Andy Whitfield was born in Amlwch, Wales, became a model and found success as an actor in Australia, starring in several TV series including Opening Up, Packed to the Rafters and McLeod’s Daughters. His first theatrical lead role was in the supernatural movie Gabriel.
Now he’s going to be known internationally, as he takes on the role of Spartacus in F/X’s new series Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Betrayed by the Romans, torn from the woman he loves, Sura (Erin Cummings), and forced into slavery, he is reborn as a gladiator. Whitfield spoke of this new chapter in his career at the TV Critics Association in Los Angeles this month.
What drew you to this role?
Who wouldn’t want to do it? You’re guaranteed to look cool in this show because of the character, his journey and the fighting, the beautiful women, sometimes at the same time.
What physical preparation did you do for this series?
It was pretty brutal, actually. The first two days after I got the job, I flew to New Zealand, and I was in gladiator book camp, which entailed four hours a day getting smashed to pieces by big stunt guys and learning how to fall, and sword fighting and not eating anything, it was really hard. You get to the end of that first month, and then they’re going to do an eight-and-a-half-month shoot where you have to stay in that shape.
Did you have a stunt double or did you do 90 percent of it yourself?
I did most of it because of the phantom camera, there’s a 1000-frames-a-second camera which creates the slow-motion, so you can see if it’s not me, if it’s not me. Some things I couldn’t do for insurance reasons, but pretty much I hit the deck every time and threw the punches and swung the swords.
Have you seen the original Spartacus and what did you think of it?
I did. That was obviously made at a time that was maybe a little more constraint with what they could do, but I loved the way in the Kirk Douglas version of Spartacus he never assumed his leadership, he never said, ‘Hey everyone, follow me, I’ve got the best plan.’
He was given his leadership by people whom he inspired, who could see how he was behaving and he would be someone worth following and someone who would always make a stand. And I think that was the main thing for me that I took from that movie.
Have you ever worked with this much green screen before?
I did a movie called Gabriel which had a fair amount of green screen. It was a fairly low budget Australian movie, so I’ve done it before, and I guess the only thing I don’t like about the green screen is the color. It’s not a good comforting environment, but really it makes no different to what we do.
As the series is all done in-studio, as the whole production is done in CI, isn’t that claustrophobic?
We had enormous sets, and our focus was on the next moment and how fantastic the writing was. So you get desensitized to actually being in a studio. It doesn’t have any relevance to me of how your day is going to feel. And it’s not raining in there as well.
Can you talk about working with Erin Cummings on the show and the character’s relationship?
Obviously we’re the beating heart, to use a technical industry term, of the show and so you can see in the treatment that we’ve got to believe that this person, Sura, is what Spartacus is fighting for. That turns into something else later on, [at the beginning] she’s the person that represents the things he’s fighting for, and he doesn’t understand that, he just sees her. But sooner or later he’s going to get that there’s something inside him that is going to inspire him to lead the biggest slave revolt in history. So it’s a very important relationship.
What has Erin been like to work with?
She’s great, you know what, I think she actually got me the job. She came in to do a workshop with Steven DeKnight during the audition process, and I was doing these romantic scenes.
We couldn’t really generate the chemistry because she was over there and I was here, and she was like a whirlwind, she said, ‘Okay, everybody stop. Let’s you and I just go into the corner and we’ll get to know each other.’ I was just like, ‘Wow, this is what Sparatcus would feel like with that woman.’
It seemed at the end of the fourth episode that you and Crixus, who was the top gladiator before Spartacus arrived, were starting to have a relationship. Do you guys bond in the first 13 episodes?
Watch episode 5. I guess it’s the great old-fashioned, will they, won’t they unite? Will they ever get over their differences? Spartacus is not in this situation for any personal glory, but that is the entire reason that Crixus is there. He probably at one point wasn’t, but to justify being a slave and fighting as a gladiator, I’m sure it’s something you would go to pretty soon and embrace the glory of what that would bring.
So I think fundamentally their values would never really meet, but there will be things they need to get from each other as the series progresses.
Have you started shooting the second season?
No, we have a couple of months to go. We go back in April.
When do you start getting back into shape for it?
You know what, I’m just ironing out all the things that went pop in the show, and I think I’ll start again two months before we start shooting. I’m trying to put it off as much as possible.