'The Hobbit' Star Reveals Surprise Praise He Got From Scorsese and Shaq

Manu Bennett Hobbit - H 2014
Warner Bros.
Manu Bennett also tells THR how a random meeting with Andy Serkis helped him prepare for the role

Manu Bennett has the terrifying villain thing down to a science.

With The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, he's unleashing his final performance as the Orc king Azog, and is also set to reprise his role as Deathstroke on CW's Arrow. Add to that a role in the hotly anticipated fantasy adaption Shannara, and you'll likely be watching more of Bennett in 2015.

Bennett, who is known for playing Crixus on Starz's Spartacus, says he's often surprised by the people who have seen his work.

"I was walking through San Diego Comic-Con and Shaquille O'Neal was doing a photo shoot," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I stopped and said 'Oh, it's Shaq!' But then Shaq stopped the photo shoot and pointed at me and yelled 'Crixus!' It just blows me away. I always hope people see my work but I don't have a concept of who might be watching."

In a conversation with THR, Bennett also reveals the big challenges of playing Azog, surprise praise he got from Martin Scorsese , and what he learned from Andy Serkis.

You joined the first Hobbit rather unexpectedly. How did that come about?

It was a tight window between the point when Peter Jackson made the decision to remove an actor who had played the role and voiced it. He was an actor who was dressed up as Azog in a costume, but the restrictions of the costume and the mask didn't really work. They had three months to get me down there and get the CGI version of Azog done before the premiere. The postproduction guys were definitely suffering anxiety. (Laughs). I believe it was a 24/7 process.

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What was your headspace like going into that?

My head was spinning. I was in the last two weeks of filming Spartacus where I was in some major drama already. I think that is how Peter knew I could bring the warrior of Azog to life.

How did you master motion capture?

I was fortunate enough to have talked to Andy Serkis about motion capture a few months before I knew I would have this role. We talked for an hour at San Diego Comic-Con about motion capture and how it's different from standard acting. Actors, when we are given a costume, you feel like the character. But when you are put into a green suit and then have to expand upon your reality — to become a creature who is 8 feet tall and has huge muscle mass — it's kind of like asking a skinny kid to portray Arnold Schwarzenegger in a Mr. Universe contest.

How does that affect your performance?

I can't move as much as Azog. If I do, he looks quite awkward. So I have to expand my chest and my arms and my legs and my stride. I use a certain stature that fills his muscle mass. And I created his voice — if I use my own voice it sounds like he's a tenor when he needs to be a baritone.

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What were some of the biggest challenges for you?

All of my things were done after principal filming was shot. I didn't get to work with Richard Armitage even though I had scenes with Richard Armitage. Not working with the fellow actors, you had to hope your energy level matched the other actors. It's like playing tennis without having anyone else on the other side of the court.

Is there motion capture in your future?

It's definitely part of the future, and it's exciting to be a part of the future as an actor. In Spartacus, being part of that show was groundbreaking. I was invited to The Wolf of Wall Street premiere, and had the opportunity to talk with Martin Scorsese at the afterparty. He told me that he was influenced by Spartacus. That's why he did the extreme scenes — the snorting of the cocaine off the girl's backside in the opening shot. He said the orgies in Spartacus made him think people could handle this stuff. I was blown away by that.

That must have been pretty surreal to hear Scorsese likes your work.

I'm always surprised by who ends up knowing me. I was walking through San Diego Comic Con and Shaquille O'Neal was doing a photo shoot. I stopped and said "Oh, it's Shaq!" But then Shaq stopped the photo shoot and pointed at me and yelled " Crixus!" [his Spartacus character]. It just blows me away. I always hope people see my work but I don't have a concept of who might be watching. 

Email: Aaron.Couch@THR.com
Twitter: @AaronCouch