Starz hasn’t had the same kind of success with their original series as say, HBO or Showtime. Camelot was canceled before its first season ended and even popular properties like Torchwood haven’t fared too well on the premium channel. But don’t count them out of the original programming market yet, their biggest hit is one hell of a contender. Returning for its third season, a first for a Starz show, is Spartacus: Vengeance. Vengeance is the sequel to Spartacus‘ first season, Blood and Sand, which aired in 2010. Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, which aired in between Blood and Sand and Vengeance, was a prequel season.
If you’re unfamiliar with the extremely graphic, sword-and-sandal drama I’ll summarize: Spartacus follows an enslaved Thracian turned gladiator who leads an uprising against the Roman ruling class. The first season dealt primarily with Spartacus’ rise as a gladiator and his revolt against his master. Vengeance will see us following the escaped gladiators and slaves as they begin their rebellion.
Did I mention this show is graphic? Good, because it is excessively so, but that’s part of the fun. The show’s creators wanted a truthful interpretation of Ancient Roman society, and they nailed it. Spartacus is gory, like, really gory. But it’s also gory in a fun, comic book way with blood spraying across the screen. It’s also very graphic in its sexual content, another accuracy from Roman culture. For realz, sometimes this show could be considered soft-core porn. It’s dirty, it’s gritty, and it’s an all around fantastic show because for all its sex and violence, they’re telling a great story, too.
The first episode of Vengeance airs this Friday at 10pm on Starz (the first season is available on Netflix Instant) and in a promotional build up Nerd Bastards was invited to sit in on a press conference call with some of the show’s stars. On the call were Manu Bennett (Crixus), Craig Parker (Gaius Claudius Glaber), Nick Tarabay (Ashur) and Dan Feuerriegel (Agron). They answered a multitude of questions about filming, what we can expect from their characters this season, as well what the transition has been like with Liam McIntyre taking over the role of Spartacus. (Andy Whitfield who played the role in Blood and Sand sadly passed away from non-Hodgkin lymphoma in September of last year.)
The guys gave some really thoughtful and thorough responses. Check ‘em out below the cut.
Nick Tarabay on his character, Ashur’s role in Vengeance, crossing paths with both Crixus (Bennet) and Lucretia (Lucy Lawless):
And it’s going to be very, very intense actually, the way you see it. I mean everything I think in Vengeance, this season is going to be pretty intense and very heightened. So any time any actors or any – I mean any characters interact with one another it’s going to be pretty big. And add to it the history that I have with Crixus, I think is going to make it even more interesting.
And as far as Lucy, yes there’s a lot of story, a lot of scenes, a lot of work with me and Lucy, that I was very, very happy to have because I didn’t get a chance really to work with her in Season 1 and the prequel. But in this season we have a lot of work — maybe a little too much; just kidding.
And you know, Ashur this season is, you know, unlike every other season he’s very – he’s his own man in a way and he’s under really severe circumstances that he’s going all out. He goes all – I mean seriously, he has no boundaries, he fights really for what he thinks is right, and his goals get bigger and bigger.
And the twists and the turns that he comes up with is something that surprised me as the actor every episode. I give a lot of credit for the writers. And obviously I give a lot of credit to the actors; made it a lot easier for me to, you know, to work harder and make it better.
Not only does Ashur have to worry about Crixus, but he pissed Spartacus off pretty royally as well,
He became Batiatus’ right-hand man and became part of the villa, that world, and that fulfilled that hole that he had, because he ultimately wanted to be a gladiator so much. And when that wasn’t fulfilled, he found joy and he found peace in that power of becoming Batiatus’ right-hand man, and eventually excelling. So yes when Spartacus did this, obviously that ruined his plans.
But I think Ashur, and the way I, I guess approach the character, ultimately my all-time nemesis is Crixus in a way because not only that he – that I – in my mind, in Ashur’s mind in the Gods of the Arena, the prequel, he helped Crixus in the beginning and he was kind of by his side. And then Crixus turned sides and then crippled him in the end so – and took away what he really wanted so bad, which is to be accepted and to be part of the brotherhood.
And so for that – and then on top of that in Season 1, he kept on pushing him down; suppressing him and really pushing him down throughout, which that added more to that fire that made Ashur the person that we got to know now. I mean obviously there’s other elements as well because it started with Crixus and then it ended up with everybody else around him.
You know, and we also believe Ashur didn’t start out that way, he didn’t start out to be the person that everybody kind of calls the villain or the bad guy, whatever you want to call it. He actually came to the ludus wanting to be part of something big, and he wanted to be part of the brotherhood. But he kept on being pushed down, pushed down, pushed down, and not accepted, for reasons not his fault.
So he, Ashur, the one that we know now, became that way from the ludus, a place that supposed of he – supposedly a place of honor and brotherhood. So he actually has vengeance against them all now. He sees them, and they all contribute to his fall.
So he is going to definitely go after Crixus as you saw in Season 1, he does in a way through Naevia. And that actually, that continues obviously. And especially Spartacus too, because he’s leading those people into this rebellion, took away all what he was going to be.
And then you’ll see him actually plotting a lot of stuff. I think Ashur’s going to cause a lot of problem this season, even more problems than I thought he would actually end up doing — physically and mentally. And he really stares the part this season.
And it’s going to be – and it’s a different level of interaction; whether it’s with Crixus, whether it’s with Spartacus, even his relationship with Glaber and his relationship with Lucretia — all of these relationships, it’s in a different level this season. You know, you keep hearing over and over, “Vengeance is bigger,” and it really is, it’s pretty grand. And so everything is heightened. It’s really tough times, especially for Ashur.
On how we’ll see Ashur evolving from season one and the prequel,
Well I think Ashur, which I really love about this character; he’s very, very smart and he’s always thinking ten steps ahead. And maybe in the beginning, again in the prequel or a little bit in Season 1, he was a bit reacting, which in my mind he was more assessing.
Especially in Season 1 he was – after he found out that he couldn’t fight any more and he was a cripple, he was just watching everybody and kind of analyzing each character and then founding out his ultimate weapon, which is his brain and his wits and his talent for survival.
In this season he is definitely plotting. He is really, you know, is also – put it as he’s investing in certain people. So and especially there you saw the first four episodes, I’m not going to give it away, you know why I’m using the word investing, especially with certain character, because he feels that it might payoff somehow or it might be his backup plan, which end up being the case in a lot of ways.
He’s – he has a really, really big journey. And episode 4, I mean it gets even bigger and bigger towards the end, and his dreams and what he wants achieved is beyond what he though is possible. And that all comes true in a way with him aligning with Glaber and the roman – the bigger boys.
Yes, with – especially with Oenomaus, again what I said before you know, “Ashur’s got a bone to pick with a lot of people.” And we all saw what happened in the end of Season 1. So definitely he has something to pick with Oenomaus, Crixus and Spartacus and even he’s going to have some sort of – maybe I shouldn’t say that, never mind.
But never mind what I was going to say. But yes, he’s definitely planning. His plan keeps getting bigger and bigger. And what’s great is because he’s a bit closer to the Romans, but not necessarily on their good side yet, the possibilities as I said, “Are limitless,” or maybe way bigger than he was next to Batiatus. He’s playing with a way bigger boy; he’s playing with Glaber now, a big roman so it’s.
But also that comes with dues as well, you know, he has to in a way prove himself and – which is you know, a different ball game with the Romans, as you probably already saw in the first couple of four episodes.
It doesn’t come easy and Glaber doesn’t make it easier for him. And Lucretia doesn’t make it easier. But in general, in general it’s hard all the way around. You know what I’m saying? It’s really tough circumstances.
But you’ll see Ashur planning stuff like that you won’t know what he was planning up until episode 10, which is the last episode and you’re like, “Oh, this is where he was going for,” which is a big surprise going to be for the audience because it was a big surprise for me. So I’m sure they’re going to be shocked, yes.
Craig Parker, Glaber, on how his character can possibly stay married to Ilithyia,
I think they – when we first meet them they’ve been through some heavy guidance counseling and marriage counseling.
It’s – yes, you know with her that it’s not going to be an easy marriage. And the fun thing this year is when we first meet them it’s quite a different circumstance then when we left them so. I don’t think that gives anything away, where Ilithyia has been told to behave and be a good wife. And you know Ilithyia; it’s not going to last.
So there’s some fantastic relationship stuff there. And you know, to work with someone like Viva is so much fun because she is – she’s created this absolute monster of a character. And always a joy to see how Ilithyia responds to the situation.
Is Illithyia worse for Glaber than Spartacus?
You know, absolutely. I think she is the one that destroys him the most, that hurts him the most. And this series though, I think you’ll see him start to stand up for himself, become a bit of the man that he wants to be. And part of that is freeing himself from her control.
It’s quite good; truly she’s not going to have an easy ride, I promise you.
On whether or not Glaber considers himself a villain,
I don’t think they believe they’re being villains. In their world, you know, Spartacus, Crixus, those guys are the ones doing the terrible things; they’re killing good Romans.
And the wonderful thing for me this series is working so closely with Nick, where their goals are entwined. And you know, I think Ashur is such a fantastic kind of cockroach of a survivor that he will fit in with any – with whatever the main chance is.
And they do end up working very closely together because their goals align, that you know, they want to get rid of Spartacus, they want to achieve closure with this whole process. So throughout it, I don’t know for Nick, but I never felt that Glaber was the villain, he was just trying to do the right thing in the right way.
But these are two characters who, as we go through the series, suddenly realize they don’t have to behave as correctly as they have been. They don’t have to follow the rules so much, they can start breaking them. So while they believe they’re trying to do the right thing, they no longer feel they have to do it in exactly the right way. It makes it wonderful and interesting.
Manu Bennett, on what the power struggle will be like between Crixus and Spartacus,
Spartacus, I believe in this season, has maybe more transitional – you know, has more of a transitional story than even Crixus. I mean Crixus is – it’s like you enter the season with Crixus with a very definite goal, and that is to find Naevia.
And Spartacus with an evolution, you know, he’s said he wants to do something and all of a sudden everybody’s looking at him going like, “Okay, you’ve made this big speech, you’ve forced us all to become fugitivus, and now what’s the plan?”
You know, and you know, as I think as far as Crixus is concerned, he just goes for all the – you know, the – goes through all the necessary actions of finding supplies and food and whatnot, but you know, Spartacus has this leadership role that he’s taken on.
And of course you know, Crixus is going to be the first one to call him on that and question him on that and remind him of the – you know, the agreement that he made with everybody as we left the ludus.
I think the two of them are very honest men, speaking from the heart. And they just basically have a bit of a tug-of-war constantly because the two of them are both leaders and they don’t necessarily sit comfortably in being the follower or the person who, you know, has to follow the other’s objective.
But you know, as in Season 1, I think it – that’s what creates a lovely sort of brotherhood story. You know, the push and pull of a kind of a deep respect that’s never sort of allowed to show itself on the surface.
On Crixus’ role this season, possibly becoming more of a leader,
You know, I think every character on our show is pretty much carved out of granite, you know? You know, there’s change in the way they’ll feel with their hearts, but you know, it’s really just – its’ a very iconic series, you know, we’ve got very mainstay characters that continue to sort of like you know, revel in their individual characters, you know?
You know, if you took away Crixus’ desire to be a leader, you know, I don’t know what you’d be left with. You know, I think he – he’s trying to find example and to live his life in a way where he thinks he’s doing the best thing to move forward.
You know and if somebody else’s idealism is going to come in to question his direction, then he’s either going to battle with it or adopt it, that perspective you know, which is the situation with Spartacus.
You know, the leadership thing is what really, I think drives our great drama that’s between Spartacus and Crixus on many things, but between anybody in the show, I mean Craig Parker, you know, has a just wonderful storyline to do with – you know, trying to find (unintelligible) Ashur wants to lead, you know, he wants to be listened to, you know?
And you know I mean, it’s sort of the bottom line of Spartacus is the individual — the voice of the individual, you know? And it’s just wonderful that the world’s really such a screwed up place and we have to keep on making a drama of it.
Dan Feuerriegel on what we’ll learn about Agron this season,
A little bit here and there, not too much about back story. But you’ll definitely get a lot more of his, like his desires and his personality. And also just like what the guys were talking about is just his desire to be heard, not so much lead.
But he definitely has a lot of opinions and he kind of develops into Spartie’s right hand man. And he’s definitely got Spartie’s ear. But just whether or not he gets heard or not is the big thing. But you definitely do learn a lot more about Agron in this upcoming season.
Yes, oh yes you do get a bit of German in there towards the back end. But I won’t say too much. But you do, you start to get an idea of who he is, a lot more.
On the dynamic between the now freed gladiators,
Well, as you saw in the first couple of episodes, you know, I think from the first season as well, the Germans and the Gauls do not like each other for some reason. And so of course that’s the initial kind of conflict, especially between myself and Crixus.
And of course everybody has their own desires, everybody has their own agenda, but – and it seems like Spartacus is there to kind of keep everyone together, whereas and like you know, of course Crixus, his sole purpose is to get back to his love.
Agron is just – he’s still hurting form the loss of his brother and he’s just kind of going on a blitzkrieg, and just wants to kill Romans pretty much. He doesn’t really have one source of who he wants to avenge.
And even in the first episode his one chance of actually taking one back gets taken away from him because Crixus had to get some information. And so that also just adds to the conflict, adds to the conflict.
But that’s you know, why Spartacus eventually I guess ends up as the leader so to speak, because he is open to everyone and will take a back seat when is required, and will lead when is required, and keeps everyone together. So that’s kind of my take on the whole I guess, agenda.
As a group the four discussed their training and what it’s like filming those incredibly fight scenes,
Manu Bennett: Al Poppleton was nominated for an Emmy; he’s our stunt coordinator. You know, so we’ve got the best in the business. You know, these guys are meticulous in making us train for what we need to build ourselves up for.
You know, we do a gladiator boot camp at the beginning of each year which is really a very rigorous four-week process, which not only teaches us all of the weaponry and, sort of you know, beats from one to six or whatever, you know, we learn things in numbers so that when we go into the season we basically speak in terms of a system that we learned at the beginning.
So you know, it’s a language; it’s just like learning dance. It’s like you know, learning anything where there’s choreography involved. And Al Poppleton does a very, very good job at it. And we have just a wonderful stunt team that we work very closely with.
And I think over the three seasons that we’ve shot so far, we just keep on getting actually, you know, more experienced and more experienced. So you know, I think the fans this season are going to get like another level again of, you know, the quality of the fights because we’re actually keep on improving because of our training, you know?
Craig Parker: And I think – this is Craig speaking now, that as the training improves and everyone gets better and better in seeking new and more interesting ways to do a fight, also the technology is increasing. So the way we shoot things, the way you know, we know how to work with CGI or layering shot.
So even you know, in the very first episode, that opening sequence with the horses and Spartacus, it’s incredible. It’s so – it is, it’s ballet, it’s full theater and opera. So you end up with these amazing, beautiful, bloody, horrible, terrible moments, but they’re wonderful to watch.
Nick Tarabay: You know, also if I may add, even though I wasn’t in the first episode, but I can speak for the rest of the season. What I also like about some of the fights for this season, which is you know, we are away from…the ludus so it’s not all organized and it’s not all like, you know, a Doctore would teach everybody to do it like very honorably. You’ll see a lot of street fights and you’ll see a lot of like kind of dirty fights. And the…
Dan Feuerriegel: Yes, the weapons have changed.
Nick Tarabay: Yes, the weapons have changed. Even some of the stuff, like it’s really cutty and it’s scary and bloody. And in a new way and it’s not in – I mean it’s really going to be really interesting to see that which gives more of the story of what the new world is now. So that I think the fans are really going to like, you know, a different kind of fighting as well. So I’m looking forward to see it.
Dan Feuerriegel: And Dan here, they also try and get really specific with each character to have a particular fighting style so we’re all different. Like for example Gannicus and Spartacus are very beautiful with how they fight. And I’m a bit – Agron is a bit more aggressive, and Crixus is very, you know, intense and you know, just…
Craig Parker: …Glaber, Dan? How’s Glaber? How does Glaber fight?
Dan Feuerriegel: No, Glaber just gets everybody else to do it.
But with the training as well, four hours a day for – every day for four weeks, it not only builds up your – they train specifically for set I’ve noticed. So when you do do fight sequences, which you can be filming for an entire day, by the end of the day you’re exhausted but you still have the ability to carry on because you’ve trained that way.
By the end of the boot camp you’ve learned to deal with, I guess pain and exhaustion mentally. And because some of those fight sequences, when you shoot it for, you know, a couple of days in a row it’s – you know, there’s aches, there’s pains, there’s injuries.
Manu Bennett: And we shoot inNew Zealand….
Dan Feuerriegel: I know I got myself injured a couple of times and…
Manu Bennett: And we shoot inNew Zealand, which is different than shooting in America.
Dan Feuerriegel: Yes, it’s cold.
Manu Bennett: We probably wouldn’t be allowed to do what we do…
Dan Feuerriegel: Yes.
Manu Bennett: …in America because of, you know…
Dan Feuerriegel: Things.
Manu Bennett: …the safety regulations and what not. We actually push the envelope over there, and people probably don’t get that. Well they do get it, because they love our show and they love the fight sequences, but you know, we’re all regular visitors down at the local (unintelligible).
Dan Feuerriegel: And you also have to take into account that it is a TV show still and it is shot quite quickly. And so there are times where there has just been no time to learn a complex fight scene.
And so that’s when the, you know, the phenomenal talents of the stunt guys come in too because they come in. I do know that I’ve – there’s been a couple of days where I haven’t had anything and we’ve got a huge fight sequence. And they quickly go through something before you start filming and you just do it.
And so I’m sure we’ve all experienced that at one time or another on the set, that you know, you can’t always have the long periods of rehearsal time, and you’ve just got to do it, and so kudos to them as well.
They also all spoke up on what the transition has been like with Liam McIntyre taking over for Andy Whitfield,
Dan Feuerriegel: This is Dan here. Of course it’s going to change chemistry because he’s a completely different person. But you know, as actors you just adapt to Liam’s personality, and you know, therefore then that makes you change certain things here and there, and that – I think that’s just you know, what we do.
It’s – and Liam, you know as you said did amazing the first two episodes and he just keeps getting better and better. And I think he did an absolutely fantastic job. And so of course it was different, but I felt as though, you know, no better/no worse.
He was just Liam, he was just doing what he does and we all did what we did. And as you saw in the first two episodes this is, you know, how it was turning out. And so I guess if you enjoyed it, a lot of other people will enjoy it. And I’m certainly sure that everybody enjoyed working with him. I mean I can’t speak for everyone else, but I’m sure they’ll say the same thing. Guys?
Nick Tarabay: No, no, no, I didn’t like working with Liam, not one bit.
Dan Feuerriegel: Well that’s okay, no one liked working with you at all Nick, I mean come on, now that we’re going to be honest here and start throwing stones.
Manu Bennett: Liam came on to our set with a very open heart. He’s never stopped – he has never stopped discussing with all of us, his journey.
And I think there’s something very Spartacus about that. You know, there’s a very truthful pure quality to the man himself and that’s what they needed to find. Andy gave such an extraordinarily honest performance, the people were just so moved by that that, you know, it was almost an impossibility to find somebody to replace Andy.
What they’ve found in Liam is somebody with an absolute truth. It’s a different truth, but it’s still the truth, as a person. And it’s wonderful to work with him because every day he brings an open book that we all get to participate with.
You know, there were other people that came and read, and you know, the acting world’s an egotistical world and we could have gotten somebody who just got into the chariot and rode it as some kind of, you know, the next big thing. But Liam is a very humble person and has gifted us all with his openness. And that reads itself into the role.
Craig Parker: I think very first episode, which is a strange new episode, you know, there’s a new Spartacus, there’s a new world that we’re in, it’s an odd episode, but by the end of it you fully embrace Liam as a different, but the new Spartacus and you – you’re ready to go on the journey with him, which is quite wonderful.
And as Manu says, he doesn’t in any way try to be Andy or to replicate that performance, he takes it as a whole new sort of slate and paints a very different Spartacus but a equally interesting and sort of diverse, and you know, a wonderful, wonderful job.
Nick Tarabay: I have to actually agree with both – all three of the guys. And one thing I’ve actually really liked about Liam was his heart. I mean he has such a good heart. And like Manu said, “He’s very humble.”
And like when you talk to him outside of acting, when we just sit down and talk between scenes or at lunchtime or whatever, he’s such a good person, and very dedicated to the work, that you see Spartacus in him, which made it very easy for all of us to see him as the new Spartacus.
So – and I think he was – I mean, Liam is surrounded by really, really good actors and really, really good people that I think it made it easier for him too to get more into the character. So he’s doing a great job.
Dan Feuerriegel: Yes, and he also respected where it all came from, and where he came from as well. He you know, knew what he was up against and continually just, as Manu said, “Modest and humble,” in regards to you know, what Andy did in the first season. And that’s another magnificent part of Liam’s personality, which shines through as well.
Hey, I said they were thorough, didn’t I? Thanks again to Manu Bennett, Craig Parker, Nick Tarabay and Dan Feuerriegel for taking the time to answer some questons. And thanks to Starz for arranging the call.
Tune in to the premiere of Spartacus: Vengeance this Friday, 10pm on Starz. Also, look for our review of episode one tomorrow!