Ray Stevenson, ‘Rome’

Lead actor, the un-usual suspects

Everyone knew who brawny soldier Titus Pullo was from the first reading of the script for “Rome,” which was a double-edged sword for actor Ray Stevenson.

On the one hand, he would play one of the most colorful and vibrant characters on the HBO series. But he also faced the Herculean task of putting his own stamp on him.

“He was an everyman figure,” Stevenson says. “The biggest challenge was making him mine and not jumping through hoops to please everybody else who knew who he was. When I would do a scene in rehearsal, the producers would say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you were going to do it that way.’

“It was a matter of taking an everyman character and making him a living, breathing individual. We all know people who have certain aspects of him. He’s an amalgamation of a lot of good points and bad points in people.”

“Rome” is probably best known for the massive scale of its production and an emphasis on authenticity, but crisp writing and a legion of esteemed actors from the United Kingdom give it a life that goes beyond props and costumes.

Stevenson’s Pullo, for example, evolved over the first season into more than just a one-note bruiser.

“Last season he was a reactive person,” Stevenson explains. “He was optimistic, but also fatalistic. He was happy with his lot in life. With the new season, he shoulders more responsibility. He discovers he is more than capable of doing that. Little by little, he becomes a more rounded person, a deeper person.

“He had a real sort of ground zero moment (last season) and basically bottomed out. From then on, he realized he tried. The minute he tried to carve a destiny for himself, it went bad. It reinforced his belief in the gods and in fate. He took his foot off the pedal a bit. He realized he doesn’t need to settle any arguments violently.”

Stevenson knows the gods of television can also be cruel. He calls his gig “one of the best jobs in the world” and can see himself taking Titus to new and exciting places — assuming HBO keeps renewing the show.

“When I first signed up for this,” he explains, “I signed the standard American contract option for five years. Quite honestly, I feel it’s given me back more than I could have dreamed of already. If HBO says they want to keep the show going, I’ll be the first to sign up.”

SOUND BITES

Favorite scene of the past season?

“I think reaching the end of the gladiator fight. We spent three and half days filming that sequence with 12 stunt guys and rehearsals. The end of that gave me a tremendous amount of satisfaction and pride in everybody who worked around me.”

Favorite shows?

“This past year I’ve been traveling so much I didn’t get to see much. While I was in L.A. I got into ‘Entourage,’ although I missed the first half of the season. And I’m always a big fan of ‘The Sopranos.'”

Underrated actor?

“I’m not that familiar with current American TV. There are some on British TV, but American audiences wouldn’t be aware of them. I’m sorry to say I wouldn’t have a broad enough knowledge.”

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