Manu Bennett talks Arrow, Spartacus, and The Hobbit.
Bandit: So, is this your first time at New York Comic Con then?
Manu: Yeah, yeah. I’ve come to New York a few times. And there was a big fanbase here for Spartacus. I was here three years ago. It was such a huge ground swell for Spartacus as I walked around sort of Fifth Avenue and what not. Even though all the people in the fashion stores, who were running all the elite fashion stores on Fifth Avenue. I walked into the stores and they’d go ‘Are you Crixus?’ and I was like ‘Wow! They really know me in New York’ and it really blew me away. This has been the first year I’ve been able to do New York Comic Con but it’s been going really well. I mean, I haven’t stopped signing the whole time and it’s really flattering because I guess there’s that old song ‘If you can…(snaps fingers)’ I could hear. So it’s nice to think that I’ve gotta a big following here in New York.
Bandit: So, recently you’ve been on Arrow as Slade Wilson. So, how did that actually happen, come about, being Slade?
Manu: I was actually in Kuwait, visiting the troops, the U.S troops on a USO tour with the cast of Spartacus, all five of us, and I met some Special Forces guys, and I basically just learned a couple of moves from these guys and from there I flew back through L.A with a four day stop over, or a three day stop over, and I was on my way to The Hobbit premiere in New Zealand. But I did like a three day layover in L.A, and about four hours before my plane was going to leave, on the third day, my manager rang and said ‘Look, can you go over and audition for this show Arrow’. Now, I knew Arrow. I knew Arrow because Stephen Amell had actually auditioned for Spartacus. He was one of the last three guys who came for Spartacus. He didn’t get the role. Liam McIntyre nabbed it. But I’d met him so I knew who he was. So, I went for this thing and it was so unusual how quickly it all happened and I basically went back to… I did the audition. It went really well. I choked out the guy who I was with. He was one of these Special Forces maneuver guys. Honestly, he fell unconscious on the ground during my audition. I thought I was going to get arrested or kicked out of the country or something. But instead they went ‘It was perfect’. Somehow I didn’t know how that happened but it was like on the biggest miracles that has ever happened in casting, I’m sure. Luckily the guy who choked out was forgiving as well and didn’t press charges. But the strange thing was that I had really just been in touch with the Special Forces guys to get the role of a Special Forces character. I think I owe a lot of actually hanging out with these guys in Kuwait for a couple of days before I got there. Because I felt the reality of it. Because I felt, that being around these guys, who were actually in war. Actually on the ground, in the military zones. You get a very heavy sense of what happens to their characters when they go. And how dark war is on them. And these certain elements that I absorbed. And then all of a sudden I got the character of Slade through this audition. But yes, I was back to New Zealand. I was… the morning after the premiere of The Hobbit, I got a phone call saying they wanted to fly me to Canada, that next day. So, basically I just landed and the next thing I know I was in Vancouver for a year and half filming Slade Wilson.
Bandit: So, are we going to see Slade again? Because when we last left him he was…
Manu: That’s the big secret. And it’s going to stay a secret until it changes otherwise (laughs).
Bandit: But you did enjoy playing the character? Because even though the stunts were a lot different from Spartacus, I would say so.
Manu: Yeah, yeah. It’s a lot…it’s a much more modern. Everything about the temp of Arrow is a lot faster than Spartacus. Spartacus was quite theatrical. Because anything you do that’s historic has a kind of degree of theatrics to it. The language was very sisynced in its own way. The way that we fought with weapons was always over exaggerated. For the camera, for the action, for the way our show was shot. It’s just the style of it. But coming into Arrow and playing a Special Forces guy. For the very first time I’m teaching Oliver on the island, using fighting sticks and he’s complaining about the sticks not being lethal enough and so I say ‘What kid? You don’t think these military maneuvers can’t handle any weapon?’ And I tell him to stick a gun in my face and he does and within a split second I was like twisted his arm, flipped him on his back, and I’ve got the gun in his face. And it’s kind of the speed in which Slade moves and his fighting is so much more modern in technique rather than what Crixus was doing. Everything Crixus was doing was arms out, spread giant sweeps, swipes with his sword. Spartacus was kind of like playing classical music and Arrow is more like pop-music. There’s just a different signature to it.
Bandit: Did you have a favorite scene or a favorite sequence for Arrow?
Manu: Oh! I think there was a scene over at the fireplace with the Oliver Queen character, with Slade Wilson’s rediscovering some of his past and talking about how Slade was left alone on the island. And the whole analogy of that scene was that he was betrayed by Billy Wintergreen who was the first… everything thought that was Deathstroke, and he wasn’t. And he and Billy had landed with this Special Ops uniform that was the same, with the split black and gold mask. And, hence, that’s the way our show discovered the Deathstroke costume. It’s a little bit from the DC origins but in any case it was that kind of… that scene was about establishing who Slade was, where he’d come from. We never heard any of that story. And then he mentioned his son, he mentioned being betrayed by Billy Wintergreen. And all of a sudden you sort of saw this hurt that was deep in the character. I love when that happens to characters. It happened a lot with Crixus. It’s the deep hurt that makes, either someone is going to get dark or there are going to be bigger hurdles to be crossed before the character is going to get to any other point in their development. So, that moment I knew that either he was going to get very close to Oliver or will be torn apart or some stuff, and which ended up being the latter.
Bandit: So, you also have The Hobbit coming up as well. So, can you tell me a bit about Azog and the Five Armies?
Manu: Yeah. It’s going to be a big battle. It’s going to be a battle of the Five Armies. The whole things is about coming to a head and I guess I’m like the Orc leader, riding our Wargs, and we’re gonna come in the battle. And my sight is set on taking down Thorin’s OakenShield. It’s gonna be an action-packed kind of… but also I think, the good thing about this last movie is that there’s a lot on stake in the third movie. Whereas the first two movies sort of moved along in a way that was… when you look at great movies like Star Wars or Lord of The Rings, there are really established characters and when you come out with prequels or sequels, those initial characters aren’t in there, we’ve got Gandalf, there’s only a couple of people who’ve really returned to that kind of iconic character things. So, I think people have just trying to kind of work out these new characters. A lot of people love us and I’m pretty thrilled with it. You got a lot of kids coming up ‘Oh! We love Azog’ and I thought I was gonna scare them to death but there’s a whole new young generation that’s watching The Hobbit for the first time. Kids that were probably too young when Lord of The Rings came out. So, they’re… they love The Hobbit. But, yeah, this is the third and final movie and Peter Jackson was very happy with my performance. I look forward to closing the trilogy.
Bandit: So, I know it’s hard. It’s like picking between your children but between Crixus, Slade and Azog, who would you say is your favorite character to play?
Manu: Oh! No, darling! That’s just like asking what part of myself I like better on me. They’re all part of something organic. My life’s just like a tree. I can’ favor one branch over the other one.
Bandit: Is there any other role you look forward to doing if you could choose?
Manu: I don’t… I don’t really… I don’t really embrace looking at the future like that. I kinda like… right now I really like living in the day. You know what I mean? Like I think I’ve had such good characters that… and I’ve worked with people that… I’ve realized that the character’s I’ve played and the success that I’ve had with these productions is so much shared between everybody in the production. I like to say that I’m like the cow… the milk cow. I mean, people come and watch and they look at me but there’s so much more to the actual construction of drama and film and stories and characters. I hope I’m just coming out more in the attention of creative people because they’re the people who I’ve gotta work with. And the more that I can take, be a part of making a product that works, the more I can get called in by studios to make whatever the project may be. I don’t care if it’s a… right now I’m talking to Family Guy, a couple of like voice opportunities in kids… sort of cartoon series. And other people in horrors or there are all these broad spectrums you can play. But it really comes down to being with a team, being with a strong group of creative people. And it doesn’t matter what you play. It can be comedy, it can be drama, could be horror, it could be a love story. It just getting amongst the right people and that’s what I’m trying to focus on. Coming to America. Here I am at New York Comic Con for the first time getting exposed to even more of the American public. So, it’s more than just embracing that seeing what they want, seeing what the studios think of me when they look at me and being part of their grouping of energy, you know what I mean. Whatever it is that comes next, I hope it comes from the same energy where I’ve been lucky enough to have somehow grafted on to with other great creative like, Rob Tapert who cast me originally in Xena and then 30 Days of Night with Josh Harnett. And then Spartacus which was the only show that brought me into a world stage. I owe all of that Rob Tapert. Here I am sitting next to Lucy Lawless in New York Comic Con. Lucy Lawless and I, that was the very first role I thought… it was the real first role being Marc Anthony in Xena. And here’s Lucy sitting next to me right here in New York. So, the circle just keeps on coming around but also it keeps on expanding. Now, I’m working with Warner Brothers and these great American networks, CW, Starz, SyFy is now playing the Spartacus series to the whole American public because we were restricted to a certain percentage being a pay-per view channel like Starz. All of America is watching Spartacus on SyFy. Everything is expanding but it’s the same circle. That’s why I like it. It’s the same circle. Being in that circle and influence and help be a part of that growing alongside other people, that’s sort of enjoyable about all of this. You gotta be part of the sharing of it. So, yeah! I’m just watching the circle grow darling and glad to be a part of it.
Bandit: Thank you so much!
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