Manu Bennett talks Spartacus: Vengeance
Spartacus: Vengeance debuts on Starz Friday, January 27 at 10 PM ET, with Liam McIntyre starring as the new Spartacus in place of the late Andy Whitfield. Manu Bennett (Crixius), Nick Tarabay (Ashur), Craig Parker (Glaber), and Daniel Feuerriegel (Agron) all return to the series, and they recently held a conference call to discuss the new season. Here's what they had to say below.

I'm just so happy to see your character, Ashur returning. And I wanted to know if you could give us a tease on will your paths be crossing Crixus? And how entrenched are you going to become in Lucy Lawless' world? And give us any details you can.

Nick Tarabay: Well first of all thanks. Yes, it's good to be back. And I think it won't be a story if Ashur and Crixus somehow don't get together that way, especially having Crixus my ultimate enemy on the show. So yes, you do see a little bit of that. And it's going to be very, very intense actually, the way you see it. I mean everything I think in Vengeance, this season is going to be pretty intense and very heightened. So any time any actors or any - I mean any characters interact with one another it's going to be pretty big. And add to it the history that I have with Crixus, I think is going to make it even more interesting. And as far as Lucy, yes there's a lot of story, a lot of scenes, a lot of work with me and Lucy, that I was very, very happy to have because I didn't get a chance really to work with her in Season 1 and the prequel. But in this season we have a lot of work -- maybe a little too much; just kidding. And you know, Ashur this season is, you know, unlike every other season he's very - he's his own man in a way and he's under really severe circumstances that he's going all out. He goes all - I mean seriously, he has no boundaries, he fights really for what he thinks is right, and his goals get bigger and bigger. And the twists and the turns that he comes up with is something that surprised me as the actor every episode. I give a lot of credit for the writers. And obviously I give a lot of credit to the actors; made it a lot easier for me to, you know, to work harder and make it better. So yes, you're going to see a lot of Crixus, Lucy, more Ashur hopefully, so.

I'm really curious to know how your character stays married to Viva, to Ilithyia and how that goes, how the marriage goes in this particular season.

Craig Parker: When we first meet them they've been through some heavy guidance counseling and marriage counseling. Yes, you know with her that it's not going to be an easy marriage. And the fun thing this year is when we first meet them it's quite a different circumstance then when we left them so. I don't think that gives anything away, where Ilithyia has been told to behave and be a good wife. And you know Ilithyia; it's not going to last. So there's some fantastic relationship stuff there. And you know, to work with someone like Viva is so much fun because she is - she's created this absolute monster of a character. And always a joy to see how Ilithyia responds to the situation.

Do you think that Glaber's true enemy is Ilithyia more so than Spartacus?

Craig Parker: You know, absolutely. I think she is the one that destroys him the most, that hurts him the most. And this series though, I think you'll see him start to stand up for himself, become a bit of the man that he wants to be. And part of that is freeing himself from her control. It's quite good; truly she's not going to have an easy ride, I promise you.

This season there's a really interesting dynamic being built up between Crixus and Spartacus, building on the previous season. And it seems like, if the first two episodes are any indication, they will spending a lot of time calling each other on their BS. I'm just wondering what with Crixus telling Spartacus that, "Since he's now a leader he has to be smarter," and with Spartacus having to tell Crixus to, "Keep his Gauls in line and not just tear off after Naevia," how does this play out over the course of the season?

Manu Bennett: You know, there's no real answer to that; there's just a tug-of-war really. Spartacus, I believe in this season, has maybe more transitional - you know, has more of a transitional story than even Crixus. I mean Crixus is - it's like you enter the season with Crixus with a very definite goal, and that is to find Naevia. And Spartacus with an evolution, you know, he's said he wants to do something and all of a sudden everybody's looking at him going like, "Okay, you've made this big speech, you've forced us all to become fugitivus, and now what's the plan?" You know, and you know, as I think as far as Crixus is concerned, he just goes for all the - you know, the - goes through all the necessary actions of finding supplies and food and whatnot, but you know, Spartacus has this leadership role that he's taken on. And of course you know, Crixus is going to be the first one to call him on that and question him on that and remind him of the - you know, the agreement that he made with everybody as we left the ludus. You know, did you say BS; is that the term you used? Yes, you know, I don't think there's ever any BS that's going on between the two of them. I think the two of them are very honest men, speaking from the heart. And they just basically have a bit of a tug-of-war constantly because the two of them are both leaders and they don't necessarily sit comfortably in being the follower or the person who, you know, has to follow the other's objective. But you know, as in Season 1, I think it - that's what creates a lovely sort of brotherhood story. You know, the push and pull of a kind of a deep respect that's never sort of allowed to show itself on the surface.

With Liam coming into the role, how has that changed the chemistry on set, if at all? And I think he did really well in the first two episodes and I was just wondering if I could get some feedback on that as well.

Daniel Feuerriegel: Of course it's going to change chemistry because he's a completely different person. But you know, as actors you just adapt to Liam's personality, and you know, therefore then that makes you change certain things here and there, and that - I think that's just you know, what we do. As you said, Liam did amazing the first two episodes and he just keeps getting better and better. And I think he did an absolutely fantastic job. And so of course it was different, but I felt as though, you know, no better/no worse. He was just Liam, he was just doing what he does and we all did what we did. And as you saw in the first two episodes this is, you know, how it was turning out. And so I guess if you enjoyed it, a lot of other people will enjoy it. And I'm certainly sure that everybody enjoyed working with him. I mean I can't speak for everyone else, but I'm sure they'll say the same thing. Guys?

Manu Bennett: He's never stopped - he has never stopped discussing with all of us, his journey. And I think there's something very Spartacus about that. You know, there's a very truthful pure quality to the man himself and that's what they needed to find. Andy gave such an extraordinarily honest performance, the people were just so moved by that that, you know, it was almost an impossibility to find somebody to replace Andy. What they've found in Liam is somebody with an absolute truth. It's a different truth, but it's still the truth, as a person. And it's wonderful to work with him because every day he brings an open book that we all get to participate with. You know, there were other people that came and read, and you know, the acting world's an egotistical world and we could have gotten somebody who just got into the chariot and rode it as some kind of, you know, the next big thing. But Liam is a very humble person and has gifted us all with his openness. And that reads itself into the role.

Craig Parker: I think very first episode, which is a strange new episode, you know, there's a new Spartacus, there's a new world that we're in, it's an odd episode, but by the end of it you fully embrace Liam as a different, but the new Spartacus and you - you're ready to go on the journey with him, which is quite wonderful. And as Manu says, he doesn't in any way try to be Andy or to replicate that performance, he takes it as a whole new sort of slate and paints a very different Spartacus but a equally interesting and sort of diverse, and you know, a wonderful, wonderful job.

Nick Tarabay: I have to actually agree with all three of the guys. And one thing I've actually really liked about Liam was his heart. I mean he has such a good heart. And like Manu said, "He's very humble." And like when you talk to him outside of acting, when we just sit down and talk between scenes or at lunchtime or whatever, he's such a good person, and very dedicated to the work, that you see Spartacus in him, which made it very easy for all of us to see him as the new Spartacus. Liam is surrounded by really, really good actors and really, really good people that I think it made it easier for him too to get more into the character. So he's doing a great job.

Daniel Feuerriegel: Yes, and he also respected where it all came from, and where he came from as well. He knew what he was up against and continually just, as Manu said, "Modest and humble," in regards to you know, what Andy did in the first season. And that's another magnificent part of Liam's personality, which shines through as well.

Can you talk about filming the fight sequences and how much training goes into them physically and mentally?

Manu Bennett: (Stunt coordinator) Allan Poppleton was nominated for an Emmy. You know, so we've got the best in the business. You know, these guys are meticulous in making us train for what we need to build ourselves up for. We do a gladiator boot camp at the beginning of each year which is really a very rigorous four-week process, which not only teaches us all of the weaponry and, sort of you know, beats from one to six or whatever, you know, we learn things in numbers so that when we go into the season we basically speak in terms of a system that we learned at the beginning. It's a language, it's just like learning dance. It's like you know, learning anything where there's choreography involved. And Allan Poppleton does a very, very good job at it. And we have just a wonderful stunt team that we work very closely with. I think over the three seasons that we've shot so far, we just keep on getting actually, you know, more experienced and more experienced. So you know, I think the fans this season are going to get like another level again of, you know, the quality of the fights because we're actually keep on improving because of our training, you know?

Craig Parker: And I think that as the training improves and everyone gets better and better in seeking new and more interesting ways to do a fight, also the technology is increasing. So the way we shoot things, the way you know, we know how to work with CGI or layering shot. So even you know, in the very first episode, that opening sequence with the horses and Spartacus, it's incredible. It's so - it is, it's ballet, it's full theater and opera. So you end up with these amazing, beautiful, bloody, horrible, terrible moments, but they're wonderful to watch.

Spartacus is a very intense show to be on, so what can you tell us about what you guys do to lighten up the set a bit, like who's the biggest prankster?

Manu Bennett: Nick, without a doubt.

Nick Tarabay: I would say Craig.

Daniel Feuerriegel: Craig? Yes Craig's pretty funny and annoying.

Craig Parker: It's funny because we're very much two different worlds there is - this series, wherein you know, the previous serious it's been in the ludus where they all live together. But this world is very much the roman world and the gladiator world. And it's quite strange, we sort of very rarely intersect, we do you know, further down the series we do. And so it was like two different camps and you would find, you know, in Spartacus' world there's Dan who is incredibly naughty.

Daniel Feuerriegel: Whatever.

Craig Parker: And you think, "This is their little world and their little school politics." And but in roman world we definitely - I think the blacker the stuff you're dealing with, the harder emotionally, the more brutal and awful stuff you're doing each day on set, the funnier the offset becomes. Because it's a great sort of release to know - to remind yourself constantly that while these characters are doing terrible things to each other, as actors we are playing with each other, we're having the great joy and pleasure of working, on you know, great scripts with great actors. So the humor does become very black and very twisted, but it definitely has to be there I think throughout to - just to survive the season.

Nick Tarabay: I know Spartacus is very intense but some of the behind the scene captures what happens with the actors. I mean I think if they really have a camera on us behind the scene it would be a comedy show going on (unintelligible) because we're always cracking jokes, we're always laughing. I mean I worked a lot with Craig and Lucy in the season and there were times that we couldn't help ourselves; we had to actually control our laughter to get into the scene. And which - but what that did, I mean it just created that safe and trusting environment that we know each other really well and everybody is very dedicated to the work. So we just, you know, had fun with it. And everybody, no matter how tense it is, even Manu you know, he comes in as he's Crixus and everybody's like all, "Fuck the Gauls," he cracks jokes too. I mean he's laughing, he's doing this to his own self too, I mean behind the scenes we're all - you know, it's completely different people than when you see onscreen. So that was pretty fun for us all.

Manu Bennett: Yes I think the thing is that we all enjoy the show, you know. I mean we actually have a wonderful production team and everybody enjoys their process. And I think when you're on a show that, you know, I mean we - you know, we've had very much of a roller coaster ride because of all the things that could have potentially stopped our show from running. But because everyone felt like we're working on a great project and we're all going to - like there's never been a day that I haven't gone to work actually looking - I look forward to going to work. I've never gone to work once feeling like, "I don't' want to go to work today." And you know, I feel that everybody that I work with has that sort of absolute positivity about the show. So the mood on set is constantly driven by positivity, you know? I mean there's very rarely the sort of the gripes that you get on a lot of sets. I mean we have our few moments, but everyone very quickly pulls everybody else into line because we actually work as a team, it's great.

Nick, I'm just wondering, you know, you've got a bone to pick with Crixus, but I was just thinking you've also got a bone to pick with Spartacus as well, because you know, his rebellion that's like - made him get away from the ludus. You know, your position was elevated in the ludus and now it's like you've gone back to nothing. So are we going to get to see you get some payback on Spartacus this year as well?

Nick Tarabay: Well, I think Ashur has a bone to pick with a lot of people, not just who you mentioned. But yes, he does have something to pick with Spartacus, because you're right, he was elevated. He became Batiatus' right-hand man and became part of the villa, that world, and that fulfilled that hole that he had, because he ultimately wanted to be a gladiator so much. And when that wasn't fulfilled, he found joy and he found peace in that power of becoming Batiatus' right-hand man, and eventually excelling. So yes when Spartacus did this, obviously that ruined his plans. But I think Ashur, and the way I, I guess approach the character, ultimately my all-time nemesis is Crixus in a way because not only that he - that I - in my mind, in Ashur's mind in the Gods of the Arena, the prequel, he helped Crixus in the beginning and he was kind of by his side. And then Crixus turned sides and then crippled him in the end so - and took away what he really wanted so bad, which is to be accepted and to be part of the brotherhood. Then on top of that in Season 1, he kept on pushing him down; suppressing him and really pushing him down throughout, which that added more to that fire that made Ashur the person that we got to know now. I mean obviously there's other elements as well because it started with Crixus and then it ended up with everybody else around him. You know, and we also believe Ashur didn't start out that way, he didn't start out to be the person that everybody kind of calls the villain or the bad guy, whatever you want to call it. He actually came to the ludus wanting to be part of something big, and he wanted to be part of the brotherhood. But he kept on being pushed down, pushed down, pushed down, and not accepted, for reasons not his fault. So he, Ashur, the one that we know now, became that way from the ludus, a place that supposed of he - supposedly a place of honor and brotherhood. So he actually has vengeance against them all now. He sees them, and they all contribute to his fall. So he is going to definitely go after Crixus as you saw in Season 1, he does in a way through Naevia. And that actually, that continues obviously. And especially Spartacus too, because he's leading those people into this rebellion, took away all what he was going to be. And then you'll see him actually plotting a lot of stuff. I think Ashur's going to cause a lot of problem this season, even more problems than I thought he would actually end up doing -- physically and mentally. And he really stares the part this season. It's a different level of interaction; whether it's with Crixus, whether it's with Spartacus, even his relationship with Glaber and his relationship with Lucretia -- all of these relationships, it's in a different level this season. You know, you keep hearing over and over, "Vengeance is bigger," and it really is, it's pretty grand. And so everything is heightened. It's really tough times, especially for Ashur.

Will we see Crixus continue his push to be a leader or will concede to be more of a follower this season?

Manu Bennett: I think with some characters you know, they say what kind of cat never changes its spots? You know, I think every character on our show is pretty much carved out of granite, you know? You know, there's change in the way they'll feel with their hearts, but you know, it's really just - its' a very iconic series, you know, we've got very mainstay characters that continue to sort of like you know, revel in their individual characters, you know? You know, if you took away Crixus' desire to be a leader, you know, I don't know what you'd be left with. You know, I think he - he's trying to find example and to live his life in a way where he thinks he's doing the best thing to move forward. You know and if somebody else's idealism is going to come in to question his direction, then he's either going to battle with it or adopt it, that perspective you know, which is the situation with Spartacus. You know, the leadership thing is what really, I think drives our great drama that's between Spartacus and Crixus on many things, but between anybody in the show, I mean Craig Parker, you know, has a just wonderful storyline to do with - you know, trying to find (unintelligible) Ashur wants to lead, you know, he wants to be listened to, you know? And you know I mean, it's sort of the bottom line of Spartacus is the individual -- the voice of the individual, you know? And it's just wonderful that the world's really such a screwed up place and we have to keep on making a drama of it. I mean you know, are people wrong and right? It's just perception isn't it?

Craig Parker: Well there is a wonderful thing through - with all the characters, you know, leading or driving or things but everyone is trying to do the right thing, you know, whether they're the goodies or the baddies, everyone has a clear idea of what is the right course, the way the world should be. And I think with every single character in this world, they're all, you know, in the pursuit of happiness and they just end up doing terrible things on the way.

Will we get to learn more of Agron's back story this season?

Daniel Feuerriegel: A little bit here and there, not too much about back story. But you'll definitely get a lot more of his, like his desires and his personality. And also just like what the guys were talking about is just his desire to be heard, not so much lead. But he definitely has a lot of opinions and he kind of develops into Spartie's right hand man. And he's definitely got Spartie's ear. But just whether or not he gets heard or not is the big thing. But you definitely do learn a lot more about Agron in this upcoming season.

Craig Parker: And we learn a bit about his culture, where he comes from, got a bit of language there.

Daniel Feuerriegel: Yes, oh yes you do get a bit of German in there towards the back end. But I won't say too much. But you do, you start to get an idea of who he is, a lot more.

I was curious about the dynamics of the group, because the slaves - it's clear in the beginning, are very much a ragtag group. The House slaves and the gladiators have a divide; the gladiators are divided. And I'm curious about the evolution of the group over the course of the season.

Daniel Feuerriegel: Well, as you saw in the first couple of episodes, you know, I think from the first season as well, the Germans and the Gauls do not like each other for some reason. And so of course that's the initial kind of conflict, especially between myself and Crixus. And of course everybody has their own desires, everybody has their own agenda, but - and it seems like Spartacus is there to kind of keep everyone together, whereas and like you know, of course Crixus, his sole purpose is to get back to his love. Agron is just - he's still hurting form the loss of his brother and he's just kind of going on a blitzkrieg, and just wants to kill Romans pretty much. He doesn't really have one source of who he wants to avenge. And even in the first episode his one chance of actually taking one back gets taken away from him because Crixus had to get some information. And so that also just adds to the conflict, adds to the conflict. But that's you know, why Spartacus eventually I guess ends up as the leader so to speak, because he is open to everyone and will take a back seat when is required, and will lead when is required, and keeps everyone together. So that's kind of my take on the whole I guess, agenda. Manu, thoughts?

Manu Bennett: You know, it's really just about leadership. It's just about, you know, this group of slaves. I mean basically we walk out of a door into total enemy territory. And you know, most of us have only ever known to work as slaves or work in a mine, or to fight as gladiators. It's a classic example of, "Out of the frying pan into the fire." You know, how do people behave, you know, in that situation? I mean we weren't the best of - you know, we weren't the best of friends in the ludus, you know, do you think this scenario's going to ease up our tensions? It just gets worse, you know it just gets worse. You know and relationships get absolutely pushed, you know, to the edge. So you know, it's just another conundrum of, you know, personalities just you know, trying to survive, trying to put one foot in front of...

Daniel Feuerriegel: In a deeper level it's kind of - it's about equality. It's about equality, and that's what Spartacus is trying to do is just, every - that's what he says the whole way through, "Everybody is equal." Everybody is equal regardless of what you do, where you've come from, everybody is equal. And so that's why I feel as though Spartacus eventually becomes, you know, the leader because that's his view, that's his vision.

I was wondering for Nick, Ashur has kind of a big journey this season and you get to sort of scheme with Lucretia and with Glaber and you have some intense scenes with Oenomaus. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about his journey. And do you think that he's always plotting or is he always reacting to things in order to survive?

Nick Tarabay: Well I think Ashur, which I really love about this character; he's very, very smart and he's always thinking ten steps ahead. And maybe in the beginning, again in the prequel or a little bit in Season 1, he was a bit reacting, which in my mind he was more assessing. Especially in Season 1 he was - after he found out that he couldn't fight any more and he was a cripple, he was just watching everybody and kind of analyzing each character and then founding out his ultimate weapon, which is his brain and his wits and his talent for survival. In this season he is definitely plotting. He is really, you know, is also - put it as he's investing in certain people. So and especially there you saw the first four episodes, I'm not going to give it away, you know why I'm using the word investing, especially with certain character, because he feels that it might payoff somehow or it might be his backup plan, which end up being the case in a lot of ways. He has a really, really big journey. And episode 4, I mean it gets even bigger and bigger towards the end, and his dreams and what he wants achieved is beyond what he though is possible. And that all comes true in a way with him aligning with Glaber and the roman - the bigger boys. Yes, especially with Oenomaus, again what I said before you know, "Ashur's got a bone to pick with a lot of people." And we all saw what happened in the end of Season 1. So definitely he has something to pick with Oenomaus, Crixus and Spartacus and even he's going to have some sort of - maybe I shouldn't say that, never mind. But never mind what I was going to say. But yes, he's definitely planning. His plan keeps getting bigger and bigger. And what's great is because he's a bit closer to the Romans, but not necessarily on their good side yet, the possibilities as I said, "Are limitless," or maybe way bigger than he was next to Batiatus. He's playing with a way bigger boy; he's playing with Glaber now, a big roman so it's. But also that comes with dues as well, you know, he has to in a way prove himself and - which is you know, a different ball game with the Romans, as you probably already saw in the first couple of four episodes. It doesn't come easy and Glaber doesn't make it easier for him. And Lucretia doesn't make it easier. But in general, in general it's hard all the way around. You know what I'm saying? It's really tough circumstances. But you'll see Ashur planning stuff like that you won't know what he was planning up until episode 10, which is the last episode and you're like, "Oh, this is where he was going for," which is a big surprise going to be for the audience because it was a big surprise for me. So I'm sure they're going to be shocked, yes.

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

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