All roads, they say, lead to Rome. For Ray Stevenson, that road has been a long one. The 41-year-old is about to become a familiar face to millions of viewers around the world, playing Roman soldier Titus Pullo in HBO's blockbuster Rome - but his march to fame has taken almost 15 years. Indeed, the burly Newcastle-born actor's original choice of career could hardly have been further from his role as uncompromising warrior Pullo. 'I used to be an interior designer,' says Stevenson. 'Then an Australian actor friend came across to England when I was 25. We got rip-roaring drunk one night and it all came out that I wanted to be an actor, and he encouraged me to go for it. So I went to drama school when I was 27. I didn't feel like I was being bold or brave or courageous. I just had to do it.' Bit-parts in plays and TV series followed, but it wasn't until he was filming last year's King Arthur, alongside Clive Owen and Keira Knightley, that the Rome script came his way. It's set at the time of the transition from republic to empire, and Stevenson says he was immediately impressed. 'It was a fantastic script,' he says. 'It's about these fascinating people and their lives at a time when their world was going through a cataclysmic upheaval. All the lines were being redrawn and the fabric of the culture was changing. And in the middle of it are these two soldiers [Pullo and Lucius Vorenus, played by Kevin McKidd], and we see it through their eyes. Sometimes they have a huge influence on history, and other times they're swept along, just hanging on to the roller coaster.' His admiration for the project grew when he saw the enormous, elaborate set that had been built for the project. 'It's breathtaking,' he says of the US$10 million, 20,000-square-metre construction at the Cinecitta studios in Italy. 'It's almost like there's no acting required because you're there. Every day I get to live and work in ancient Rome.' Although Stevenson seems to have little in common with the hard-drinking, gambling, whoring Pullo (whom he describes as an 'optimistic fatalist'), the actor says he's learnt a great deal from the role - which he'll be reprising for the show's second season, which begins shooting in March. 'Pullo believes that wherever he is, that's where the gods have put him,' Stevenson says. 'He's not ambitious. He doesn't want to be a general. He's just an ordinary soldier who lives for the people around him. He's taught me not to take things too seriously, to not worry too much about the things I'm not doing and to enjoy where I am and enjoy the moment. 'The Italians have a saying, siamo nelle mani di Dio, or 'We're all in the hands of God'. For me that's come to mean you'll get to where you're meant to be - because you are where you're meant to be.'