and violence in this, and they don’t run along the same morals as we have. It’s really just the backdrop.
What strikes me, dragging slaves around and behaving in a [cruel] way towards them, is it’s just a singular lack of empathy. And that human beings are just chattels, and it’s all about stages, if you’re at the lower stage, forget about it, I can kill you tomorrow and buy another two of you with my spare change. It’s really amazing how high the stakes are for every slave, every gladiator and even higher status people – it’s shocking.
Do you do nudity in the series?
I’m afraid [I’m going to have to] sometimes. But I’m kind of praying that day never comes, it’s really stressful. I don’t like it.
You know what, some people insist on taking off their pants, and we’re like, ‘Oh, please put them back on!’