When the Starz Network announced Aussie actor Liam McIntyre would be taking over the role of Spartacus from Andy Whitfield, fans reacted with mixed emotions.
Whitfield, who had left the series after being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, had amassed a legion of admirers in one short season of Spartacus. Some felt that the sword and sandals epic would have a difficult time continuing without the actor who had become synonymous with the show – a feeling that only worsened after Whitfield passed away.
However, McIntyre overcame tremendous odds to win the hearts of the show’s fans, not by attempting to duplicate Whitfield’s interpretation of the character, but by respecting the actor enough to take Spartacus in a new direction and help the popular show soldier on.
Now a seasoned veteran, McIntyre took a break from filming the epic final season of this fan-favorite series to speak with Gay.net about the intense physical training the cast endures each season (which culminates in a month-long “boot camp”), how playing Spartacus has changed his life, and why the series finale will be a “heartbreaker.”
Gay.net: How has playing Spartacus impacted your life as an actor?
Liam McIntyre: This whole experience has been utterly life-shaping for so many reasons. First, coming into it the way that I did was heartbreaking – what happened to Andy (Whitfield) was heartbreaking. It’s awful to step into a role at the expense of another actor, but at the same time you can’t change that. You’ve got a job to do and you’ve got to try and make the most of it. I’ve improved so much as an actor from working on Spartacus. I’ve learned how large-scale sets work; how the American system of filmmaking works; how to interact with people at crazy, big press events, and the art of keeping spoilers quiet.
Did you ever get to meet Andy Whitfield?
I was never lucky enough to actually meet Andy, but we did get to talk over email. He gave me a lot of friendly advice and told me that although it was a tough show, the cast was like a big family and I should get ready to have one of the best experiences ever.
What’s it like for you this season?
Last season I was untested, I was new to anything even close to the scale of this show. But this season I feel like I’m a little bit more settled and it’s a different feeling now. It’s a cool feeling. It’s such a big series and a crazy big story this year. They’ve skipped ahead to the meat of it and chopped out all of the fat. I don’t know how they’re going to film it all. They’ve even built a whole city on set, which is insane. It’s funny because one day in boot camp we were told we were going to be running up and down on one of the new sets they built, and it was a whole city! It boggles the mind what they can do.
How has boot camp been going this year?
They just make it harder. You’d think because it’s the last season they’d let us take it easy, but no. Al Poppleton and his stunt department have gotten on this trip about Marine-style military training, so they’ve got us doing things like running with bags that were meant to be ammunition cases while shouting, “Drop and give me 20!” It’s been a nightmare, but at the same time it’s great because you feel good about yourself when you do all that work. The more I do it, the more I enjoy it – which makes me think maybe I’m a bit damaged now. (Laughs)
And of course they’ve got you on a strict diet?
Oh yeah! But I’m on holiday right now, so I had some chocolate today – which was amazing. I don’t know if I want to see too many chickens straight after filming this last season though. I’m beginning to feel like I’ve been a part of some sort of chicken genocide. (Laughs)
Is there any friendly competition between you and the other actors in the training room?
Oh yeah, heaps! I remember last season being a skinny dude and training my butt off just hoping to get the role – and I haven’t stopped training since. I was worried if I stopped training for a second all that progress would disappear. So I’ve been training really hard and when I came into boot camp this year I said, “Dammit, I’m going to be good at this!” and I’ve tried to win at everything since. I haven’t done too badly. I’d say I’ve been competitive this year.
How does boot camp impact the cohesiveness of the cast?
I think training like this is one of the best ways to bring a cast together. We’re placed in an environment where failure isn’t an option, but that’s all they’re trying to get you to do, so you learn to work together, to fight together. It feels like the war we’re about to go through in the story. It’s very cool.
Will we see changes in your character this season?
Absolutely. He’s all business now. Spartacus has closed the chapter a bit on the story of his personal pain and now he’s tried to fully embrace his role as leader and the cause of freedom for the masses. I think that weighs heavier on him in some ways. He’s got to balance these lives he’s responsible for with being a General who inspires people to believe they can win a war that is, for all intents and purposes, impossible.
Are you comfortable being on a television series where the men are objectified more than the women?
(Laughs) Actually, it’s nice for a change.
A lot of gay fans will admit they started watching Spartacus for the eye-candy and became hooked by the rich characters and epic story. Can we expect more of the same in the final season?
You’re still going to get everything you’ve come to expect – violence, blood, sex, stylization, great storylines, and things like that – but they’ve really upped the stakes. It’s only going to be more interesting this time around because there’s a big war going on and that changes the criteria for everything about the show. They’ve taken a series that started as an upstairs, downstairs story, and evolved it into a Lord of the Ringssort of Battle Royale. It’s going to be very fresh and exciting, but it’s still Spartacus.
Can you give us any hints about how Spartacus will end?
I think by definition it’s going to be pretty heavy because all of these amazing stories you’ve followed for so long are going to come to a close. I don’t think it will end the typical way a TV series ends. Of course, you can Wikipedia Spartacus and find out what happened in history, but it’s one of those lucky histories where the details are vague so you can fill it with all the interesting plot-points you want. Every script that I’ve read has had something that surprised me. I think it’s going to wrap up in an exciting and unexpected way.
Catch the premiere of Spartacus: War of the Damned Friday, January 25 at 9PM on the STARZ network.
For more sword-swinging hotness, check out our photo gallery, Spartacus: Photos of the Damned.