‘Spartacus’: Viva Bianca has been a very, very bad girl

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‘Spartacus: Blood and Sand’
is, by the title of it, about the lives of gladiator slaves. But it’s the women who wield the sword in this sexy, ultra-gory breakout hit for Starz. The season finale is Friday night. And yes, there will be blood. How do we know that? We won’t give anything away, but the title of the episode is ‘Kill Them All.’

Wednesday, we spoke to Lucy Lawless, who stars as the society-climbing and scheming Lucretia. Now we chat with Viva Bianca, who plays Ilithyia. The way Ilithyia see it, her husband has been betrayed by Spartacus (in truth, her husband did the betraying), and she wants Spartacus dead. She plots every which way to hurt him -- including trying to have him killed in a most violent fashion -- but along the way reveals a side that audiences will find startling in a female character. Ilithyia’s girlish, silly, princess facade gives way to a perverted lust for the violence of the gladiator’s arena -- and the slaves who do the dirty work.

In short, it all turns her on in a way that will have you reaching for the rewind button because it’s so subtly disturbing. Other times, it’s out in the open: At one point, she wheedles her way into a grand opportunity -- she gets to decide which freshly purchased slave to take on as her own personal gladiator. So she has all the slaves drop their loin cloths. And -- how do we say this delicately? -- she chooses the most impressive one and promptly puts him to work.

ShowTracker: Whoa! Have we ever seen a role like this for a woman?

Viva Bianca: I auditioned in Australia, and early on, I knew only bits and pieces about the show. I was drawn to the character immediately, even with just a few scenes to read. There seemed to be something abundant about this playful, frivolous young woman.


ST: That’s in the early episodes. Then we find out that there is this whole other side. Ilithya is not just lusty, she’s turned on by the violence and holding the fate of these big, strapping men in her pretty little hand.

VB: That wasn’t something that we discussed in the beginning, it was something that unraveled through the script. We find out about these dark, dark, dark sides and her very deep hatred toward Spartacus. It was very, very unusual. It kept surprising me. I was like ‘Wow, this is where we are going?’

ST: What did you make of that? This character turns out to be a bit demented.

VB: It was exciting and scary and challenging. It was all pretty amazing, actually. I didn’t even realize the character would become the one who carries the torch of the ‘I hate Spartacus’ role. It all revealed itself. It was quite clever, though, to have this fun and sweet and even charming girl who has this other side. And it’s such a shock to the audiences [but one that reveals itself slowly]. ... So you have this very deviant side. But she’s otherwise really quite gorgeous -- all style and smile and playful and fun. But that contrast is always there, light fun energy and deep dark.

ST: It’s such a rich role at a time when there are so many complaints that women don’t get those roles.

VB: Yes, but there are so many key, complex characters on the show. All of these colorful, deep, complex, flawed characters. It’s a credit to the writers that they have developed such fantastic characters.

ST: What is hard to play in some of these darker scenes? They’re less about the words spoken than the looks that flit across Ilythia’s face and her actions.

VB: Sometimes I found myself conflicted .. .but it’s a complex, awesome female role. It was also a joy to play it; there was so much there. It did became more and more scary. It’s very challenging to start going into that dark world ... but that is the expectation of a dangerous character. She’s so unbearably evil, and of course it’s the whole setup: My character wants [Spartacus] dead.

ST: Were you ever embarrassed for Ilythia?

VB: Oh yes, all the time. To see people living in that time and someone having no compassion for those human beings, it is very hard to see someone like that. It’s such an outrageous way to behave. She’s an incredibly privileged young woman, and yet she acts this way. At one point, I stopped trying to justifying anything about her. I just said, ‘Oh my God.’

ST: How do you feel about all the sex and violence? Does it go too far?

VB: The interesting thing is that this stuff really happened. It’s pretty shocking for us to see today, but they
loved that kind of echelon, having no consideration for the heartbeat of that slave. The slaves are like wallpaper, completely gratuitous. But the sex and the violence, obviously, it is such an appeal of the show. A lot of people love that stylized violence. It’s never really totally flamboyant, but it kind of takes away from the very hard-hitting nature that it could be.

ST: So, basically, you go to work everyday and are surrounded by hot, half-naked men. Tough, huh?

VB: Oh yes. In the beginning, though, when we’d shoot the balcony scenes where we are looking over at these gladiator boys, we’d would just keep looking [when shooting stopped]. Now, we’ve become so immune, your eyes just go right by them.

ST: You seem completely uninhibited in the scenes that call for you to take it all off.

VB: [Laughing] Oh no, no, no. It’s always challenging to expose yourself in that way. I don’t think that will ever be easy.

ST: How do you stay in such great shape?

VB: I don’t really like the gym. It’s not a massive concern right now, but it will be [someday] when I can’t eat
whatever I want.

ST: What’s it like sharing screen time with Lawless? Your characters share a very charged relationship. Off screen, she says you two talk a lot of acting.

VB: She is such an awesome person. ... She was one of the best experiences for me on the show. We just really, really enjoyed exploring this bizarre, wicked character dynamic.

--Rene Lynch
On Twitter @renelynch