In early 2011, the producers of Starz’s bloody gladiator series, Spartacus: Blood and Sand, made the difficult decision of recasting the title role after their star, Andy Whitfield, waged an offscreen battle with cancer. Whitfield eventually succumbed to the disease last September, and this Friday, Spartacus will return to television for its second season, with a new title and a new lead. Actress Viva Bianca recalls the first few days of shooting Spartacus: Vengeance with a tinge of sadness in her voice, as she remembers her fallen costar and sings the praises of her new one, Liam McIntyre.
Bianca, a native Australian, stars as Ilithyia, a conniving and ambitious daughter of a senator, and the wife of Gaius Claudius Glaber, the man responsible for Spartacus’ enslavement. As its title implies, Spartacus is a bloody and violent show, and, with enough skin to rival Game of Thrones, it’s one of the more risque series on television. We recently caught up with Bianca and spoke about regrouping after Whitfield’s death, where her character is headed this season, and why undressing in front of the camera is no fun at all.
Do you see this as a make it or break it season?
I think there was more pressure on Season One, because the show was coming out of nowhere, but from what I understand, this is Starz’s biggest hit original series, so it’s already kind of proven itself in that way. It got really good ratings and developed a big following. But of course, what happened is our former Spartacus, Andy Whitfield, passed away, so that was a great tragedy and an incredible loss for all of us. But as a consequence, I think because the show really was so successful and had this momentum, the network decided to continue with the series and recast the role. So now we have an actor called Liam McIntyre playing Spartacus, and he’s a very charming, talented young man. And I think that’s really what people are going to be focusing on: How does he compare to the great Andy Whitfield? So the pressure’s more on him than anyone, poor guy.
When Andy passed away did it put the show in jeopardy?
Well the truth is we were shooting Season Two by the time he passed, and that’s because he had ben in treatment for cancer for 18 months, so the decision had to be made a while back. And it was just so hard for everyone.
Was it an incredibly sensitive time on set when Liam started? I would imagine everyone was very supportive of him.
Yeah, you only have to spend five minutes with the guy to feel so relaxed in his company and wish him well. He’s a genuinely good guy, and he deserves this opportunity, and he brought so much integrity and wisdom and a sense of innocence to the role. And of course he can’t try and emulate Andy and what Andy did with the role, because that would be fruitless, but what he can do is bring his own history to the role and his own imagination and impulse. I think that we all really respect him because he has done that. I’m not flagging him.
Can you tease the second season for all the show’s fans?
The exciting thing about Spartacus: Vengeance is that on every possible level, with every possible character, the heat is on. As far as my character goes, there is a huge revelation of information that will be revealed around halfway through he season, and it’s big and exciting I can’t talk about it now, but it’s a real kind of driving force for my character throughout the season.
How did you discover this revelation?
I was told the revelation by the producers and the writers, and then as an actor, I carried the secret throughout Season Two until it was revealed in the script. And that’s one of the best things as an actor. Because I trained in Stanislavski, it’s such a pleasure if your character has a secret.
Talk to me about your character’s evolution.
In Season One, the character began as quite young, naïve, and spoiled and bratty, and kind of was corrupted by her relationships with some of the other characters, and very much revealed herself to be a villain. However, the great thing about now is that the writers have really invested in creating many dimensions to my character. And yes, there will continue to be that kind of scheming, plotting, and conniving, there’s also going to be a nice revelation of vulnerability and humility as well.
Are you happy with where she ends the season?
Yes, it’s such an awesome character wrap, I could never have dreamt it up. But it was exhausting. It’s all high stakes, it’s all epic, like Greek tragedy meets Dangerous Liaisons. You’re fighting for your life one day, and you’re trying to seduce some teenage boy the next.
You appear nude at several points throughout the show. Is that something you’ll do, as long as it’s not gratuitous?
Nudity and sex scenes have to serve the story. They have to drive the story forward. That’s always the case, and I don’t know any single actor that enjoys doing it. It’s very uncomfortable and it has to be dealt with in the most clinical, sensitive, protected manner. And on this show, that’s always been the case. It might seem kind of outlandish and sort of wild and free but at the same time it’s actually not in reality. Sometimes it’s hilarious, actually. It’s so not sexy when you’re doing it. It’s hilarious.