Spartacus star Liam McIntyre talks about following in Kirk Douglas and Andy Whitfeld's sandals and the Auckland-made show's new season to Lydia Jenkin
Australian actor Liam McIntyre took on the eponymous role in Kiwi-made sword, sex and sandals series Spartacus after the cancer-related death of previous star Andy Whitfeld. Having killed off Gaius Claudius Glaber (Craig Parker) last year in his first season, McIntyre's Spartacus returns in War of the Damned leading a rebel army of freed slaves against Rome.
Were you interested in Greek and Roman history, or swords and sandals type shows before Spartacus?
Yeah, massively. This might ruin my reputation a bit, but I am a pretty big nerd at heart. I used to love reading about Roman history, I used to play computer games about Roman history, and the honest truth is that when I first became an actor, it was round about the time that Gladiator was released, and I remember going, "Oh man, why have I only worked out that I want to do this now? That's the best job ever." I would've done anything to play the role Russell Crowe had in Gladiator. And then, oddly enough, my first major role was Spartacus, so it's funny how the world works.
I couldn't have picked a better, more appropriate dream job at this point.
Did you know how to ride a horse and wield a sword before the show started?
Not even a little bit. In fact, I had an allergy test when I was 5 that said, "Stay away from horses or you'll end up in hospital". So when they told me I had to ride a horse for this, I sort of thought, "Oh no, that could end badly," but it turns out I've grown out of the horse allergy in the past 25 years and it was actually one of those great experiences where not only did I learn to ride, but realised I really enjoy it.
And learning how to swordfight I guess is the secret dream of many men, so that was great, too.
When I auditioned they were mostly like, if you can act it, we can teach you the rest of it. It was a strange situation for me, because I'd just finished a role where I'd lost 25kg, so I was in the wrong physical shape. But they started training me up, seeing how I responded, and whether I could look like a gladiator by the time we started shooting.
That kind of physical training, along with the costumes and sets, must all help you get into the mindset of a gladiator. How many litres of fake blood do you think they use in each episode?
Ha ha, I'm only an actor, I can't count that high. No, I'm not actually sure, but I would say 100 buckets each episode would be a conservative amount. By the end of the show, my makeup artist was always a bit sceptical about how much blood I was demanding. I'd be all, "It looks better with more blood, use more blood!" But the director would be like "Oh yes, more blood," so inevitably, "more blood" was always the right answer.
What kind of other preparation did you do for the role? Spartacus has to flip between being a gentle man, a hero, a politician, an angry widower and a roaring violent warrior.
I don't have any specific life experience that I can draw on in terms of leading 30,000 people into battle, so it became an interesting experiment to sort of go through my memories, and find things that I could extrapolate.
I used to run an events team and sometimes it was as simple as being able to draw on times when members of my team had done some dodgy stuff and I had to pull them up on it, and then other emotional beats might come from experiences in sports teams, or debating, or things like that. Of course, when you put them against the magnitude of Spartacus, they sound silly - but it can be really interesting experimenting with it. You end up going, "Wow, okay, that time I missed the bus [or] that really worked".
Had you seen the 1960 film?
Absolutely. I actually got to meet Kirk Douglas, which was one of the greatest experiences of my life. It was very surreal. But yes, the thing people don't realise is that Spartacus is pretty much defined by [Howard] Fast, [Dalton] Trumbo and Douglas, the people who wrote the book, the screenplay, and played the character. Because up until then, he was pretty much a lot of scribblings in old texts and there wasn't that much information. It was sort of like, "There's a guy called Spartacus and maybe he did these things, or maybe he did these things," and that was all the history there is, so that film kind of defined who Spartacus was as a character.
Obviously I also had one of the best role models I could've asked for in Andy. I used to watch the show as a fan in season one, and I could've done a lot worse than taking cues from the incredible character he'd created for the character I was going to be.