@spartacus_starz One of the biggest hits last year in the world of cable television series was the Starz series Spartacus: Blood and Sand. With its group of complex, conniving (and scantily clad) characters, intense drama, blood filled battles between sweaty, hunky gladiators, gay icon Lucy Lawless in a key role and sexy Andy Whitfield as the title character, the show was destined for success. However, real life crept in after the first season aired when Whitfield was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. While the initial thought was that he was in remission after treatment, the cancer returned and it was recently announced that Aussie actor Liam McIntyre would take over the role of Spartacus in the second season of Blood and Sand.
Backing up a bit, while Spartacus producers Steven S. DeKnight and Rob Tapert were still hopeful about Whitfield’s return, they also couldn’t let the momentum of the Spartacus series die down so they decided to do a prequel – Gods of the Arena – and utilize the popularity of Blood and Sand stars John Hannah (as Batiatus, Spartacus’s master) and Lucy Lawless (as Lucretia, his scheming wife) and showcase a new gladiator, Gannicus, played by sexy Australian actor Dustin Clare.
At the recent Television Critics Association in Pasadena, I grabbed a few minutes with the rugged, handsome Clare and talked about coming into the show as well as sat in on the panel with cast and producers to talk Spartacus: Gods of the Arena.
Jim Halterman: You wear very little clothing in a lot of this series. Was that a challenge to get used to?
Dustin Clare: Not particularly. Before that, I played a gigolo in a series in Australia [called Satisfaction] that was based around the lives of five sex workers so I had to address that kind of nudity and sex scenes. I was lucky because I had already addressed that in something I had done previously.
JH: So who exactly is Gannicus and how was the preparation for the role?
DC: Gannicus is a very self-destructive character. He’s always trying to escape his reality, and he does that through abusing things like alcohol in excess and there [are] a lot of contradictions in the character. That’s always a nice thing to play with, not only physically in the arena when he’s in the arena–Aboriginal Australian boxer Anthony Mundine is probably the most confident boxer you will ever see in the ring. But there’s only one reason you can be that confident when you are in a fighting sense, like in an arena, because you are extremely good at what you do. Anthony Mundine is very good at it, and I think Gannicus is as well. And he uses the crowd like Anthony Mundine does. So, yeah, preparation was all the normal preparation you do as an actor in terms of research and history and the accent. And then my character fights with two swords, so you are also learning a left-brain and right-brain kind of action, which takes a little while to get down. And I had a great set of trainers so I’m very grateful for that. He [also] has a great relationship with Oenomaus (played by Peter Mensah), and it’s kind of the saving grace.
JH: The sword fighting in the battle scenes look so complicated but it must’ve been fun, too, right?
DC: All the sword fights are a lot of fun and it’s also another skill that you gain as an actor so later on when I work on other things I’ll have that sword fighting skill, which I think is a good skill to have.
JH: There’s a gay gladiator this season. Is that true?
Lucy Lawless: There was a gay gladiator last season. You are not paying attention. [grins]
Steven S. DeKnight: Oh, yeah. It’s Barca (played again by Antonio Te Maioha). Barca from last season returns to this season. And we introduce — since we’re going back in time — we see his relationship with another gladiator before Peitros (Eka Darville in Blood and Sand) arrived at the Ludus.
DC: The biggest surprise was probably that once you’re filming the sheer amount of training that you still have to keep up and the lack of sleep. I knew it was going to be a pretty grueling five months but it was probably even more grueling than I expected. The lack of sleep and waking up for training and then doing the normal work as an actor…it was like a double workload in a way because you have to keep up the physical stuff.
JH: How did you learn to juggle all that and still deliver a solid performance?
DC: First and primarily, you’re an actor and that’s what you’re there for and you’re always looking at your work as an actor. Secondary is that you have to do the training and keep all that physical aspect up but we did a lot of functional training as well because it’s almost gymnastic like in a way. It’s not only about getting physical but also staying very flexible. You just have an extra workload so you do the work you’d normally do as an actor as I would do in any job.
JH: When shooting was finished, did you rush out and get a pizza?
DC: Absolutely! I ate and I didn’t lift a weight or do any kind of exercise for two weeks. It was fantastic.
JH: In terms of Gods of the Arena, is there a central protagonist this season or is it about equally divided [amongst the cast]?
Rob Tapert: It’s spread a little bit but certainly we have a main protagonist. I would say it’s very similar to Season 1 except that the engine is going faster, meaning of course, Gannicus is the gladiator at the middle and the stories are spinning around him in the same way that stories spun around Spartacus. People seem to want this character or want to be close to him and his actions send other characters’ story lines spinning in certain directions. I think it’s great storytelling and really good scripts at the end of the day that invite the audience in and can put them on the journeys that all the characters are on. And they can relate to those stories and those journeys. If you have well-written stories, it makes all the difference in the world
Spartacus: Gods of the Arena airs Fridays at 10/9c on Starz!