Jan. 27, 2012 at 8:33 AM ET
Swords-and-sandals epic lovers arise and claim your show: “Spartacus: Vengeance” is slashing its way back onto the Starz network on Jan. 27 with a new season of battles, escapes, affairs and intrigue.
But there will be one major difference: Spartacus himself has been replaced. Fans of the show are familiar with the untimely death of character originator Andy Whitfield, who portrayed the rebellious slave in “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” in 2010 before being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“It’s a horrifying thing to get everything you ever wanted – a wife, two children, your big break – and after one year, a horrifying diagnosis,” Lucy Lawless, who stars as Lucretia, told TODAY.com. “We thought he’d go into treatment, we’d execute a prequel and he’d come back. But that never happened.”
Well, the prequel, "Spartacus: Gods of the Arena" did happen, but Whitfield did not return. Enter Liam McIntyre, an Australian actor who some may have spotted in HBO’s “The Pacific,” but who is mostly unknown.
“(Whitfield) wanted the show to continue,” Lawless said. “He requested that they replace him quite early on, and even rang Liam to encourage him and congratulate him. He was a big man, and we remember him fondly for that. The tragedy was really his family’s, and our loss is nothing compared to his.”
McIntyre slips easily into the role, but he’s more than just a new face, said Lawless. “He’s a great morale leader on the set, which is what you need when you’re leading 100 dudes in their underpants around without much to do for long periods at a stretch. They can get a bit ... distracted. They’re totally nice, but you need someone to help focus on the work, and Liam has that kind of charisma.”
And the recast works in the story, she added, because Spartacus is a different man now. “There was a natural change thematically in the story,” she said. “The last we saw Spartacus was with Andy leading a great rebellion; they’re on the run, this band of rebels. So having the prequel may soften people's memories a bit.”
Over the years, Lawless has gotten used to being a familiar face in epics. She made her name on syndicated hits such as “Hercules” and “Xena: Warrior Princess” in the 1990s, and kept her geek/genre audience cred by appearing on “Battlestar Galactica” in the new century. Making “Spartacus” without her would seem somehow amiss.
“I don’t pick this stuff, it picks me,” she said. “But it seems to like me a lot – and it’s fun to play bad-girl roles, where you can bring some humanity to them. Otherwise, it might be Cruella de Vil. I wanted to make Lucretia a real person you can understand.”
She doesn’t have any scenes with the new Spartacus in the new series – remember, he’s on the run – but she knows McIntyre is the man for the role. Not just because he can control 100 underpants-wearing actors, but, as she noted, “He’s good at yelling, which Spartacus has to do – a lot.”
“Spartacus: Vengeance” premieres at 10 p.m. on Starz on Jan. 27.
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