Spartacus Spartacus

This is not the way you want to land a job. But Liam McIntyre is making the best of it. The 29-year-old Australian actor — little known even in his own country — has stepped into the starring role in the hit sex-and-swords series Spartacus: Vengeance, which returns Friday (10/9c, Starz) That part was originated by another Aussie actor, Andy Whitfield, a huge favorite with fans, who died last year of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Now millions worldwide will be checking out the newbie to see how he stacks up, a situation he calls "scary and daunting." But make no mistake: McIntyre is determined to own the role of the legendary Thracian gladiator — lock, stock and leather loincloth.

"I'm a bit nervous waiting for everyone to weigh in — I'd be a fool not to be now, wouldn't I? — but I'm confident I've given this everything I've got," says McIntyre. "Andy was fantastic in the part and made Spartacus one of my favorite shows. So, in a way, I'm like the rest of the fans. I want to see this done right."

In Season 1, after leading a slave revolt that ended in the death of his master, Spartacus vowed to make "Rome tremble." But first he's got some specific payback in mind. When Season 2 launches, Spartacus is seeking revenge for the murder of his wife, Sura, who was kidnapped and sent into slavery by the Roman commander Claudius Glaber. In the soapiest of twists, the series hints that Spartacus may have impregnated Glaber's wife Ilithyia, whom he was forced to bed — for her social entertainment — back in his slave days.

"I love how they're playing with the suspense of that — it's great tension for the series," says McIntyre, who doesn't see his character ever finding — or wanting — another wife. "He made a pretty big promise that he'd never love another woman after Sura, and I think that's binding." But sex? No prob! This is Starz, don't forget, so expect lots of sweaty, soft-porn shtupping between Spartacus and his gal pal Mira. Also watch for an awesomely over-the-top Roman orgy (is there any other kind?) with Spartacus and his gang slaughtering the naked revelers in horrifyingly fresh ways.

"Just when we think we've run out of ways to disembowel and decapitate, a whole new wondrous world opens up to us," cracks creator Steven S. DeKnight, who'll work even more wonders by bringing back Lucy Lawless, whose character, the social-climbing Lucretia, seemingly died when her pregnant belly was gutted in the season finale.

"We move Lucretia in a direction that's completely unexpected," says Lawless. "It will take a few episodes to learn how she so miraculously survived." But the bigger miracle, Lawless notes, "is that we keep moving forward. Losing Andy, our real-life hero, was shattering — a tragedy we'll never get over. But with Liam we have a new leader, a man of real integrity, a great force on the set." And isn't that what you need in the guy who plays Spartacus?

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