‘Spartacus’ overcomes the odds

Liam McIntyre stars as Spartacus. "Spartacus: War of the Damned" premieres Jan. 25 at 9 p.m. on Starz.

Behind the stylized violence and impressively choreographed sex scenes that have made “Spartacus” the Starz network’s must-see guilty pleasure is the story of a broken man fighting against all odds to regain respect and an everyman suffocating under Roman rule. For the past two seasons, Liam McIntyre has brought the legend of the title character to life: from suffering the pain of his wife’s murder to seeking vengeance and bringing down an empire that thrived on the degradation of men. As this swords-and-sandals epic enters its final season, McIntyre reflects on the journey of playing such an iconic character.

How has Spartacus come into his own as a leader?
A lot of his drive has been from the love and loss that he’s suffered. Now he has a new cause: He has all these people who look to him. His leadership skills have grown through his campaign and through his experience. His generals have supported him, and his numbers have grown in stature and strength. All that’s left for him is this ultimate victory against Rome that will give the people their freedom. He realizes he won’t have his life, but he can give other people theirs.

Spartacus is told that he’s beginning to resemble a god to the people. How does that sit with him?
Yeah, it doesn’t sit very well. He’s not that kind of guy. He’s been trapped in this massive war that’s so far beyond anything he’d ever expected. He’s fighting the odds in a very strong sense of the word. Because he’s having so much success, to these people, he’s like a savior to them. He’s actually doing it — the impossible — which is to start beating back Rome and earn people their freedom. But he’s a man of the people, and he’s going to return to them. It’s important to him.

Did you play the role of leader on the set?
It’s funny that life imitates art. The producers sat me down and said, “Now you’re the lead. You have to lead by example in every way. You’ve gotta be on time, you’ve gotta make sure people are doing their job.” I’m like, “Wow, this is a much bigger job than I thought.” [Laughs] As the show progressed, it just became a natural thing. I’m not a boring guy, but I’m pretty straight laced. Spartacus tries to keep everyone on the straight and narrow and the right path. I guess, in a weird way, that’s the role I ended up having on set as well. I’d be the guy who would try to rally the troops as best I could. I guess I took it on professionally as a part of my role.

What were those last days of filming like?
I remember Andy Whitfield [who originated the role of Spartacus, but died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2011] told me that the team at “Spartacus” was like a giant family. He was absolutely right. I was watching the last episode and doing DVD commentary on it a couple days ago; I could barely watch it. It was so raw and so sad, both the story onscreen and know­ing what had transpired with Andy and remembering the incredible family. By the last couple of shots, I was doing some of the most emotionally grueling work I’ve ever done. It has changed the way I’ve lived my life — not just as an actor, but as a person.


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