With major roles on two cult TV shows, it must be good to be Manu Bennett right now. As Crixus on Starz's "Spartacus," Bennett is able to combine fearsome physical prowess with a surprisingly poignant love story on a weekly basis, and in his new role as Slade Wilson on The CW's "Arrow," Bennett is creating an on-screen origin story for one of DC Comics' most iconic characters -- the assassin known as Deathstroke.
HuffPost TV caught up with Bennett via phone to learn more about his experiences filming "Arrow" and what's ahead for his character on the final season of "Spartacus."
Slade becomes a mentor of sorts for Oliver in "The Odyssey" -- can you talk a little about how their dynamic evolves?
It's all a bit of a mystery that’s going on here on the island; people are there but what they’re doing there is always under question. So when Oliver suddenly shows up in my fuselage, a.k.a Slade’s home, it’s an intruder and Slade has to quickly ascertain the nature of this intruder and he ends up finding this mangy young man lost and has to make a judgment call on whether he should let this kid stick around or not. So this particular episode is mainly based upon teaching Oliver how to survive, and in order to do that, he has to take him back to the outside world on the island. And Slade does have a plan in this episode to get off the island, and Oliver becomes a bit of an obstacle in trying to gain that objective.
We learn that Slade has been betrayed by his partner, Billy Wintergreen, in this episode -- how does that affect him?
Obviously they were both put on the island, so Slade says, to exfiltrate Yao Fei. Slade states that his background is Australian special forces and they’re monitoring the island. They are aware of this military operation being lead by Fyres, which hasn’t really clarified itself. It’s not like they know what’s going on when Billy and Slade are first coming to do their own investigations, but of course they’re then shot out of the sky.
So there’s obviously been this betrayal over accepting whether to go with the good guys or the bad guys. It appears that Slade has gone out on his own on the island to try to represent what’s good in the world and Billy’s taking the pay packet from Fyres to ensure his own survival for his own benefits. So I think there’s a clash of morals and direction there and that seems to have ramped up who might be considered Deathstroke 1 and Deathstroke 2. It’s sort of pitched them up against each other. So I guess you’ve got the battle of the Deathstrokes.
Right now, as you say, he's out for himself but he's still representing what's good and right instead of just following the paycheck, but fans of the comic book version of Deathstroke know that Slade's not always such a noble guy. Have there been any discussions with the producers about how the character might progress into something more familiar to comics fans, or are you taking it one script at a time?
I’m sort of taking it one step at a time, really. I mean, I arrived at Vancouver Airport to receive an email from my manager saying that the role that I’ve been offered -- which was in my audition was called Holloway -- was in fact Deathstroke. At which point, standing in the airport at the customs desk I went “Deathstroke? Who’s Deathstroke?” And the guy behind the counter said, “Are you playing Deathstroke?” I said, “Well, it seems like it,” and he went, “Aww man, he’s the badass of the comic world” and I went, “Oh, really?" Thanks, custom guy!
So I think the producers got me in here because of, I guess, their respect for my performance in "Spartacus" ... I’m really just living the character as he appears on the page, week by week. That was very similar in "Spartacus" as well, [not knowing what was going to happen]. I guess in this story, maybe I just don’t know when I’m going to become the Deathstroke that all the people are familiar with in the comic books, and that page will turn, so keep turning the pages and I’m sure it will unfold itself ...
What are the main differences between shooting the fights and the stunts in "Spartacus" and "Arrow," besides that you get to wear more clothing in "Arrow"?
Each is relevant to the period and the style that it’s representing. I guess I’ve gained some sort of recognition for my physical capabilities but one of the things that Andrew Kreisberg, the producer and writer of "Arrow," has asked me is to use my personality. He wants a contemporary performance in "Arrow." In the world of "Spartacus," we were more theatrical in a way; it was almost like looking at a classical reenactment of those times ... there’s always that slightly more dramatized feel to something that’s periodic. Whereas with this one, they just want fast-paced and the fighting is fast-paced. In this particular episode, one thing you’ll notice is just how fast-paced the fighting is. These moments where we’re using fighting sticks and we’re doing some very close hand-to-hand combat, highlighted by a point where I get asked by Oliver, “Why are we learning with sticks when somebody will point a gun at me?” And how I answer that question is probably one of the highlights in showing just how different and fast this fighting technique that we are using in this show is. He must learn the hard way. [Laughs.]
Speaking of "Spartacus," Naevia made some fairly questionable choices in the third episode and Crixus will obviously stand by her no matter what; what are the repercussions for them going to be?
I think Crixus thought that Naevia may have healed herself after gaining revenge against Ashur [last season]. And we sort of entered this season with a relative calm, and feeling that all is well between Naevia and Crixus, but as is the case with many relationships, the female emotions are a hard thing to understand. [Laughs.] And Crixus suddenly finds out that all is not well in Naevia’s thinking and that, probably more than ever, she needs his support to coincide with her in something that, at this point, is just a notion that she brings up in Crixus, which is: "no, we’re not here to escape, no, we’re not here to hold these Romans as prisoners, we’re here for our ultimate revenge against these people that have done such wrong against us." This is an old feeling for Crixus, because when he began his journey with Naevia it was a journey away from the pain and the anger, and yet, if the woman that he loves revives this energy, then through that connection with her, he’s probably going to be opening up old wounds as well.
The episode also showed that the rebels are really growing restless and some of them are questioning Spartacus' wisdom about keeping the remaining Romans alive -- can you preview some of the tensions ahead?
Yeah, I think we’ve got a real point of division again where Spartacus’s morality and desire to do right doesn’t seem to make any sense in the midst of war. There are so many slaves that have horrible memories and nothing left, and no villages to return home to, no loved ones to embrace -- all because of the Romans, and they want their revenge. But Spartacus is now also engaging with a Roman, Laeta, in terms of, "tell me something of your people," and then being seduced, in a way, by her ability to shine light on some of the Roman behavior as opposed to other Roman behavior. I think it’s an interesting turn in our series because it’s starting to show that some of Rome is not all this evil and twisted organization that was represented in our first seasons.
In our first seasons you were almost watching a World War II movie in the Romans were all just the [evil] Germans, but now we’re starting to delve deeper into the notion that there is good and bad on both sides and I think Simon Merrells' performance [as Crassus] is a wonderful evolution of that. The way that he pats his son on the head and then commences to speak to his wife in a way that shows that their marriage is disintegrating and then tells his son that he will lead the war against Spartacus ... These kind of moments with emotion are so real. And so we get a true sense of the whole character rather than him just being an antagonist.
Spartacus has this dilemma of really leaning toward risk, seeing true human nature on both sides. And as far as Naevia and Crixus are concerned, Naevia’s actions in the courtyard, which were very violent and very brutal and full of hatred, and then later on with Attius, killing him at the end of the episode ... Really, they were walking along greener pastures and now they’ll fall off a cliff. It’s going to be a struggle for them to find a bright future, but at the same time, the one thing that they do have is each other.
We're supposed to be rooting for the slaves, but they really do some questionable things in the name of this war -- I love that Steven DeKnight doesn't want to paint them as completely noble or righteous when history says that they were kind of as bad as the Romans in a lot of ways ...
Yeah, exactly. I think what they are doing by introducing Caesar is that they are introducing the might and the power and they’re introducing the greatness of Rome. I think the might and the power of Rome was always an element that existed in our story somewhere, it just wasn’t exposed that much. I mean, why did Batiatus want to get to the top of Rome? Because Rome is a hugely productive society; because it had wealth. Batiatus was just a little man that was disgruntled in his own small town of Capua and was trying to use entertainment with the people to gain power but he betrayed everybody. Even the characters that he betrayed had kids and families.
So I think where the story is going now is that it’s getting us out of the darkness of that fighting ludus. The slave rebellion has gone up against the military and is being chased, but of course the military powers are always trying to destroy something that’s trying to destroy itself internally. Now, [the slaves] are only just getting a glimpse of another city of what Roman people are like. This justification of the Romans is hugely necessary in the story, because we are going into a great time, a golden period of Roman history -- a time of Caesar ... You’re showing that there are really two sides to the coin and that Rome is a formidable, powerful, but also a very advanced society. Unfortunately, as a sign of the times, these slaves are just trying to escape their own hell but they might find themselves in amidst heaven, and there are some angels in their heaven of Rome somewhere too.
"Arrow" airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. EST on The CW and "Spartacus: War of the Damned" airs Fridays at 9 p.m. EST on Starz.
Do you think Slade can be trusted? Can Crixus and Naevia have a happy ending? Weigh in below!