The New Zealand newspaper The Dominion Post has a great article on Peter! Scanned and transcribed by MaryD.
ACTOR PETER Mensah is an imposing presence. At 1.91 metres tall, standing erect, with skin the colour of burnished leather and a body like a Greek sculpture, you can see why he was cast as the supreme gladiator trainer Oenomaus in Spartacus.
Like his character, there’s a whole lot more to Mensah than meets the eye. Born to Ghanaian parents, he grew up in England where his parents emphasised academics, he says.
‘‘I was fine to do anything as long as I got good grades. So I guess what that did, it meant I had to study in order to get the pass to act. So it worked out in the long run.’’
His dad is an engineer; his mother, a writer, now runs a school in Ghana.
‘‘The other thing, I was also an athlete,’’ he says. He did judo and track and field – long jump, triple jump and the 400 and 800. ‘‘We’ve had conversations today about how physical the show is and the role is. It’s all of those things. But the thing I find that’s really interesting to me as an actor, as opposed to an athlete doing this, is that it’s a very touching human story and the character carries the weight of so much suffering with him. And that’s what I find really interesting to work with. He’s training men in the art of killing in an environment where human life – especially a slave’s life – is given away so easily. So to do that and have some heart has been a great challenge. I’ve loved it.’’
Mensah, who has appeared in Avatar, The Incredible Hulk and Hidalgo, cut the cord from England eight years ago and headed for Hollywood. He admits it takes daring to be an actor. ‘‘Because the job requires I put myself out there and just lay it open. It is a courageous thing to do for a living because you are emotionally bare at times; even this character requires me to be really disciplined personally and emotionally. Am I disciplined? I can be disciplined. Am I always? No.’’
Unmarried, he says he and his girlfriend split up because he was never home. ‘‘Career-wise that’s good, but it’s also revealing because these are the things that reveal what you care about, and so it definitely starts to weigh when you realise if you keep doing it this way, what’s going to happen.
‘‘I also recognise the blessing of having this enormous task and job and world-life experience. I pretty much had the opportunity to travel to the end of the earth doing my craft.’’
Mensah has not forgotten his roots in Ghana. ‘‘We built a school 13 years ago now. It’s a credit to my mother and my sister, who teaches there as well, because we started with three kids and now we have over 700 children.
‘‘It’s also a great reference for me,’’ he adds, ‘‘because this is an industry in which we can forget about the rest of the world. I get to, every week, go through with my family what we need, the issues, listen to the stories of the kids and it certainly brings things into balance.’’