Thursday May 25, 2023
Ray Stevenson (1964-2023)
Stevenson, left, and McKidd, as Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus, the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of HBO's “Rome.”
Wasn't HBO's “Rome” built just yesterday? It feels like we were just watching new episodes. Nope, Erik, that was 20 years ago, and as of yesterday, the real yesterday, HBO is now called “Max,” just a few days after the man who played Titus Pullo, Ray Stevenson, died at the age 58.
Patricia and I had recently seen Stevenson in India's Academy Award-winning “RRR,” white-haired and white-bearded, and playing British imperial villain rather than Roman working class lovable lout, so it took me a minute. “Wait, isn't that the dude from 'Rome'?” That was a great show that never got its due; Stevenson and co-star Kevin McKidd as Lucius Vorenus had such great chemistry as two mismatched Roman soldiers wandering through history. They were basically the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the rise and fall of the Roman empire—if HBO had let it fall. Instead they dropped it after two seasons. Too expensive. But it had a nice run. I should rewatch it.
Titus Pollo was not a nice man—rapey, not bright—but somehow Stevenson made him lovable. He seemed the big man who would protect you—unless you were on the wrong side, then he'd crushed your skull like a grape. Stevenson had charisma and a strong physical presence, and he went on to bigger roles, like Marvel's “The Punisher,” which seemed right but not quite. That character is humorless and that wasn't Stevenson. Humor shone in his eyes. After Titus, I don't think the entertainment industry quite found the right role for him. He was better than the roles he got.