Liam McIntyre, Lucy Lawless, Peter Mensah, and Viva Bianca Talk Spartacus: Vengeance

The four main stars discuss what's in store for the upcoming season of this Starz series debuting Friday, January 27

Starz is getting ready to roll out Spartacus: Vengeance with a new season debuting Friday, January 27 at 10 PM ET. The series' four main stars Liam McIntyre (Spartacus), Lucy Lawless (Lucretia), Peter Mensah (Crixius), and Viva Bianca (Ilithyia) recently held a conference call to discuss the upcoming season. Here's what they had to say below.

Lucy, you're crazy when the season starts and you've come upon Ilithyia and you guys - you're like, you know, she's taking care of you. You don't really know that she's not your friend, and she hates you. Do you find out her bad side as the series progresses?

Lucy Lawless: Or does she find out mine? I don't know, it's, you know, I don't want to give you too much. Needless to say, Lucretia and Ilithyia continues to have a very fraught relationship. Which is, Lucretia has to work very hard to make Ilithyia care about her again. And - or at least need her, because Ilithyia just wants her dead.

I imagine it would be a difficult situation, it being especially after, you know, she - Lucretia lost her baby. And now Ilithyia is pregnant.

Lucy Lawless: Yes, though Lucretia's lost everything. She's even lost her marbles, so that's the least of her worries.

So we've seen Lucretia's side of the equation. One of the best parts of the first season was of course Olivia and her scheming ways. Can you give us a little bit of a look at what we might see in the second season?

Viva Bianca: I think, you know, obviously what we all saw in season one was that Ilithyia developed into a more and more of a complex woman. So, you know, in turning into Spartacus: Vengeance. Ilithyia has that whole recent history of really a guilty past. And a suitcase of treachery lies in deceit. So, firstly she has a lot to fight for and she's had a lot to fight against. And, you know, as people become aware in season - in episode one, Ilithyia lands right back at the place she so much wants to escape. So it kind of just, you know, ends of playing out as a fight for her life really.

Lucy Lawless: That's right. That's right, it is a fight for her life, and her husband's affections.

Viva Bianca: That's right, and I think with regards to Ilithyia and Lucretia, what's so interesting in season two is that, because of the circumstances in which they both landed, they are forced into a situation of becoming a lot closer than they even were in season one. Which means a potential for drama and the unraveling of relationship revelation is so much more interesting. Really there's a lot in store in too for this female relationship.

Liam McIntyre: Well that's what I like about all the characters. I think it's safe to say that every single character has death riding at the corner every time - at every turn, actually. From Spartacus all the way up to you guys.

Lucy Lawless: Yes.

Viva Bianca: Yes. It was not a kind or gentle society, that's for sure.

Liam McIntyre: No it wasn't.

Since Spartacus has been renewed for a third season, is there anything you want to change about how you played your character in Vengeance for the next season?

Liam McIntyre: I just want him to keep growing. To be honest, I've been given this great honor in carrying on this legacy and I feel, especially getting towards those last episodes, it was really - he's just really getting to a very interesting place.

I don't know if you can answer this, but I'm sure the world wants to know, who's your baby daddy?

Viva Bianca: Well that is why you have to watch Spartacus: Vengeance. That is the big question on everyone's lips. Lucretia was a turkey baster. Yes I know, that's the mystery. But, you know, all will be revealed eventually.

How did you manage to carry on the character that Andy Whitfield had built, but also leave your own mark as an actor?

Liam McIntyre:

Well, I mean I'm very lucky in that the writing team is absolutely sensational, and that Starz is really supportive. So Starz early on said, you know, make the character your own, treat it as your own character. You know, that they didn't expect me to copy anything. I did watch all of Andy's amazing work. And so I don't know if any parts was osmosis or kind of like a kind of influenced me in any way. I can't be sure, but I mean hopefully because he was sensational. But I mean realistically I just tried to be true to the character which, you know, essentially stays the same. Because the writing is the same and all of that lovely humanity and those difficult choices and all that. Then that struggle that Spartacus goes through, it's still there this season. So I didn't get the honor of being able to treat that with respect and truth. And hopefully you have a character that feels the same as the great character that Andy portrayed.

I think one big dilemma is if Spartacus managed to battle (Lucius) as the leader of the revenge. And he seeks for personal vengeance. So what side do you think it will have more important to Spartacus, his personal issues or the cause he has sustained?

Liam McIntyre: It is possibly the biggest battle that Spartacus has beyond the battles that he fights. I think obviously it's called Vengeance, and part of - like that - a large part of that vengeance is that vengeance he feels against (Glover) and the Roman Empire as a - I'm sorry, the Roman Republic - yes, the Roman Republic as a person who's been wronged. And his family's been taken away from him. So that drives him throughout season one and into season two. And I think the biggest challenge that Spartacus faces is embracing that bigger cause that I guess ultimately left its mark on history. Which is that of taking these disparate people - these rebels, and building them into a force that is for a while certainly the match of Rome. It's something that he really has to get to the bottom to - the bottom of this season. It's one of his great challenges. And something that I was - I made really important in exploring this year.

Ilithyia was involved in a great part of all this bloody intrigue that happened in the first season. So, will she be punished somehow - like at least she will feel guilty by what happened or...

Lucy Lawless: She's a good little girl.

Viva Bianca: She's such a naughty girl. Look, you know, this show calmly comes and bites everyone in the ass. So, you know, Ilithyia will get her own. But there's going to be a real journey for Ilithyia in season two, where she's on a roller coaster of - just when she thought she's going to break through and breach her dreams, the rug will be pulled from beneath her. And she'll feel like she's falling through the depths of the earth. So it's a real dramatic roller coaster for Ilithyia.

I was wondering if, while you guys were filming this if you're ever affected by those violent scenes? Or if you're ever surprised by them?

Lucy Lawless: Always surprised, but we're not affected because they never look that way in actuality. It's all done in post, you know. Quite brilliant.

Viva Bianca: I think it was David Mamet who said, "An actor must always defend his character." And so I think as an actor, you become very good at emphasizing a character, however evil or misguided the character is. Certain for Ilithyia or any of the villains on the show. You have to find a reason - or many reasons as to why a character is doing a scene. So like for instance in episode four, Ilithyia does very a brutal thing - I think that's what you're referring to. There was a moment when I think I was saying to (producer Robert G. Tapert) just afterwards, "Oh my god, I can't believe what Ilithyia actually just did." Like the reality of what one human is doing to another.

The brothel scene was quite an eye opener too. Liam this is your first year on this. Do you walk through those sets and see that stuff going on and think, "Wow, did that happen?"

Liam McIntyre: It's one of my greatest. I mean I loved the show before, you know, before I got the call to be part of it. So I kind of knew what I was getting into. But that's one of my greatest memories from the whole year, was watching our director from a distance in what was essentially the sign language version of the scene. So I got to watch him throw his hands around and do all the motions and actions as he described what he wanted to see as this camera panned through there. And that was one of the greatest memories I'll ever take with me, because that was hilarious. But I mean there is a moment where I have to attack a gentleman's (money) making facility, and that was one of the most harrowing moments in my life. Because it's kind of, you know, a sword, a small little protective kind of steel rig, and his gear, and a whole lot of hope, and so that was one of the very first days of shooting. And I'm like, "Oh god, what have I got myself into?"

You seem to really enjoy being the bad girl. Does it also feel kind of empowering to be that pure evil?

Viva Bianca: I'm a really nice person. You know what, I would so love to play a really virtuous, heroic person after Ilithyia. But Ilithyia's a very satisfying role to play. And, you know, because she isn't just pure bad. And the lovely thing in season two is the writers gave me a lovely range and complexity to explore. So I think the audience will get to see many different sides to Ilithyia. And of course there will still be that scheming, naughty girl, and then (almost) a lady now. But yes, I think maybe I see some vulnerability.

This show - a lot of it has to do with some really crazy, awesome action scenes that are on par with a lot of movies. Tell me a little bit about how you're getting in shape for that. And I know you've already shot the season, so talk to us about what you went through to handle a sword and all those crazy acrobatic moves they have you doing.

Liam McIntyre: Well it's a rare and lucky person who gets to be a 10-year-old for a whole year. It's fantastic. But I mean getting into shape, well I mean early on when I started the process of testing for this role, I'd done another film where I was 45 pounds lighter or thereabouts. So I was going for that whole machinist look. And unfortunately I was succeeding. And so getting from that - well first of all, I thought there was no way I'd ever even be considered, but they did consider me. And I got taught exactly how horrible training can be. In much the way that people say, "Do you get used to sex scenes?" And the answer's generally "No." "Do you get used to lifting ridiculous amounts of weights?" No really. I think the point is that you do it and it really hurts. But it's one of the few things in life where you get to see tangible results. So I guess it's worthwhile.

So you're saying you gained 45 pounds of muscle for this role?

Liam McIntyre: Something like that. I haven't done the math, but a lot. Because, you know, I certainly look a lot more healthier than I did back then. I've still got a photo of that disgusting small...

Spartacus gets into this wonderful relationship played by of course Katrina Law. I wonder if you can tell me if, after everything that you've gone through with his wife, if this is going to be a possibility of love for him? Or what can you tell me about their relationship?

Liam McIntyre: Well I guess who doesn't need love deep down? You know, I think that's very true of everybody. So it's, you know, that was a great thing to get to play with all year because, you know, in season one, Sura said you will never love another person. And that's kind of like a truism for Spartacus's existence. So he now has the problem is - which is a real problem for everybody that falls into those horrible circumstances that, you know, can you ever love again. And he certainly wants to. You know, I think Spartacus certainly wants so, and he's going to try. But it's very, very difficult of thing for him to try and - not only move on, but move into any relationship. So it's a constant struggle throughout the season.

Another big relationship for Spartacus is the one between him and Crixus. I've seen that like in the beginning. There's, you know, there's obviously a division. But you guys, you know, find a midway point when it, you know, concerns either when something is important to either one. What could you tell me about the position of their relationship in this season?

Liam McIntyre: It's one of the great parts of the season, I really think. In fact, all of the kind of, I guess you call them the big dogs on campus, you know all the alpha males of the (Ludis) have a very difficult journey trying to even get along because of the nature of who they are. And so with Crixus and Spartacus there's a desire to work together but just a difference of view which really just dovetails and splits apart throughout the season and that goes and that's true with other characters that appear in the rebels camp that are very powerful characters. And part of the battle that Spartacus has is to A, want to lead them and then find a way to do that and actually unify people. So to this day I still don't understand how one man can unify so many different cultures and creeds into one cause. I mean, I don't know if it's ever been done before or since.

I think it's fantastic all the background information that we're learning on Oenomaus this season. He's deeply embarrassed over being a part of the taking down of The House of Batiatus. How was Oenomaus go from being, you know, this shamed person into the rebel that he's meant to become in history?

Peter Mensah: I think actually that my understanding of Oenomaus; journey was that it wasn't so much embarrassment at aiding the rebels as that he was caught at making the right decision at a certain point in time which led him into a sort of a no-win situation. He knew what was going on at the house of Batiatus which ultimately was wrong so in the moment he assisted and did what he thought was the right thing. And that leaves him in a no-mans land and the journey then or the question then becomes if you have nowhere to go what do you do with your life. And I think that's the biggest question he faces as the season starts is not having an affiliation to anyone in particular, not necessarily believing in the cause if there actually was one. He has to figure out what to do with his life and it's sort of - so this season is a journey that he undergoes to understand and find a place in the world.

Do you feel that it's easier or more difficult to still play slightly fictional versions of historical characters that have some vague and sometimes contradictory real life pasts. I mean, some of what we learned about them contradicts what's come before.

Liam McIntyre: You think? I don't know because one of the things that I loved about researching Spartacus is that there are maybe four, five, six wildly varying accounts of what happened and who did it and how and very few people agree and often many of the reports are written hundreds of years after. In a way it's the perfect story to tell because it's a great story with only little signposts for historical markers. So it's great playing a character who is historically very valid and viable but has the creativity and drama of a well-written piece.

Peter Mensah: Well, I think the interesting thing is no there are very absolute histories in this world and so we on top of that are providing entertainment. We're playing with the story or a version of the story and I think what makes this really entertaining is that you take such a heroic depiction of a character as we do in Spartacus and you've get someone like Liam who takes it on and plays - he does such a remarkable job of showing the conflict that may have been in this man. And Liam makes it very very real. And I think what really works is that because there is license to play with history, we - and, you know, obviously with the grace of the audience, we get to actually go out and provide a version of what might have happened. And in no way are we claiming this is exactly what happened. You know, we're just telling a story. So hopefully we tell an entertaining one. And I love - this is why I love my craft because it's sort of a chance to take a look at a situation and give a version of how we feel it may have happened.

The first season was largely centered on the House of Batiatus and the (Ludis) and so with the second season it seems the story is definitely widening in scope. How did that affect how you approached the character or how they approached the situation.? Maybe give us a little insight into that. And I know that, Liam, you won't be able to answer that quite as much as the other three so I just wanted to emphasize that well done, sir, what I've seen so far you've done a wonderful job.

Liam McIntyre: Thank you. Fire away, guys.

Viva Bianca: To me, it was different coming back to the House of Batiatus and actually being the lady of the house, the (domina) and kind of being like a subversion in power in roles with Lucretia. So it was just kind of being in the same environment as season one but with a different relationship to that environment. So it was good because it meant that it was different and as an actor it's always nice to be challenged by new things.

Peter Mensah: I think what was great about it is with each episode we kind of have a little bit more information, a little bit more experience playing your character and I definitely feel like playing Oenomaus it was - it's a sort of leaning, continuing learning curve always finding out the elements that help at one point, make him who he is and then exploring so the journey as it unfolds, he has to figure out, okay, there's one structure in life that I was attached to, it's all gone so now what do I do? So it was sort of the expanding story. It was actually something I really embraced and I felt it was really useful in playing the character because it allowed for, you know, different platforms to react to. And everybody meets Oenomaus in the first season as Doctore. He's pretty impassive. He doesn't' really let on much. And as the story unfolds you see a human person and the reasons why he was the way he was when you first meet him and I think in this season we really get to explore when all those structures are gone from him he's incredibly vulnerable and for an actor it was just great to go to a higher range from being that dominant person to a person who really had to show every single emotion. So I loved doing it. It was a fantastic fantastic season to work.

Lucy Lawless: Yes, my character goes from having everything and being on the make on the up and up with her husband to losing everything, her husband, her baby, her lover, her house, her status and in marble. So it's going to be - she's going to have to claw her way back to any kind of safety. And she's in a pit of vipers so she better watch out. No offense, Ilithyia.

Earlier you were talking about the fact that Oenomaus had to make that choice at the end of the first season. Of course, part of that was the fact that he had been betrayed by Spartacus. So how does that play into the beginning of the second season if you can give us a taste.

Peter Mensah: Well, actually, that's the interesting thing. Effectively, you know, he recognizes that he has no affiliation. He's been betrayed by everyone he knows and so the problem for Oenomaus as the season begins is, you know, he doesn't identify himself with the rebels and absolutely is no longer attached to the (Ludis). And remember he was just about to gain his freedom when all hell broke loose. So he remains a slave, he doesn't have a status, he has no friends, it's a pretty sad beginning to the show. So, you know, as I say, I hope everybody can go along on the journey with him but it's a pretty tough place to start.

Liam McIntyre: That's one of the things I loved working with you on as our characters - when we meet was how we could build that relationship between us after we build that bridge. I think Peter is a real great thinking man's actor and it was a real pleasure to be able to kind of develop that kind of relationship with someone like that. It was really great for all those reasons and that kind of betrayal especially from Season One giving - when Andy gives you the poison (challis) as it were and really just building up because you're a real powerful driving force in the rebellion as it moves forward and then really trying to get a relationship, way to base that relationship in was great.

Peter Mensah: Well, I think that's one of the interesting things about this season is that all the journeys that everyone goes through. Spartacus has so many sort of battles to fight but at the same time the humanity in him is what I think you tend to identify with and what Oenomaus sees in him ultimately as being someone to align with. And I think that's the interesting part. Everyone in this story has to find out who their affiliations are to and what they believe and sort of what to stand up for. And, you know, Liam plays a very strong very sensitive Spartacus that also sees all the conflict but somehow or other finds himself the leader of men and has to find a way. And I think this is the journey - every character in this has to find out who they really are. And then Steve, his writers have actually put in a number of really challenging scenarios in front of everyone and I think that's what helps the audience sort of go along with it. So as usual there is no one clear path so what you might see in one episode gives you no indication what's going to happen next which is, you know, the brilliant part about doing the show.

I wanted to ask quickly how is it kind of reorienting yourself because John Hannah isn't part of the how this year and did it feel odd for you as an actor not having had him as a partner for the two series to not have him this year? And does anybody kind of take that role in her life as she starts clawing her way back out?

Lucy Lawless: What a good question. A lot of good questions. Yes, I miss John a lot, not just because of who he is but because I miss the aspect of love in Lucretia's life. Somebody does in fact fall in love with her but the course of that love never did run smooth and certainly not in this case. So I don't want to give away too much but, yes, she does have two - I don't want to say romantic partners. But she enters into relationships with two people but Batiatus is never replaceable in her heart.

I think you guys said the writers have done a really interesting shaping and pairing of all of the different characters and now that you guys are in a new environment and new place have they paired you either with each other in ways that you haven'' been paired before and what that brings out in your character or are there new characters that you can speak of or tease that will have a great effect on each of your characters movements this season?

Viva Bianca: For Ilithyia it's I think going to be quite new to have Glaber around all the time. He's a very significant part of season two.

Lucy Lawless: Additionally in the Roman world comes these two Seppia and Seppius, a brother and sister duo and they're a funky little pair and something weird is up with them so keep watching those two. They're going to be trouble one way or another.

Viva Bianca: And then in addition to that, Ilithyia and Lucretia are actually living under the same roof.

Lucy Lawless: The ugliness goes on. I mean the beauty.

Liam McIntyre: Yeah, Spartacus is great. It's great from the rebels' side because we're a ragtag band running through the hills of, you know, Capua in southern Italy and we kind of - we have to try and survive. So we're on the run and it really creates great dynamics between our characters but then we get new characters that get introduced as the season goes along which really mix things up and challenge the existing status quo of the brotherhood as it where. It's great.

Lucy Lawless: Yes, there will be new blood in the brotherhood and some very interesting characters emerging out of that. A young woman in particular, Ellen. And the reemergence of the most excellent Nick Tarabay's character Ashur. Ashur's the sly one, the one that goes between worlds.

Liam McIntyre: He's not the only one though. There is another one of loved character called Gannicus that might make a reappearance and really mix things up and, again, sort of slinks between the worlds.

Lucy Lawless: Yeah, he's a lone wolf. So Oenomaus goes between two, Gannicus goes between two worlds and Ashur has - well, he has to make a choice actually and anything to do with that guy is going to be treacherous.

Your character starts off you know in a pretty bad place at the beginning of this season. I was wondering if you can give Lucretia any advice, what would you give her? What would you tell her?

Lucy Lawless: Just to keep breathing and pay attention to all the people around her, as she does, and it'll all work out fine. And in the end, Lucretia gets everything she wants.

So you know, you guys go to the set and you're in like jeans and t-shirts and normal everyday clothes. And when you get to your trailer you put on your wardrobe or I guess lack thereof. So how does that help you get into character and I guess transport you into that - I guess the Spartacus world?

Lucy Lawless: It's not a short process, so you've got a an hour and a half minimum every day to - for that character to sort of happen, and I think we just are so accustomed to it that we don't even realize that's such a part of our process you know.

Liam McIntyre: Yes. And when that first layer of spray tan goes on, I really start to absorb the character. It is one of those things. I remember - again, going back as again an actor, start - that's in some ways green in terms of experience, that first test where they take us to - you know, they took me and put me in the actual costume. You know, it's amazing how much it adds to the work you've already done on your character. The craftsmen on that set from the set builders to the whole wardrobe department and the wardrobe they create by hand - you know, leather workers and that sort of thing add so much more to what, you know, is already a very interesting character. You know, in - certainly in my case, it's amazing how much more you feel like you're in the time, in the place when you all the costume on.

Lucy Lawless: Yes. We have a huge workshop of leather craftsmen, jewelry, people dying, specialists. People who make things with rubber and resins and all - whatnot. And obviously, the costume sewing you know, people in design. They're an incredible team.

Viva Bianca: And obviously Barbara Darragh continually just turned out episode after episode all of these very elegant dresses for the Roman ladies. And for Lucy and myself, you know every morning we would be in our trailers and be dressed in these corset dresses and they're all very intricate and detailed. And it really helps as a lady to enter you know high society in a frock, and you know it informs every choice you make in your physicality, your breath, your gait, and even the way you use your voice. So it's kind of impossible to enter that character without the gown really.

Lucy Lawless: And then when they embellish it all with this great confection of hair on your head, you know, the wig work is amazing. So we have a lot of genius designers working on us.

Liam McIntyre: I would love to see a great confection of hair placed on Peter's head.

Peter Mensah: And for us slaves, not having clothes really gets you into character.

Liam McIntyre: I know. But you know it's funny. It's one of those things - as my wardrobe changed, occasionally I would be - you know, I'd be given something where I had more clothes on and it felt odd, and then I felt terrible - I felt weird, the feeling that that's held on.

Now that we've seen in the second episode what Oenomaus' back story is, and we see him adrift in the new season, how did the knowledge of that back story inform how you approached the role this season?

Peter Mensah: Well, the back story actually was useful all around just in terms of having opportunity to flesh out the character and allow the audience to see more of who he is. And so in this season, which takes place quite a number of years later, it was sort of more continuing - a continuation of the character you met in the first season as opposed to the prequel that the story really picks up. So it was an opportunity to explore the - sort of the human Oenomaus as opposed to the tough trainer of gladiators. And the circumstances in the story all hinges so very much to exposing who he is. So really, it was sort of the prequel allows all of us to know him a lot better. But, the situations are completely new now, and if anything, he is in such a vulnerable position at the beginning of the show. And when you think things couldn't get worse, they just keep getting worse for him. So I think you're going to see quite the journey which I'll just say is informed by what happened before, but there really are new situations for him. And I'd just like to say Liam that I found that in the first two episodes, you brought a slightly wilder energy to the role, and that seemed very appropriate for someone who is now in a position where he is pretty much forced into leadership. And, I thought you did a really good job. Thank you so much.

With you depicting a world of such oppression and you know mistreatment of people, does this rub off and empower you in terms of fighting, you know, for justice and stuff like that in the real world?

Liam McIntyre: Well, I always find it amazing how stories like this last the test of time in the same way that Shakespearian stories are told again and again in different forms. I mean, the story of oppression is as relevant today as it was then. And I guess it's nice to be able to tell a story that people can still gain some sort of you know real value out of now. But in terms of being self-liberating, I mean it's certainly empowering to know that you can - you know, already I've heard of people - heard people say how empowering the story can be to them as people. So I mean I think that's a lot of the reason why actors do what they do. It's nice to know that you can tell a story that resonates and helps people.

Spartacus: Vengeance returns on Friday, January 27 at 10 PM ET on Starz.