Actor Dustin Clare knows all about stepping into a pre-existing series and finding a way to make your mark. His roles in McLeod’s Daughters, Underbelly and Satisfaction were all in seasons that followed their debut.
Now in the lead role of Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, the prequel to Spartacus: Blood and Sand, he follows Australian actor Andy Whitfield in a new role of Gannicus.
After Whitfield was diagnosed with cancer the Prequel was greenlit by US cable network Starz. Filmed in Auckland, it has since become the network’s highest rating series.
Clare tells TV Tonight he modelled his character on a very familiar sports star.
“I really wanted to paint a very different character to ‘Spartacus’ and go the other way. I modelled him inside the arena on Anthony Mundine, actually. I find my way into characters physically as an actor,” he said.
“Mundine is very cocky and confident inside the boxing ring, but you can’t deny the man’s skill. He’s an extremely skilled fighter, and his ability to use the crowd, whether they’re for him or against him, always uses them to his advantage. He loves the showmanship. So that’s what I played with ‘Gannicus.’
“But he’s a very self-destructive character too. He’s always trying to distract himself from his reality, or detach from it.
“So I really wanted to shift the audience throughout the six episodes from who they thought he was to who they think he may be, and to hopefully really rally behind him.”
After being cast in the role, Clare underwent a gruelling fitness regime prior to the production.
“It was 7 hours a day of weights, cardio, circuit training. We had 4 hours in the morning, break for lunch then I would come back and do 2 hours of sword work with double swords, have a sleep for an hour then do an hour in the pool. That was three weeks, including with a very strict diet,” he says.
“When we were filming it was a 4:30 wake up, hit the gym for 45 minutes, and then get to set. You would get home at 8, get in the pool for an hour, have dinner and go to bed. So it was a very intense period of my life.”
Learning lines was squeezed in between shooting and during personal time, but Clare acknowledges the US series afforded him a longer period with scripts than the usual turnaround of 10-14 days in Australia.
Set in a classic Roman era, the series utilised considerable green-screen, allowing for CGI enhancement. The production was housed in a NZ warehouse, because Producer Rob Tappert refuses to work in a traditional film studio.
“There were very intricate and elaborately-designed sets,” says Clare. “I walked onto the sound stage and thought, ‘Wow this is like nothing else I’ve ever worked on.’ It’s a very big production. But they do have a lot of green screen and that’s really just imagining a thousand people screaming at you and that kind of stuff.”
As the series’ new pin-up hero, Clare also had to hit the US media circuit, visiting such locations as Colorado, Texas, and San Antonio.
“You go into rooms like the Television Critics Association and there’s hundreds of media,” he explains.
“There are so many more people and they have so much of a ‘want’ for entertainment. They love entertainment. They thrive on it.
“And then there’s the fans. People dress up, it’s just so different to Australia.”
Promoting Spartacus to the US press required differences to addressing Australian media, due to both the sheer numbers and the tactics employed by a frenzied media.
“In Australia you’ve got people who are just after one ‘surfacy thing’, and then there are some people genuinely interested in what it means to be an actor, and then there are some others who are within the fabric of the industry who are well-respected and know what they do,” he says.
“But over there you’ve got people who try to take a point of difference. So somebody might be aggressive, someone might be charming, someone might take a negative approach, or a positive approach. It’s just their own way of trying to create their own stories, because you’ve got to remember there’s so much media that everyone is trying to get their own angle.”
When he finishes on the film Goddess next week he returns to New Zealand to join filming on the second season of Spartacus: Blood and Sand. He will be joining fellow Australian actor Liam McIntyre, who replaces Andy Whitfield.
Spartacus is developing a reputation not only for catapulting Aussie actors, but also for their kinship.
“I’ve spoken to Liam on the phone but I haven’t met him yet. Like Andy did for me I tried to give him some preparation.
“But you can’t prepare for the hype of the States until you walk into that.”
Spartacus: Gods of the Arena airs 9:30pm Wednesdays on GO!.