ImageWith its addictive combination of nudity, sex, action and plots even thicker than the blood spurting in its gladiatorial battles, "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" was a big hit for Starz when it premiered in 2010. But when Andy Whitfield, who played the title role, was stricken with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, the prequel miniseries "Gods of the Arena" was made in the interim in the hope that he'd recover. Tragically, Whitfield succumbed to the disease last September, and the role was recast with Liam McIntyre. "Spartacus Vengeance" premieres Jan. 27, with Spartacus spearheading a slave rebellion — and Roman troops under Gaius Claudius Glaber — the man responsible for Spartacus' wife's death — on a mission to crush it.

"It's not an easy journey, both interacting with the other members of the group and for him personally, a man that never really wanted this mantle," said creator/writer Steven S. DeKnight during promotion for the series that included a Hollywood premiere, noting that the reluctant hero transitions "from a more singular individual to, by the end, a leader of men, and that journey is very difficult."

Getting the role was just as tough. McIntyre had lost 45 pounds for another project and had to bulk up with a trainer and grueling heavy weight workouts to achieve a gladiator-worthy body, but the experience was worth it. "It was and still is one of the most exciting things I can even imagine, let alone have the privilege of doing," he said, though Whitfield's death hit him hard. "You can't imagine how sad that day was," he said of the moment news came to the set. "Andy's left the most amazing legacy you could possibly hope for and it's the reason I have a job now. It's such an honor to have such a big responsibility. I just try to work really, really hard at giving it as much life as I can in the way I find possible and hopefully the Spartacus character has the same spirit as Andy brought to it so wonderfully."

This season, the titular theme of vengeance "drives everybody and brings them together but it also tears them apart," said DeKnight. "When you have such a dark emotion as vengeance, your relationships with other people become twisted." That couldn't be truer than in the case of Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) who somehow survived the massacre at the House of Batiatus and seems to have gone mad — or is she crazy like a fox? Her relationship with frenemy Ilithyia (Viva Blanca) "will continue to be enriched, lots of ups and downs there, lots of skullduggery in the parlor. Buckets of torment are coming my way, and I enter into a relationship with a man that I never paid attention to before. In the end all of Lucretia's dreams come true," promised Lawless, who is an ambassador for New Zealand Greenpeace and is building a massive garden at her Auckland home.

Her co-stars weighed in on their own environmental efforts at the premiere. McIntyre pointed out his native Australia's "impressive emission standards and carbon trading and systems with rainwater" that he's always followed. Manu Bennett (Crixus) said he has recycling bins and uses eco-friendly cleaning products at home, but buys disposable diapers for his new baby, his third daughter. In "Vengeance," Crixus' goal is to find his slavegirl love Naevia (Cynthia Addai-Robinson, pictured right), and there's ongoing tension between him and Spartacus. "There are a lot of twists and turns" ahead, he promised.

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