It’s a brisk evening in Southern California, just ahead of the first winter storm of the season, and the locals are shivering outside of Los Angeles’ famed Cinerama Dome, dressed in wool sweaters and coats, tightly wound scarves and industrial strength denim. But not Liam McIntyre.
Betraying the steely gravity he exudes on screen in leather and knives as the new lead of “Spartacus: Vengeance,” AccessHollywood.com’s newest Rising Star is grinning ear-to-ear, inflamed with a boyish excitement as he walks the red carpet at his first ever Hollywood premiere – an event for his own show.
“I used to set up premieres for like, Australian people at the cinema I used to work at, so I know what it feels like to carry a red carpet like this and set up these bollards, but I don’t know what it feels like to stand on here and be asked questions,” Liam told Access.
It was just a year ago, in fact, that the late 20-something actor was working in his native country, pulling a working stiff’s shift, and acting was still something he did on the side.
“I was deciding what movies they put on,” he told Access, in another interview, of his pre-breakthrough 9 to 5 gig. “It was a really cool job… Not anywhere near as cool as this job.”
There were small parts during that time — in an episode of HBO’s “The Pacific,” movie shorts and the long-running Aussie soap institution “Neighbours” — and his day job kept Liam in touch with his dream.
“I think I got that job because I wanted to be an actor,” Liam said of his cinema stint. “It was kind of cool to work and see your heroes every day as part of your job.”
But one day, a little over a year ago, the people who make the heroes called for Liam. The problem was his own body wasn’t actually ready to answer.
The actor had been working on a film – “Frozen Moments” – which, like Christian Bale in “The Machinist” or Michael Fassbender in “Hunger” — had required the Australian to drop a significant amount of weight.
Sitting there, more than 40 pounds smaller than his normal frame, the team behind Starz’ “Spartacus” series (having received the support of original star – the now late Andy Whitfield – to recast the role) told Liam they were seeking a new champion.
“They said, ‘We’re interested; we’re not sure; go and train for ages and ages, and then? Maybe,’” Liam recounted “It was a good reason to get into shape. So that was great. [I thought], even if it wasn’t going to work out, at least I’ll be fit.
“And then the good news came,” he added. “It was the greatest day of my life.”
Looks aside, it’s easy to see why he was cast. Off camera, Liam is genuine, down-to-earth, confident and charming, with a rare sense of humor, putting him somewhere between Tom Hanks and fellow Aussie Hugh Jackman. But on camera, he’s switches to something quite different, showing off a rare mix of being simultaneously both commanding and vulnerable.
When fans last saw Spartacus, in 2010, then played by Andy, the Thracian and his fellow gladiators had freed themselves from the bonds of Roman slavery, slaughtering their master Batiatus (John Hannah), and nearly all of his kin (Lucy Lawless’ Lucretia survived).
Like it is for Liam himself, the story of Season 2 is about the rise of a leader. For Spartacus, it is about leading a band of rebels on the run, on the way to forming a great army, and for the actor, it’s leading this new phase of the show.
“It’s the weirdest thing, I actually thought that somewhere in Episode 1… I thought, ‘How am I gonna lead, especially like the established… People like Manu Bennett – Crixus – and Dan [Feuerriegel] and Katrina [Law] and all these people. How do you take that on and lead these people?” Liam said. “So in a weird way, there’s some sort of dualism there, which is kind of cool.”
While audiences get their first taste of “Spartacus: Vengeance” on Friday night, Starz has seen enough of Liam’s leadership to know that the network wants more.
A Season 3 has already been greenlit.
“That was a relief. It’s really touching that they would back a show and me as the new guy in this huge role, this epic standard that’s been set by Andy,” Liam smiled. “That’s flattering if nothing else — and a real humbling experience.”
“I’m like the luckiest person in the world,” Liam told Access. “That’s comfortably easy to say.”
“Spartacus: Vengeance” kicks off Friday night at 10 PM on Starz.