Liam McIntyre , Andy Whitfield Liam McIntyre , Andy Whitfield

Liam McIntyre was working on the set of Spartacus the day that he learned that his predecessor Andy Whitfield had succumbed to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma last fall. Whitfield first filled the title role of Starz's bloody gladiator drama.

"It's probably the saddest thing I ever had to be part of," McIntyre told critics Friday at the network's winter previews. "I've never seen a sadder person than the producer who had to pass that news on to what is really a family ... You can't imagine how sad that day was."

Spartacus star Andy Whitfield dies of lymphoma at 39

McIntyre continued, "But part of the triumph of the team was coming together after a little bit of downtime to say, 'We owe Andy the respect to do this job as best we can. So let's come and let's do the best damn show we can.' And we pulled ourselves together and did excellent work until the end of the season. What else can you do, right?"

After completing the first season of the series, Whitfield withdrew to treat his disease. In place of a second season, Starz instead filmed the six-part prequel, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, which focused on the House of Batiatus before the arrival of Spartacus. When Whitfield's lymphoma returned, however, he stepped down from acting altogether, and newcomer McIntyre was recast as Spartacus for the second season. Whitfield died in September.

Joining McIntyre in the show's second season are Lucy Lawless, Peter Mensah, Manu Bennett, Dustin Clare, Nick E. Tarabay, Katrina Law, Craig Parker and Viva Bianca. Cynthia Addai-Robinson replaces Lesley-Ann Brandt as body slave Naevia.

Spartacus: Vengeance premieres on Friday, Jan. 27 at 10/9c on Starz.