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'Spartacus' Creator Talks About Recasting the Title Role and What's to Come for the Gladiators

by Maureen Ryan, posted Jan 9th 2011 12:15PM
Though lead actor Andy Whitfield had to leave 'Spartacus' for health reasons last year and the drama's title role is being recast, the gladiator's journey is far from over.

On Friday, Starz president Chris Albrecht told journalists at the Television Critics Association press tour that the network had definitely decided to go forward with a second full season of 'Spartacus.' In an interview later that day, Albrecht said a new lead actor for the drama would be announced in "weeks" and the second season of 'Spartacus' would probably arrive in early 2012.

There are a "couple of very strong candidates" for the role of Spartacus, and season 2 should begin production in New Zealand in April, creator Steven S. DeKnight said in a Friday interview. But DeKnight added that the 'Spartacus' producers and Starz executives weren't always sure they'd go forward without Whitfield, who brought gravity and heart to the role of the famous warrior.

"It's unheard of to recast your titular character in a television show, and we did a lot of soul searching about whether we even wanted to try," DeKnight said. "And then Andy said, 'I really think the show should go forward without me. I give you the blessing. I want this story told.'"

Of course, fans won't have to wait a year to see the House of Batiatus gladiators again. 'Spartacus: Gods of the Arena,' a six-episode prequel season which does not feature Whitfield and which was filmed last year, debuts on Starz Jan. 21.

The prequel season focuses on the adventures of an arrogant young gladiator, Gannicus (Dustin Clare) and the struggles of the newly married Batiatus (John Hannah) and Lucretia (Lucy Lawless). Characters such as Ashur (Nick Tarabay), Crixus (Manu Bennett) and Doctore (Peter Mensah) -- all fan favorites from season 1 -- will also appear in the prequel season. Viewers will come to see how these men came to be part of Batiatus' ludus, or gladiator school, and the roots of Batiatus' fierce ambitions will be explored as well. (DeKnight talked about the prequel season in this clip as well.)

"I think the prequel will actually help that transition [from Whitfield to a new actor playing Spartacus], because it's six episodes without Spartacus, without Andy," DeKnight said.

The prequel season, which is set five years before the events of 'Spartacus: Blood and Sand,' is a chance "to give people a chance to feel what the show would be like with Andy's absence. I wish nothing more than [to have Andy back]. Andy was such a great find. ...Andy had everything we were looking for, and a lot of things we didn't know we needed."

Whitfield, who is battling a recurrence of cancer, had hoped to return for the second season of the show, but when that wasn't possible, the producers made the difficult decision to recast the role. The new actor will certainly have big sandals to fill.

"We're not trying to find an Andy clone," DeKnight noted. "We're trying to find someone who embodies everything that we think the character needs, which is that feeling of manliness and authority, but also deep compassion and sympathy. That's what we're looking for, and it's a tall order to fill. I'm sure it's going to take the audience a few episodes to get behind anybody we cast."

Given that the second season will have entirely new settings and many new characters, it "was always going to be a creative challenge for the show, even with Andy," Albrecht said. "And it was one of the big things that made us think long and hard about continuing, because [there are] all these creative challenges, and a new guy playing the title role. Not just the lead role, but the title role."

Closer to the premiere of the six-episode prequel season, I'll have more from not only DeKnight but cast members John Hannah and Peter Mensah. In the rest of this post, I'll focus on what DeKnight and Albrecht said about the second full season of 'Spartacus,' the one that goes into production in a few months. From here out, I'll assume you've seen season 1 of 'Spartacus.' If you have not seen it, be aware that plot points from the first season are mentioned below.

My main question for Albrecht was this: Did the network give the 'Spartacus' producers more money for the show's second season? Given that season 2 will chronicle the adventures of Spartacus and his band of rebel slaves, all of whom will be on the run from the Roman authorities, the next season will clearly have a wider scope and more locations. As DeKnight himself said, it is a "massively epic story."

"I think one of the great challenges and opportunities for the show is that the visual style of the show is going to continue to evolve in order to be able to incorporate the journey the characters literally have to take," Albrecht said. "So yes, we gave them more money, but they deserved it."

And they'll be putting it to good use, DeKnight added.

"It's a big-sky story. ...We're not inside anymore," said DeKnight, who added that four scripts for the new season were already completed. "Obviously we'll have interior sets -- all shows need them. But it's a group of very angry gladiators and slaves on the loose. ... I think we've been able to retain all of the intrigue and romance and emotion of season 1, but we've just opened it up so much more."

Though the show garnered a loyal fan base throughout the course of season 1 and 'Spartacus: Blood and Sand' turned out to be a hit by Starz's standards, critical reaction was mixed at best. The show did have a rocky patch at the start of its first season, but those who stuck with 'Spartacus' as it moved past those growing pains were rewarded with an enthralling, edge-of-your-seat ride. And though it took advantage of the fact that pay-cable networks have no restrictions on content, the drama was far from an excuse to show naked bodies and slow-motion bloodbaths. Woven into the core of 'Spartacus' were very relatable themes about love, ambition, loyalty and the quest for human connection.

The second season, and, for that matter, the prequel season, will offer more of the same, DeKnight said.

"For me, this story is all about relationships," DeKnight said. "For me, if you look at season 1, it's all about love. Lucretia and Batiatus love each other. They may not always do the right thing, but they love each other. Crixus -- his whole world opens up because he falls in love with someone. Barca loves Pietros. Varro loves his wife. And of course, very importantly, Spartacus loves his wife. It's all about love and finding love and finding a human connection. Even between the men. A large part of season 1 is Crixus and Spartacus finding common ground. So you have all the sex and the violence and the language, which, don't get me wrong, I enjoy and I enjoy writing. But at the end of the day, for me, it's about relationships."

Look for more from the cast and creator of 'Spartacus: Gods of the Arena' before its premiere Jan. 21.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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Well, I want to share one thing is that, 'Say not in grief ' he is no more' but live in thankfulness that he was' - Hebrew proverb.

September 23 2011 at 12:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

fantastic show can not wait til the next season begins,love the era of the roman empire and the gladiators, loved Andy as well and yet manu bennett does a great job. The entire cast is fantastic.

March 12 2011 at 9:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Blaine Tezim

No Whitfield = No Watch. The prequel is cool, but I'm not watching another actor play Spartacus in season 2.

January 16 2011 at 9:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Isaiah Bradford III

Yeah I've been catching up on the show via repeats and I like it so far. Although I gotta say, "Hey fellas, I've got one too, don't need to see yours all the time." =)

Other than that, it's sad that the original Spartacus is ill, but I wish him a speedy and full recovery. I'll check out the prequel series as well as season 2.

January 14 2011 at 2:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I thought the finale of Season 1 was so good that it made sense to end the series right there. Hearing that Whitfield is ill and cannot come back to the role clinches that for me. I don't think I'll be watching the prequel, though I 'm sure I'll check in to see how they try to handle season 2.

January 13 2011 at 12:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thanks, Mo.
I'll be honest. It's gonna be very hard for me to accept another actor. If not impossible. The character isn't exactly Darrin Stephens, you know. All I know is the new guy has HUGE shoes to fill.

I love the show, so will give him a shot.

January 10 2011 at 8:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Losing Andy is sad beyond words. The ensemble acting was astounding, but Whitfield brought both dignity and humanity to the role and he is breathtakingly handsome. He is not irreplaceable, but he is a mighty tough act to follow. We wish him well in his personal battle; may he emerge as victorious as did Spartacus in his season I gladiator encounters.

January 10 2011 at 6:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I don't care who plays Spartacus. I watched the series because of the outstanding cast. not just one guy.
I will enjoy the prequel. after that we will see. since we lost a lot of good characters, at the end of the 1st season.

January 10 2011 at 2:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Mo, what do you think? Can they successfully replace the lead character at this point in the story? Will it help/hurt the series that there is going to be such a long lag between seasons? I'm not counting Gods of the Arena since it's really a prequel.

January 10 2011 at 1:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I hope Andy gets better. Season One was fantastic to see this too. As Netflix. I can not see Ilythia Drop, hope they make season 2 so you can participate. just done a marathon two days of the season 01. I am ready. I still want Andy Spartacus.

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January 10 2011 at 5:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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