Liam McIntyre has a tough act to follow – Andy Whitfield as Spartacus. When the actor became gravely ill with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Starz TV waited in the hope that his condition would go into remission, but sadly the actor died on September 11, 2011. But before his death, he gave Liam McIntyre his blessing, taking over his role in Spartacus: Vengeance, which premieres in January.
Following his press conference for the series, which we reported on before (click here for post), I spoke with Liam about the show and how he turned his skinny body into Spartacus!
What you said onstage about how you would fight for your mother was lovely.
I use that in the show, because acting by its nature is expressing the most dramatic moments of any life. I think you take the strongest part of your personal life that you bring to any performance, and for me one of the strongest is my mother. Everyone can relate to that.
I think the thing that makes Spartacus such a good show is that it’s such a relatable show. It’s a show that even though I’m playing a superhero of sorts, I’m playing a human being. For me, I wish I could be every day the kind of heroic leader that Spartacus is with the people he leads. But I get the next best thing, which is pretending to be one.
Can you talk about stepping into this role under such sad circumstances?
Up until the very day that I got it, I never really thought I would get this opportunity. What helped the most is that Andy backed it himself. The only reason I have [a job] now is that Starz liked the show so much, the fans loved the show, and I can only imagine how big a decision that was for Starz. The fact that Andy put his support behind it is a testament of how strong he [was] as a person.
His Season One is exceptional. My job to both his legacy, to honor what he has done, and honor the fans, which I’ve been one, is to just work damned hard and do the best job I possibly can. I can’t do any more than that.
Were you surprised to get the role?
Yeah, I’d done a show where I had to lose 45 pounds, a fifth of my body weight. It was a thing called Frozen Moments, which ultimately didn’t come to pass in the end. So I lost all this weight and then the next day I’m on a plane going to New Zealand to test for the role of Spartacus, and I was pretty sure, as a fan, he was not that skinny!
How did you convince them you could bulk back up?
I left that up to them. Ultimately I just tried to do my job as an actor, what else can you do? And someone, somewhere said, ‘You know what? Maybe this will work.’
What kind of training did you do to get ready to play Spartacus?
They started me on a bulking exercise, which was all about bodybuilding, which is 90 percent diet, that is true. If you eat well your body does the rest. If you don’t eat well it doesn’t work.
It was all about heaving weightlifting and then it became about three or four months of boot camp-style training. At one stage, Starz brought me to New Zealand to train me in sword fighting, and that was well before they ended up deciding whether or not I’d get the role.
And then later on they sent someone who was an ex-military Australian who pretty much told the head stunt guy, ‘ See where he breaks.’ Fortunately it must have been far enough along the road where they thought I could do it. They were tough times. My dad bred into me a competitive stubbornness I think that comes with maybe being of Scottish descent.
Do you see yourself as a gladiator-type?
Does anyone see themselves as a gladiator-type? It’s not something you’d ever expect, but as an actor, I think, when you’re presented with such a magic opportunity, there’s not another job in the world I’d would rather have right now. When I first started acting I just wanted to be Russell Crowe in Gladiator. Funny how things work out.
Is this the first time you’ve ever done a show where there is absolutely nothing there, it’s all green screen?
Funnily enough, no. The very first film I ever did, which was called Ektopos, was all green screen, even the walls were green screen and they would [add everything in post]. So unexpectedly I actually had some experience with it.
How difficult is that?
Ultimately, because it’s a show about the characters, about the ensemble, it’s about connecting with your fellow actor and every actor has an imagination. So if they say that the wilds of Italy are out there, you visualize the wilds of Italy and then you see post come in and do it, and you go, ‘Wow, they’ve got a much better imagination than I do.’ (he laughs)
Did you look at Stanley Kubrick’s film as inspiration?
Yeah, it’s a different time in the world that we live in. That film is almost slow, but it’s so grand. You watch that film and the scope is so broad. There’s a scene where there are probably 50,000 extras and it boggles the mind. We’ve got ways to achieve that in a different way now, but ours is very visceral and in-your-face in a way that is very exciting, but I like to think that it carries the same heavy story with it.
Are you worried that you’ll be type-cast into this kind of role?
To be type-cast as a leading man is not the worst job in the world, is it? Honestly, no. Every day is a blessing. There’s no day where I haven’t smiled and said, ‘You know what? I’ve got the best job in the world.’