Interview: Manu Bennett talks to us about The Shannara Chronicles and TV production VS film ahead of Supanova

  • Carina Nilma
  • March 29, 2016
  • Comments Off on Interview: Manu Bennett talks to us about The Shannara Chronicles and TV production VS film ahead of Supanova

The countdown has begun to Supanova’s first conventions of 2016 and for their Gold Coast and Melbourne events they’re bringing a solid and diverse lineup of guests. Actors from Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Game of Thrones, Torchwood, Harry Potter and Angel to name a few will be set to spend their weekend meeting and greeting fans with professional photo opportunities, and signing autographs, as well as discussing their work in Q&A panels.

One of the guests on that lineup includes New Zealand actor Manu Bennett, most recently starring in MTV’s new fantasy TV production The Shannara Chronicles. Bennett is probably best known amongst the pop culture community as Slade Wilson/Deathstroke from Arrow or Crixus in Spartacus. He’s done a few conventions before, including Supanova, which he has fond memories of.

“Another day in paradise, well kinda, I’m in Auckland. Yeah I’m looking forward to it, I’ve had a really good run with Supanova, surprisingly when I came across the first time, I thought you know what I started my career here I was on Water Rats and Paradise Beach, I thought the people would take me as a local product and I’d be turfed aside for all the Hollywood actors but actually got there and was really surprised with how many Arrow and Spartacus and Hobbit fans there were that came along and jumped in the line to have a discussion, it was awesome and I was really flattered by the support.”

Bennett can now add another show – The Shannara Chronicles – to that list where he may have some news fans popping into his line to meet him.

“You know what I haven’t done a convention since The Shannara Chronicles, oh wait yes I’ve done a couple in the States but I haven’t done one in Australia, so it’s going to be interesting to see how the fanbase has grown for that.
I did a convention in Melbourne a long time ago, I might have just done Spartacus, so since my last visit to Melbourne, I’ve done The Hobbit, Arrow and Shannara since, so there’s a whole new slather of shows and a whole new group of fans so it’ll be interesting when I go there this time.”

The Shannara Chronicles has just recently finished its first season in the US on MTV and has just finished airing on Foxtel’s SyFy channel here in Australia. So Bennett clues us in on where the show is at from a production standpoint, and particularly with how things are going in the show’s prime filming location of Auckland, New Zealand.

“It’s gone through it’s American run, and it had a kind of a good start, then ebbed in the middle then got strong toward the end again. It’s a very very expensive show, and I think MTV will be looking at all of the figures and looking at all of the costs and I think one of the big problems they’re facing now coz they sent David Blocker our producer over to check the locations and studios and there’s so many productions being shot in Auckland right now that all of the studios have been booked out so we were meant to start sort of now, and they’ve got nowhere to film due to the business of Auckland studios. So we’re still waiting on baited breath to hear of our future.”

In light of the awkward lack of studio issue, this along with the usual network politics have resulted in the show waiting on renewal for a Season 2. Bennett sheds a little insight into what he thinks is going through the minds of those at MTV and on some of the feedback that’s been received from fans.

“No we’ve heard the difficulties they’re having trying to secure a studio in New Zealand, it just so happens that there’s several productions being shot in Auckland right now. And I think they’re still collating what’s going on in Europe with the show right now, as it’s early on in its run in the UK. These days it’s numbers, numbers dictate, but we’ve got a lot of fans of the visual of the show, there was a lot of really positive feedback on the visual of the show, so I think they just have to respond to the fans demands in terms of characterisation and some of the writing, they seem to be very aware of the fan responses and I think the producers if they get a second run will be going very much toward responding to what the fans expect of a television production for Shannara.”

Bennett’s career has been rather diverse, but he’s predominantly been on the small screen. A move which he feels is wise if you’re the sort of actor who wants to become more connected with your character. Something that he feels isn’t lost on audiences either, and is a key reason behind why fans become more emotionally invested in television shows than they do films.

“I was asked to audition for this (Shannara), and literally to be signed to it within 48 hours. It was a tough one for me as I’d just arrived in Los Angeles. I was looking at potentially arking my attention toward film and I thought maybe it was time to start auditioning and trying to look at film as a future. But one thing I’ve become accustomed to having done this now maybe three or four times, was when you get to do a character on a long television series or any good standard of a television series, you get kind of a large canvas in which to paint a character.”

“I mean film has been regarded in the past as being the top echelon of acting, but television series are now starting to compete in terms of popularity, with these wonderful home entertainment systems and virtual reality. I think if you ask people what their favourite show is, in comparison to what their favourite movie is, potentially they’re more into their favourite show than potentially their favourite movie because you get a lot more material in a television show. I think television is where the good writing is happening. And now the effects, the visual effects, for instance with Shannara, it’s probably as much visual effects you would have hoped to have seen in a movie.”

“You know it’s like a real relationship rather than a one night stand that you get with a movie where you sit down for 90 minutes and leave. So actually being able to execute a character that works on an episodic series, is more of a challenge to create the big character arcs, and it gives you a more lasting and memorable character. I mean Crixus in Spartacus I know people really became involved in that character and it was one of my proudest performances, but if I’d done a film version of Spartacus I might have had half a dozen lines as Crixus.”

Nowadays it’s a case of cinematic television, tv networks are no longer quite so budget limited and have money to throw around on larger scale productions. The Shannara Chronicles is a good example of this, with sweeping visual landscapes that rival any Hobbit/Lord of The Rings type epic, but all destined for a home lounge room rather than a cinema.

“This is why I think MTV has thrown their extra ten on a show like Shannara. It’s a pretty big kind of a bet on their behalf to get behind this show, but it was very brave and the one thing they’ve got for sure is the production value. I think Shannara, everybody agrees that the production value is phenomenal, and so you know I’m very proud being a New Zealander and having worked with all these guys that create the sets and the costumes and everything we’ve managed to achieve that level for Shannara. But I feel Shannara is still a fledgling show in terms of responding to what the audience wants with the dramatic content. So I think they’re taking very close note on how this first series has run because they want to make sure that if we get a second series it’s going to elevate to the level that the viewers demand.”

Bennett’s mentioning of virtual reality is a good opportunity for us to discuss one of his forthcoming roles in an independent film called Beta Test. Trailers for this film look like a Tron meets Grand Theft Auto type of vibe.

“Well to be honest I think Beta Test will probably have a limited release and then go straight to DVD. I was contacted from the director, and it was the first time a director had really contacted me and said I want you for a role in my movie, and so I read it and yeah I thought it was kinda like one of these Tron type stories so jumped on board. We were shooting up in Seattle, I’ve never been to Seattle, so I went up there and did this project. It’s yet to be seen how well executed the film is, but it’s not a big studio film, it’s not going to be the kind of film that’s going to rule the box office but it was a good opportunity for me to play a lead role in an indie film.”

Bennett is well aware that he’s done a few solid TV productions, and the majority of his career has been on the small screen but is now fixing his sights on moving to the big screen.

“When you’re trying to go from where I’m at, the guy who’s announced himself in television and then wants to go to the next level of film, you want to prove to studios that you can hold your own in a lead role. I’ve always played the second fiddle to the lead role, which I’ve got no complaints about. I’ve enjoyed the roles that I’ve had and often think that my characters especially Crixus potentially had more acting opportunity than the lead, same in Arrow almost, Slade Wilson had a lot of dimensions and that was a wonderful character to act. But Beta Test is like that indie movie where I’m just trying to get out there and expose as a lead actor. I just did a similar film in Peru, I got back a couple of days ago, I did a remake of Deathrace which will be out later in the year or early next year. Again it was one of those situations where the director reached out to me and said look we want you to play the lead in this role. Now I’m just waiting for the big studio films to give me a call, you know Martin Scorsese, it hasn’t happened yet but I’m waiting.”

Speaking of Scorsese, Bennett has a rather amusing anecdotal story to share regarding bumping into the Academy Award winning director

“I met Martin Scorsese in New York, I went to the Wolf of Wall Street Premiere and got to meet Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey and rubbed shoulders with those boys. And Martin Scorsese I sat next to him and had a conversation, he said “oh you’re from New Zealand?”, I said “yeah I did a television show called Spartacus” and he was like “Spartacus? you were on Spartacus?” And I said “yeah I played Crixus” and he said “You’re Crixus?!” He calls his wife and his daughter over and says “This is Crixus from Spartacus” and I’m sitting there with Martin Scorsese and he’s saying all of this and I was pretty blown away. Then he says the reason they did some pretty edgy scenes in Wolf of Wall Street, especially the opening scene where Leonardo is inhaling a certain something off a certain something. Martin said to me he was influenced by Spartacus with how far he could push that stuff, and the idea or concept of characters pushing boundaries, amazing who can have eyes on you and always leads to an interesting unknown set of events in the future.

Manu Bennett will be appearing at Supanova Pop Culture Expo on the Gold Coast and Melbourne for 2016.
Gold Coast – Friday 8th, Saturday 9th, Sunday 10th April
Melbourne – Friday 15th, Saturday 16th, Sunday 17th April
For tickets go here, for more information go to the Supanova website.