Manu Bennett plays Crixus, the future Champion of Capua in “Spartacus: Gods of the Arena,” a Starz original action-adventure drama series. Newly purchased, Crixus is a recruit enlisted into Batiatus’s gladiator school. Over the past four years Bennett has played action roles involving spectacular fights with the greatest modern-day gladiators from the popular WWE wrestling arena: John Cena in The Marine and Stone Cold Steve Austin in The Condemned. He played Steve Veldez in the award-winning 2001 film Lantana opposite “Without a Trace’s” Anthony La Paglia. He was Deputy Billy Kitka in 30 Days of Night, from “Spartacus” executive producers Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures; and earlier had starred as Marc Antony opposite his “Spartacus” co-star Lucy Lawless in Tapert and Raimi’s hit series “Xena: Warrior Princess”He was born in Auckland, New Zealand, of Maori descent, and grew up in Newcastle, Australia. His acting career began in Australia in series such as “Paradise Beach,” “Water Rats,” “All Saints,” followed by lead roles in New Zealand series including “Street Legal,” “Shortland Street” and “Mataku.”
In a brief conversation, Manu Bennett shared a bit on the rigorous training he underwent for the series.
STARZ – Spartacus: Gods of the Arena: Friday, January 21, 2011 at 10 p.m. ET/PT
Before Spartacus struck down his first opponent in the arena, there were many gladiators who passed though the gates onto the sand. “Spartacus: Gods of the Arena,” the highly anticipated prequel to Starz’ hit series “Spartacus: Blood and Sand,” tells the story of an aspiring Champion of the House of Batiatus: Gannicus (Dustin Clare) in a more ruthless time before Spartacus’ arrival where honor was just finding it’s way into the arena. The new series adds to the cast Jaime Murray as Capua’s sexy social climber Gaia and Marisa Ramirez as Melitta, a beautiful slave who must face the ultimate decision of the heart. Jeffrey Thomas plays Batiatus’s father Titus, the traditional and cautious Lanista, head of the Ludus. They join returning cast members John Hannah (Quintus Batiatus), Lucy Lawless (Lucretia), Peter Mensah (Oenomaus, before he becomes Doctore, the gladiator trainer) and Manu Bennett (Crixus). As the prequel begins, Quintus Batiatus is the acting Lanista while his father Titus is on an extended visit to Sicilia. But Batiatus isn’t satisfied with just the thought of taking over the Ludus one day; he aspires to political power and prestige in Capua, and perhaps beyond. In the class-conscious world of ancient Rome, the House of Batiatus must first earn the respect of both politicians and socialites before being granted the right for its gladiators to fight in the much-revered championship bouts called the Primus. Batiatus must not only survive the harsh politics of Capua, but also compel his hedonistic fighter, Gannicus, to embrace being a champion gladiator who will bring esteem and respect to the House of Batiatus. “Spartacus: Gods of the Arena” is produced by Rob Tapert, Sam Raimi, Joshua Donen and Steven S. DeKnight. Season one of “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” was the highest rated show for the 18-49 demographic among all cable networks for 12 of the 13 Fridays on which it aired based on coverage rating.
How intense was your training?
Manu Bennett: Nobody survives gladiator boot camp. You just have to learn how to deal with pain. You get what you put in. We’re all very aware of that on this show because it’s not just an acting job. We need to perform like professional sports people. All our stunt guys lead the way with a lot of the fighting and we follow. We follow just as rigorously both in the training and the performances on set. So it’s extremely demanding. We have to be very careful about just how far we go because 95% of it is real and the other 5% is just trying to avoid the other person’s (sword). It’s commitment and evasion and – but we’ve gotten to trust each other very much on set. We’re almost like a Cirque de Soleil of gladiators. We move with finesse and speed and with a lot of trust for each other. And sometimes it doesn’t work and we get whacked. I think I’ve been to the emergency ward three times at the local doctors. Not the emergency emergency, but to the, you know — you know, it’s challenging, but none of us back away from that. We’ve all had a good whack on the hand or a whack on the arm or a bruise from the falls that we constantly have to do. On our side of the world, we play rugby, and growing up like that, you get home from a rugby match and that makes you feel good as man. So when I get home from a day of filming of Spartacus, I feel like a man. I feel like I’ve done a hard day’s work and I’ve got a few bruises and what not but it’s all very much worth it and satisfying.