Warrior of Te Aute

By MARK STORY

Actor and former Te Aute College student Manu Bennett has hit newfound fame as Gaulish slave Crixus in the sandal and sword TV series Spartacus - Blood and Sand.
He tells reporter Mark Story his gladiatorial instinct was forged in the harsh environs of the iconic college, where he clashed with another gladiator, and All Black in waiting, Norm Hewitt.
Is Crixus your biggest role yet?
I've been pursuing an acting career for almost two decades now and often it's seemed like carving granite with a spoon.
I was hauling stones on a building site just prior to landing the role of Crixus, so we do share a few things in common.
But aside from acting, now that I have two daughters, a mortgage and career, I see myself as my biggest role. Crixus is just the cape I don at work, then I go home to reality.
Some would argue your character Crixus - a Gaul conquered by the Romans - has parallels to your own Maori ancestral past.
My passion for this role definitely has to do with my perspective on colonisation, but not in a myopic way. I have empathy for any culture whose history and heritage has vanished beneath the weight of the modern world but in the balance of life and reality this occurs frequently. Adversity is a test ever present for mankind and to evolve is key. Here I am, a Maori typing on an ipad.
The series is both raw and raunchy - is the mythological pairing of sex and death the secret to its favourable ratings?
The main force behind the show's success is our producer Rob Tapart. He is responsible for this genre's evolution in New Zealand TV having created Xena, Hercules and now this new take on history.
The next to be acknowledged is Steven DeKnight who has created incredible and compelling storyline and characters.

When you combine great production quality with strong characters & storyline you have the formula to capture your audience.
Rumour has it you and fellow gladiator Norm Hewitt crossed swords at Te Aute College.
The truth is he kicked my ass. At Te Aute Norm was like an Ork amongst Hobbits but in the end he did lead by example and fought hard for glory.
We both played for the 1st XV. He and I definitely had a different sense of values and how to treat people, especially the young impressionable minds of our junior students, but he was a tough guy and had his own tactics. At the end of the day Norm Hewitt is the one person I remember most from Te Aute and I feel privileged to have crossed paths with him and did learn from the experience.
The college was itself a colosseum of sorts. There must have been some serious culture shock arriving at Te Aute from Australia?
They did call me Skippy but as a good Nga Puhi friend said to me about my doubts of feeling truly Maori, ``Lift up your tongue''.
Did you know any haka before arriving in New Zealand?
At the time I didn't even know what haka meant but subsequently I have led a haka group at the opening of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games and also performed Kamate upon the Spartacus training arena just before the first ever scene of our show was shot.
You have a feature film coming up - are we privy to what this is about?
Between shooting Spartacus Blood & Sand and the prequel Gods Of The Arena, I did a film called Sinbad & The Minotaur. I got paid well but the film was very low budget and is pretty much a piece of crap.
You and Victoria Cross hero Corporal Willy Apiata are perhaps the two best known contemporary Maori warriors. If you two squared off in the colosseum, who would win?
Hopefully in that scenario I will be acting as Willy Apiata.
* Spartacus Blood and Sand prequel will screen midway through this year.
 

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