When the end is nigh, all bets are off. Knowing full well that this third season would be their last, SPARTACUS decided to deliver a no-holds barred season of brutal war showcasing the end of the Spartacus era. In a recent press conference call, executive producer Steven S. DeKnight, along with stars Liam McIntyre, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, and newcomer Todd Lasance previewed what this third and final bloody season will offer for the trials and tribulations of Spartacus, Naevia and Caesar.
What can you share about Caesar’s entry into this show and how big of a threat is he going to be for our heroes?
STEVEN: Oh he’s a huge threat. Early on we had a discussion in the writer’s room looking at the villain side. We had Crassus, which is fantastic. But we felt like we needed another element to bring into it and we hatched this idea, “Well what about Caesar? What about a young Caesar?” Really before he came to power. We knew historically that Caesar of this time period was very much the order, and he was a fighter. He was fighting in foreign wars, and he had this fantastic Julian name, but he was also broke. And those elements really matched well with Crassus. We were also very interested in seeing the early days of Crassus and Caesar, before they joined together with Pompeii and overthrew the Republic. We thought that would be a really great story to tell. And you usually don’t see that side of the story in movies and television shows about Caesar. It’s usually after they’ve overthrown the Republic, or right around the time they overthrow the Republic. So then we brought in our advisors and said “How much would we destroy history by having Caesar as part of this war against Spartacus?” We were all very surprised when they told us that we wouldn’t be destroying history at all. In fact, this was the one small part of history that very little was known about Caesar. Everything else, there’s a lot written about him, except this one little area. There are many historians and there are historians that thought it was probable that Caesar was part of this campaign against Spartacus and more than likely served under Crassus. So that gave us just enough to hang our hat on. That said, everything in the show with Caesar is fictional. Although we do frame it with actual events from his past and we make references, very sly references to what’s coming in the future for Caesar. And then, of course, we had to find a Caesar. And that was a hard role to cast. Because I had a very specific thing in my head for Caesar. He had to have a presence, he had to look like he would be a threat to the other gladiators, and most importantly, he had to have this shrewd intelligence in his eyes. Really like a shark that was constantly thinking and looking for his next move. We saw so many auditions and just could not find the right combination. Then I saw Todd’s audition and I immediately called Rob up and said, “I got the guy. This is absolutely the guy. We need to lock him up as quickly as possible because we’re not going to find another actor that just embodies what we need from Caesar.” Todd did such a fantastic job. From the moment you first see him on screen, it is a different interpretation of Caesar that I think the audience has ever seen, and I think, very right for this time period. I’ve read a lot of things online, Todd I don’t know if you’ve read any of these, but there’s been a small outcry of, “You guys suck, your casting is terrible, this guy looks nothing like Caesar. Caesar is old and bald.”
TODD: A couple of my friends have said that.
STEVEN: Yeah people just go back to what we’ve seen so much of. And Ciaran Hinds in ROME was so fantastic as Caesar. But that’s Caesar later in his life, that’s like 30 years later. In this time period Caesar, historically, is right around 29, and it just brings such a fantastic element to the show. I’m very excited for people to see this Caesar, the Caesar-threat with the rebels. And also, just the way Crassus and Caesar interact is just a joy to behold.
Todd, could you talk about just taking on the role and did you rely mostly on the script and your conversations with Steven, or did you kind of delve into the history and the research in that respect?
TODD: I kind of worked on two elements with that. First of all, before I had a chance to speak to the producers I just had about six weeks to sort of do research. So I got as many books together as I could and did a lot of research online and sort of tried to get an understanding for that particular time period. Because, unfortunately, historically there is not a lot of information in his earlier years. Because, obviously, when he came to power and was emperor that’s obviously when a lot of it was documented. So early on I did as much research as I could. And then once I landed in New Zealand, sort of sat down and spoke with the producers to get an understanding of what they wanted to see from Caesar — and obviously the character description as well gave me a little bit of an understanding — so it was kind of both of those elements. And then obviously – with regards to the audition – going into it with no real notes or anything to take into the room, I just kind of had to put my own spin on him a little. So I guess you could say there was sort of three different elements that I brought together. Because obviously, if the audition worked, then there were elements that I used in in those particular scenes that they wanted to see again. So I wanted to keep that, keep that through-line for the character as well. So, yeah, it was kind of three elements, I guess you could say.
For Cynthia, Naevia went through such a huge change last season and I’m assuming she’s going to be doing a lot of ass kicking. What was that like in terms of learning to fight and all of that?
CYNTHIA: Well, I went through a really interesting sort of process both on a personal level and through working on this character. And essentially at the end of VENGEANCE you saw the sort of beginnings of what Naevia is going to be this season in WAR OF THE DAMNED. I think back to when I was hired and at the time I was hired, and I met with Steven. I remember him giving me just a vague idea that I would be eventually fighting and kicking ass. But I don’t think I could have really imagined what I ultimately ended up doing, which was some of the hardest work I’ve ever done really. I don’t have a background in stunt work, fighting, anything like that. So for me it was very much, “Okay, I’m just going to jump into this. Take a leap of faith and assume that the producers and the writers won’t give me anything that I can’t handle.” But I definitely was pushed to the limits in a good way. And I very much cared about making sure that I could use all that training and the fighting to tell that story and to move that character forward. So that was sort of what kept me motivated and kept me going. Because there were many times and many days where I just thought, “Oh my gosh, I don’t know if I can do this. I’m really out of my depth here.” But I’m really happy with it and we have such an incredible support network with our stunt department, who works tirelessly to get these fight sequences together. I have to say some of the sequences this season are just absolutely amazing. And we work on the show — we put all this work into it. But I think I can speak for the group of us when I say that we’re also fans.
STEVEN: I think the audience is going to be absolutely blown away by Naevia this season. I mean from the moment she walks on screen – every time we were watching dailies in the writer’s room — every time Cynthia would come on screen, we’d spend the next ten minutes talking about how cool you were. I can tell you that the hair, the make-up, the costuming – just phenomenal. What a transformation.
CYNTHIA: And it was nice to, again, this season I felt like I really got to own it. I know for the audience, when I showed up as Naevia 2.0 it was probably a bit trying in many respects. And now I feel like this season the audience hopefully they’ve moved past that. Either they accept it or they don’t, but at this point I know for me I can just really sort of own Naevia this season and I’m really excited for the audience to sort of see where the writers and producers have taken this character this year.
About the decision to end the show, when that was made in terms of work on this upcoming season, had filming already begun?
STEVEN: No, thankfully we knew at the end of SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE when we were still writing the show. We were writing the last couple of episodes, and we knew there was a 99% chance that the next season would be our last season. So it gave us plenty of lead time to plan the end of VENGEANCE, so we could springboard into WAR OF THE DAMNED. So thankfully we had that. It’s a very rare thing in television, we had plenty of time to figure out where we were going to go. The only question was how many episodes we were going to do and we went through a lot of different variations. I mean everything from let’s do eight episodes so we can spend more money on each episode, to how about 16 episodes and we’ll air it in two parts. But ultimately we thought that 10 episodes would give you the most bang for your buck. And I personally, like the “Princess Bride,” let’s cut out all the boring parts and just give 10 fantastic episodes. And hopefully we have.
The decision to end the show, was that yours? Was it the networks? Because it’s unusual to see a show as popular and does as well in the ratings as SPARTACUS and before five seasons.
STEVEN: Yeah, it was a combination. It really was. There was a lot of factors going into it. Factors, everything from story, just looking at my original plan was five to seven seasons, then we got to the war years and the more and more I researched, the more and more all of the things that happened in the war were incredibly interesting. It was also incredibly expensive and somewhat repetitive. Spartacus and his band of rebels didn’t exactly have a dramatic three act structure to what they were doing. They were all over the place. They fought among themselves, they split apart, they came back together, they split apart, they went North, they went South, they went East, they went West, they went back North, they went back South. It was, when you read it, you really get the sense that there was no plan. It was just they were out and about. Then it was one wave after another of Romans going after them and Romans getting defeated. So I really struggled with how to lay this out in an entertaining fashion for two or three more seasons without completely jettisoning history, and I didn’t want to completely turn my back on history and just make it fictional. So it was a group decision, and a bold one I think for Starz. Everything they’ve done with this show has been a bold choice. But in the end I kept saying look we would rather end this show on a high note at its most popular than drag it out for a couple more seasons, and have the audience start to fall away and people starting to get bored. And I totally agreed with that. I thought it was a great opportunity to end it and really end it strong.
Given the real history of Spartacus, should viewers be preparing themselves for a downer ending?
STEVEN: Well, I have a long history of ripping hearts out. So, yeah, it’s a gut-wrenching finale. But the interesting thing, and I’m so proud of the series finale — it’s so hard to end a series — but I think everyone did such a fantastic job on this, it is a beautiful, powerful, emotional ending. And the trick was, how do you end it. This was something we talked about before we shot the first episode of the series, was: what are we going to do at the end? I mean, everybody knows how it ends. It would be like doing a movie about the “Titanic” and the Titanic doesn’t sink. But, for us, we wanted to keep as close to history as possible. So the challenge was, how do we have that ending but still make it a victory. And the last episode is called “Victory” and it’s a bit of an ironic title because it really explores how the rebels gained victory in defeat, and how, frankly, with the Romans how they suffered defeat and victory. No one comes out of this clean at the end. In true SPARTACUS fashion, it’s all very gray at the end. But there is a powerful, I think, uplifting message at the end. I’ve said this before, but when I wrote the finale, I watched all of the dailies, I saw cuts, but still at the end of the day when I watched it I cried. It was so powerful. So I can only imagine what the audience is going to feel.
LIAM: Yeah, it was very cool for us though. Especially for the rebels to sort of find a way. To find out : How do you win? How do you win out of all this that happened? Sort of a cool challenge. I think they do a pretty good job. I really feel like Spartacus kind of wins.
TODD: No, he doesn’t.
LIAM: Todd’s like, “No, he doesn’t!”
TODD: I had to pop up, sorry, I had to.
LIAM: Alright you and your fancy…
How has Spartacus sort of changed as far as his attitude towards things in sort of the gray area?
LIAM: He’s a lot more no-nonsense this year. It’s been fun. I liked the writing team have kind of clearly delineated Spartacus in each season. He’s a reluctant slave who has the mission to regain his life essentially. Or, and that’s clearly defined in the second season that he’s lost his old life and he’s got the start of this new one as they take on this unique new responsibility that is given to him. Which is, you have the real opportunity to make a difference to so many lives, is that the person you are? And he sort of works that out. But now it’s about a year later, almost in the midst of this war, this full scale rebellion that was made so famous. He’s not the questioning guy that he has been in the past about what he should be doing and how he should do it. He’s no-nonsense, kick-ass, take-names kind of guy now. And he’s been a lot of fun to play. It’s a great season for Spartacus this year because he gets to look at the rebels in a different way? Up until now he’s just been trying to get his own personal vengeance, and also try to free these people that look to him for leadership. But now he’s seeing that freedom a different shape to the beast of his rebellion. Are they as good as he wants them to be? Are they doing what he thinks is right? Are they doing the right thing? There’s a lot of questions raised about who the good guy is in this series. And one of the things I love about what Simon and Todd do in the roles of Caesar and Crassus is they really get the audience to sort of question of: Who are they going for? And that’s one of the things I love about this show, is that the bad guys aren’t really bad guys. They just happen to be fighting the hero. And so you’ve got to put them in that pile. So Spartacus has really hardened up and he sort of realizes that it’s going to be his strength of will that leads these people to freedom or otherwise, and if he’s going to have any chance against the impossible might of Rome he’s going to have to steer the ship. So he’s in a very firm place now.
Is there any possibility that we’ll be seeing Spartacus with Crassus and the others before the end?
LIAM: Yeah, we get a lot of moments. There will be some bigger than others, but they will not be too separate. Obviously, whenever they’re together, it’s probably not going to go well. But Steven has some wonderful little ideas this year about how to keep the interaction quite creative and I think it’s ultimately very satisfying.
STEVEN: That was definitely one of the trickiest elements of this season. Because now you’ve got two forces. You’ve got Crassus and Caesar and Spartacus and his rebels. And whenever they’re together, they’re not going to be standing around talking. They’re going to try to murder each other. So finding creative ways to get around that was definitely a challenge.
Could you say something more about Kore and Tiberius and what their roles are and questions that are brought up by their presence?
STEVEN: Yes, Kore is Crassus’ trusted and beloved house slave. Really I think his general compass is his heart. She plays a very, very large role in who Crassus is, and I really wanted to find a way to humanize Crassus. He’s not a monster, he is not a two dimensional villain. He has feelings, and desires, and he has a heart. Tiberius is Carrus’ son, his youngest son. He’s going to war for the first time with his father, and that’s the other dynamic I thought was really important for Crassus. It is to show this father-son relationship and that balance between needing to guide your son in the right path, in the Roman way. But also this struggle about you want to be tough, but you want to also show love, and that constant struggle for Crassus is something that plays out through the entire season. Those two elements, the Kore and Tiberius elements, I think, were vital in really fleshing out the character of Crassus.
It was intriguing also was that Tiberius seems to also have respect and sort of reverence for Kore, even though she is a house slave. Is that something he picked up from his dad? What is that relationship like?
STEVEN: Definitely. That’s something in the first episode that I wanted to show about Crassus, is that he is not a guy that feels like all slaves should be ground under the heel. He, in this time period I believe, was the largest slave owner in Rome, and he didn’t just own slaves that did manual labor. He owned slaves that were scholars and architects. It was like a labor force. He made money off this because he would rent out his experts to other Romans to do work for them and to teach their children, and he made quite a bit of money out of that. Also a lot of people think that slavery in this time the slaves were all in chains, were all treated poorly. But, in fact, a lot of slaves had their own homes, had their own families. But they were under the slave owner, and Crassus really had the most elite level slaves. There’s a certain, I think, respect that he has for them. He realizes this is a necessary component of this society. And he completely accepts that, he’s not against slavery. But I wanted to show that he had a respect, and on some level a love, for certain slaves. And I think that all really, really comes out in his relationship with Kore and even his interactions with a slave that he has helping him train to fight in episode one.
LIAM: It defines Caesar’s relationship in that it is sort of a family environment as well. He’s sort of the outsider coming in to some extent right?
STEVEN: Yeah, family is just so important. It was important in the beginning of this show with Lucretia and Batiatus, and it was important with Glabor and Ilithyia, and Ilithyia’s father, and it is very, very important this season with Crassus and Tiberius — and I include Kore and Caesar to some extent, in Crassus’ family. I think that building off that feeling of family is so important, and very important on the rebel side too.
Steven, you mentioned that in a sense Kore and Caesar are kind of part of a surrogate family with Crassus and Tiberius. How did you develop the Crassus/Caesar relationship beyond commanding officer and commanded officer?
STEVEN: Well, to start with, I took a page out of history. Crassus and Caesar, they have a very complicated relationship. They appear to be very close but in the letters that they sent back and forth that they really traded barbs. One of the most famous ones was Crassus came to Caesar’s aid and paid the ransom when Caesar was kidnapped by the pirates. But Crassus didn’t actually rush to pay it, and Caesar sent basically a rather irate note “Thanks for the payment, what the fuck took so long?” So they had almost like a love/hate relationship. But Crassus definitely needed Caesar. He did not have the storied name that would propel him to the top of politics. And Caesar had the Julian name but had no money, he was broke. Crassus paid off a bunch of his debts and helped fund him in his political lies. So we really wanted to explore the early days of that. That these are two guys that there is a mutual respect, and even I think, at the barest essence of their characters, a fondness for each other. But they are often at odds. Even though they’re working towards the same goal. They often don’t agree with each other. It’s a very rocky relationship, and really that was my building blocks for this relationship. But you will see as we go along, that Caesar is very loyal to Crassus. And Crassus does have a great respect for Caesar. In my mind, I think Crassus feels like Caesar is kind of like a son to him, and it’s almost like the son you wish you had. Which causes problems with his real son. Caesar and Crassus’ son Tiberius, this is really like, I played it as much as I could like two brothers. Each vying for their father’s approval, and it causes a very interesting dynamic and spins into a hell of a great story.
TODD: I like the way that you created this symmetry through a lot of so much of this season. Spartacus and Crassus, they’re not entirely separate from each other. And Spartacus and Crixus and Caesar and Crassus, they’re both very dominant in their two groups. And they’re both fighting for what they believe is right, they’re both similar but very different. There’s great symmetry in terms of all the stories this time around, I think it’s very nice.
STEVEN: Yeah, we were definitely shooting for that two sides of the same coin feel with the rebels and the Romans.
Is there a point where Spartacus is going to say, “This is too far? These people are innocent, we need to stop.”
LIAM: That would be an interesting question. Look, all I can say is that the thing I like about Spartacus is he isn’t necessarily a cut-and-dried hero character. He’s aware of the world around him and the fact that it’s not a pretty Disneyworld. It’s not something with a Spielberg ending. And he kind of he has to take stock of: what does he want, what’s it for, and what is he prepared to sacrifice to get it? And there will be many times that the Romans and his own rebels make him look at what he’s created and question whether or not it’s okay what he is doing and the people around him are doing. Both sides. To tell you exactly how he decides that would be ruining the story, but it is part of what makes this character so fascinating. Because he’s not always the good guy. Some of the things that make him the hero I like to think he is, are those difficult decisions that aren’t always good guy decisions. So when he does fight and fight the good fight, it sort of more important. So he will be tested more than he ever has been and he will look at: what is he doing, and why is he doing it?
Is there someone in his group that maybe acts as a bit of a conscience for him?
LIAM: Yeah, I’ve always thought that. Strangely enough, you’d never think it on the surface but, Gannicus is something of his moral compass. Because he’s the only one that really tells Spartacus the truth. Whether it’s from the minute he met him in VENGEANCE, because you know obviously I think, Varo was that kind of guy back in BLOOD AND SAND. He was the friend that just told Spartacus how it was. So Spartacus didn’t have that for a while. And then this rock star Gannicus comes along and just sort of lays it out in a way that Spartacus didn’t get any more. And throughout VENGEANCE and WAR OF THE DAMNED, they have this very interesting relationship where two of the toughest men there are sort of lean on each other in sort of intercept able ways, in sort of manly ways, and they open up to each other that makes sort kind of right for the other character. So yeah, they have this strange odd bond. That like neither of them sort of looks for, but there it is. And I really like the way their journey goes, especially this season.
STEVEN: Yeah, that relationship was so important to me this season, and it really bookends the season. There is an important scene in episode one between the two. And there is a call back to that scene in the finale that is really, really important. And that scene in the finale, the call back, when we were fighting the page count and the original breakdown of the script said it would take, I don’t know, 32 days to shoot. That was one of the scenes that people were talking about cutting. And I said, “No, you can’t cut that scene. That’s a really important scene.” In fact I think that scene, that call back scene, was not in the original draft of the finale. Liam said, “Hey I think we need a Spartacus- Gannicus scene.” And he was dead on. I think the finale would suffer without that scene between those two. Very, very important relationship.
What makes this Julius Caesar, besides his age, different than the others that we’ve seen on television or movies?
TODD: I think the idea of him having a bit of a rogue element sort of springs to mind as being different from the other seasons portrayed. He sort of appears to not conform and stick directly to what would be a – what’s the word — a traditional Roman way. He kind of fly’s his own flag to a degree, but obviously there is still that respect element with Crassus. So that rogue element was interesting. I wasn’t sure what was going to be introduced as far as this Caesar as well. Coming into the show, I wasn’t sure of his whole character. So the rogue element was certainly interesting. I think his ability on the battlefield as well is something that hasn’t really been touched on in previous Caesars. Particularly, given the fact that most of the time Caesar is betrayed it’s in his later years. But I think it will be interesting for the audience to see the fact that he was extremely formidable with the sword. He needed to be a direct threat to Spartacus and the rebels themselves and have that sort of physical presence in the sense that he needed to be an opponent that was worthy of fighting and could potentially take down the rebels. So they introduce a few one-on-ones between the higher ranking rebels as well. To kind of show off, I guess you could say, his fighting ability. It becomes quite apparent very early on that obviously he’s a definite physical threat as well. Not just a sharp wit, but also an extremely threatening on the battlefield. So I think those two elements will be something that hasn’t really been seen before in a Caesar in the past.
STEVEN: And to add to that, that was an element that I really wanted to show. Is just how dangerous Caesar was militarily. Since historically he goes on to fight a brutal campaign in Gaul and at this point in our story, he’s coming back from helping fight against the pirates. So he knew how to fight. He was a military guy and he became a military commander. That’s the other thing about Crassus too that I wanted to show. A lot of people just think of Crassus as the statesman, the rich statesman. But he actually, his nickname was the Hero of Common Gate, I believe it was. There was a big battle during the times of Marius where he did this decisive maneuver in a battle that won the day. But I also looked in history for that and I wanted Crassus and Caesar both to be very, very good fighters. And for the audience to have the idea that, “Okay if one of these guys went head to head with Spartacus, maybe he won’t win. But by God he’ll give him a run for his money.” That they are dangerous and on the right day, at the right time, they could kill any of the main rebel characters.
TODD: Adding to that as well, it was interesting for me to read personally about the fact that at such an early age he was commanding legions. I think we lose scope of the age. Look I’m 27, and to think two or three years prior Caesar was commanding legions of men and at the front line of the battlefield. I can’t even fathom what that must have been like. So for him to prove himself at such a young age as well, I think it was important for that element to be introduced in the season as well, or in the series itself. Just because people weren’t aware of that — I most certainly wasn’t aware of it until I came across it in the readings and we had – there’s a couple of accounts of high ranking soldiers moving to the front of the line with Caesar and wanting to be the first to charge the line, so they could die in his name. So he obviously held an extremely large amount of respect with the military. And ultimately that’s how he gained so much power and became emperor, was through the military. So it’s an important element.
LIAM: I don’t want to talk it up too much, but whenever I watch it, I’m just compelled by the Roman side of the story. I mean, truly I think Todd’s portrayal of Caesar is just brilliant and honestly Crassus is a fantastic nemesis. He’s just unlike any other villain that we’ve portrayed so far. And those two together, they’re so different, but that’s what makes them be such a wonderful partnership. Because they are like two sides of the same coin in some regard. And the portrayals I think are just exceptional. They really blew me away.
About Agron and Nasir this season, what can we expect from that relationship?
STEVEN: With Agron and Nasir, we’ve had gay characters on the show before. But this was the first time we could develop the relationship from the very beginning. Very slowly. And actually see them fall in love. Which was something both Rob Tapert and I both really, really wanted to do. And I think that last season with VENGEANCE, Dan and Pana both did such a fantastic job that, that awkward realizing you like somebody and those glances, and it was just so beautifully done. So the reaction to that has been just fantastically positive. The reaction overall to our same sex relationships, it’s been both positive and negative. Just like any cross section of society. There’s a lot of people who do not have a problem with it, that think the characters are wonderful and the storyline is beautiful. There are segments out there that just freak out whenever you even mention such a thing. Honestly there’s the same segment like with the male nudity. There’s a lot of guys that their head just sets on fire if there is a naked guy on screen. I personally don’t understand how either one of those is threatening if you’re a secure heterosexual male. But with some people we haven’t reached that point yet where everything is acceptable, and it just doesn’t bother you. With Agron and Nasir this season, we continue exploring their relationship. You can’t always have a relationship that goes smoothly, there’s not a lot of drama in that. So we throw a couple of curve balls at them. But theirs is one of the relationships that I think is really kind of a cornerstone of this season. There are a lot of relationships going on, and there’s I think is particularly powerful, and gut wrenching, and beautiful.
TODD: Yeah I feel like it really effect the course of the rebellion. Because as things get hotter and hotter and more high stakes for the rebellion, it’s really there relationship that gives you that insight into how all the couples in the rebel camp are dealing with the scale of what they’re doing.
STEVEN: They are a really good barometer as to what’s going on inside the rebel camp.
Todd, in light of what Steven talked how not much is known about young Caesar in history, how it feels to be making history?
TODD: To be perfectly honest, I still remember so vividly the moment I found out I got the role. I was sitting with my parents at lunch and I got the phone call from my agent saying I was going to be playing Caesar and I nearly burst into tears because I was so excited. There were hugs all around and five minutes later I jumped in my car and I swear to God I was two minutes from calling up and pulling out of the role because the fear hit me of what I was just about to undertake. It was extremely daunting, I will admit. I think personally I place a lot of pressure on my performances as it is, I’m very critical of myself. And I think with taking on someone like Caesar or anyone of historical value, people have these preconceived sort of notions, or ideas, or images in their mind of what they would expect of Caesar. For me as an actor, my fear came from a place of not necessarily when I have dialogue or when there is particular moments in a scene. It was more so when I’m not doing anything that I needed to, I felt this weight of needing to carry Caesar. That you would look at, I had this idea in my head, that when you look at Caesar you need to see someone that would potential become one of the greatest rulers in history. So I think that played on my mind a lot and I wanted to do him justice, whatever that justice would be. Especially with not having a lot of information to sort of work on I guess. I had to go on a lot of instinct and a lot of work I did at home that I brought to the character. But my first day, I was absolutely terrified, and it was obviously all shot in chronological order as far as episodes go. The first thing that you do see on air was my actual first scene shooting. So I think it was more just I wanted to do him justice and I was very aware of the fact that people had, quite famous actors had played the part and done incredible portrayals. And I wanted to live up to what people would expect to Caesar. I think it was probably also the expectations as well when they see Caesar, they’re going to expect to see some sort of X factor. So I’m just hoping that that comes across.
Who do you feel is Caesar’s most dangerous foe: Tiberius or Spartacus?
TODD: Without a doubt Spartacus, 100%. I mean, I guess, that’s a really good question actually. Look, Spartacus is his ultimate nemesis because he has the tactical mind, the strategic mind, the political mind. But also the skill on the battlefield, and Caesar is aware of that. Tiberius obviously has a lot of strength and qualities that could be potentially dangerous to Caesar, particularly the relationship between him and Crassus, but I think it’s made fairly clear early on that Caesar feels like he has power over Tiberius and isn’t necessarily a threat. But interestingly enough, he’s kind of a threat unbeknownst to Caesar as well. So there’s a lot of little dark elements that go on through the season that the audience may not be aware of until they show themselves. But as far as the ultimate, I guess you could say the ultimate nemesis would definitely be Spartacus. Caesar feels like he’s is a formidable opponent, but at the end of the day he’s aware that Spartacus has put together this legion of men. I don’t think there’s an element of fear per se, but he’s certainly aware that once he does meet Spartacus it’s certainly going to be a show down.
Steven, with Starz to be able to craft this show and now you’re working on another show. What are some of the things that you’ve taken from your experience with SPARTACUS that you either want to move towards because it works very well for you, or are you looking to do some things very different?
STEVEN: Well first off Starz has been — I can’t tell you the freedom that they have given us. I don’t think anywhere else on television in the United States would we have been allowed to just follow our path. Every now and then there was a question about, “this seems a little bit too naked” or “that might be slightly too violent.” I remember one of the biggest ones was my original idea of stabbing Lucretia, pregnant Lucretia, in the stomach in the end of season one. And at the time they said, “You can’t do that, are you nuts?” Everybody will hate Crixus if he does that.” And I said, “Lucretia is evil, they won’t hate him.” And then I waited, I bided my time for around four or five months. And then when we got to the end of that first season the idea popped up of Lucretia actually surviving the slaughter and I saw my chance and I sprung and said, “What if the only way she could possibly survive is if Crixus stabs her in the stomach?” Because otherwise he’s going to chop her head off. So I squeaked that one by. I thought there was going to be a bit of perhaps an argument of Lucretia taking the baby over the cliff at the end of last season. And I was shocked nobody said a peep about it, everyone was fine. At that point everybody thought that was a great operatic ending. So they have been just fantastic and very supportive creatively. As for the next project I’m working on developing a show for Starz called INCURSION that’s literally light years away from SPARTACUS. It’s set in the future, it’s a science fiction military show about this war on another planet. So it’s very, very different. That said, I’d like to take some of the same elements that I love about SPARTACUS. Not specific elements, but the general feel. With SPARTACUS, Rob Talpert and I always approached it that our job number one among all else was to entertain the audience, and we wanted to make sure it was emotional, and twisty, and turvy, and surprising. But we never wanted to lose sight of the fact that we wanted the audience to enjoy the show. I think too often on this television landscape, especially once you get to premium cable, sometimes you can lose sight of the fact that there is an audience. You’re not just making the show for yourself, and it’s not a sin to actually have people enjoy what they’re watching. There is, however, a chance you win less awards that way. But I think it’s a fine, fine trade off to have the audience actually enjoy what you’re doing.
There is a lot of war in SPARTACUS at the center of it. Is there a different approach in INCURSION as to how you wanted to explore war?
STEVEN: For SPARTACUS I always approached it as a grand operatic canvas. And that’s where everything is, the emotion, the language, the violence, they’re all bigger than life. They’re all stylized really. In the best kind of way, in the way that I love. With the new show I’m looking to do the reverse where everything is much more real, where the violence will be graphic, but it will be very real. And I really want to explore what happens to a person during war. How a person changes. There’s a very strong religious undertone to the show, and explore religion and differences of religion, and how your ideas about God and faith can change during war time.
What was your vision for this season of SPARTACUS?
STEVEN: Something that was very important to me and Rob Tapert going into this season was not to shy away from the brutality of our heroes. That historically, actually historically it was much worse. The rebels broke out and basically raped, pillaged, and murdered their way across the land. So we always wanted to show that and to explore how that in a way the rebels are right in what they’re doing. They’re lashing out at the society that tortured them, and murdered them. On the other hand, they’re not lashing out at people that are guilty. The innocent get cut down just as much as the ones that perpetrated the crime. So it’s a very gray area morally with what the rebels do. And there’s a lot of discussion with Starz, and this discussion went all the way back to the first season when the rebels were breaking out, the question came up, “Well there are women in the re. Shouldn’t they spare the women?” and Rob Tapert and I went, “Hell, no. Of course they shouldn’t spare the women.” These are the same women that were standing up on the balcony yelling for two gladiators to kill each other. So just because they’re women, doesn’t mean that they’re forgiven for their crimes in our world. And that really carries through this season, to an extreme. We explore some pretty dark, brutal things that happened on the rebel’s side. That really make you question whether or not you want to be rooting for the rebels. There’s a particular episode early on that is very, very brutal. Episode three. It also gets you an insight into why some of the characters are the way they are and what happened to them in the past. So we really wanted to explore that for this season and the war. Not to make it cut and dry, clean, here are the heroes and they’re fighting the bad guys. I think that’s always, ultimately, unsatisfying. And something we’ve always really, really pushed to do on SPARTACUS is to make you question our heroes and at a certain point, make you love our villains.
LIAM: Just around that framework that you talk about Crassus and his compassion for slavery, and his respect for Spartacus as a slave. While others in the Roman camp say he was just a slave, he’s pretty good for just a slave. He’s got the sort of sense of compassion for slavery, or understanding of their plight. Whereas you juxtapose that against the newly free rebels who are not as compassionate shall we say.
STEVEN: Something I wanted to make clear from the first episode of what makes Crassus different, unlike Glaber, who go after Spartacus that you’ll see early on in this season. They don’t, they always refer to Spartacus as “that slave,” that he’s nothing but a slave. Crassus looks at him completely differently. Part of that I think is Crassus is exposed to his own slaves who are very well educated and he doesn’t look at Spartacus for what he’s been branded. He looks at Spartacus for what he’s done, and he sees that Spartacus is a brilliant tactician. And a man of keen intellect when it comes to battle. He realizes that Spartacus will not be brought down with brute force. That to beat Spartacus, you have to play Spartacus’ game better than he does, which is very different than Glaber from last season. Crassus does not dismiss Spartacus. He realizes just how much of a threat he is ad how much of an opponent he is. And that kind of respect, I think, was really, really important. And it works the other way around too. Spartacus has a very begrudging respect for Crassus.
LIAM: I quickly realize that I’m up against something quite different that I haven’t really seen before. I’ve been playing off the Roman idea that I’m no threat to them, I’m really just really good at what I do. And then all of a sudden someone comes along who knows how to think like I do and can sometimes outthink me. And it puts a real big spanner in the works, it’s interesting.
STEVEN: It does. I’m going to start using that phrase.
Is there anything that can you share about the upcoming series finale?
STEVEN: Historically most people think Spartacus was crucified because that’s what happened in the Kurt Douglas movie. Certainly his body was never found. So we have some leeway. I can’t say we stay pretty close to history. But there will be a few surprises in the end.
TODD: I was just going to say Liam, because he won’t talk about this — Liam gave the most incredibly humbled, beautiful speech I’ve ever witnessed out of any production I’ve ever worked on. We all came in for his last day and we got to see his final moment, which was a battle scene and seriously it was incredible to be there. Everyone was just in tears. There was a lot of emotion. And Liam being the most humble person I think I’ve ever me, gave the most beautiful speech, talking about thanking everyone else, and talking about everyone else, and what the production gave for him. Didn’t mention himself once. So, for me, as an actor coming into the show just in the final season, it was a beautiful moment to see him not only finish, but also give an incredible speech. So that’s my perspective on it.
LIAM: Thanks. The thing is, I think the actors and the crew, everybody who was involved with this to a man, to a woman, we can probably all agree that it fundamentally changed our lives in some way this experience. Two years ago I don’t even know — I’m almost a completely different person to who I was two years ago, and it’s an almost completely due to SPARTACUS. SPARTACUS is just one of those things that happens to very lucky people.
CYNTHIA: I was just going to add on top of this too. As far as the work experience and working in New Zealand, a lot of us were very far from home. So we’re sort of working in this bubble and we became sort of a mini-family. We all sort of lived close to one another. We’re seeing each other for very long shoot days. So you get really used to it, and you realize as you’re wrapping up a show and a series, you’re also wrapping up your time in a really beautiful place with really beautiful people. So I think all of us were really trying to be excited about going back to all of our respective homes. But it was also very bittersweet in saying goodbye to a lot of the wonderful crew and other people that are based in New Zealand.
LIAM: Yeah, it’s quite funny, I remember when I got the job one of the things that someone said to me was, “We’re like a family. And it will be like being part of a family.” And he was unbelievably right. It was just hard. Not only was that the most grueling and exhausting experience of my entire life, it was demanding so much of every actor that was in it. But at the same time you were saying goodbye to a family. It was hard, very hard.
Steven, did you ever count how many buckets of blood have been used through all these seasons of SPARTACUS?
STEVEN: No, I lost count. Too many pools of blood that we use.
TODD: I read like 300, what do you guys have gallons? Of blood.
STEVEN: Yeah, it was a lot. A lot of people don’t realize we use a lot of CG effects. But a lot of the CG blood effects, is actual real fake blood. That we explode, and push, and cut.
LIAM: If I don’t see another blood balloon, I’ll be so happy.
STEVEN: We have these blood balloons and we shoot them against a green screen. Usually with the actors smacking the shit out of them.
LIAM: It’s actually fun.
STEVEN: I think we should have in the SPARTACUS box set, just one blooper reel of all the blood bad stuff. What I love about when the actors miss with these blood bags is just how hard on themselves they are. You can see how upset they are that they missed that.
LIAM: That’s because we have Al Poppleton sitting there next to us going, “Mate, be less shit. Be less shit and do it right this time.” I once had all of my legs, well not all of my legs, all of my limbs stuff together with blood. Because I was covered in so much blood that I couldn’t actually separate my body from the blood.
Are there going to be any upcoming epic battles that you can talk about?
STEVEN: Sure, there are many epic battles. We start off at the tail-end of one, that we see in the trailer, a great reveal of Spartacus coming up over a hill charging on a horse. And we really wanted to use that image this season is different. The scope is just spectacular. There’s a running battle that happens mid-season that I think is pretty damn cool. And, of course, we build to an epic conclusion. I think the biggest battle that we’ve ever attempted, which is truly spectacular and I’m still scratching my head how we actually pulled that one off. But the battles are fantastic. More importantly, just like the early days of this show with the gladiator fights, the important thing for us was: What’s the emotion behind the battle? Who wants what? Who needs what? What are the stakes for the characters? Not just big fights. And that was a tricky part this season because the battles are so gigantic, but I think we managed to nail that one.
Any favorite episodes?
CYNTHIA: Well I’ve only seen the first couple of them, so when we’re performing it versus what the final end-result is, it is a night and day difference from what I’ve seen from the first couple episodes. Because you have to remember too often times we’re essentially working in from of a green curtain. We have an amazing post production team. They’re kind of the unsung heroes of the whole thing. Because they, especially this season, and I think advancements in technology – it’s cinematic, some of these backdrops and environments that we’re using this season. So I think the audience is going to particularly be into that. I can say that I think my favorite episode that we worked on, which I haven’t seen yet, is sort of more towards the end. That would be Episode 8. It was a monster, monster episode to shoot. And obviously can’t go into any details but I know, again, as a fan, as an audience member it’s one of the ones I actually can’t wait to see. I’ve heard sort of little whispers about it, but I think that each episode we can’t afford to waste a frame, a word, a scene. Each episode is so dense there isn’t any one episode that’s kind of a lull in the season. Each episode ends and your jaw is on the floor and you’re like, “Oh my God. What’s next? What’s next?” So they’re all pretty powerful.
LIAM: For me, I just can’t wait to see Episode 9 and how that comes together. Because, for me, that’s just before the epic finale. I don know. It’s sweet. It’s emotionally hard, and it integrates with history in parts I’ve been really looking forward to since the start of the story. And obviously again, I wouldn’t want to ruin it for people. But I was looking forward to some of that since I got the role. So there’s some stuff in line that I’m excited to see.
TODD: It’s always difficult picking a favorite episode because they have so many different elements. Liam just nailed it when talking about the shifts and also what Cynthia said about leaving your jaw-dropped. I’m going to go with both of their answers. Anywhere sort of seven, eight, nine. I mean there’s a lot for me to do personally in Episode 7. But Cynthia is right, there’s some jaw-dropping moments which just leaves it hanging. And then the next episode just floors you again, you think, “No, it can’t get any better than that.” And it just continues to escalate. So yeah, any of those episodes in there, the audience is just going to be gagging for the next episode because it’s one of those moments.
Liam, did you discover any new acting challenges with the role this season?
LIAM: Well, it’s been a journey of a lifetime. For me, to come out of such unbelievable tragedy and agony. And this year, I guess I had that year behind me to feel like, “Okay, I can be Spartacus. This can be my role a little bit this year.” I was so overjoyed that the fans kept loving the show after Andy’s amazing job and me just trying to make sure I can honor that. And this year I was like, “Well what else can I bring to this guy?” and it was great. The writers gave me a whole new guy. He’s obviously the same Spartacus, but I mean, in my normal life growing up I was never like the alpha male. I remember getting into the bootcamp for the very first time weird to see people like Manu Bennett, these just monstrously powerful men and these amazing characters. I would just sort of stand there, especially as I was just getting into things, when I was very underweight and trying to train my ass off, going, “Hell I’m not going to be able to lead these people.” Because there is an element of life that imitates art. So when you’ve got that many strong men together, even though they’re acting, they’re also kind of not acting at a certain level. So that first year was an interesting process in seeing what made me a leader anyway. This was my first experience with being the lead of the show and things like that, so it was quite strange. And this year it requires Spartacus to be absolutely the dominant male as it were. He had to be absolutely sure of himself, absolutely able to in a heartbeat say, “this is what we’re doing, and there’ll be no discussion.” T embody that, for a person who historically like me –I’m just not that kind of strong, tough, unwavering guy in real life. So that was a fascinating challenge. It’s why you get into acting. To just be people that you want to be. Spartacus is an amazing character and a phenomenal human being. The idea that he really exists, still actually boggles my mind. That a guy could lead so many desperate cultures of down trodden people to any kind of unity like that is incredible. But it was, it was a fantastic opportunity to build on what I’d been learning every day of the previous year. And I’ve seen a rough cut of the final episode and to see the first episode I did of this show versus the last episode, I’m so grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given. I’ve gotten to grow so much this year. I’ve learned so many things, I’ve got to work another astounding selection of actors and build relationships with the ones that I’ve worked with last year. I mean, they have amazing talent on this show and I love working with people like Dustin Clare, you sort of work with him and he’s so effortless. You just, “Oh, okay. That scene seemed to go well.” And then you see him on camera and you go, “Geez, that guy’s amazing.” He’s truly fantastic. So I’ve gotten to learn so much from my fellow actors. I’ve gotten to be directed by incredible people. I got to work with truly great scripts that you just don’t get. And people like Rob Tapert who are just so inspired in their vision and so clear in their message of getting that vision. Early in the first one, in VENGEANCE, I was like, “Wow, you get to this stage in your career and it feels like your cheating.” Like I’m used to working on short films and student films with no crew and nothing, and then suddenly you’ve got hundreds of people just trying to make your performance look wonderful. It’s opportunities like that that are just incredible in an actor’s growth. And that’s why I think so many of those in the cast have had their lives completely changed by what is truly a phenomenal and one of a kind show. We’ve all got to grow so much.
What have you enjoyed most about your SPARTACUS experience? What are going to take away from it both on a personal and professional level?
STEVEN: One of the things I have enjoyed most about SPARTACUS is the joy of watching it and just being amazed at how it all comes together. I mean, this is the kind of show that I just love. I think having the opportunity to play with language like this as a writer has just been phenomenal and, unless we do a Caesar spinoff, I doubt will ever happen again. The faith that Starz and Rob Tapert placed in me to do this slightly odd, effected, constructed language was just enormous, and there was a lot of worrying early on. There was a lot of discussion about if the audience is going to understand anything that’s being said. And I said they’d get used to the way people talk. But, as a writer, there’s just no greater joy to have the freedom to play with language like that. And to see your words come to life on screen by such fantastic actors, was just an absolute joy. On a professional level, I can’t even begin to explain what it’s done on a professional level. I think, on a professional level, it’s done what it’s done for some of the actors. It took me from writing on shows as at the time I was the co-executive producer basically working for other people, and happily working for other people, actually working for Joss Whedon when I landed this job. But it took me from being a writer to being an executive producer/creator, which is a very difficult step for a writer to make. It really requires a leap of faith from someone to give you that opportunity. It’s absolutely changed my career. It put me at a different level. It put me into the exclusive show runner category. Which they aren’t a lot of in Hollywood. So on a professional level it’s just been stunning. On a personal level– I’ve never created a show and I’ve never guided a show from the very beginning to the very end. Just to go through that process and all the ups and downs, the triumphs and the tragedies from where we started when we first aired. We were universally hated, reviews were terrible, and to follow that to the end of the season where it all turned 180 and we were getting praised. It was such a roller coaster ride and the deep lasting emotions about Andy about having helped discover him and bring his talent to the world. And then to find out he was sick. Then to be told he was better and only to relapse and pass away, was so heartbreaking. It’s still difficult to talk about. And then the rollercoaster ride of keeping the show going against all odds, bringing it back after the prequel. And see the ratings just keep rising. On a personal level it’s hard to describe. It’s stunning. It’s a deep, deep gratitude for having had this opportunity.
To see the glorious ending planned for Spartacus, as well as all the epic battles he must endures in the process, be sure to tune in for the return of SPARTACUS: WAR OF THE DAMNED on Friday, January 25th at 9:00 p.m. on Starz.
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