Featuring an army of scantily clad, gorgeous gladiators, Spartacus is a series that easily caught the attention of LGBT fans from the first episode. However, it takes more than a serving of skin to turn a TV show into the pop culture phenomenon Spartacus has become. The series quickly unfolded into an intriguing tale of power, honor, vengeance, and romance — romance which includes the love story that began last season between two gay rebel warriors, Agron (played by Dan Feuerriegel) and Nasir (Pana Hema-Taylor). With the show’s final season, Spartacus: War of the Damned, premiering tonight at 9 p.m. on Starz, hunky Dan Feuerriegel tells us about his preparation for scenes between his character and Nasir, surviving the show’s intense physical training regimen, and playing one of TV’s first gay action heroes.
You’d been working as an actor in Australia for a few years before landing the role of Agron in Spartacus. How does working on a high-profile series like this differ from the previous work you’ve done?
Most of the roles I did back in Australia were guest appearances and things like that, so you’re working one or two days, maybe four if you’re lucky. The biggest difference for me in playing Agron is I’ve had three seasons to flesh out the character. On a show like this, you just get more and more comfortable with what you’re doing and you start to appreciate how complex people can be.
You originally read for a different character on Spartacus and had to audition more than once before you landed the role of Agron.
Yes. The initial audition I had was at the beginning when they were casting the main roles. I auditioned for Crixus and, for obvious reasons, I didn’t get it. I don’t think I would’ve had the same intensity for the character that Manu [Bennett] had. Then a few months later I got a call to audition for one of the German brothers and I had to do one of the audition pieces with a German accent, which was hilarious. Then after a few days I got a call from my agent saying, “Congratulations. You’ve got yourself a role.” At first we thought it was just a guest role, but soon we realized it was a much bigger.
I knew from the very beginning. But I was told they weren’t going to pursue a romantic storyline in the first season because they needed to wrap other things up. First, they wanted to focus on the storyline of Agron and his brother because that filters into the second season. The loss of brothers is how he and Nasir initially connect. Because I’ve known for a while, I’ve thrown in a few sneaky things here and there and had a few lines that I guess the most astute observer would get and say, “Hey, wait a minute. There’s something there.” But other than that it wasn’t until the second season that it was absolutely clear and right in front of your face.
It didn’t make any difference to me. I would have played him the exact same way whether he was interested in women or men. His personality wouldn’t change. They just wanted me to make him really fierce and a hardass, but then open up and have a soft, sensual side when he’s alone with the people he loves. His sexuality doesn’t change that as far as I’m aware.
For many gay fans, watching a character like Agron on Spartacus is huge because there aren’t any other gay characters like him on television. Did you feel a sense of responsibility when you stepped into this role?
If there was a feeling of responsibility, I’d say it was to be as faithful as I could what was written on the page and to who I believed this character was. If I was worried about how I was going to be perceived, I think that would’ve hindered the creative process. I’ve heard people tell me there’s never been a gay character like Agron on TV before, and some fans have even thanked me because they now feel like they have a gay action hero and it’s very endearing to hear that kind of stuff. But I just played him the way he was and tried to do right by the character. I felt a responsibility to be as respectful as I could to the character and myself and hoped that would flow through to other people.
How has playing Agron impacted you personally?
It’s changed my life. It’s opened my eyes to some amazing things, like how much people can connect with characters they see on TV and how one person can be regarded as a hero. I wouldn’t consider myself a hero or anything like that, but I now understand how people love to have something they can emulate, something they can hold on to that gives them hope. That’s been the biggest thing for me personally, that one man can make a difference in people’s lives.
Yeah, it’s great! I would’ve been disappointed if all they cared about was two guys having sex and keeping their relationship purely physical. I think that would’ve been disrespectful. I love the fact that there was a deeper element. It was fun to play and to access those deeper emotions. I guess the best part of their relationship is that the audience got to see it from the very beginning and it’s carried all the way through to this season. It shows that love is everywhere. Regardless of who you are or who you like, love is love.
How did you and Pana approach preparing for your more intimate scenes together?
We’d had a few chats now and then saying we’d do this or that, or we might hold hands, but that was generally in the beginning. As time went on we became quite familiar with each other and we didn’t really need to have any conversations or prepare, really, we just did whatever in the scenes. We felt comfortable enough that we could touch each other or randomly put in a kiss without anyone freaking out. That’s what was great about working with Pana.
Spartacus is known for serving a substantial amount of eye candy in each episode. How do you feel being on a TV series where the men are more objectified than the women?
I’ve never really thought of it that way. [Laughs] Yes, on one hand you can see that the men are completely objectified, but I just saw it as a great excuse to get fit and feel comfortable about myself and confident that I can get my shirt off and do all this sort of stuff in front of a massive audience.
The show also contains a fair amount of nudity. How does the cast approach the show’s more scantily clad scenes?
Everyone is individual and I can’t speak for everybody, but it’s all about respect. Some people might have a shot of vodka or something like that. Others are just that confident with themselves and say, “Yep, I’m doing this.” For me personally, at first I was a little bit nervous. Especially in the first season because I wasn’t as fit, but once I got into the gym and got a routine down I had no problems doing it. Eventually I became desensitized to it all. I remember walking into a scene where people were having sex all around me and I didn’t even blink. Now after this show I can say nothing would faze me at all. I’ve gone to auditions since where they’ve asked, “Would you be comfortable doing this or that?” and I say, “Yeah! I’ve done a lot worse.” [Laughs]
Speaking of difficulties you’ve had to endure as a member of the Spartacus cast, how was boot camp this time around?
It was hard — both mentally and physically draining. By the end of the month you just want to sleep and not do anything for a while. However, it was an absolutely brilliant way to get you into the mindset of a gladiator and prepare you for the demands of the show. I mean, you’re working all day. You’re half naked all day and you need stamina to just keep going. So it was grueling, but absolutely worth it and a great bonding experience for the actors.
In addition to keeping up with all the physical training, you have to maintain a strict diet while the show is in production. What was the first thing you ate when you wrapped up your final scene of the series?
The first bit of junk food I had was when I went back to Australia and went to a few pubs with my brother. We got fairly intoxicated and on the way home we got Kentucky Fried Chicken. I hated myself afterwards for eating it, but it was just so good.
Sadly, gay characters have a history of being killed off in TV and film. Is there any chance that Agron or Nasir might survive the bloody end that looms ahead for Spartacus and his crew?
Well, Agron and Nasir aren’t actually characters from history, so their fates could be anything. That's not a yes or a no, but you’ll just have to wait and see.