Revisiting Spartacus :: loincloths, gladiators and Lucy Lawless

by Fred Topel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday January 20, 2010

A strong following by the gay community has propelled Lucy Lawless from Xena through Battlestar Galactica and onto her new series, Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Lawless will be the first to acknowledge and thank her fans for their support throughout the decades.

"They, along with the geeks, are my life," Lawless said. "I say that lovingly, along with geeks and nerds, [gays] are the most loyal fans and who will follow you and give your career such a solid platform for the rest of your life. I owe them a big thank you and they know that. God love 'em."

Andy Whitfield is about to find this out for the first time. As the show's title character, he provides the man candy in a loincloth for all the show's gladiator battles. "I'm not ready for anything so it's awesome," Whitfield said. "I'm just taking this all in my stride. I'm comfortable that there will be particular demographics that will appreciate this work and that's awesome because that's who it's for. That's part of the entertainment and the wide-ranging platform that we've created and we've put together. So for me, it's all about doing what's written on the page. I can't really control how that is received but I'm open to anything."

For longtime Lawless fans, Spartacus will show you a side of her that's never been exposed before. That is, she does her first nude scenes in the series set in Roman gladiatorial times.

"Well, I don't get my kit off all the time," Lawless clarified. "But I will say the first time I completely freaked out for about three days in advance. We wrapped at 7 pm. I got straight in my car, went home and walked straight into my bedroom to say good night and crashed out for 12 hours. It was quite something to wrap your head around that. Modern people, we've built up all these taboos."

Great story, great characters

You won’t have to wait long. Lawless’s first nude scene comes in the series’ second episode. There should be plenty to entertain you until then, and beyond. "Even if you take away all the fancy stuff, you take away all the boobs and you take away everything that’s sensational, the most sensational, the best thing about it is the way that the characters enmesh, the writing and the way the story’s constructed," Lawless said.

"High stakes for everybody. Everybody’s scared all the time because in ancient Rome, there’s no safety net for you. No one’s going to take care of you. You’re dead."

To play the epic gladiator, Whitfield had to sacrifice the creature comforts of Hollywood productions. There would be no craft services for the lead actor. "Listen, I got this job and two days later I was in gladiator boot camp in New Zealand," Whitfield said. "I didn’t even know what that was. I thought I was going to get handed a loincloth and some clubs. It was basically a month of four hours a day training. They sort of looked at you and go, ’Mm, okay, so you need to lose this here and put this on here.’ It became very scientific. You could have this many calories a day and you had to expend this much energy. It’s just a science and as hard as it is, especially at the beginning, you just do it. You just do the work and you get the results. However, nine months is a long time to not have desert so I’m definitely making the most of my down time between seasons." Story continues on the following page.

Watch the official trailer for Spartacus: Blood and Sand.

Donuts for Lawless

So nudity might be nerve-wracking, but at least Lawless could eat. "Unlike Andy, I ate the regular food," she said. "The gladiator’s food was rationed out to gladiators only so I’m afraid it was donuts for me."

Spartacus casts Lawless as Lucretia, the wife of gladiator driver Batiatus (John Hannah). Her side of the story rests in the lap of luxury, with fabulous costumes and even wigs of fabulous hair.

"I’m sure there’s loads of things that they fix in post, not on gorgeous Mr. Whitfield but on the rest of us," Lawless revealed. "I know that I had a wig that just didn’t quite sit right. It was sitting up a complete wacky corrugation all around the side of my head. Those things are all kind of fixed in post but because it’s such an effects heavy show, they want as little as those nuisances as possible. We’re ironing stuff out like that."

The lead actor didn’t have much wardrobe to work with. There’s only so much you can do with a loincloth. "Look, my costume’s not the biggest costume," Whitfield said. "There are certain practical considerations but it looks awesome. I’m sure Steven [S. DeKnight] was delighted when he came up with it but then the practicalities are that you’re rolling around on a hard dirt floor with rocks gouging troughs in your skin and stuff like that. So I guess it made it real. There was no getting around the fact that we were going to be fighting every day and there were no, particularly for the slaves, there were no creature comforts."

"You’d think the gladiators enjoyed some status," Lawless added. "No way, man. They were in these horrible little cells. That’s all historically accurate. Their bedrooms were just cells and dirt floors."

Spartacus: Blood and Sand premieres this week but Starz has already ordered a second season of the series. Whitfield knows he’ll be back to work, starving himself in a loincloth. Such is the price of success.

"For me, I’m almost more worried about knowing what’s coming for the second season than how it was approached the first time," Whitfield said. "I mean, it’s a freight train. You get on it and you just stay on it and it ends at the end. I think everyone is so exhausted physically, mentally but because things are happening so quick and there’s so much fantastic material to chew through, you just take it a day at a time. To think more than three days ahead is when you start to feel tired. If you just stay present and go, ’What do I have to achieve today?’ and collaborate with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever worked with, it’s achievable. Story continues on the following page.

Take a look at the Gladiator Camp for Spartacus: Blood and Sand.

Taking on the Kubrick film

It did, though take its toll. "At the end, everyone needs a big rest but even on the last day, everyone was there, the crew was there and you could just feel how proud and how excited and how exhilarated everyone was. You almost can feel like they can have two weeks off and start again but it was tough, " Whitfield said.

The story of Spartacus’s slave revolt in ancient Rome was made most famous by the 1960 Stanley Kubrick film starring Kirk Douglas. A story that’s been around as long as history is certainly open to other interpretations, and these interpreters try to keep Douglas out of their heads.

"The last thing any actor wants to do is to mimic or try and recreate someone else’s performance, particularly in something so iconic as Spartacus, the movie," Whitfield said. "So the thing I took most from it was he didn’t assume leadership, this guy. He wasn’t ’You must follow me.’ He was presented that leadership by the people who were inspired by him, who modeled his dignity and his unwavering commitment to righting a few wrongs. So that was kind of the tone that I wanted to take on. They have similarities, our Spartacus to that Spartacus, but the story is vastly different so it’s not too hard to stay away from treading on someone else’s toes."

Lawless has done her tour of duty in ancient times already. Having explored an irreverent take on the Greek myths in Xena: Warrior Princess, she’s happy to call ancient Rome her home for now.

"It’s got so much class I think," Lawless said. "Xena was awesome but that was a product of its time. That was the ’90s. We were young and foolish and laughed our asses off all through six seasons and had a great time. Now everybody’s all grown up and working with a lot of the same crew, everybody’s up skilled tremendously. They’ve been off, they’ve shot Lord of the Rings and they’ve shot Avatar and what not. They’re so happy and they’re so proud to be producing this show with their hands and their sweat, so I’ve got to say this is very, very satisfying to be part of. It’s my most grown-up role I think."

Spartacus: Blood and Sand premieres Friday on Starz.

Take a look at Spartacus: Blood and Sand.

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