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Liam McIntyre steps into the arena as ‘Spartacus’ [Updated]

January 17, 2011 |  1:08 pm

McIntyre Actor Liam McIntyre is strapping on the loin cloth: He'll assume the starring role in the hit Starz series "Spartacus: Blood and Sand."

McIntyre, 28, is taking over the role from Andy Whitfield, who has left the series as he battles cancer. McIntyre is Australian and largely unknown to U.S. audiences, although he did have a role in HBO's "The Pacific."

[Updated at 1:25 p.m.: "Since no one can really replace Andy, we realized that we should instead find an actor who can truly lead 'Spartacus' forward," Chris Albrecht, Starz president and CEO, said in the casting announcement. "It was important to us to have Andy endorse the idea of recasting this part, which he did in the same heroic manner that he’s dealt with his whole ordeal. And that, coupled with our fortune in finding a young actor with the gladiator credentials and the acting ability of Liam, makes it easier for us to keep this hit franchise going."

The announcement said that McIntyre is currently in New Zealand, getting himself into gladiator shape. Production is slated to resume in the spring.]

McIntyre will have his work cut out for him. Whitfield gained fame playing the chiseled warrior at the center of the highly stylized swords-and-sandals drama. Although the show made headlines for its over-the-top blood, gore and explicit sex, Whitfield's compassionate portrayal also struck a chord with viewers and helped make the show a hit for the pay channel.

But then tragedy struck: Writing for Season 2 was underway when Whitfield, 36, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Initially, writers conjured up a six-series concept for a prequel to give Whitfield time to undergo treatment and recover before returning to the role. That prequel, "Spartacus: Gods of the Arena," debuts Friday with Lucy Lawless, John Hannah and Peter Mensah reprising their roles. But Whitfield's cancer returned. He has since formally bowed out of the role and urged everyone to continue without him.

"Spartacus: Blood and Sand" is a retelling of the 1960 movie starring Kirk Douglas. "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" begins with Whitfield's character, a Thracian warrior, captured and enslaved by the Romans. His captors force him into the arena to fight, promising him he will be reunited with his wife if he wins. And he does, slaying every opponent placed before him. But when he's betrayed by his captors, he leads a bloody slave revolt. And boy, is it ever bloody.

The series, which earned the highest ratings of any Starz original series, helped the channel reposition itself within the cable universe and spurred the creation of new original series.

-- Rene Lynch
twitter / renelynch

Photo: Liam McIntyre. Credit: Starz