Keeping limber is essential for Spartacus' numerous battle and boudoir scenes, but American actress Ellen Hollman also had to exercise her foreign language skills to play the new warrior woman Saxa.
"It's not just a fighting role and a physical role, but also one that requires fluent German. They failed to mention both of those aspects when I was reading for it," Hollman tells TVGuide.com. When Hollman heard that casting director Paul Weber had just returned from Hamburg, she made a comment in German. "He was like, 'Wait, you speak German?' I said, 'What do you think 'Hollman' is?' And [series creator] Steven DeKnight was cracking up and said, 'This is a German role. We just didn't specify that because nobody speaks German.' I've also been doing fighting stunts for quite some time, so I guess it was just one of those things that was meant to be."
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In Friday's episode of Spartacus: Vengeance (10/9c, Starz), Saxa (Hollman) continues to fight alongside Spartacus' men, seeking to liberate all from the tyranny of the dissolute Roman elite. Saxa was among the German slaves that the rebels had freed from a Neapolis slave ship as new recruits to their cause.
Check out Hollman's other insights into Saxa and the dangers and pleasures on set:
What was your reaction when you read for the part of Saxa? Were there any surprises?
Ellen Hollman: It was a massive casting call. What's funny is that the character description is so much different from what you see on the screen. The material I had to read was actually Ashur's (Nick E. Tarabay) monologue when he's basically torturing Oenomaus (Peter Mensah). So from my perspective, I thought the character was going to be more refined, if not Romanesque. Even the attire I wore for the audition was more Roman... But I was meant to play a filthy, German, feral savage.
What's been Saxa's journey and what's coming up for her in these last two episodes?
Hollman: In the beginning, she's been enslaved by the Romans and is an absolute savage. In fact, among my tribe that hails from east of the Rhine, the women are described as "as unpleasant as their men." So to play that at the beginning, you have to go to that savage place, which I've never done before. You really have to be unpleasant. Some of the reactions to her have been like, "Oh my God, she has mange!" These were not pretty, refined women. They were warriors in training. At the beginning you'll see that I'm this savage, caged animal because we were caged on the slave ship, and I become this refined warrior by Episode 10. She steps up to the plate more with each challenge.
What is Saxa's fighting style? Are there weapons that she prefers?
Hollman: Yes, she does, actually. She fights with reverse-grip double daggers. Let me just tell you, it's fun training with them in the gym at my complex. They'll walk into the gym, and it's like, "There's Barbie playing with knives. That's normal." Everyone else pretty much uses swords. Although they trained me in swords, I'm realistic about the fact that I'm not as big as the other warriors. They're gladiators. But what I lack in strength, I make up for in speed and ferocity. What better to do that than with seriously sharp daggers? I'll cut you 100 times before you'll even know it.
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Even though you're trained at doing stunts, I imagine that you still got hurt.
Hollman: They're just scars with better memories. In these episodes coming up, it's so action-packed and stunt-heavy that you are fighting on a battlefield with hundreds of people wielding swords, knives, battleaxes. It's not a matter of if you're going to get injured, it's when you're going to get injured.
Do any particular injuries stand out for you from your time on Spartacus?
Hollman: I'm trying to think what my favorite wound was. I almost took a sword to the eye actually. It skimmed my cheek, so that was a fun one. I also have a massive, 4-inch-long scar on my calf from jumping off of a mountain onto a shield. There are all sorts of fun little memories and tokens on my body.
I hear you're the biggest jokester. Who's your partner in crime on the set?
Hollman: Whoever happens to be around. I would say Katrina Law and I are pretty parallel with our -- we're attracted to causing a stir. But Dan Feuerriegel as well. Yeah, Danny Boy and I like to get our hands caught in the cookie jar.
We've already heard from Katrina Law that you two share a kiss coming up. How does her kissing compare to the other guys' kisses on set?|
Hollman: She's a little bit more gentle. I'm the one who basically grabbed her face and mauled her. She has far less facial hair, which makes it easier on my lips.
What can you tease about this second season finale?
Hollman: This is going to blow your mind. I don't think this has ever been done in television. It's absolutely incredible. They built forests, they built mountains, they built ships just for these scenes.
Check out a sneak peek of the penultimate episode in Season 2, "Monsters":
Spartacus airs on Fridays at 10/9c on Starz.
How do you like Saxa? Is she a good addition to Spartacus' fugitives?
Photo courtesy of Joe DeAngelis Photography