There's a new gladiator in town! After a long and exhaustive casting search, actor Liam McIntyre has landed the lead role in the Starz series Spartacus: Blood and Sand. The 28-year-old Aussie unknown will replace fan fave Andy Whitfield, who had to withdraw from the show last year after being diagnosed for the second time with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Season 2 of the international hit starts shooting this spring, with a projected January 2012 airdate. TV Guide Magazine spoke with McIntyre, who beat out a broad and beefy contingent of Spartacus wannabes — a list that included former Prison Break star Dominic Purcell and All My Children grad Aiden Turner.
TV Guide Magazine: This has been one of the most high-profile talent hunts in history, with all the top contenders' names revealed on the internet. How did it feel to have everyone all up in your business?
McIntyre: [Laughs] I don't know any different! This is all so new to me. But I understood all the interest because this is Spartacus, man, the coolest role ever! There were times when it was tough seeing things about me in the paper but I was just so happy to be part of the process — win or lose. Just coming close on such a big opportunity would have been flattering. It's been one hell of a ride.
TV Guide Magazine: It was reported that you had to bulk up before the producers felt comfortable handing you the role. What's the story there?
McIntyre: The day before I had my first audition for Spartacus I finished shooting a film, Frozen Moments — my first big role —where I play a guy who's placed in a medically induced coma for 12 months and wakes up looking pretty wasted. I had to drop 20 kilos [the equivalent of over 44 pounds] and that's how I looked when I showed up to pretend to be this massive gladiator. I looked like a skinny 14-year-old! I was a little bit scared about going in that way, but I did the best job I could. [Laughs] The producers had a lot of faith in me!
TV Guide Magazine: How do you look now?
McIntyre: I've nearly gained back the 20 kilos, though now it's pure muscle. And I'll keep getting bigger until we start shooting. I've never been through a physical regime this intense — it's real hell but a good kind of hell. My body is very confused going from one extreme to the other. I don't even recognize myself! I look in the mirror and go, "Who are you?"
TV Guide Magazine: What's it like knowing you landed this gig because of another's misfortune?
McIntyre: That's the hardest part of all the joy I'm feeling — knowing that Andy had to drop out of a role he worked so hard to make successful. But it's a great blessing knowing he wants the show to continue and that Starz wants me to make the character my own rather than trying to fill Andy's shoes, which would be impossible. He is one of a kind and he made this show something extraordinary.
TV Guide Magazine: Were you a fan of the series?
McIntyre: Oh, yeah! Who isn't? Growing up, the role I wanted to play more than anything was Russell Crowe's part in Gladiator. That was my fantasy. Well, I think I've beat that! [Laughs] My best friends were so excited when they found out I was testing for the show, except for one thing. They all said, "Liam, we hope you get this part. We just don't want to see your butt on television."
TV Guide Magazine: Uh, you do know it's a prerequisite for the job, right? Are you ready for all those hot sex scenes?
McIntyre: [Laughs] I don't know how I feel about that yet! But I guess it is a big part of what makes the show so popular, right? I do know one thing: My mother is going to get a very special edited version of the show with only the scenes she's allowed to see. And that goes for my friends, as well!