Manu Bennett's roles: from war to wonderland

Manu Bennett - who plays Crixus in the TV series Spartacus and recently appeared as Azog in The Hobbit - was one of the celebrity guests at Middle East Film & Comic Con this year. We had a chat with the star after his visit to Dubai.

Manu Bennett was in Dubai for the Middle East Film & Comic Con earlier this year. Courtesy Manu Bennett
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At Comic Con in Dubai, we chatted with the actor Manu Bennett about UAE culture, his characters and career.

On his first visit to the UAE

The MEFCC, for me, is the most interesting Comic Con on the international circuit - the cultural backdrop of Dubai is so unique and impressive - a city building and bridging its own culture with the rest of the world. At the MEFCC, I met a designer who gifted me a kandura with a phoenix airbrushed onto the back, which I wore around Dubai. I felt like I was fashion trendsetting - I may have been the first person to wear this sort of kandura in the streets of Dubai.

On being a celebrity guest at MEFCC

The show I'm best known for, Spartacus, in which I play a gladiator named Crixus, hasn't aired in Dubai on national television because of censorship issues, but I had many fans come see me at MEFCC who'd watched the show by downloading it off the internet.

I respect that Dubai television has its censorship rules, but it's also interesting to see that youth have their own way of accessing media through their own technology. Of course, for me, one very interesting cultural difference is the national costume, and in the opening press interviews, I spotted a gentleman dressed traditionally but his young son was dressed up as Batman - I invited them both up onto the stage because for me, that image represented the cultural bridge of the MEFCC.

I also had the opportunity to bring a large group of local people up onto the main stage and teach them some New Zealand Maori culture - a war dance called "the Haka". Our rugby team, the All Blacks, perform this challenge before they play international games, so it's pretty famous, but to have a group of young Dubaians dancing the Haka up onstage at the MEFCC was indeed a unique cultural exchange.

On playing Crixus

The entire four-year experience was very unique and special, but also very sad with the loss of Andy Whitfield, the original actor to play Spartacus on our series, who died in 2011 from cancer.

We all worked very hard to make the show as powerful and emotionally evoking in memory of Andy. But it was the great writing talent of Steven S DeKnight, who wrote remarkable scripts, that we owe most of our gratitude. As an actor reading scripts, his material was hugely challenging and I always went to work with a huge smile on my face knowing just how creative each day was and that I was working with some of the most creative people on the planet.

From its amazing sets to the amazing costumes, the production had so much visceral edge and quality to it. I was as much swept up in the drama and fantasy as any fan and really enjoyed watching the hard work turn into a series that has now defined itself as one of the best TV shows of all time.

On landing the role of Slade Wilson in the TV series Arrow

My writer-producer on Arrow, Andrew Kreisberg, made a point to me that he wanted more of my own personal character traits in the Slade role, meaning not acting as period-like and theatrical as Crixus was in Spartacus. The fighting in Arrow is much more modern in terms of weapons and technique; basically, a lot of hand-to-hand combat and guns.

However, Slade does have two swords - twice as dangerous perhaps as Crixus. It was tricky dismissing my Crixus voice as I'd been using that specific gravelly tone for four years.

On portraying Azog in The Hobbit trilogy

At the premiere of The Hobbit, Peter Jackson told me how pleased he was with Azog and that he planned to make more out of the Pale Orc in the remaining films. I'm glad because I chose a few specific characteristics in the first film that I am hoping I will be able to develop more in the second film, particularly Azog's relationship with his Warg [the giant white wolf he rides in the film].

See, in a feature film, you get much less opportunity to develop a character than in a TV series like Spartacus, which stretches over four years. I think I've made Azog's presence felt, but there is a lot more to be done to make him as memorable as I was able to make Crixus.

On future aspirations

I met some local producers in Dubai who discussed upcoming projects and I would really be excited to shoot something amid the towers of Dubai. It's a wonderful image and fusion of ancient and modern society. As characters go, I do like solid, complex roles but actually have ambitions to do the voice-over for a Pixar cartoon one day - that would be a good laugh. Maybe one of my favourite childhood stories, Ali Baba?

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