Pierce: New ‘Spartacus’ still spills buckets of blood

By Scott D. Pierce

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: January 25, 2012 04:08PM
Updated: February 14, 2012 11:33PM
Katrina Law as Mira; Liam McIntyre as Spartacus; Peter Mensah as Oenomaus and Manu Bennett as Crixus in "“Spartacus: Vengeance." Courtesy Starz

In the premiere episode of “Spartacus: Vengeance,” the good guys — the escaped gladiators and slaves — attack a brothel. And the blood flows in rivers.

Same ol’ “Spartacus.”

According to executive producer Steven DeKnight, a card reading “brothel attack” was posted on the board in the writers’ room when work began on the new season, which begins tonight at 11 on Starz.

“You just can’t go wrong with a title like that,” he said. “There’s a very emotional story that goes with that, but we [thought], ‘Well, you don’t want to just go in and attack a bunch of guys and get some information. They should attack a brothel.’ ”

There are two big changes on “Spartacus,” however. Season 1 and the prequel (“Spartacus: Gods of the Arena”) were set mostly inside a gladiator school. The action now takes place on a far wider stage.

And there’s a new Spartacus. Liam McIntyre replaces the late Andy Whitfield, who had to withdraw when he was stricken with lymphoma for a second time. (Whitfield died during production of “Vengeance.”)

McIntyre, a 29-year-old Australian best known for TV roles Down Under, was pretty sure he wasn’t going to get the part when he first auditioned. He certainly didn’t look the part.

“I’d lost, like, 45 pounds for this other thing,” he said. “And when they brought me into this audition room, I thought, ‘Why am I here?’ ”

Spartacus isn’t exactly musclebound, but he’s certainly muscular. However, the producers saw something they liked in him as a replacement, so they gave McIntyre some time to look more like Spartacus is supposed to look.

“I got military trainers and they just kept upping the stakes and seeing what they could do to me,” he said. “It was everything from just lifting really heavy weights to run and lift heavy weights.”

After about four months of that, “they finally put me out of my misery and then said, ‘Keep training,’” McIntyre said with a laugh.

As “Spartacus” heads into a new season, it’s still the same rip-roaring, blood-soaked show fans love.

The action picks up after the slaves’ violent escape from the House of Batiatus at the end of “Spartacus: Blood and Sand,” and the Romans are determined to put down the growing gladiator rebellion.

It’s an addictive soap opera filled with graphic violence and sex and loaded with fun. “I don’t think there was a day that went past that I didn’t smile to myself, incredulous at the opportunity I had,” McIntyre said. “It was so much fun.

“What opportunity do most people get to be like a 15-year-old with a big stick fighting a battle for the good and just cause in the world?”

Scott D. Pierce’s column appears Mondays and Fridays in The Mix. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce; read his blog at sltrib.com/blogs/tv.