Rome - this autumn on BBC TWO - press pack phase two
Ciarán Hinds plays Julius Caesar
Listing Caesar's qualities is a bit like asking 'What did the Romans do for us?'
"He was a great general; he was an extraordinary and astute politician; when he actually came into power he had all these great engineering ideas for canals and roadways and draining marshes, practical stuff to progress the city.
"He was also into astronomy in a big way and he was a great writer – he wrote huge tracts about the campaigns – and he was an amazing orator," marvels Ciarán Hinds.
"You just think where did this guy come from, how the hell can they concoct these people? To be brilliant in so many different ways…
"Also he was a pragmatist, he had a lot of charm but also that was used politically; he knew when you use the velvet glove and when you use the iron stick."
We first see him with his troops and, Ciarán says, he shone there too.
"Caesar was an extraordinary soldier, apart from being a brilliant general and tactitioner. He was an extraordinary warrior who led from the front.
"Sometimes if battles were going against him, suddenly he would head up the hill in front of everybody – literally dragging people after him, not pushing them up. He wouldn't give in.
"A lot of the battles that they fought were touch and go – he's a very risky guy."
Playing such a colossus brings its own pressures, as Belfast-born Ciarán explains.
"You have good days and bad days. Sometimes you feel up for it and other days you think 'Holy God, what am I doing here?' It was never less than a challenge," he says with a smile.
One of the biggest challenges was the physicality of the role, involving some gruelling military scenes.
"We had originally set out to do all the big stuff with the army in Gaul very early on in the shoot – we were supposed to be filming it in May – and that didn't happen due to weather circumstances," Ciarán recalls.
"We ended up shooting it in freezing January, all open-air by a lake and the wind came right through the valley, and that was quite a challenge because it was freezing and everybody was exhausted and cold. People just weren't well.
"But in the end, we're supposed to be Roman soldiers aren't we – that's supposed to be nothing to them."
At least the troops had had some preparation at Billy Budd's boot camp, though Ciarán's experience of that was limited to visiting his men in Caesar-like fashion.
"Billy set up some situations and circumstances whereby we would play our roles, rather than be trained as soldiers," explains Ciarán of the 'top brass' involvement at the camps.
"He asked me to go along and improvise a speech while the men were having their passing-out parade after two weeks of hard work.
"It was actually quite daunting – to people you don't really know, and it was not scripted. But it was role-playing so that they could understand about the hierarchy.
"Billy could say to them, 'The big man himself is coming to speak to you, you must know you're doing something right'."
That meticulous and extensive preparation was typical of the whole production, from the large-scale right down to the minutiae, including the costumes.
"They are very practical," says Ciarán of his military attire.
"They're all leather but you just feel they were like working men's clothes.
"It just happens to be what you need when you're on a campaign, it's protective both from a military sense and also an atmosphere sense, a weather sense.
"The long red cape was great too. That's what they used to sleep in of course – when they're on a campaign they just wrap themselves around.
"Later on, when we got into the togas, that was fun. You think that's a toga, it's just a piece of sheet wrapped round, but in fact the quality of the cloth and of the cut and the colour that April Ferry, the costume designer, put into it was fantastic."
And he still marvels when he recalls his first sight of the huge set at Cinecittà.
"Normally in the theatre when you first meet up on the first day and read the play everybody sits round, and afterwards the director asks the designer to come in.
"And he produces a little model of the theatre and the set and everybody squeezes in to look at this little model and moves little matchstick figures around, and everybody goes 'Great!'
"This time they took us out to the back lot and showed us the set and it was the complete inverse. This huge mother of a set, just monstrous. The first time you see it you think 'God, how do you fill that'. It really took your breath away.
"It was thrilling, absolutely thrilling the first time you walked onto that set."
He was also seduced by the real-life city of Rome and says the joy of spending such a long time there was that he could discover it at his leisure.
"That was the great thing about being in a job like that, apart from the joy of working at Cinecittà and this big production – the idea that you didn't have to go and 'do Rome'.
"You didn't have to think, 'here I am, I've got see this, do this, quick'; you could just take your ease around it.
"You just went walking and things would come to you rather than you trying to chase them. You'd learn more about them.
"I think we were a bit spoilt in that we could take it in in our own time. Rome is such a fantastic city and it's endless, there's always more to discover."
Ciarán lives in another great capital city, Paris, which has been his home for almost two years now.
"It's very strange, I've never imagined my life would be just bouncing between Paris and Rome. It sounds very exotic!" he laughs.
In actual fact his reason for being there is quite prosaic: his partner, Hélène, is French.
"She's an actress and she'd worked with the Theatre de Complicite and companies like that, but she wanted to work in her own language so we decided to give it a go," Ciarán explains, adding that it has worked out well for her and also for their daughter, 13-year-old Aoife.
"Coming from different nationalities we managed to get her into the Lycee in London, so she's been brought up with a French education and was bilingual from an early age. And she loves Paris."
Ciarán himself is also enjoying life there, though he admits that he hasn't quite adapted his Irish instincts to Gallic ones yet.
"I never got quite used to café life, which is a very Parisian style – I'd just get home and make a cup of tea!" he laughs.
"But I love the idea, and the open-air markets. We live in the 20th arondissement, and there is a market ten feet away three times a week, full of fresh food. That's a joy."
It sounds like he's happy to stay there and adapt his tea-drinking habits.
"I think we're settled in Paris for the next few years, but I can never be sure due to the nature of life and work," he says.
"Everybody seems to be happy there and Hélène has been able to work, so it's been good in that sense."
It's rather poetic that Ciarán and Hélène are now living in Paris, as that is where they first met.
"We were both on a project with Peter Brook, the great theatre director, in the mid-Eighties.
"It was The Mahabharata, the big Indian confection – an extraordinary thing, an 11-hour show with about 25 in the company and five musicians.
"It's India's big story, all about the gods Vishnu and Shiva and human folly. We travelled around the world with it."
He's done his fair share of travelling in a hugely successful career that began at the Glasgow Citizens' Theatre and has included the films The Phantom Of The Opera, Calendar Girls, Lara Croft Tomb Raider, Veronica Guerin, Road To Perdition, Rules Of Engagement and Excalibur, the hit television series Jane Eyre, Persuasion and The Mayor Of Casterbridge, and extensive stage work including, with the RSC, a world tour in the title role of Richard III.
Since Rome he has worked in Miami on Michael Mann's forthcoming Miami Vice film, playing an FBA agent, and in Budapest on Steven Spielberg's Munich Olympics movie.
At least he's too busy to regret too much not being part of the next series of Rome, unlike most of his fellow cast, after Caesar meets his untimely death at the hands of Brutus.
"I do feel rather sad to have been assassinated on the ides of March, but there's nothing to be done now, really," he says, admitting they can't rewrite history just to accommodate him.
"But I'll miss it, because of the people you work with and get very fond of, and also the work develops and gets richer, in a way, the more you do it.
"And also Rome is probably the most glorious city I've been in!"