Spartacus - Dustin Clare and Manu Bennett
Spartacus - Gannicus (Dustin Clare) and Crixus (Manu Bennett) © 2011 Starz Entertainment

Tragedy struck following the successfully run of Starz’ Spartacus: Blood and Sand in 2010, when the series’ star, Andy Whitfield, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, succumbing to the disease on September 11th this year. Season Two of the series was delayed in the hope that Whitfield would eventually be well enough to return to the show, but it became evident that was not to be.

But in the hope that Whitfield’s illness would go into remission, Starz produced a prequel to the series called Spartacus: Gods of the Arena which introduced a new character named Gannicus, portrayed by Dustin Clare. He was a former champion gladiator, in a time before Spartacus, whose freedom was earned not by rebellion but by victory in the arena.

Next month, Starz will run the series’ second season Spartacus: Vengeance, with Liam McIntyre replacing Andy Whitfield as the legendary gladiator. Returning to the series is Manu Bennett as Crixus, a former champion gladiator deposed by Spartacus who supported him when his rival facilitated and escaped from captivity, and Dustin Clare as Gannicus.

Can you talk a little about Liam taking over the role of Spartacus in this?

Spartacus Vengeance - Manu Bennett
Crixus (Manu Bennett) © 2011 Starz Entertainment

Manu: There’s a lot of noise around Liam, and so much pressure coming in to replace Andy Whitfield and knowing that Starz came so very close to having to finish our series because we lost Andy.

As a close friend to Liam and a colleague, working with him as an actor, the truth is Liam as a person is why he got the role, and his conviction and his commitment to this show has been truly  staggering and something we are very proud of. I’m honored to be a part of seeing that process evolve.

We had trepidation with a new Spartacus coming on. But after shooting the first episode of this second season, I remember looking at the screen, watching Liam in one of his most powerful moments, and I was back of the editor going [giving a thumbs up].

I was like, ‘Yeah.’ The camera was creeping in, and he was Spartacus, and that’s all there is to it.

Gannicus became an instant fan favorite even though he’s so full of himself, did that surprise you?

Spartacus Gods of the Arena - Dustin Clare
Gannicus (Dustin Clare) © 2011 Starz Entertainment

Dustin: Gannicus is always trying to deflect from his reality. That whole showmanship is something that I brought from the Australian aboriginal boxer Anthony Mundine, and the thing is you want to take the audience on a ride.

You want to start them somewhere and for them to think something, and then six episodes later you are going to discover he’s this whole other person with all of these layers.

I’m not into creating just two-dimensional characters. I want to move an audience. So where we find Gannicus when we see him in Spartacus: Vengeance, is a man who has evolved even more, a man who has grown, and he’s going to have a clash of ideals with Spartacus.

He’s now a free man. But in terms am I an overtly cocky man who can wield two swords in the arena, I would say no.

Would you like the audience to think of you as a cocky person?

Dustin: No. I’m playing a character that I created.

Manu: I’ll say on his behalf, he’s not.

The first two series took place in the ludus, but now that the slaves have escaped how is the series going to be different?

Dustin: The show is definitely on the road this season.

Manu: Yeah. It’s good for our sensibility, because for a whole season and a half we were inside Batiatus’s ludus and maybe a gladiatorial arena. It was like going out and training, going and meeting in the mess hall, going out to see Lucretia, going to bed, and then going out to fight again in the arena.

So it was a very limited world for us. It may have gotten stagnant if we had stayed there for another season.

We’ve gone from Disneyland to Six Flags Magic Mountain. We are going out into something much more exciting and all of the crowd favorites, as far as the gladiators are concerned, are back.

What can we expect this season?

Spartacus: Vengeance, 2.01 - Manu Bennett and Liam McIntyre
Episode 2.01 – Crixus (Manu Bennett) and Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) © 2011 Starz Entertainment

Manu: The characters this season are very bizarre. There’s some real twisted sort of things going on that make this season [unlike] the first season and the prequel. It’s crazy. We keep on reading the scripts just going, ‘Are you kidding?’

What are doing the fight scenes like?

Dustin: One of my first scenes, they said, ‘Okay, this is John. He’s from the Gulf Coast. He’s a stuntman. He’s a bouncer there as well. So you are going to punch him in the face.’ I’m like, ‘Okay, I’ll have one go at it. I don’t want to hit him anymore than that.’

So I think on the fourth take, after I’d hit him four times in the face, I missed a little and slipped, and I thought, ‘I’m not going into any night clubs in the Gulf Coast this year!’

What would you fight for in real life?

Dustin: I personally would fight for truth. I think it’s an important thing for us all to fight for. You report on news and entertainment, and I think it is important  for us all to find the truth within that and not dilute it even though it can often be quite confronting. Truth is the most important thing to fight for in your life.

I read that in the DVD release the fight scenes are going to be in 3D, is that true?

Dustin: Yeah. The final battle scene, with 20 men fighting in the arena is. I think it’s about a 12 minute on-screen fight. I personally haven’t seen it in 3D.

Manu: This show is fantastic for 3D because it’s very in your face.

There are things moving all the time. In the first season, when Andy Whitfield fought in the pits and he did this shot where he turned around with an axe and he just threw it and it came toward the camera, you didn’t even need 3D for that shot to look 3D!

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.