Interview with Manu Bennett
Azog – The Hobbit
Crixus – Spartacus: War of the Damned
Slade - Arrow
Where are you right now?
I’m in Vancouver, I’m up there shooting Arrow, and tomorrow morning I’m jumping a 7:00am flight to Salt Lake City! Walking into your very first Comic Con.
25,000 tickets sold in its first year!
Those numbers tend to almost double once they get door sales. You guys have a big event going on there and I’m excited to get down there for the first one, it’s amazing you got those numbers, it’s a big turnout.
Only 3 people were going until we said you would be there.
Hahaha, it must be those Spartacus fans, they follow us around, those Spartacus fans. They get dressed up, which is great. I’ve been doing these comic cons for a few months now and it’s amazing how many people can dress up as a gladiator and look actually like we do, and we have professional costume artists that make our stuff. It’s amazing that people at home can put together whatever they can from their cupboards and hold costume parties and look pretty authentic.
You’re a good looking guy.
Look mate, we all somehow get a byproduct of our parents. My father’s a fantastic singer, but of course you don’t want to be exactly like parents. You’ve got to pick your own path, I found myself in the acting lane. It’s been quite a considerable career that I’ve had. I’m just getting to the American side of things, finally, with Spartacus and now Arrow and The Hobbit with Peter Jackson. Behind that is 20 years of really hard work. One of the great things about Comic con is you can have these conversations with the fans and give them a background on where you come from how you got to where you are. It’s a very personal experience and I find it to be a wonderful opportunity to go full circle in my career and end up meeting the people who are behind those television screens who appreciate the shows?
Did you get nudged into acting by your parents?
Yeah a little bit, but I had a girlfriend who was a dancer and dragged me into dance. I had friends who I formed a school band with and got into music. The turning point was when I met my uncle who lived in America and played piano for Elvis. He took me around Los Angeles and I got the bug. I ended up going to university and studying dance and drama, the drama side of it really caught my interest. I started up in television in Australia and New Zealand. I eventually worked my way up into movies working alongside Josh Hartnett in 30 Days of Night; the same producer from that movie hired me for Spartacus. I did a couple movies for the WWE, I fought against Stone Cold Steve Austin and I fought John Cena in The Marine. Then a really wonderful drama like Spartacus came along and it really tested my acting skills. He has such heart, Crixus, he gave me that ability to fight like a gladiator, to love my slave, my love interest Naevia. It did really well internationally so now I’m able to go around to these Comic Cons and meet people who are truly interested in my career, which I’m thankful for.
How exhausting was the work out regiment for Spartacus?
Spartacus was full on, mate. It was absolutely a powerhouse show in terms of needing to be an actor to bring your acting skills but then needing to bring your physical skills as well. I had to basically have a sword fight in an arena against a gladiator every day, so yeah I had to stay very fit. When everyone started tuning into Spartacus and the physiques of our characters that I think we actually effected a change in the way that gyms operate. If you go around the world now there’s pretty much a Spartacus workout somewhere in every city and they’ll have these names associated with our show, it’s this cross bit training married in with the idea of a gladiator. So yeah we tried hard, and I think everyone noticed.
Did being from New Zealand connect you to The Hobbit?
No, when I arrived down at Weta Studios, Peter came up to me and said “Listen Manu, we’ve seen your work on Spartacus, and we need a real warrior for this Azog Character.” They’d seen me welding my sword and playing a really strong character through Crixus. I guess they just knew innately that I could play Azog, this giant warrior. Originally they’d cast a couple of guys who were 7 foot, in body suits, because Azog just needed to be that much taller than everybody else. I’m not that tall, I’m 5’11’’ but I literally just had to give the motion and the voice to the character and what they do in motion capture is they connect the dots basically. I did the same thing that Andy Serkis did to create Gollum, you wear these suits and the computers read your movement in a skeletal map. Then they stretch a CGI skin, the look of Azog, over the top of my body and they make me 9 foot. He’s kind of like my alter ego bad guy.
Do you see yourself in Azog?
I go to the cinemas like anybody else, I’m very much in awe that I even got to be in something so prestigious and act against Sir Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage, and some of these great actors on the screen. It’s still mind boggling to me, I’m still a little guy, a kid who went to school in New Castle, Australia. The transition, the journey, I worked hard but even to get to these sorts of movies, it still freaks you out when you go into a big cinema somewhere, a premier in New York or L.A. or something and there you are up on the screen, it’s still strange. At the end of the day I do it because I love story telling and I think that story telling is one of the great mechanisms to help identify us all on this planet.
How did your daughters react to Azog?
They love what I do. It’s not exactly a show for little, little kids you know? Azog’s a bit of a scary one, but yeah, they’re fully supportive of my work and they loved it.
Stand-up Paddle Board?
I’m trying to organize a Paddle for Hope; it’s a breast cancer fund raiser up here in Canada, so I’ve met up with a few stand-up paddle borders from this area. I was part of this in New Zealand, and we’re just trying to promote it here right now. I’ve done this in Hawaii on 20 foot waves and stuff like this. Stand-up paddle boarding is really breaking out as a sport; I’m a bit of an ambassador for it. I’m just trying to organize this fund raiser for the breast cancer foundation, called the Paddle for Hope; you’ve got to dress up in pink. Its fun, it’s for a great cause, to help prevent Brest Cancer.
Manu will be at the Salt Lake Comic Con Sept. 5th, 6th and 7th. Be sure to stop by, he will be signing autographs, and participating in panels.