Dan Feuerriegel photographed by Clinton Gaughran for AfterElton
“We’ve had gay characters on the show before, but this was the first time that we could develop the relationship from the very beginning very slowly and actually see them fall in love,” said Spartacus creator Steven S. DeKnight of the love story that began last season with rebel warriors Agron (played with hunky bravado by Dan Feuerriegel) and Nasir (Pana Hema Taylor), a.k.a. ‘Nagron.’
On a press call late last week, DeKnight previewed what we’ll see when the War Of The Damned chapter (the final season in the series) begins airing this Friday on Starz. “We continue exploring their relationship,” he said, adding the tease that “you can’t always have a relationship that goes smoothly. There’s not a lot of drama in that, so we throw a couple of curve balls at them. But theirs is one of the relationships that, I think, is really kind of the cornerstone of the season. There are a lot of relationships going on and theirs, I think, is particularly powerful and gut-wrenching and beautiful.”
Co-star Liam McIntyre, on the same call, chimed in, “I feel like [Agron and Nasir] really chart the course of the rebellion. As things get harder and harder and more and more high stakes for the rebellion it’s really their relationship that gives you that insight of how all the couples in our rebel camp are dealing with the scale of what we’re doing.”
So what’s it like being playing a gay love story in a very violent, testosterone-heavy show like Spartacus? We grabbed some time last week with Feuerriegel at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills to talk about his journey as Agron, how he’s approached the relationship between his character and Nasir, and what he thought of making it on the AfterElton Hot 100 list. (At #55, Feuerriegel was the only Spartacus actor to make the rankings.)
Oh and, of course, we couldn’t let the opportunity go by without getting some great photos of the handsome Aussie!
AfterElton: You were working quite a bit in Australia before Spartacus, so I’m curious about how you feel about the experience since it’s such a high profile series and role.
DF: It’s been fantastic. I actually originally auditioned for Crixus back in the first season. Of course, nothing happened there. [Manu Bennett got the role.] Then just about three months later, I auditioned for Duro. [Ande Cunningham got the role.] Then I got a call from my agent a couple of weeks later saying Spartacus wants you. So, that was pretty exciting. First we just thought it was a guest role or something like that, but as the negotiations went on, we realized it was going to be a lot bigger than what we initially thought, which was exciting.
Slowly but surely over the three seasons, I built up a bit of a following. Especially in the second season, no one really knew who Agron was and so, in a way, I had free reign to do whatever I wanted, which was great. I didn’t have any pressure on me, no expectations. So, I did what was written on the page and just did what ever I decided to do, which was fantastic. Luckily it paid off. It’s got a fantastic following and all that sort of stuff, and it’s really exciting.
Nasir (Pana Hema Taylor) and Agron (Dan Feuerriegel)
AE: When did Steven [DeKnight] first talk to you about the love story between Agron and Nasir?
DF: From the beginning [Agron] did have interest in men, but just by the time they got to my character being introduced there wasn’t any real time. They wanted to explore the brother kind of relationship first. Then in the second season, just before we were about to get into it, Chloe [Smith, producer] and then Steven had a chat and said, ‘Look, this is the avenue that we’re going to explore more of him now, we’re going to do all that sort of stuff.’ I was like, ‘Cool. Let’s go for it.’ They were saying, ‘Just do what you want and go for it and we’ll go from there.’ So, that’s what I did, and yeah it’s turned out great.
AE: What do you think is the attraction between Agron and Nasir? Is it physical? Is there an emotional thing?
DF: Initially for me, the way I saw it was there was that emotional connection due to the loss of brothers. That’s how they first, I guess, became connected, but of course he was originally physically attracted to him in the first place. But I guess the way I saw it with Agron, there needs to be more than that. You never see him just going off and just randomly having sex and all that sort of stuff. Even though he’s quite a hard ass, he’s very soft on the inside.
AE: Do you see them as in love with each other?
DF: Yes. Absolutely.
AE: Some of the Agron and Nasir scenes in the new season have that emotional core that you see in a loving couple. What were some of the conversations you and Pana had as actors about how to approach the intimacy of some of the scenes?
DF: We didn’t really sit down and have deep and meaningful conversations. It was more just do it, really. I guess we would have little conversations about, let’s do this here and do that there and we don’t need to go down the Crixus/Naevia avenue where they’re constantly touching or with each other that sort of stuff.
We separated as well. When we’re in battle mode, because I’m the general in the third season, I’m treating him like a soldier. ‘Do this. Do that.’ Then, when we’re on our own, that’s when we’re intimate and the relationship comes out and all that sort of stuff.
A few people have asked me, as soon as they found out that the character was gay, they’re asking me ‘what’s it like to kiss a guy? What’s it like to play a gay character?’ I was like, ‘I would have played him the same way if he were straight. There’s no difference.’
So, for me I didn’t feel like I was playing a gay character. I mean, what is playing a gay character? I just did what I did and I guess perception is for the rest of you, for everybody else. I do what I did. Pana did what he did. You can make whatever you want out of that. So, that’s how I did it.
AE: It’s ironic that this show is set in a time so far in the past and there are times when Agron and Nasir kiss in public and nobody blinks an eye. Yet, we’re watching this in modern day, and some people might be surprised at that public display.
DF: ‘Oh wow, did that happen?’ But that’s the way we played it. I think that’s why the characters are so appreciated, because there is no reference whatsoever of, ‘these are the gay characters.’ It just happens. I remember the first kiss the reaction of like, ‘whoa, didn’t see that coming. Okay great!’
AE: Where does the relationship go this season?
DF: Nothing can be perfect forever. I’m really excited about how Nagron fans are going to see it. It seems like every other character’s relationship has already been established. It’s already gone through its ups and downs. This is the first time that Nagron will go through stuff.
They go through some fantastic deep things, which is really, really great. You notice that Agron has a bit of a jealous side, which is kind of cool…that obviously starts to rock the boat. Is Nasir attracted to another person? There are all these little things that pop up.
AE: I know Caesar [Todd Lasance] comes in the second episode, how big of a threat can we expect him to be?
DF: Fucking huge. Everybody is really, really going to love Todd. From what I’ve seen and just being on set…it’s a great character. The way I saw it is, he’s the new Ashur. He’s going to be fantastic. Obviously Crassus is the new Batiatus, but on a much bigger scale. Crassus’ right hand man is Caesar who is Ashur. Crassus gets Caesar to do his dirty work. It’s pretty cool. It’s going to very exciting. There is some cool stuff in there.
AE: I’m sure by now you’re used to the costumes, you’re used to nudity, but how do you guys handle it on set?
DF: Well, there is a bit of ribbing every now and then. There are times where the days are long and months go by and sometimes its really, really hard to keep up the pace of training. There are times where we let ourselves go, which probably no one would see but us. There is a bit of ribbing there and stuff like that.
At first it’s quite confronting. I remember my first couple of days in the first season, I realized I was not fit. But after a while it [the nudity] becomes second nature. You do not notice it. It’s just like you do not notice walking into a scene and there are four or five extras having sex against a wall. You do not notice that. It’s just a part of life. It’s a part of everyday work. You don’t see that.
AE: And you know you were on our Hot 100 this last year…
DF: I saw, I saw, I saw. Yes.
AE: Being a straight guy, how are you with receiving that attention?
DF: I’m flattered. Absolutely flattered. Any positive feedback is fantastic regardless of who it’s from. I am very, very lucky and appreciative of the fact that so many gay fans really respect the work that I’ve done.
The best compliment I got was I got an e-mail on my fan page from a guy and he just said, ‘I wanted to thank you. I really love the show. I’ve only recently come out. I thought I’d seen it all in regards to gay characters on TV. I thought that I had everything in my life that I needed to be strong and not give a shit about the haters and the douche bags and idiots out there. Watching your show I realized that there was one aspect missing. I actually have never had a gay superhero or a gay action hero. I see Agron as the gay action hero, the gay super hero. Thank you very much. You’ve opened my eyes more, and more power to you.’ I was like, ‘Thank you. That’s fantastic.’
So, I love it. It’s fantastic. I love that I am able to…how do I put it…just change people’s lives, but also just do my job and people appreciate it and respect it.
Feuerriegel has his badass warrior face on as Agron on the Starz series, Spartacus
AE: The scar on your chest is real, right?
DF: Yeah. I’ve got a pacemaker.
AE: When did that happen?
DF: I was born with a heart condition. I was not the best thing to come into the world for mom and dad for the first three days. Obviously technology back then, they couldn’t tell exactly what was going on. They say that I had a slow heartbeat. So, they cut me out of mom, here you go, here’s your son, we’re going to take him away. So, for three days I was gone. Mom and Dad decided, ‘okay this might be, we might have to deal with something pretty heavy here and we’ve accepted that.’ Then I came back and the cardiologist was like, ‘yeah he’s fine.’ Just come and see me every six months.
What I’ve got is a congenital heart block. It’s actually the nervous system, not the muscle itself. So, basically what it is, is there are two nodes in the heart, one for the atrium one for the ventricle. Go for a run, the brain will send a message to the heart to make it go ba-bump-ba-bump-ba-bump. The two nodes communicating with each other create that ba-bump-ba-bump. My bottom one doesn’t work.
So, basically my heart would go, but it could only reach a certain amount. Back then, being a kid and having that your whole life, it never stopped me. I never had that defeatist attitude because you’re a kid. No one told me I could not do anything, except maybe long distance running or something like that.
Also being a kid, I saw that as a novelty. It was something different. I didn’t have a pacemaker at that time; I got that when I was 17. I had three operations in one year because the one lead wasn’t working, it kept stopping. That’s why it ended up being so big…the third operation it kind of, while it was healing it kind of split open a bit. It was pretty weak. So, that’s why the scar is so big. I get it replaced every five to seven years. I completely forget what happened. I look in the mirror I see a scar, do not register I’ve got a pacemaker until some one asks me, then I’m like, oh yeah.
AE: Do you have something that the minute you’re done filming you’re like….give me those M&Ms?
DF: I guess just any junk food really. I remember the first bit of junk food I had when I came back was that I went out with my brothers, we got drunk and on the way home we ordered KFC. Afterwards I was like, ‘Oh that was really good, but I feel terrible.’
I’m not consistently eating bad; you still are very, very much habitually…like I’ll wake up and have just oats or an egg with avocado or things like that. So, as long as you eat well as much as you can, it’s like a, little well done, kind of thing. I definitely have to get back into the fitness because I haven’t done that for a while.
[The actors] had to look good, but also we actually had to be fit. Doing fight scenes all day, especially the last episode, the amount of fighting that they did, from what I hear, they were doing it all day. Knowing what I’ve done and just doing a scene of fighting, you have to be fit. That’s why the boot camp is so good. It gets you basically fight fit. I really have come to appreciate that kind of fitness.
AE: Was acting always your main plan or was there something else along the way?
DF: First off, I was actually studying science at university to get into vet science. I think there was one point where I wanted to pursue acting, but of course people try to put you off all that sort of stuff and get a real job, so I was either going to get into radiography or vet sciences.
So, I studied for six months. I realized that it wasn’t for me. I hated standing in a room and studying. I was very energetic. I probably had ADHD when I was a kid. I auditioned for the acting school in Brisbane and got in and I haven’t really looked back. There is no plan B. I kind of think if there was a plan B, it’s your way of telling yourself that you might not succeed. I just don’t want to have that attitude. So, it’s either this or nothing.
Spartacus: War of the Damned kicks off its final season this Friday at 9pm on Starz.
Next page! More great photos of Dan Feuerriegel.
Spartacus: War of the Damned kicks off its final season this Friday at 9pm on Starz.