Sex, violence, and storytelling are why anyone pays for premium television, and since 2010, no network has gone more balls-out to deliver that than Starz, with its spectacular series Spartacus. A highly stylized re-imagining of the Thracian gladiator's famous slave revolt against the Roman Republic in 73-71 B.C., the show has thrown more blood splatter, severed appendages, and naked writhing bodies at viewers than the average male fantasy could contain. (This was not your daddy's Spartacus—the one directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Kirk Douglas.)
This Friday, the Spartacus: War of the Damned finale brings the series to a close. Assuming it stays true to history, the noble freedom fighter (played by Liam McIntyre, who stepped into the role for season two, when non-Hodgkin lymphoma prevented original Spartacus Andy Whitfield from returning) will fall to the army of Marcus Licinius Crassus, and punitive crucifixions will abound. Though the outcome is known, you can be sure it will be the bloodiest, most badass version of the events that you've seen.
To celebrate the show one last time, Complex spoke to McIntyre and Todd Lasance, who plays a younger version of Gaius Julius Caesar, a fierce adversary who may or may not have actually fought under Crassus against Spartacus, about what went into the epic series. Mind your kicks—there will be blood.
Interview by Justin Monroe (@40yardsplash)
Liam, how long did it take to feel like the role of Spartacus was yours?
Liam: It always did and always didn’t, and it’ll probably forever be that way. It’s one of those roles you never truly own anyway. I met Kirk Douglas and I was like, “[Spartacus] is yours.” And it’s always going to be inextricably tied with Andy [Whitfield], as it should be. But from the get-go it had to be my role because otherwise it would have been a terrible performance. It would have been half-hearted and not real. I tried to at least own it as an actor, because I had to, there was no choice. In terms of where it’s at in my heart, this season I’ve certainly felt more like I was the role than last year, but I don’t think I will ever feel like a character as incredible as Spartacus is truly mine. I’m just grateful to be part of that legacy for a little while.
What was the response from Kirk Douglas when you met him?
Liam: Kirk Douglas was amazing. He said something I certainly didn’t deserve, that I am Spartacus, which I thought was a little bit too nice but was certainly kind.
How did fans of the show receive you initially, and how has that changed from your first to second season?
Liam: The fans have been really supportive. I’m a pretty big nerd, so I would have hated me [for replacing Andy Whitfield]. There’s obviously trepidation and a fear and some people like me more than others, which is totally fine. This year it’s been stronger and people have gotten behind the story, I think even more so than last year. It’s been great watching the responses. People are sad and excited and conflicted about how this is all going down, how this is the last season.
Todd, had you auditioned previously for this series before you landed the Caesar role? Were you a fan of the show?
Todd: I was going to audition a couple of years ago, then contractually something came up and I wouldn’t have had time, so we didn’t even test for it in the end. This was my first test and I wasn’t aware of how involved Caesar was going to be. I just knew he was there for the series, so it was kind of a surprise to me to see where they took him. I hadn’t seen a lot of Spartacus before I landed the role, but a few of my mates were die-hard Spartacus fans, so when I told them they lost their minds.
Obviously, as soon as I got the part, I bought all the seasons and started watching them. But then I freaked out because I didn’t want to be influenced by previous performances and other characters. I wanted to have a fresh take with Caesar, so actually most of the viewing came after I finished and I returned to Australia. My girlfriend and I sat down and watched all the episodes back-to-back. Liam and I are legitimately Spartacus fans. We don’t just watch it because we are in the show, we sit down together and crack the popcorn and get in front of the couch and yell at the TV and we are losing it just as much as the rest of the fans.
What did you do, physically and mentally, to prepare for these roles?
Liam: Well, Todd didn’t have to do anything—he was just built that way. [Laughs.]
Todd: I wish.
Liam: It’s not fair. You’re the new kid. How was your Spartacus boot camp experience?
Todd: Spartacus boot camp is ridiculous. It’s exactly what you’d imagine it to be. It’s soul-destroying but also has an incredibly beautiful team-building element to it. It was quite an introduction to the show, to go from hanging out in Australia to four hours of grueling torture a day, but it was also when I met Liam and most of the cast. So as far as preparation, that prepares you physically. Liam and I both play historical figures that exist in the history books, so obviously the research elements were there as well, with reading books and material online and then taking elements of our own and what we wanted to bring to the character. Physically, though, the training and sculpting never ended. We were training five to six days a week, every spare second, and then shoveling ridiculously large amounts of lean chicken. I never want to see a chicken again.
Liam: I don’t think they want to see you again either. It was like genocide.
Todd: It was like a mass killing of chickens while we were filming.
I don’t know if I could stab a sword through someone’s face like I do on the show on such a regular basis. —Liam McIntyre
Did everyone who’s on the show do boot camp?
Liam: Almost. Even the directors and producers and staff were coming down. I don’t know what’s wrong with them to actually want to do that out of their own free will. [Laughs.] That’s what this show is about though: Everybody is in it together from the get-go in every aspect. Everybody from the top to the bottom just pushed themselves hard as a group to make something great.
What was the most difficult part of boot camp for you?
Liam: Dirty 30’s.
Todd: I just vomited a little bit in my mouth hearing the words.
Liam: [Laughs.] It’s 30 minutes, there are three groups of exercises, and you do each for 10 minutes, one minute at a time. Here’s one example: You have a sled with weights attached to it, strapped onto your shoulders and you run to one end of the gym, do five or 10 Burpees [squat thrusts], then run back to the other end of the gym. You have to do that within one minute. If you do that within 50 seconds, you get 10 seconds to rest and then you’re off again. The quicker you do it, the longer you rest, and obviously the more tired you get, the less rest you get, so it just becomes this horrifying 30 minutes of agony. I don’t even want to talk about it. [Laughs.]
Did the vigorous training open a desire in you to keep pushing yourselves further after filming stopped?
Todd: It opened up KFC for me. [Liam laughs.] It’s certainly not as aggressive. The irony is that Liam and I live together in the States now, he’s just across the hall from me, and we are trying to train together.
Liam: Just lie and say we train just as hard.
Todd: I mean, yeah, we definitely get the training in, and we are even bigger now.
Did either of you have combat or weapons training prior to this?
Liam: Nope. You were good with guns, weren’t you, Todd? Not very handy here! [Laughs.]
Todd: Unfortunately when I found out this was set 2,000 years ago my combat training went out the window. [Laughs.] But you’d swear Liam’s used swords before because he dual wields swords like a ninja. It’s so difficult to keep the fluidity and look good, and he nailed it. You hadn’t done any sword stuff either, had you?
Liam: No, but I had a couple of role-playing characters in video games that I had that were really good with two swords, so….
Todd: Actually, I think it that it was Marvel vs. Capcom or Tekken that taught us our fighting skills.
Liam: I’m like Neo from The Matrix: I’m really good at fighting, in my mind.
At this point, how do you think you would fare in gladiator combat?
Liam: Rubbish. I would die in seconds. I don’t know if I could stab a sword through someone’s face like I do on the show on such a regular basis. [Laughs.]
It’s also with great ease that you both bash heads against things and they explode.
Todd: We did a lot of research into how heads explode when you bash them into things and that is 100% accurate. [Laughs.]
A lot of big action heroes have come out of Australia, from Russell Crowe and Eric Bana to Chris and Liam Hemsworth and you guys. Why are Aussies so suited for action heroism?
Liam: There’s a school course: "Action Hero 101." Everyone has to take it.
Todd: It’s such a difficult question to answer while trying to stay modest for our people—even though I’m very pro-Australian and patriotic. There seems to be grounding to Australians. Most of the time we come from humble upbringings. Unless you grow up in the heart of the two big cities, Melbourne or Sydney, you’re basically in the country.
Liam: Australians have an underdog mentality because we started out—at least the white component of modern Australia—as convicts. That’s probably not relevant to most of us now in the same way, but some of the ideas about who we are as a people formed in that time, when we felt it was us against the world. Australia is laid back and no one pushes too hard, there’s that no-worries mentality, which might create a calmness of character. But there are so many amazing American action heroes and amazing Canadian action heroes, it’s not like it’s exclusive to Australia.
Todd: I think you’re right about that disconnection. Because we’re disconnected from the world, we don’t get caught up a lot in the hype.
Everyone was nude and people were banging against the wall, banging on the bar. —Todd Lasance
It seems that would make Australian actors much easier to work with.
Liam: I hope so. That’s sort of hard for an Australian to answer that question. We don’t like to think of ourselves as amazing action heroes. We’re just people trying to get a job. But we are incredible as a country. Australia is amazing, obviously. [Laughs.]
Todd: Trust me, actor egos are also in Australia. But I feel like there’s just less time for it in Australia. If you’re an idiot, people pick up on it.
Liam: We have this thing called Tall Poppy Syndrome, which is the idea that Australians like to cut down the tallest poppy and whenever a guy gets too big for his boots, they’re like, “Who’s this guy? Oh, he used to be cool but now he’s a jerk.” [Laughs.]
When you’re not fighting, it seems like all the characters are engaged in orgies. What is the protocol on set for the show’s many nude scenes?
Todd: There’s always a closed set, so only the bare skeleton crew that’s required to be there to film that scene will be there. You might go from a crew of 60-70 on set down to maybe 15-20. They put up some curtains and things are shut off, and the wardrobe girls are extremely good with bringing in robes and covering you up. But I did have a funny orgy scene. We rehearsed without the extras, and then they placed them. When it was time to shoot, we walked into this room and we lost the take because we had no idea what would be going on. Everyone was nude and people were banging against the wall, banging on the bar. It was insane. It’s a bit weird at times and you can get thrown off.
Liam: That’s the truth. I had a director play Prince once. That was interesting, a little bit disconcerting. [Laughs.] But there’s no type of ritualistic actor thing. I don’t think anyone had a special dance they did.
So the director and cameramen didn’t join you in the nudity to put you at ease?
Liam: No they didn’t, no matter how many times you asked them.
What would be the most disturbing part about living during the age you depict?
Todd: The lack of value for life is the hardest part to fathom. People were tortured and put through the most excruciating, unfathomable amounts of pain and suffering for little to no reason, or for entertainment. These gladiator games ran for 100-plus days of just non-stop killing.
Liam: There was a different set of morals at play back then and a different system by which society functioned. One of the things I find mind-blowing is the expansionist nature of Rome and what that meant. The entire economy was based on taking more land, killing more people, and enslaving. I think slaves outnumbered Romans two-to-one at the time. The amount of times I’ve done a scene as Spartacus and said, “Wait, did this stuff actually happen?!”
It’s not like torturous barbarism doesn’t exist today, but the way that it defined so much of Roman society is insane. The idea of having people fight to the death for someone else’s entertainment is perverse and ridiculous. That’s the kind of world we were trying to live in every day over the last few years, and it’s a lot of fun for our society, 2,000 years removed, but in the actual playing of it, we sit and think about this being your reality, and it is quite jarring.
Was there something you discovered about Caesar or Spartacus that particularly wowed you?
Liam: For Spartacus, I was amazed at what running a war like his entails. In terms of the history that’s usually read, he’s one man at the head of a completely non-homogeneous group of people. He had people from different nations all over the known world coming together for a cause but there was no specific structure, no game plan like there would be if you were in the Roman legion, where there was a great military structure and a great system of warfare. The idea of what a man needs to go through to maintain control of a traveling band of 10-, 20-, 100,000 people and fight and win against the most advanced people of their time is astonishing.
Todd: I had this idea in my mind of the political Caesar, which was later in his life. I wasn’t aware of how incredible he was on the battlefield, and how much influence he had in the military. It was fascinating reading about his foreign wars and when he was part of the legions under the empire and how he progressively made his way through the ranks to commanding armies at such a young age, which then led to his transition into politics. He was 25, 26, 27 when he was doing this!
Spartacus has a great, unique language, particularly the curses that are used by all of the characters. Do you have a favorite obscenity?
Liam: In fact, in the whole show, Spartacus has never sworn, so I don’t have one.
Todd: Liam told me that a few weeks ago. I didn’t believe him. I never picked up on that.
That being the case, surely you still have a curse that you love.
Liam: Oh yeah, but I can’t say it here. This is polite conversation!
Todd: I’m not going to lie; I had one of those times of pure enjoyment. One of my lines was amusing was “I stand as any cock should, hard and sure of purpose.” That’s pretty cool. [Laughs.]
Liam: OK, it was in Vengeance, when Donar says, “You had me at whores.” It’s such a great little line, he just throws it out there, and it sort of sums up so many people’s attitude towards Spartacus. [Laughs.]
Interview by Justin Monroe (@40yardsplash)