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’Spartacus’ pushes sex & violence to the edge

by Jim Halterman
Contributor
Monday Apr 2, 2012
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There’s no other show on television that gets off (no pun intended) showing a brothel filled with lustful men having sex with women... and also with other men... and women AND men and then, just as a collective climax seems to reach a crescendo, have that brothel be overtaken by a riotous group of near-naked former slaves out for revenge and have one hell of a bloodbath occur.

That show is the hit Starz series "Spartacus: Vengeance," which currently concludes its third season this week giving viewers everything they could ask for - naked men, naked women, lots of sex (even gay sex), excessive violence and a story of revenge.


Attacking a brothel

But how does a prolific writer like Spartacus creator Steven DeKnight come up with a murderous rampage in the middle of a whorehouse? "In Episode 1," DeKnight explained at the recent Television Critics Association Press Tour where EDGE’s Jim Halterman was in attendance.

"One of the early things we put up on the board in the writers’ room... said: ’Brothel Attack.’ You just can’t go wrong with a title like that... But there’s a very emotional story that goes with that. ’You don’t want to just go in and attack a bunch of guys to get some information. They should attack a brothel.’"

Needless to say, that line of thinking has served this franchise well even after much of the drama has gone on behind-the-scenes. Launched in January 2010, "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" was an instant success with not only the now-standard levels of blood, sex and gore, but also for lead Andy Whitfield, who played Spartacus. However, second season production was delayed because Whitfield was diagnosed with early-stage non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

To keep the momentum of the series going and to allow Whitfield to go through procedures to get rid of the cancer, a prequel, "Spartacus: Gods of the Arena," was produced. Then, just as it seemed Whitfield was cancer-free and could start production on what would technically be Season Two of the series, the cancer recurred and the actor bowed out of the production, blessing the hiring of Australian actor Liam McIntyre in the title role. Whitfield unfortunately passed away on September 11, 2011.


Saddest thing ever

Speaking of Whitfield, McIntyre expressed his feelings at the entire situation.

"It’s probably the saddest thing I’ve ever had to be part of. From the start, I think I was able to tackle the role because I knew he’d get better. I made that decision for myself. I was just sure, you know? He had made this choice to get better, and that was fantastic. And I’ve never seen a sadder person than the producer that had to come down and actually pass that news on to what is really a family.

"When Andy sent an email to me in correspondence early on, he said, ’It’s like a family there.’ And you can’t imagine how sad that day was. But part of the triumph of the team and it was coming together after a little bit of downtime to say, ’We owe Andy the respect to do this job as best we can. Let’s come together, and let’s do the best damn show we can.’ And we pulled ourselves together, and we did excellent work until the end of the season. What else can you do?"


’Keep training’

One immediate challenge for McIntyre was his physique. While it looks near perfect in the series, where he thankfully rarely wears a shirt, the actor had some work to do to physically transform into Spartacus.

"It started off that I’d lost, like, 45 pounds for this other [project]," the sexy Aussie remembered. "Then they brought me into this audition room and I thought, ’Why am I here?’ Then they kept bringing me back and training me. And I got a military trainer and they just kept upping the stakes and seeing what they could do to me. It was everything from just lift really heavy weights to run and lift heavy weights a lot, and it went for about three or four months and then they finally put me out of my misery and then said, ’Keep training.’"

Instead of having any resentment towards being tested for so long before getting the part, McIntyre sounded like he was filled with gratitude. "It was nice. It was fair enough, and every moment through that process was really exciting because it was like nothing I’d ever experienced before."


Lawless: back with a vengeance

As sexy as the men are in the series (besides McIntyre, some of the other men in the series are Manu Bennett, Peter Mensah and Dustin Clare), another reason to watch ’Spartacus’: Vengeance is the amazing women in the cast, notably Lucy Lawless.

Lawless, who plays manipulative and vindictive Lucretia, widow to Batiatus (John Hannah in both the first season and the prequel), and seemed to surely be dead at the end of the first season of "Spartacus." Thankfully, Lucretia is back in "Vengeance" to stir the pot and battle with her rival Ilithyia (Viva Bianca). How is Lucretia this season compared to "Blood and Sand?"

Lawless explained that we see a "softer, gentler Lucretia...for about two seconds, she really is. And that’s very unnerving for her good friend, Ilithyia, who doesn’t have a lot of faith in Lucretia. And that relationship will continue to be enriched, lots of ups and downs there, lots of skullduggery in the parlor." Lawless said she blames the writers for the hell that Lucretia goes through in this current season.

"The writers are really rude to me this year. They are really rude. Usually, they are just cruel [but] now they are rude and cruel. It’s, like, cruel and unusual punishment." She added with a smile, "But, as an artist, I just loved it. I really did. [They] put me through the ringer this season, and I’m so grateful."


Actors all smiles

The former "Xena, Warrior Princess" added that if you like seeing Lucretia tormented by Ilithyia, you’re going to enjoy what’s coming. "The torment does continue, though there’s all fresh love and torments when I enter into a relationship with a man that I never paid attention to before...buckets of torment coming my way. So somebody falls in love with Lucretia, and I will tell you, through all of the trials and tribulations, that, in the end, all of Lucretia’s dreams come true."

For all the physical and emotional abuse, the battles and turmoil these characters go through in "Spartacus: Vengeance," the actors are all smiles talking about it. "I can safely say," gushed McIntyre, "for at least the first four months, I don’t think there was a day that went past that I didn’t smile to myself, in just, incredulous at the opportunity I had. It was so much more fun.

"What opportunity do most people get to like be a 15 year-old with a big stick and then fighting a battle for the good and just cause in the world? It was and still is one of the most exciting things I can even imagine let alone have the privilege of doing."

"Spartacus: Vengeance" completes its season on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 10pm on STARZ. For more information, visit

Jim Halterman lives in Los Angeles and also covers the TV/Film/Theater scene for www.FutonCritic.com, AfterElton, Vulture, CBS Watch magazine and, of course, www.jimhalterman.com. He is also a regular Tweeter and has a group site on Facebook.

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