Liam McIntrye, Viva Bianca, and Lucy Lawless discuss the physical - and emotional challenges of filming.
Note: This article contains material appropriate to the mature rating of the series and contains small spoilers from the season premiere.
It's no surprise that Spartacus: Vengeance has done as well as it has. The STARZ show has drawn in an immense (and diverse) crowd. Packed with gore, nudity, sex, and a surprising dose of humanity, the show has done well for itself and has already been renewed for a third season. Writer Steven DeKnight continues to impress with his scripts, as testament to the first episode of season 2. The episode boasted plenty of gore (opening with an impressive sword fight) and holding true to it's "M for Mature" rating. DeKnight did his research, describing in a live web interview recently that he prides the show on being as realistic as possible for the setting. Viewers are taken on a whirlwind ride during every episode, but with all that violence and sex, one has to wonder how the cast feels filming some of these scenes. Liam McIntyre (Spartacus), Lucy Lawless (Lucretia), and Viva Bianca (Illithyia) shared their personal experiences on set – and their answers may surprise you.
Spartacus goes through it’s fare share of blood and guts, but actress Lucy Lawless shared it was never nearly as scary filming them as seeing them on screen, as most of the final effects are done post-production. “It’s brilliant,” she commented about the editing. But just because the blood and intestines are fake doesn’t make filming violent scenes is any easier. The attack on the brothel (or "gentleman's money making facility", as McIntyre put it) mid-way through the season premiere proved to be an emotional challenge to shoot. "It was one of the most harrowing moments in my life," revealed Liam McIntyre - who was actually shooting the scene on one of his first days on set. He described it was difficult realizing that all that stood between himself and ‘death’ is a small piece of steel. "I remember thinking - Oh god, what have I got myself into?'"
And it’s not just the blood and guts that sometimes gets to the cast. At innumerable points in the series, the cast members have found themselves naked on set and doing things they never expected. "I've done things again this season that I've never ever done before and never seen on television before," said Lawless. "It was heavy duty." She admitted that after a day of filming sex scenes, she wanted nothing more than to go home, have a "quiet little melt-down," and just sleep. Viva Bianca agreed. "They're far from a turn-on," she said. In fact, many were draining and emotionally exhaustive. The gravity of what some of the scenes entail (DeKnight certainly did his research) often takes its toll on the actors. “Sometimes I do need a hug,” said Lawless, “because it’s harrowing. It’s really harrowing”. The cast may have signed up for the roles, but according to McIntyre, they never get used to sex scenes. As Australians, Lawless revealed that "its very hard for us to be comfortable with nudity and sex scenes. I've tried...I want to be cooler about it, but I'm just not".
What makes Spartacus a truly superb show is how vividly the characters are portrayed on screen. As actors, the cast delve into the heads of their individual characters to really understand whythey do what they do. But even they admit to being surprised sometimes. Viva Bianca described many of the scenes with Illithyia this season as excruciatingly brutal. After filming a particurally vicious scene in episode four, Bianca remembers approaching the director saying, "I can't believe Illithyia just did that." Spartacus speaks heavily about the exploitation of slaves and woman during the time period, and as such, Lawless and Bianca had to truly explore the upper class mentality of Roman women. "The truth for these Roman aristocratic people," said Bianca, "is that they didn't consider slaves, or people of that class, as people. For Lucy [Lawless] and I to get ourselves in that mentality is quite an extreme step. It can be quite horrific - and as an actor to carry the reality of what human is doing to another - it can weigh heavy on us".
But despite the difficulties and challenges associated with filming the season, the cast gushed about how much they love filming a show so drastically unlike modern times. "It's like having a second life!" said Lawless, "and I just love it". In fact, Lawless admits the challenge is what makes acting on the show so spectacular, "I've had a really crazy ride as Lucretia this season and I'm really grateful". Bianca echoed her thoughts, saying that it's the real joy of filming comes from being able to enter an entirely new world and reality. "We love going into fantasy make-believe worlds and playing. I think that's a lot of what makes actors, actors".