Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

The gay gladiator


'Spartacus' character proves to be an equal opportunity assassin

Antonio Te Maioha plays Barca in Spartacus: Blood and Sand. photo: Kristy Griffin/Starz.
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At 6'4" tall, Antonio Te Maioha tends to standout in a crowd, even if that crowd is an equally impressive assortment of tall muscled men. Maioha plays the gladiator Barca in Spartacus: Blood and Sand, the new Starz original series set in ancient Italy under the Roman Empire. Barca, 'the Beast of Carthage' serves as bodyguard and occasional hitman to Batiatus (John Hannah). But his role in the show changes events early on the series' first season.

A few episodes into the much-discussed series, Te Maiha's character begins a romantic relationship with slave boy Pietros (played by Eka Darville, who's also known for his role as Power Ranger Scott Truman) at Batiatus' gladiator school. In effect, Barca may be the first out gay gladiator in film history.

Barca is a loyal servant to Batiatus, but he secretly desires freedom. He mixes a mean temper with a softer side to present a conflicted character. Although a supporting character, his actions have a long-term effect in the show's plot. One of his more violent action scenes "pretty much took a whole day," said Maioha, who spoke via phone from New Zealand, where the show is produced. "We ended up with the shooting becoming a little more drawn out."

Along with a weeks-long intensive weapons and training workshop undergone by all the gladiator actors, Maioha said he did some online research, and browsed books about gladiator culture provided by the costume design team. "Whatever else we came across, that helped," he said.

That included researching the background of his character. "I had to find out about ancient Carthage, which was a big city on the tip of Tunisia. It was very much a town that people pass through from Africa and Italy. All the boats would stop there."

Maioha was born in Auckland and grew up in Hastings, New Zealand. His Maori heritage comes from his father's side of the family, with both Ngapuhi and Waikato tribal affiliations. Years of busking and countless street performances piqued his interest in performing arts which led to him attending Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School. He later joined acclaimed Maori theatre project, Te Rakau Hua O Te Wao Tapu. From there he worked steadily in theatre and was one of the ensemble cast of Waiora, which successfully toured New Zealand, Hawaii and the UK over a two-year period.

Maioha is no stranger to the fantasy film genre, having worked for producer Sam Raimi and associates who shot Xena: Warrior Princess, (Lucy Lawless also stars in Spartacus), Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and The Legend of the Seeker. Maioha has played supporting roles in each of those shows.

"A lot of the actors, stunt people and technical crew get a lot of work in the other shows," said Te Maioha, who mentioned that several stunt men for Spartacus had also performed under various masks in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

He's also performed in several TV series produced in New Zealand. His film work includes a role in Te Tangata Whai Rawa O Weneti (The Maori Merchant of Venice), and he played the lead in award-winning short film Taua, about Maori warriors. He lives with his family in the surfing town of Raglan, on the west coast of New Zealand's North Island.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand is being labeled as the most ambitious project Starz has ever undertaken. The classic story of the slave and gladiator who becomes the Roman Republic's most infamous rebel is getting a decidedly different treatment than the Stanley Kubrick film that starred Kirk Douglas.

Borrowing from the CGI-styled violence of Gladiator and 300, this Spartacus is also a lot more violent and sexual than other versions. While grounded in history, the series doesn't strive to be a completely accurate retelling of events, but portrays the violence, lust and corruption in a visceral yet stylish manner.

The actions –mistaken and true– on Barca's part lead to disturbing conflicts between the gladiators. Yet, Barca's homosexuality is portrayed in one of few positive lights between quite a few other lustful relationships among characters.

For Maioha, who is straight, playing a gay character wasn't a problem as much as acting in so many different action-filled situations. "There were green-screen fights everywhere, pretty much. Although some parts were a real set," he said of the special effects-laden production. Maioha admitted that he hasn't seen his own scenes yet.

Upcoming work Maioha hopes for include the upcoming film production of The Hobbit, and a possible stage production of a Maori version of Shakespeare's Othello. "Not that many people speak Maori efficiently enough for such a play," said Maioha. "Also, it's a tricky thing to translate Shakepeare."

Spartacus: Blood and Sand can be viewed on cable via the Starz network, pay-per-view, or even online with a paid membership.

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