Andy Whitfield is Spartacus

We talk to the star of the new cable series, 'Spartacus'.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Andy Whitfield is Spartacus

Madness? THIS IS SPARTA-CUS! Yeah, I made a 300 reference. Spartacus: Blood and Sand uses the green screen technology of that other ancient fighting story for its gladiator battles. Andy Whitfield plays the famed slave turned hero in an episodic TV version of the story, fully R-rated for the Starz network. Whitfield joined a conference call to discuss the show, which airs Friday nights on Starz.


Q: How do you like the way you look in slow motion?


Andy Whitfield: There was this camera called the Phantom camera that show 1000 frames a second. You can slow things down, you can freeze things and that meant two things. One, it meant I couldn’t have a stunt double because you could see it wasn’t me. So I pretty much did most of my stunts. Secondly, I had to learn a whole new way of holding my face and learning to not blink because a blink is a minute long. Also, if I had to scream in anguish, I had to get it in early, otherwise it was at the end of the sequence which was only like two seconds but stretched out to 30. So yeah, there were a few technical things to learn but wow, it just looks phenomenal.


Q: What were the challenges of working on green screen so much?


Andy Whitfield: For me, one is after a couple days I didn’t really notice the green screen so much because there’s a fairly established set and of course your focus should be on the other characters. My focus has to be on whoever I’m in a scene with, so that wasn’t so much of an issue.


Q: Had you ever done green screen before?


Andy Whitfield: On Gabriel there was a fair amount of green screen. That was actually my first experience with it but I don’t really have a problem, apart from the fact that I don’t really like the green that it is, it’s a bit like a fluorescent light. It’s not a comfortable, calm thing to be around but in terms of your acting and performance, it’s not there. It’s really not there. There are a million other things to focus on in that moment so yeah, I really don’t mind it. Only one of the sets that I really worked on which was the arena obviously had to be a green screen for the scale. The rest of them, we had fully bit sets, solidly made and beautiful craftsmanship. That does make it easier but you just get around it. It’s just part of the job to ignore that green screen.


Q: Are you focused more on the actor in the arena then?


Andy Whitfield: Yeah, I’d say obviously you’re always intended for whatever focus you can have in that moment. It just forces you to focus more into the work. In that way it does sharpen. I remember a time where there was me and I had five of the hottest Roman women with cleavage and big hair and stuff. Those were the days where I really, really did need to focus on what the hell I was saying.


Q: All that nudity around must have been a new experience too.


Andy Whitfield: I also think that it’s not out of context. It’s not shocking when you watch the show because it seems relevant to that time and what a sort of volatile crazy world it was. So it would be inauthentic to not go there.


Q: And you go there too, so it’s fair.


Andy Whitfield: Look, my costume’s not the biggest costume. There are certain practical considerations but it looks awesome. I’m sure Steven 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.


Q: Are you ready to see yourself in HD or even on Blu Ray later?


Andy Whitfield: I think especially in a project like this which you can scratch with your fingers, it’s got so much texture, that’s all in. That is all in. Everything is authentic and real. There’s not overgroomed, overstyled, cosmetically enhanced.


Q: How do you deal with the legacy of Kirk Douglas’s performance in the legendary movie?


Andy Whitfield: Obviously, it’s hard. 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. 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.


Q: How did you get in Spartacus shape?


Andy Whitfield: Ooh, listen, I got this job and two days later I was in gladiator boot camp in New Zealand. I didn’t even know what that was. I thought I was going to get handed a loin cloth 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.


Q: How do you mentally prepare for a role like this?


Andy Whitfield: For me, I’m almost more worried about knowing what’s coming for the second season than how it was approached the first time. 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 adrenally 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. It does take its toll. At the end, everyone needs a big rest but even on the last day, everyone was there, the crew were 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.


Q: Do you still get nervous?


Andy Whitfield: Yeah, I mean, I think from what we have achieved, not blowing smoke proverbially. I think that gives you a lot of confidence but I’m also conscious that there’s always a necessary amount of fear just to have everything sharp. It’s that thing, no pressure no diamond. I think you just get used to accepting that that will always be there. For example, if I had to audition for something tomorrow, I would be as nervous as I was before. I spent nine months doing the best training for acting I could possibly ever have and I think that’s appropriate. Just accept that that’s going to be there and trust that it will go away.


Q: Do you have any advice to aspiring actors?


Andy Whitfield: I would just say just know what you know and know what you don’t know. Control the things you can. Don’t be attached to the outcome because if you’re attached to the outcome, you’re just going to tear you apart. Just go in there and attack everything with commitment and joy. If it’s right, it’s right and you will get that part.