Manu Bennett considers finishing his stint as gladiator-turned-rebel Crixus in the “Spartacus” franchise a kind of graduation.
Since leaving the series, which wrapped up its four-season run on Starz in the spring, he’s gone on to more high profile projects. In his native New Zealand, he became part of “The Hobbit” franchise, playing Azog, the Orc, and last season he joined The CW’s “Arrow” as Slade Wilson, training up Stephen Amell’s Oliver Queen in the art of weaponry, fighting and warfare.
But, with Season 3 — “Spartacus: War of the Damned – The Complete Third Season” – having just dropped on Blu-ray and DVD, he took some time to reminisce about his time playing the fierce fighter on the Starz show, and dished on his emotional exit, which continues to prompt fans to share their feelings with him at public appearances.
Plus, the actor shared hints about “Arrow,” Season 2, which returns to The CW on October 9.
AccessHollywood.com: We’ve got to talk about your exit on the show, which brought so many people to tears.
Manu Bennett: Men as well. Men! (Laughs). I’ve got men coming up to me at the Comic-Cons all saying that they cried. I think that’s one of the biggest compliments I can get, is knowing that the men will tell me that they cried at the death scene. It shows a good connection, an ability to express. So hopefully that’s something that Crixus brought about.
Access: How did you feel about going out before the end of the series?
Manu: At the end of the day, that’s what historically happened. Crixus died in a battle before the one that Spartacus perished in, so historically, it was accurate. But I think it was really well crafted. I thought to die in the eye of Naevia — the actual death footage to be show in her vision — was just a stroke of genius by the director T.J. Scott. It also was the eye of everybody, really. It really sort of amplified the moment. It was like putting it under the microscope. I can’t say how many people have come up to me and told me that they cried during that scene. It would’ve been interesting to be a fly on the wall around America on that particular night to see how many people did react that way.
Access: On the final day of filming the cast and crew paid tribute by doing a tribal Haka for you?
Manu: Yeah, I was fortunate that they did use my death scene as my final scene on the show and the one thing about that particular scene is I had no [acting] choice for it. It was the one scene during four years of filming the show where I just really didn’t know how I was gonna play the scene. … It was a really difficult one, but then, when I asked Cynthia [Addai-Robinson, who played Naevia], what she thought about the scene, she told me she was basing it on the death of her father. … So when she told me that, I was very aware of how emotional she would be in that scene, so I kind of just looked at her in support and … that ended up being the right choice, because Crixus, in his death… he knew what was coming and he knew potentially what would happen to Naevia, [and] following that, she would need all the strength she could get, so I spent the whole time just sort of looking at her and feeling for her, rather than anything about myself. … We do this in acting, but until you totally give yourself up to another actor, you don’t really realize the strength of it.
At the end of my scene I went over because she was crying, because she put herself through that emotional scene with her father, and so I went over and sort of put my head against her forehead … [It was] just a very truthful moment, but then suddenly I heard the roar of Antonio Te Maioho, who played Barca, and he had basically gotten together with all of the crew and the stunt guys and even the extras and organized this giant Haka for me, which was a real proud moment for me because that’s the Maori war dance and I’ve performed it many a time. I performed it for Andy Whitfield’s funeral and what not. … We used it to send off other people who’d been on the show. When somebody died who was of significance, we’d send them off with a Haka, or some of the good directors that came along, and I suddenly found it was my turn after four years.
Access: On a lighter note, did you get to keep anything fun from the set?
Manu: No. … They auctioned everything. We got a note from the producer saying, ‘If you’re thinking you want your costumes, don’t ask. Everything is going to Starz to be auctioned off.’ … Instead of asking, I just decided to five finger a few things.
Access: In previous season did you get anything cool?
Manu: I got one thing. I got my necklace. I got the Crixus necklace. I ended up putting that into an auction to raise money for breast cancer – the Breast Cancer Foundation.
Access: One of the things some of the actors said in the special features section of the Blu-ray/DVD is that the hardest thing about ending this series was leaving the family you made on the show behind. Do you feel that way too?
Manu: Yeah, I mean the friendships that we did make were just extraordinary. Four years is almost like a whole period that you’ll spend at a school or a university or something like that and for me, it was that. For me, some of those things that happened during my life, like when I was 15, 16 I lost my mother and brother to accidents, you know, that sort of really interfered with my schooling, so when I finished high school, I really hadn’t academically done that well because I’d missed a lot of school because these couple of accidents that happened in my family, so it was kind of like my graduation for ‘Spartacus.’ And after graduating from that I’ve gone on to obviously get other good jobs, which sort of was the thing I missed after my high school because of the adversity that happened. So it just took me a while to get the opportunity to grow up and do well on my terms.
Access: Speaking of those jobs, you moved on to ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Arrow.’ What skills did you get to bring from ‘Spartacus’ to The CW show? There’s a lot of fighting.
Manu: Well, because I had a background in dancing, all the movement stuff, and I played rugby as well, so all the contact stuff and I had done some martial arts training and some boxing and stuff like that — all of that’s just a big combination. One thing leads into another. It’s morphing from one shape to the next. The thing about ‘Arrow’ is ‘Arrow’s’ very contemporary and I’m a contemporary soldier and Slade Wilson will disarm you and kill you in a matter of seconds, whereas Crixus, you’ve got to go into an arena for a two hour battle and the strikes are way up in the air — ‘Roar!’… Really, Slade Wilson is just a modern creation. So I’ve sort of leapt from 74 B.C. to the present. … I’ve leapt through a portal in time and come out the other end as another dangerous adversary to a lead character, but in the same way as Crixus, Slade is a dark hero.
Access: How excited you are for ‘Arrow’ Season 2, you’re in the poster!
Manu: I’m really excited because when I first started with ‘Arrow’ … it was a different pace, a different tone. It was just more sort of factual and modern. … It’s already bigger than ‘Spartacus’ in terms of viewership, and being part of a franchise like that, it’s really gonna sort of help me build an even stronger future in this industry. And also, Slade Wilson, I know by what I’ve been told and the way that the character is already started to curve in the second season that he’s gonna be as big [of] a challenge as an acting role as what Crixus was and I think I can give him a lot of the light and shade that Crixus had, that I know the audience loves and appreciated in my performance as Crixus. So I think I’m again on a winning role and I can’t wait to embrace it further. I’m riding the tip of the arrow (laughs).
“Spartacus: War of the Damned – The Complete Third Season” is out now on Blu-ray and DVD. “Arrow” returns to The CW on October 9 at 8/7c.
-- Jolie Lash