Liam McIntyre interview: Spartacus: War Of The Damned, potential spin-offs, FIFA & more…

The eponymous star of Starz’ epically successful Spartacus discusses accents, endings, historical nerdery and more...

We’ve been covering Spartacus since it first bodyslammed on to our TVs back in 2010. It seems a little wrong to describe its fans as ‘legions’ – perhaps ‘hordes’ would be better? – but regardless, it’s certainly put Liam McIntyre, who took over the lead role following the tragic passing of Andy Whitfield, on the map. We caught up with him to find out how he’s handling his new-found fame and what’s next for the legendary bringer of rain.

How was filming the final episode? 

We worked really hard to do something that was powerful and I spent so much time with the director and with Steven [DeKnight, writer] looking over the script. I was a fan from season one, and there were all these moments that we really wanted to bring full circle, back to where the story started, with Andy. So, in the very first episode, the first scene is him looking at his trembling hands as the world crashes down around him, and then another important motif was the velvet ribbon – I asked if we could get that in somewhere. 

I think that was the right way to end the story, and I hope Andy would like it. I spent so much of my energy trying to make it a show he’d be proud of, because I loved looking after it for him. And I’m so glad he was there, right at the very end of the final credits. 

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Of the whole series, looking back, which was the most difficult scene to film? 

The finale in general was hard, not just because it was my last chance to do a good job and finish up this incredible journey, but it was the biggest script I’ve ever seen for TV. The scale of it was immense – the first draft came in at more than sixty pages and it was all action. Plus we didn’t have much time to do it – eleven days as opposed to thirteen or fourteen – so I was learning fight scenes with my stunt director and double on the fly and then just winging it. 

I probably did more gruelling shoots on other episodes – the one where we were trying to rescue Naevia from the mines, for example – but as far as emotionally draining and physically draining that last episode was something else. It was probably the first time in my acting life that I couldn’t get rid of the emotions that I was feeling on set – it was so busy there wasn’t really time to break and then prepare again, so I realised it was either going to be half-performed or I was going to be feeling this terrible, terrible feeling for the next three days.

So I had to stay in this sort of half worn out state. My poor fiancée was like, “are you all right?” and I was like, “not really…” But you just have to get through it. That’s why I got the job, I guess, in the end what’s three days, when you get to tell a story like that? 

The show’s idiosyncratic language is one of the things that makes it great – have you found yourself saying things like “gratitude” when off set? 

Little words do creep in, so yes, I don’t say thank you so much as I say gratitude any more, and you start saying apologies because you’re late for something instead of sorry. And then you notice other people are saying it too, and it’s like a little club, and anyone who doesn’t understand you just doesn’t get it. 

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How did you decide on Spartacus’ accent? 

Well, it’s part Andy and part me. The official accent they wanted is called “mid-Atlantic”, which I guess is an English accent which sounds familiar to Americans, so it has some of the dialectical choices of an English accent but is also starting to form its own character. 

That said, with the Aussies originally being a penal colony, I think there’s something about the Australian accent for Spartacus that has a perfect gruff, not lazy, but… inelegant quality about it. So if you mix that with an English accent you lend the impression that perhaps they began to speak more like their Roman masters, who are generally portrayed as English. 

It seemed right, anyway. You know, I’ve auditioned for a few things since Spartacus and they’ve said, “Wow, you’re really good at accents” and it’s like, well, I’m never going to get to use my Australian one, am I? But it’s not just Aussies who get typecast on accent. I was talking to Simon [Merrells], who plays Crassus and he was like, “well, that’s it, I’m going to be a villain for the rest of my life.” 

If you were going to create a Spartacus spin off, what would you make? 

I personally want a story that bridges the gap between now and Rome becoming an empire under Augustus Caesar. So that would cover the triumvirate of Caesar, Crassus and Pompey, all the way through to the assassination of Caesar and then his adopted son, Augustus, taking over Rome and it becoming a fully-fledged empire. 

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I think that would be fascinating and I would love to see it, although I guess some of that’s been touched on by HBO’s Rome. So maybe move it a bit before, have Caesar go off to conquer Gaul – that could be a bit of fun. I think Todd Lasance [Caesar] is amazing in our show and if there has to be more Caesar I’d gladly submit to him! 

You’re clearly interested in Roman life – did you know much about it before you started working on the show? 

I’m a huge nerd. I taught myself all about ancient history as best I could as a kid – it’s one of my favourite subjects, so I was just so happy to get a role where the playground was the world I used to fantasise about – the world of legions and soldiers and conquest and arenas – the birthplace of the Republic. 

My dream role – all I ever wanted to be – was Maximus from Gladiator, Russell Crowe… He was incredible. So in some ways it’s quite ridiculous that I’m Spartacus. I’ve been lucky enough to visit Rome twice now and you know what is very meta, and very odd? When people take photos of you in the Colosseum – someone recognising me as Spartacus and being like, “can I have a photo?” 

Spartacus is a real hero – someone who stood for valuing every human life equally. Who are the heroes in your life, or the people you admire? 

I’ve got all the usual ones like my mum, dad, step dad, my best friend James, my fiancée Erin – they’re my actual, real life, living, breathing, walking around heroes that I can look to every day. But in terms of figurehead heroes I guess my childhood hero was always Michael Jordan, because he was this incredible, almost superhuman, sportsman who was at the pinnacle of his profession, and so dedicated, such a great leader.

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Then as I became an actor I found a hero in Hugh Jackman – he’s a great actor but he also seems like he has a real life, and is so grounded. In terms of pure, raw, acting power Daniel Day Lewis is my other hero – I think he’s probably the greatest living actor of our generation – a true icon. 

Has playing Spartacus led you to think about modern slavery and human trafficking? 

It’s almost harrowing to think about how relevant this story still is, whether it’s slavery to a modern day system like the banking system with people in cycles of debt and poverty. But then you think – that’s in my comfortable world. If you look to other parts of the world, to the less affluent nations, it’s the reality of what goes on in a lot of those places. 

It’s quite scary to think that the storyline of Spartacus is still realistic – that there are millions of slaves all around the world that no one even hears about, because unlike in Roman times, when it was just the way things were so it was not hidden from society, it’s an underground thing now and your average person in your comfortable house just doesn’t hear about it. 

What are your plans now that Spartacus is over?

I wish I could tell you – I’m currently waiting to hear if I’ve got a really cool job. But honestly, I’m still struggling to understand how different my life is now to the life I had a couple of years ago. I was working in a cinema, deciding what films we were going to put on with my boss, which was a very cool job. But I was also trying to act for anyone who would take me… And then suddenly someone says “you’re Spartacus”, and here I am two years later speaking to incredible casting directors and trying my luck at getting a great pilot or a great movie… Stuff I couldn’t have dreamed of doing. It’s very hard to believe and still feels very new. 

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Even the interviews and all the crazy events they get you to do for the show… I love it! I was one of those kids who used to talk too much at school. I was a good kid, but I always got detentions for never shutting up, so this is basically my perfect job. 

When I got the first Spartacus contract it said something like “you are required to go to ComicCon” – as in, like, you couldn’t get out of it and I was like “What?! Wait, that’s my job?” I’ve wanted to go to Comic Con for the last ten years! It was probably good that my agent was negotiating that deal and not me because I would have been like “forget the rest, I’ll do it for Comic Con!” So I probably wouldn’t have made any money at all. 

Have you dabbled at all in the writing/directing side of showbusiness? 

I used to write all these ideas down for TV shows and films, just because I liked writing. But now people care and I might even be able to get one of them made – it’s amazing. My favourite idea? Well, I don’t want it to get pinched, but there’s one about angels and demons, with a vaguely X-Men vibe, and then there’s another one which is a cowboy story, but we’ll see. If anyone wants to buy them, that’d be nice. 

Who are your favourite comic/superheroes? 

Oh… Batman, James Bond, but I was less into comic books as a kid and more into video games. At the moment there’s a long list I’m playing. Dishonored, the new Assassin’s Creed, I’m playing Starcraft with my mate, oh, and FIFA, too, as Arsenal (don’t hate me). I occasionally talk about how much I’m enjoying a game on Twitter and then I’ll get people bitching back at me saying “I was really enjoying talking to you but apparently you’re an Arsenal fan!”, and then I’ll know they’re English! 

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What would you suggest withdrawing fans get into in order to miss the show less? 

I’m so excited about Game Of Thrones. I’ve got a friend that’s in Vikings, and I’ve only seen one episode, but I’m interested to see if it can be a spiritual successor to Spartacus or not. And then there’s Black Sails coming up – the pirate show – and if they knock that out of the park I’ll be very jealous that I’m not in it! Who doesn’t love pirates, right? 

Other than that, I’m still trying to make my way through Battlestar Galactica, which I only discovered about a year ago. My fiancée and I have been watching it and it’s amazing. 

And finally… Go on, tell us… What’s Spartacus’ real name? 

John. No, wait, Ringo. You know what, this is one of those cheeky things that we were thinking about putting in the last episode and I was like “no, we can’t do it!” So anyone who was desperate to find out if it was Reginald or something – it’s partially my fault. 

But you can’t say his name that’s ridiculous. Nobody really wants to hear it – you think you do, but you don’t. If Spartacus has no name he’s everybody. We’re all Spartacus. 

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Liam McIntyre, thank you very much.

Spartacus: War of the Damned and Spartacus: The Complete Collection come to DVD and Blu-ray on the 29th of April 2013.

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