As Julius Caesar’s conniving niece Atia of the Julii on HBO’s “Rome,” Polly Walker plays a woman who beds powerful men and pimps out her daughter. Walker welcomed the role with open arms.
“This is that part that men get offered all the time,” Walker says. “Women, most of the time, are confined to playing girlfriends and wives. This part was so out there. I wanted to go for it.”
However, for Walker, whose credits include “Patriot Games,” “Emma,” “Restoration,” and “Enchanted April,” taking on the snobbish, cunning, sexually voracious and amoral Atia proved to be a daunting task.
“When I found out that I got the part, I laid in a fetal position for a week. I definitely felt nervous,” Walker explains. “The biggest challenge for me during the first season was to make (Atia) sympathetic, but I purposely did not worry about that too much because I felt that she is having a hard time and is up against huge obstacles.
“From an outside point of view, I think people would have thought my biggest obstacle was to make her human, but I suppose it was a fine line between making her unbelievable and believable.”
In a way only HBO shows can get away with, “Rome” first introduced Atia mounted atop one of her many lovers, her slaves in attendance. Soon after, she appears in the nude before her 11-year-old son Octavian, scolding the effeminate young man about his sex life, ordering him to visit a brothel and demanding he eat goats’ testicles as a passage into manhood — the kind of historical color no network would dare depict.
“I do find the Roman period fascinating,” Walker explains, “but I am not buying books on the period for research purposes. Basically I go with the script because I am trying to play (Atia) as a woman who has contemporary feelings, as if what is happening to her is happening now.”
Walker was happy to see her character develop throughout the 11-episode first season.
“She became less of a monster, and you understood her vulnerabilities and the reasons why she behaved liked she did.”
Of course, the character’s future has its limits.
“I don’t know how far I could go with the role because I am dependent on history,” Walker explains. “It is not like (Atia) could suddenly open up a chain of hotels and go down that route.”
Favorite scene of last season?
“Being under a bull being covered in blood. I enjoyed that.”
“I am really into ‘House.’ ”
“99% of them. I wouldn’t like to name names.”