Manu Bennett: More Than Hollywood Muscle
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Peter Jackson assembled a cast of thousands for his Hobbit trilogy, so to be the man he singled out as "the breakout performance" says volumes about what Manu Bennett brings to his entirely motion-capture role of orc chieftain Azog. But Bennett's star-quality does not come as a surprise to Spartacus fans, who have been watching him cut a stellar swath through Spartacus since 2011.
And 2013 is poised to be Bennett's biggest year to date, as the final season of Starz's swords-and-sandals saga premieres tonight, he reprises Azog in December's The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and he's be joining The CW's white-hot Arrow as the iconic villain Deathstroke. ETonline caught up with Manu Bennett to talk about all three roles, and discovered the passion that drives his perfection.
ETonline: As we come up on the final season of Spartacus, what excites you about where Crixus is now?
Manu Bennett: A lot of people were wondering what Crixus' background was, and if he was more than just a brutish gladiator who wants to be the champion. The love story with Naevia helped a lot because when she started asking those questions, it did give me that opportunity to say, "There are things from the past that drove me to this situation and you're the special woman who has been able to speak to my heart." It was important to not just have him be a brute, I wanted to show the gentle side of him, and of me as an actor.
ETonline: Is it hard to find masculine roles that also have a powerful emotional element to them?
Bennett: I did a lot of very physical roles before, but Spartacus really was incredible opportunity to play a fully-rounded, masculine character. I was involved in a lot of contact sports when I was younger, but also did ballet. My mother and my brother both died in separate car accidents when I was 15, and I was left with this very emotional vulnerability that I had to deal with. Instead of going off the tracks, I kind of channeled it into sport -- the rugby dealt with my need to express myself physically, and at the time, I had a girlfriend who dragged me into a dance class, and the next thing, I was four years into studying ballet. That helped me deal with the more gentler side of myself.
ETonline: Spartacus is, probably, the most visually advanced show on television. Did that help you when it came to playing Azog in The Hobbit?
Bennett: Spartacus is so cutting edge for television, but [working with] Peter Jackson is like being abducted by aliens and going somewhere you don't even understand the technology. But they kept telling me what I would be able to see during this motion-capture process is already so much more advanced than it was 6 years ago, so I was very fortunate in that regard -- and that's aside from being a part of The Hobbit franchise, and working with Peter Jackson in such a close way. Although it's funny because Peter didn't recognize me at The Hobbit premiere. I have a much different look for Arrow. I tend to change looks quite radically for roles.