Shooting the epically violent show Banshee has left Kiwi actor Antony Starr in desperate need of a break. He tells Chris Schulz why he spends his days being punished

Bruised, battered and bloody, and with a split lip "hanging off my face", Antony Starr desperately needed to go to hospital.

But he couldn't. It was day one on the shoot for the first episode of Banshee, a bold but risky new TV show for HBO's sister cable network Cinemax that had plenty riding on the shoulders of the former Outrageous Fortune star.

Cameras were rolling, they were filming on location "in the middle of nowhere", and there wasn't time to fix Starr's injured lip. There was too much at stake.

"I was doing a fight scene with another actor. We mis-timed it and he threw his head up and split my lip," Starr explains.

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"It was just hanging off my face. We were in a river and the director came up and said, 'Do you think you can keep shooting?' I went, 'Uh, yeah, sure.' We kept shooting for six hours, I went to hospital and they stitched me up."

Moments like that have become reasonably common for Starr, thanks to the punishing demands of his lead role in Banshee, with the show's third season starting on SoHo on Monday night.

The pulpy crime drama, which features Starr as criminal Lucas Hood masquerading as a sheriff in the small American town of Banshee, has become known for its vivid violence, lengthy fight sequences and frequent nudity.

With an every-expanding line-up of thugs, rednecks and muscle-headed criminals lining up to take Hood down, many of Banshee's brutal battles involve Starr, and some of his exploits have become internet fan fodder. Like season one's brutal cage match in which Hood rips a man's hand in two, then breaks his arm. Or the time he dispatched a hit man using a jack-knifing truck to decapitate him.

But one scene in particular, involving the death of a prison gang boss, has become particularly memorable. Surely one of TV's most grotesque deaths, it involves Starr killing a giant albino, gouging out his eyes with his thumbs , then breaking his neck with a weights bench.

"It was odd," Starr says, grimacing at the memory. "There was a giant white spray painted man in front of me with his tackle out saying, 'Ask for it.' And me whispering, 'Give it to me.'

"The strangest thing about it was, those lines were my idea. I told producers, 'The most humiliating thing you can do to me is make me beg for it.' And they went with it."

Starr admits his girlfriend can't watch his fight scenes and his mum listens "through a pillow". But he defends the violence as "heightened reality", saying Banshee's roots lie in pulp fiction and graphic novels. "It's very clearly not real," he says. "There's a sense of humour going through the show. The fight scenes are heightened. There are some gruesome things that happen, but I feel the tone is quite light.

"It is what it is. If you don't want to watch it, don't watch it."

Though nowhere near the same scale as shows like Game of Thrones, Banshee has built up a serious cult following.

Ratings have improved as more people discover the show; Starr regularly meets hardcore fans at events like Comic-Con, and YouTube videos are full of viewers saying things like, "Stumbled across this scene randomly. Two days later ... Banshee fanatic!" But all that action comes at a cost. Starr, no stranger to hard work after his dual roles as Outrageous Fortune's twins Van and Jethro West, faces a punishing regime that sees him spending six months a year on location around Charlotte, in North Carolina.

"It's an amazing schedule," he says. "We start at 6am on a Monday with a minimum 12-hour day, plus 45 minutes either side for travel and makeup. Gradually the days get later and later. By Friday we'll start at 5 or 6pm and go all through the night till 6 or 7am. I'll sleep all day Saturday, Saturday night's usually a write-off, Sunday's a bit like, 'Who am I?', then back at it at 6am on Monday." Alongside workouts, fight training and script rehearsals, that's left Starr in desperate need of a break.

Sitting in Sky TV's Auckland offices sipping on coffee, Starr sighs and says he's home for a nine-week break in which he hopes to do nothing at all.

"There were a couple of jobs that came up, but I just cleared the decks and said, 'I'm coming home'.

"I've come out the end of season three pretty wrung out, pretty fatigued. I felt it was more important to take some downtime and collect myself."

Despite the workload, Starr says he's loving every second of Banshee and hopes it can last a proposed five seasons.

"I'm a masochist because I still get up and think, 'Aren't I lucky to have a job that's not really a job?' It's nice to come home and have something under your belt that you feel good about, rather than slinking home embarrassed."

What to expect in season three

"We are here to fight in a war," says the voiceover in the trailer for

Banshee's

third season, and Antony Starr says there's going to be no rest for criminal cop Lucas Hood.

Despite dispatching crime boss Rabbit at the end of season two, Starr says new threats will take his place, including man mountain Chayton Littlestone, and returning nemesis Kai Proctor.

He's also in a feisty relationship with fellow cop Siobhan Kelly, who's helping Hood curb his womanising ways. Or perhaps not: at one point in the trailer she's seen pointing a gun at Hood and asking, "Who the hell are you?" "Hood's got a girlfriend, a nine-to-five job, and things are looking up," Starr says.

"[With Rabbit gone] it's his chance for a relatively normal life - with the complication that the entire thing is based on a lie.

"He's built a house of cards for himself and things are not going to work out how Lucas wants it to work out." The trailer also shows plenty of the show's trademarked violence, including a bruising barn fight and a blood-stained Hood being dangled out of a moving truck.

At one point, Proctor tells Hood: "Everything you touch turns to blood."

Hood's response? "I can live with that."

Lowdown

What:

Antony Starr in Banshee's third season

Where and when:

Monday, 8.30pm, SoHo

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