Crixus. Allanon. Azog the Defiler. Deathstroke.
Some of those are pretty unpleasant characters, turns out the man behind them is a delight to meet.
Robin went to MCM London Comic Con and met Manu – here’s the transcript from the press conference.
Press: Hello Manu, could you just tell us a little bit about what, what’s it like to work with the younger generation on the Shanara, Chronicles?
Manu Bennett: Yeah, look, uh … I mean, one of the … one of the endearing things about … about … about working with that young cast in the Shannara Chronicles was really the fact that, you know, New Zealand is my country. You know? And, uh, in a way, you know, Allanon is kind of like the … already the keeper of the Four Lands, you know, and, and so when they … when they arrived, you know, I, I sort of had to, sort of, take them … kind of like under my wing anyway, and, and, and show them around New Zealand.
Because, you know, these are … these are a young group of actors, you know, who were getting one of … you know, one of their first big break shows and sort of coming over to New Zealand and uh … you know, New Zealand’s a long way from … from home for, for, you know, Poppy from England, and Ivana from uh, you know, from Spain, and, and Austin from, from America.
So … so, you know, it was … it was, it was kinda nice. You know, I almost felt like in real life that I was, um, you know, their father.
Press: Were you familiar with the Shannara series before you got the role?
Manu Bennett: No, not at all. No … no.
Press: Have you read the books since? Or, just tried to keep [crosstalk 00:01:23]-
Manu Bennett: Yeah … yeah, you know, I kind of … well, I was intrigued because once we started doing the show, I, I was, I was sort of interested in seeing … well, you know, I, I lie. Before we started the show, I, I, I, I read, uh … you know, The Sword of Shannara, and, uh, you know, I got the feeling of, of, of how Terry wrote Allannon. You know, and Allannon would always, sort of, appear like on the page, like, you know, bam bam bam bam-
Press: Yes. Dun, dun, dun, here’s Allanon. Yeah.
Manu Bennett: Dun, dun, dun, you know.
Manu Bennett: And, uh, but it was kind of funny because, you know, I, I, I, you know, I say funny, like it was, it was … like, I remember the first scene, uh, working with the director, uh … on, on discovering Wil for the first time. And he was in a bathtub, you know, and, and, and, you know, Ivana’s character, Eretria, had stolen the elf stones off him. You know, and, um … and there was this moment where I thought it was kind of like … I don’t know, I thought it was like Strider, you know, leaning over the top of Frodo.
You know, and lightning bolt, you know, illuminates the hood and this sort of “bouwch”, you know, that’s what I imagined that scene to be and, uh, the director was like, “Oh, you know, we’ve, we’ve uh, we’ve … This is going to be comedy. This is going to be, this is going to be a funny scene, you know.” And I was really struck by that, I was like, “Really”? Like, what about the dun, dun, dun, DUN … You know?
Manu Bennett: And he was like, “No, no, no, we’ve, we’ve discussed this scene and we’re going to go, you know, this way with it.” So you know, so, so you know, Austin sort of was, you know, directed to go like, “Oh, Allan, a druid! Oh … My mum told me about a druid!” And it was … And, and, and kind of like, you know, it, it set off a different tone, you know, than what I, I sort of expected at first, you know. And it sort of made it, like, maybe, jovial and jokey and friendly and stuff like that and uh … You know, it was, it was, it was something. You know, but then it was never dun, dun, dun, DUN, with, with, with, that character much because we’d always sort of have this jive going on, you know, uh … that started up.
Um … Am I digging a hole here?
Manu Bennett: Dun, dun, dun, DUN!
Manu Bennett: Dun, dun, dun, dun. Um … But you know, this is, this is, this is some of the, you know this was some of the, the way that the show was fashioned for MTV.
Press: Talking about funny writing, uh, I think you had your own experiences contributing uh … quite a memorable spell to the, the series, uh, could you maybe tell us that story?
Manu Bennett: Uh, can I? Am I allowed to?
Press: Yeah, you can. You can. Yeah, you’re allowed to.
Manu Bennett: Rekcuf rehtom.
Manu Bennett: So what, what happened … (laughs).
Manu Bennett: Was we had this … (laughs). We had this moment where uh, A-A-Arion, Arion? Arion? Arion? Is that his name? Uh … Wait up. Wait it, back it, it was a while ago, let me, let me get this straight. So there were the two brothers, right. And uh … Ar- Is Arion? Help me out here, guys! Come on!
Manu Bennett: You’re pointing your cameras at me and you’re like, you’re just wait-
Manu Bennett: You’re just waiting for me to put my foot in my mouth.
Manu Bennett: I know what you’re like. Uh … Daniel MacPherson’s character, Arion, Arion. Arion … Anyway, okay so, so there’s this, there’s this moment where, you know, the young prince was being, you know, killed by, by the Dagda Mor. You know, and, and, and Allanon was, was, was … you know, racing across the, I don’t know, part of the Four Lands to get there to, to, to save them. And uh, and when he arrived it was too late and the, and the Dagda Mor had run his sword, sword, through uh, Daniel MacPherson’s character. That one.
Press: Arion, yeah. (laughs).
Manu Bennett: Arian, right, and, and in the scene it just said that, that Allanon stood upon the rocky outcrop, witnessing the, the death of, of the young prince. And he sent a shockwave through the ground, you know, just to, to stop uh, you know, um … to stop the Dagda Mor, uh … and it, it, it, it, it, when it came to the moment, it was like Allanon just got up there and went like, (grunts), and I thought, “Oh, god, you must … Surely you must say something”, you, you, you know. Like, rather than just “…” And so the director said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s a good point. But we don’t have any dialogue.” And I said, “Okay”. And the director was like, you know, “Can you come up with something?” And I went, “Okay, sure.”
And uh, so you know, he, he said, “I’m going to go over here and shoot something, you, you come up with something, and when I come back we’ll shoot it and use whatever dialogue you came up with.”
So … So I thought, “What would Allanon say … as he watches the death of this young, young prince, you know, and he’d got there too late.” And so the director came back and he was like, “Okay, um … Have you got a, a line? A spell?” And I said, “Yeah, I got one.” And he went, “Okay, what is it?” And I said, “Just film. I’ll, I’ll, I’ll just break it out, you know.” And, “Okay”.
So he went down, he’s going … “And action!” And I grab my staff, and I hit the ground and I went, “Rekcuf rehtom!” Bouwch (sound effect). And a shockwave went through. And he, the director was like, “Oh, it was good! Awesome! That sounds great. That sounded just like druid speech.” I was like, “Yeah. Cool, aye?” He like, “Yeah. Yeah. Let’s do it again.” Okay. Do it again. “Rekcuf rehtom!” Bouwch (sound effect).
“Awesome, awesome. That’s it. Got it.” So we all walked down the hill, and we got into the minibus that will take us back to the um, production site. And the director’s sitting next to me and he goes, “That, that line sounded perfect.” I was like, “Yeah, thanks.” And he goes, “Wha, what was it? D … like you … just came up with it? Like …” And I said, “Yeah, it’s, it was like, it’s … motherfucker backwards.” (laughs).
Manu Bennett: It’s like … (laughs), it’s like … Allanon gets up and he’s like, “Motherfucker!” Bouwch (sound effect).
Manu Bennett: And funnily enough I got, I got contacted with, like, we had a scene this season. In the second season where I was, in, in, you know, a, actually, I can’t, actually I can’t tell you what happened, but we’re in a very, very bad predicament. And uh, and I broke it out again. You, it’s this, there’s a season two repeat of this line.
Manu Bennett: And they, they may know about it, right? But the lady in Amer, in America, when I had to do ADR, you know, I had to do some ADR work, they said, “Oh, we have to repeat … shoot some of this message”, she said, “We have to repeat that line that you said, whatever it was. What was it that you said?” (laughs). And so I sent her this very eloquent email, you know, saying, “Oh. It’s, it’s uh, Rekcuf Rehtom. And if you read it backwards, you’ll probably see, know what it means.” (laughs).
Manu Bennett: So … so, yeah. It’s, if, it’s very funny moment, you know, just to, just to have that is kind of a bit of a legend behind one of the, one of the spells. And a bit of fun on set.
Press: Talking about ‘mother romances’, obviously one of our favorite mother romances is your character on Arrow. And I think fans were so delighted to have you back and to get to continue that story. Looking to the future, what are you most excited about at … finally getting to finish out that arc?
Manu Bennett: Well, you know, there’s, there’s sort of some speculation going on right now about, you know, Oh, Slade’s back on Arrow, you know. And then, you know, Joe Manganiello’s been, you know, offered to do a, a Deathstroke film, which is great for Joe. Uh, you know, he’s, he’s a wonderful guy. He’s a, I’ve met him a couple of times and he’s just an awesome guy. You know, wonderful physique, he’ll, he’ll fit a Deathstroke costume amazingly. And uh, you, you know, he uh, you know, he’ll have his own take on it, you know. And, and, and I, I wish him the very best, uh, you know. He’s, he’s, he’s …
It’s going to be interesting to see how, you know, with all that great production quality, you know, what they can bring visually to the character. But I will say, you know, being able to do a character on television and have, have several series to, to flesh out a Slade Wilson, you know, then you can play with a lot of the gray matter. And uh, you know, we’ve managed to develop that well for the, for the TV show. But, you know, uh, from a big screen there’s going to be a new Deathstroke. And uh, you know, so …
But between the two, you know, there’s always been this sort of ongoing uh, story, uh, where Warner Brothers, uh … parent company, which is the feature film, um, you know, have, have requested that, you know, certain elements of Arrow’s world, uh … be finished. You know, things like, you know, Deadshot and Harlequin, and the Suicide Squad, all those things were gonna be part of, of the Arrow verse, but uh, you know, have had to be held back because of the reason of, of, of … [Phil Mar 00:10:06] wanted to reserve that, you know, for the film.
Uh, you know … Who knows. That’s, that’s their decision making, that’s their properties, you know. They, they know what they’re doing, in their game, so uh, you know, we just uh, play ball.
Press: So you wouldn’t say no to a Deaththroat … Death, Deathstroke TV series?
Manu Bennett: Oh, listen, I mean, you know, the speculation of a Deathstroke TV series is, is a … um, you know, based upon fan comments that have been going on. You know, the fact that fans want, would like to see that. I remember somebody, well, you know, somebody posted it online and, and sent it to my, to my Twitter account, and I responded, “Yeah, it’d be cool.” You know. But would want it to be R-rated, would want to be dark, like, you know, like Logan, you know. I, I, I think you’d need to pay Deathstroke a real service and a TV series, you know, I think you’d wanna go … darker than anything, you know, like, they … more darker than Dare Devil, darker than everything.
Maybe even make it a little bit more international, you know, where, where you’re sort of like a, like an international soldier, but …
You know, I had these conversations with Marc Guggenheim after the fact and, you know, Marc was very supportive of the idea, thought it was a great idea, you know. We bandied it around a little bit on Twitter and to people like Marv Wolfman weighed in. You know, um … uh, also uh … uh, um … um … oh my god, Jeff, uh, Jeff Daniels? Daniels, from uh … the, the illustrator. Uh, the Deathstroke, you know, new Deathstroke series, you know. He weighed in, you know. And they, everyone was going, “Oh, good idea.” You know, so …
So who knows, you know? I mean, at, at this stage, you know, I guess Warner Brothers is just looking at the feature film, you know, they’ve announced it, so they’re definitely focusing on that. And uh, you know, who knows what will happen, you know, after that, you know. Maybe they’ll get to that point and fans will be like, “Ahhhhh yeah! More Deathstroke! More Deathstroke!” You know.
And if somebody asked me to, to do a … TV series, you know, I’d, I’d, I’d … you know, I’d, I’d, I’d, you know, I’d definitely wouldn’t want it to, to sit in the … PG arena, you know. I think, I think, really to pay a homage to Deathstroke, independently, you’d wanna go hard. You know. But uh … But Joe’s got a shot at that, you know. And uh, you know, I’d like to … you know, I’m really keen to see how gritty that, that, that script is going to be, you know. Like that Deathstroke script for the film is, I wonder what its rating is going to be, you know. It’ll be great if it was R-rated. And it’ll be great if was like Logan, you know. It’ll be great if it was heavy. Really heavy, you know.
But uh, but you know, that’s where we get to see. I’m, I’m probably just as excited as everybody else to, to think like, what’s that going to look like on the big screen, you know. Wish it was me, Joe!
Manu Bennett: (laughs). But good luck. Nah, nah, he’s … Joe’s a really wonderful guy and uh, and he’ll, you know, he’ll have his shot at it now, you know. The Batman mask’s been worn by plenty of people, so … you know. So be it.
Press: You’ve had a really great range of characters in your career as it is. Is there anything that you haven’t been able to do yet, any sorts of characters or anything that you’d really like to do next?
Manu Bennett: Well, you know, I, I’m kind of like … I, I’ve kind of got a music and a dance background, and a, a few things that are probably, probably my, my involvement in the arts was, was … not the tough guy, you know
-originally, you know. Like I was uh … I was in, you know, I, I … I wrote piano music, you know, and uh … and did ballet and, and dance, you know. And uh, and … these softer expressions are kind of like part of … part of my character. But I, I do think I’ve flushed them out in characters, but I, I sort of end up using them as secondary layers that help develop the character in the audience’s mind, you know. Like, like, Crixus, you know. I came on so hard with Crixus that my, my director walked up to me, no, sorry, the producer, uh, of our show, Spartacus, walked up and said, “Manu! What are you doing with Crixus? Nobody likes him. He’s like so arrogant and unlikeable and, and like …” And I was like, “I know. Just trust me, trust me.”
Because you know, it’s, it’s, it’s … And the reason I, I played it like that was because, you know, the reason I got into, into acting in the first place was uh, you know, I’d, I’d lost my mother and brother in two separate car accidents. And I was in the accident with my mother, and uh, and I was in a coma for like two weeks in a hospital. When I woke up, you know, uh, there were, you know … my worst enemy. The guy who was my worst enemy was, was, was at the hospital, and had come to see me. And uh, you know, he’d lost his mother when he was younger and uh … related to this moment that I was having.
So even though he was my worst enemy, he came to me because of common circumstance. And all of a sudden him and me formed a bond and became best friends.Now that’s what I infused into Crixus in Spartacus. When I saw how that story was going to flesh out, I, I, I went, “I know this story, already.” But it doesn’t start off pretty. It starts off as enemies. And it starts off with one of the characters, one of them’s playing the protagonist on the screen, then one of them, one of them has to play the antagonist hard.
So I went, went, in, real, really hard playing Crixus as the antagonist. And everyone was like, “Ah, we hate him! Hope he dies!” You know, dadadadadadada. But to be able to turn people’s feelings around, like my feelings were turned around for this, for this friend of mine in the hospital, my enemy who became my friend. To be able to do that to people, to have them hating somebody, and to have them turn around completely … and, and potentially cry when I died. You know, I’ve, I’ve met men who said they cried in that scene but they said they hated me in the beginning. And to be able to win people’s emotions over like that, I think opens up possibilities, you know.
And whenever I’m playing a, a, a, a villain-esque kind of character, you know, like Slade Wilson as well, you know, I always try to infuse vulnerability … you know, suppressed emotions, you know. Even when it’s one of the other characters aren’t looking, you just have this moment when you go deep inside of yourself and just sit in that pocket. And I know what that pocket is, you know. I’ve had lots in my life, so I know the feeling, you know.
Funny thing is I have a lot of people from things like, you know, I have military people from like, who’ve been in Afghanistan and have got PTSD and they come up to me and they go, “Bro, you know, we watched Spartacus when we were up in … up in … fighting in the, in the mountains, you know, isolated and lost several of our team, you know, in a fire fight and, but, but, you know, we all would get around and watch Spartacus.” Story keeps people bonded together and Spartacus was this sort of story that they related to. And here I am standing in front of these real warriors, these real soldiers who are pouring their heart out to me, saying, like, “Oh, we really connected with Crixus”, you know.
And I think to myself, how do I do that on a television show? But the thing is, as an artist, you know, I had my brother died in my hands, to be honest, you know. Died in my hands. So I know that feeling, and I can put that in, as an artist, into my performance.
You know, I reserve it for that. That’s, that’s my safe place for it, you know. But, you know, I think it’s important that as an artist you kind of like, you have to know life, you know. You have to be honest, you have to be upfront and, and, and as much as you can give, give, you know. And uh, you know, I try to do that with my characters, you know. I, I, I … and at the end of the day, you know, when I come to these conventions and stuff like that, you know, and I come face to face with the fans, I realize that that’s what they kind of take in through that screen, you know.
And one thing that’s very interesting about all of that, that I found out last year, was … I went to Greece, and I went to a place called Epidauros. And in Epidauros they, they built the very first amphitheater. The people who built it were called the Asclepeio. The Asclepeio were a, a medicine people that uh, made apothecary and stuff like that. So they, they were into making medicines and they were well-known throughout Europe and they would travel a lot with their, with their medicines and teaching about medicine.
And they built an amphitheater. The first one that was ever built was built in Epidauros. And it was built because they believed that voice and storytelling was healing. When I heard that, I suddenly felt this huge relief that I wasn’t just caught up in Hollywood.
Manu Bennett: You know, that I actually had an ancient reason for being in the place that I am, you know, to, to … you know, when that person with PTSD comes to me and I can say, “Yeah, brother. You know my brother died in my hands as well.” And in this art form, we made it an emotional connect. Across the void. Through … a television screen, you know?
Manu Bennett: But it was healing, you know. And, and that’s valuable to me. Really valuable, you know. So … yeah. Yeah.
Press: Lovely. Thank you very much, sir.
Press: Thank you for sharing all of that with us, Manu. Thank you so much for your time.
Manu Bennett: No worries, guys. Thank you. Thank you, cheers. Cheers.