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.