<i>Spartacus: Vengeance</i> Actors on Conflict, Leadership and Survival

In the lead-up to tonight's premiere of Spartacus: Vengeance, four of the show’s returning cast, Manu Bennett (Crixus), Nick Tarabay (Ashur), Craig Parker (Gaius Claudius Glaber) and Dan Feurriegel (Agron), spoke with reporters about the new season of Starz's hit sword-and-sandals drama.

It was clear from the conversation that the actors get along with each other, something Bennett attributed to the fact that they all enjoy the series. But when it came to the question of who's the biggest prankster on the set, there was some disagreement, with Tarabay suggesting if a camera captured what the actors do behind the scenes, it would be a comedy.

Parker said such an atmosphere was necessary, however.

“While these characters are doing terrible things to each other, as actors we are playing with each other,” he said. “We're having the great joy and pleasure of working on great scripts with great actors. So the humor does become very black and very twisted, but it definitely has to be there, I think.”

The new season picks up in the aftermath of the bloody escape from the House of Batiatus in Spartacus: Blood and Sand, with the gladiator rebellion striking fear into the heart of the Roman Republic. But as the revolt takes hold, Gaius Claudius Glaber and his troops are sent to Capua to crush the growing band of former slaves, leaving Spartacus with a choice: satisfy his thirst for vengeance or make the sacrifices necessary to keep his fledgling army together.

Asked about new leading man Liam McIntyre, all four admitted the chemistry changed with his addition to the cast. However, they had nothing but praise for the actor, whom they described as humble and goodhearted -- something they said was also true of the late Andy Whitfield. “Liam came on to our set with a very open heart, and I think there's something very Spartacus about that,” Bennett said. “Liam is a very humble person and has gifted us all with his openness. And that reads itself into the role.”

One reporter suggested that Spartacus and Crixus are the two characters who can always call each other on their nonsense, but Bennett disagreed. “I don't think there's ever any B.S. that's going on between the two of them,” he said. “I think the two of them are very honest men, speaking from the heart. And they just basically have a bit of a tug of war constantly because the two of them are both leaders and they don't necessarily sit comfortably in being the follower.”

The two have very different objectives, which is the source of their tension, but underneath it's a story of brotherhood because of the “deep respect that's never sort of allowed to show itself on the surface.” Bennett said the idea of leadership is one of the issues that drives the show forward. “If you took away Crixus' desire to be a leader, I don't know what you'd be left with,” he said.

For Parker that issue is more than just the Spartacus-Crixus dynamic because everybody is trying to do the right thing. “Everyone has a clear idea of what is the right course, the way the world should be,” he said. “And I think with every single character in this world, they're all in the pursuit of happiness and they just end up doing terrible things on the way.”

Parker and Tarabay, who play the Roman legate Claudius Glaber and injured gladiator turned scheming messenger Ashur, are the ostensible villains of the show, but they stressed they never view their roles in that way. Each character believes he's the victim and that Spartacus is the villain.

The new season has brought a change for the two characters, who “suddenly realize they don't have to behave as correctly as they have been,” Parker said. “They don't have to follow the rules so much. They can start breaking them. So while they believe they're trying to do the right thing, they no longer feel they have to do it in exactly the right way.”

Tarabay said the fact that the roles are written in a complex way, with no one completely good or completely bad, is what makes Spartacus so interesting for the actors, because the perspective of the audience is not necessarily the one each character holds. “I think ultimately the goal for everybody is survival and surviving,” he said. “And maybe the Romans are a little bit different because there's that sense of entitlement.”

Parker described Ashur and Glaber as bullied kids. “The Romans bully Glaber, all the posh Romans,” he said, “and everyone bullies Ashur.”

Asked whether Glaber’s true enemy isn't actually Spartacus but his wife Illythia, Parker agreed. “I think she is the one that destroys him the most,” he said, praising actress Viva Bianca for creating “this absolute monster of a character. Always a joy to see how Ilithyia responds to the situation.”

When talking about Ashur will be doing int he new season, Tarabay hesitated to offer any details but said that Crixus is his ultimate enemy, and viewers should expect conflict between the two. He admitted he spent a lot of time working with Lucy Lawless -- she returns as Lucretia, widow of the slain lanista Batiatus -- but that he was continually surprised by what his character did throughout the season.

“You’ll see him plotting a lot of stuff,” Tarabay said. “Ashur's going to cause a lot of problems this season, even more problems than I thought he would actually end up doing, physically and mentally.”

Ashur may still be angry over the events of the first season, during which the gladiator revolt interrupted his rise, but now he finds himself playing a much bigger game with Glaber and the Romans. “His plan keeps getting bigger and bigger,” Tarabay said. “It doesn't come easy, and Glaber doesn't make it easier for him. And Lucretia doesn't make it easier. But in general, in general it's hard all the way around.”

Feurriegel, whose character Agron is reeling from the death of his brother in last season's escape, said the dynamic among the slaves also changes, with tensions escalating between the Germans and Gauls -- and especially between Agron and Crixus -- as the group finds itself struggling against each character's agenda.

But that push and pull is what sees the visionary Spartacus emerge as leader. “He says the whole way through, ‘Everybody is equal,’" Feuerriegel said. “'Everybody is equal regardless of what you do, where you've come from, everybody is equal.'”

Spartacus: Vengeance premieres tonight at 10 ET/PT on Starz.

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