"Spartacus" fans were shocked when its charismatic star Andy Whitfield died of non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma in September 2011 at the unfair age of 39. Now, Australian actor Liam McIntyre is taking the lead, ready to fill Whitfield's awfully big gladiator sandals in the show's second season, "Spartacus: Vengeance."
The road ahead won't be an easy one for McIntyre, who is ten years younger than his predecessor in the role. Both "Spartacus" and Whitfield were wildly popular, breaking ratings records for Starz and drawing in approximately 6 million viewers per episode, according to the channel. When McIntyre steps into the arena for the first time, he'll be fighting as much for fans' acceptance as he will be for the rights of the rebel slaves that Spartacus leads into battle.
HuffPost TV chatted with McIntyre about his breakout role, his admiration for Whitfield and what's ahead for the rebel leader in "Spartacus: Vengeance."
It's been a bit of a whirlwind for you, hasn't it? You're stepping into a character that Andy Whitfield did such a phenomenal job at creating.
Oh, didn't he, though? It's just the strangest, hardest, most exciting experience ever. I went through four months of tests to get the job. During these tests, you're not even thinking of getting the job; but then one day, someone rings up and says that you got it, and then you have to take stock in what you've got. It's a huge responsibility. It's an iconic character that's already been done with such amazing aplomb by Andy. At the time, we all were hoping that he would get a lot better. There was so much hope. There have been a lot of mixed emotions and ups and downs.
Did you talk to Andy about where to go with the character? I know that Andy gave his consent to be recast.
Andy was so supportive. He obviously loved the show. It was apparent in everything we discussed. First of all, to have the best opportunity of your life and then have it taken away in such a tragic way must have been impossibly hard. And then, to have someone else do it, and to really get behind it, is just jaw-dropping. As for actually being like Andy, that's a conversation we never had. In fact, I kind of got the opposite; not to be like him. I had seen the show, but you just know as an actor, you don't copy people because it never works out. [Spartacus is] still the same character; he's written the same way; and he still feels the same. But I took what I knew of that character and made it my own. I didn't try to mimic anyone.
In what ways have you made him your own?
He's going on a different journey now. He's gone through the ludus [i.e. hellish gladiator academy] at the end of Season 1, so now he's in the big bad world, as it were. Increasingly, he's having to take on the role of being the leader of these people, which isn't exactly why he stepped into that position to begin with. Obviously, he wants to do right by Sura [Spartacus' late love interest] and atone for that, but he finds himself in control of this ragtag bunch of rebels. He's got to learn the lesson of what it takes to really be a leader, which is where the Spartacus myth comes into being. It's really the story of a man leading all these desperate people to amazing things. So I think the character is growing, but it will be up to the audience to see how I'm different. We look different and we sound different, but hopefully the soul is still there.
What's it like reading an action sequence? Do you get excited at the thought of playing with all those weapons?
On paper, these action scenes are described so amazingly, and then they hand them over to the stunt team, and they find a way to make them even more amazing. You'll read them and get really excited, and then you'll see what they've done to make them come alive and you're like, "Oh my god, I never thought of that! It's amazing!" This year, the stuff they achieved on screen is like nothing else I've ever seen on television.
What's your favorite show on TV? Aside from your own, of course.
Well, that's the weirdest part, actually. I was such a huge fan of "Spartacus," but now I'm going to watch and just criticize myself. It's sad, in a way.
Did you do any research for the role?
Yeah. It was cool because the producers had, like, 30 books on it, and I was like, "Yep, thanks!" I might be wrong about this, but I feel like I know the most about this period out of everyone, aside from some of the really, really dedicated behind-the-scenes people. I would challenge Steven DeKnight. I think he would win, but I'll still take him on.
I bet your training was insane as well.
The hardest thing, by a mile, was getting my weight back up. I had just lost about 45 pounds for a film, so I was down to, like, Christian Bale's weight. And then the next day, they were like, "So you're in New Zealand today to test for this role in 'Spartacus.' And then I'm like, 'I've seen that show. I don't look like that guy.'" Four months of training later, I'm on track, at least. I trained every day of the whole season, which I'm quite proud of because they were 14-hour days.
What were you doing to train?
Lifting heavy things, really. They would give me heavy things to lift, and then it was like a rinse-repeat type of thing for the rest of the year. [Laughs]
When you stepped into the prop room for the first time and saw the set, were you just like a kid in a candy store?
That's one of the funniest memories I have from the tests, going down these little back allies of New Zealand and then coming into this little warehouse. I had this idea of what these big studios looked like, where they shot shows like "Spartacus"; but it was this little warehouse, one of the many converted warehouses that the studios use. It had this old fruit shop logo at the top, and then I'm like, "Are you sure this is the place?" Then, they took me in, and suddenly, I was in ancient Rome. The costume room looks like this big clothing store, but then when you actually look at the clothes, they're all ancient Roman vests and thong sandal shoes. We have incredible leather workers on set. Someone told me that those leather workers "love leather like I love my girlfriend."
What about Lucy Lawless? I have to ask, what was it like working with "Xena"?
I actually got to bring home a chakram, and it was from Lucy Lawless herself. That was pretty cool. It wasn't the actual prop. It was one of the toys, but still, it was actually from her! As far a role model goes for this business, because I'm new at this, she's it. She's done it for so long, with so much success, but she's still a normal, funny person. But on screen, she's wicked this season, a total menace. Man, who wouldn't want to watch the show with her on it? When she makes her appearance on screen, you'll get chills.
"Spartacus: Vengeance" premieres on Fri., Jan. 27 at 10 p.m. EST on Starz.