Spartacus: Blood and Sand, Lucy Lawless

The swords and sandals are about the only similarities between Spartacus: Blood and Sand and Xena: Warrior Princess, Lucy Lawless says.

"They're so different from each other in almost every way," she tells TVGuide.com. "From the technology, the fight sequences, the sex scenes."

Ah, yes, the sex scenes. In addition to the copious amounts of blood spilled on-screen, the Starz ancient Rome epic features boundary-pushing sex scenes that are about as explicit as you can get on television. Lawless, who had not done nudity prior to Spartacus, is at the center of a number of them as manipulative man-eater Lucretia.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand's Erin Cummings: Fight scenes are fun!

"When you talk about it, it sounds like you're doing a lot of sex scenes, but I don't feel like I do that much," she says. "My concern was that it fit with the story and that there wasn't any gratuitous sex in this, and it doesn't really trouble me as long as it's relevant to the scene. It's part of the story that they're around in various states of undress. Human beings have always had sex, and a lot of business got done during these transactions. That's what the sex is about."

For Lucretia, the business of sex is to provide her husband, gladiator school owner Batiatus (John Hannah), with an heir — any which way she can, including sleeping with the gladiators at the camp. "She begins, what I think, is quite an abusive relationship with the chief gladiator, the champion, hoping that he might impregnate her," Lawless says. "She's desperate."

Lucretia's deceitfulness is what makes her the polar opposite of Xena, whose butt-kicking justice made her a feminist icon in the late 1990s. "Lucretia's purely reactive. Time and time again, things go against her and she's always disappointed, so she has to claw her way back to success," she says. "She's a brilliant liar. She has to be. There is no one who's going to look after her. She doesn't have a function of her own. If something happens to her husband, whom she loves, she's lost. Everything in ancient Rome is about status. She's just the ultimate survivor."

Spartacus sets record ratings for Starz

Another difference between Lucretia and Xena? As Lucretia, Lawless doesn't partake in the gruesome battle royale scenes, which, she admits, are not for the faint of heart. But there is a little something for everyone in the show, she says, with its mix of stylized action scenes and dramatic storytelling. Lawless' husband, Robert Tapert, who produced Xena, created Spartacus with that mass appeal in mind after watching the similarly themed Rome and the big-screen hit 300. "When we watched 300, he went, 'Oh my God, that's the way that I can produce my vision on a TV schedule and a TV budget,'" she says.

The show shoots in Lawless' native New Zealand, where she will return in April to begin production on Season 2. In a huge vote of confidence, Starz renewed the series a month before its January premiere. It wasn't for naught — the series premiered to a record 3.3 million viewers with DVR and encore viewings tabulated.

"It's really wonderful. I think Starz was really courageous to hop onboard this train," Lawless says. "This is a wild ride and very intense to shoot. And we have so much good stuff coming up. You get to see that the women are more vicious than the men. My lover, Crixus [played by Manu Bennett], is falling in love with my handmaiden, and it is good. Things get very hot and heavy. And very sticky."

Spartacus airs Fridays at 10/9c on Starz.