From the time Spartacus: Blood and Sand debuted on Starz in January, 2010, it established itself as an epic production with visuals unlike anything previously seen on TV. When the series was pick up for Season Two, its stars Andy Whitfield was unable to reprise his role as Spartacus, as he had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which ultimately took his life on September 11, 2011.
After a long and extensive search, Australian actor Liam McIntyre was chosen to replace Whitfield. With Spartacus: Vengeance premiering this month, the actor spoke with the TV Critics about the upcoming season and the trauma of replacing Andy Whitfield.
I read that you auditioned for the role and then had to go through a regime of beefing up before they would give you the job. How long did that take?
It was a very exciting time. I’d lost 45 pound for this thing called Frozen Moments, and then they brought me into this audition room, and I thought, ‘Why am I here?’ Then they kept bringing me back and training me.
I got a military trainer and they just kept upping the stakes and seeing what they could do to me. It was everything from just lifting really heavy weight to running and lifting heavy weights! That went on for about three to four months, and then they finally put me out of my misery, and said, ‘Keep training.’ (he laughs) No.
It was fair enough, every moment through that process was really exciting because it was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. And I had this huge company, just going, ‘Keep trying.’
When you were actually doing the role, was it any different from what you expected it to be?
I can safely say, for at least the first four months, I don’t think there was a day that went by that I didn’t smile to myself, just incredulous at the opportunity I had. It was so much more fun.
What opportunity do most people get to be a 15-year-old with a big stick and then fighting a battle for the good and a just cause in the world? It was and still is one of the most exciting things I can even imagine, let alone have the privilege of doing it.
But was it what you thought it was going to be when you got the job?
I guess what I’m saying is it was, plus a million. Absolutely.
How comfortable is Spartacus this season being the revolutionary leader that the people have made him become?
It’s exciting to play, because he gets to start a new chapter in his life, which is trying to learn that sometimes putting aside your own personal pain is better for the greater good, because he’s a natural leader.
That’s the body he inhabits. So he gets a season of having to embark on that journey, that is the story of Spartacus, who is the leader of this slave rebellion. That’s really starting now.
You’ve got to have a story that’s going to pull people along, but how important are the stunts on this show?
As an outsider coming in, to me, it’s wonderful to have Starz really allow creativity into the whole mix.
It doesn’t appear to be an environment that’s really restrained. I know, obviously, they’ve got what they wanted out of the show.
They’ve got a goal, but from what I see from the writing to the directing to the performance and stunt team, everyone gets their chance to add some value to that.
I’ll read a script and go, ‘Wow. They are going to do that?’ And then I’ll go to the director, and he explains what his vision of that scene will be. And then they will leave it with the stunt people, who will also get a chance to add even more value to that.
Then they give it to the actor, and they let the actor actually add something as well. So it’s a great creative show in that way. It’s really nice.
Were you working when Andy passed away? Did you actually have scene you had to do that day? How did you get through that time?
It’s probably the saddest thing I’ve ever had to be a part of. From the start, I think I was able to tackle the role because I knew he’d get better. I made that decision for myself. I was just sure. He had made this choice to get better, and that was fantastic.
I’ve never seen a sadder person than the producer that had to come down and actually pass that news on to what is really a family.
When Andy sent an email to me in correspondence early on, he said, ‘It’s like a family there.’ And you can’t imagine how sad that day was. But part of the triumph of the team, and it was coming together after a little bit of downtime, was to say, ‘We owe Andy the respect to do this job as best we can.
Let’s come together, and let’s do the best damn show we can.’
We pulled ourselves together, and we did excellent work until the end of the season.