In Part Two of our exclusive interview, SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA creator/showrunner Steven S. DeKnight talks about casting, nudity, sword fights, working around the illness of leading man Andy Whitfield and more. The limited series airs Friday nights on Starz.
ASSIGNMENT X: When you first conceived of doing SPARTACUS, were any of the characters written with any specific performers in mind?
DeKNIGHT: No, we figured out the characters and then the actors came in [to audition]. Often we’d have a preconceived idea of who that character is physically, and an actor would come in with a look that we hadn’t considered, but he just really nailed the character.
AX: How did you wind up casting Lucy Lawless, who is married to your fellow executive producer Robert Tapert, in the leading role of Lucretia?
DeKNIGHT: I saw her work on BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, which I thought was wonderful. So my only concern was asking Rob, “Hey, how do you feel about your wife being on the show completely naked in all these crazy situations?” [laughs] I was planning on broaching that subject later on, when we started to cast the role. Then he called me up one day and said, “Hey, what do you think about my wife for the part?” And I said, “Oh, I think she’s perfect!” I was thrilled to have her. I think the depth of her acting and her skill in this series, it’s just stunning. She is so good in this.
AX: Lucy Lawless is still famous for XENA and Peter Mensah, who plays Doctore/Oenomaus was seen by a lot of people being on the receiving end of that “This is Sparta!” kick in 300. Do you have any concerns that putting them in certain situations might at least tap on the fourth wall?
DeKNIGHT: You know, honestly, from our point of view, no. We just wanted the best people for the job and we thought they were hands-down the best people for the job. For example, Peter, who is fantastic in the role as Doctore the trainer, we didn’t want to veer away from him just because he had another role. We don’t have him kicking anybody into a hole. We definitely don’t want to replay classic moments like that. And Lucy will never throw anything circular and sharp, definitely not like that, but it’s outside of what these characters actually do anyway.
AX: Might you do a cameo at any point?
DeKNIGHT: Tattooing really didn’t come into heavy existence until much later in Roman history [DeKnight has extensive sleeve tattoos on both arms], so as Rob has often said, if I do a cameo, it will be as a burn victim. We have other actors that have tattoos. Nick Tarabay, for example, who was on CRASH, he’s on our show, and he has a large tattoo that, when you see the show, it’s a big burn, because we had to cover it up for the time period.
AX: In terms of the nudity, did any of the actors have qualms about that aspect of their roles?
DeKNIGHT: Everybody’s different. We’ll have the exact same difficulty sometimes with actresses as we do with male actors. Sometimes you have an actor who has absolutely no problems. We have actors on the set who will strip down completely naked – they’re not even on camera, they’re just zip and it’s off. And other times, it’s a little more delicate and tricky. Everybody’s different. Some people are very comfortable being completely naked in front of forty people on a set and some people aren’t.
AX: Do you get to do anything in terms of storytelling that you didn’t expect to get to do by going backwards five years?
DeKNIGHT: Oh, yeah. There are a lot of little things that I dropped hints of in Season One. John Hannah and his father, Oenomaus and his wife, a lot of little things like how did Asher become the guy he was – he said he used to be a gladiator – how did Crixus get there and start his rise, and all these stories. I was planning a flashback maybe here and there or someone talking about it, but it was so much better to be able to do it in one big story, so you can really see it happen.
AX: Since GODS OF THE ARENA is set a little bit further back from the fall of Rome, are things going a little bit better for the slave owners at this time?
DeKNIGHT: Not at all. Not at all.
AX: So everything’s just as screwed up for everyone as it is in SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND?
DeKNIGHT: It’s screwed up in different ways. Yes.
AX: Anything else you’d like to say about SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA?
DeKNIGHT: It’s going to surprise and delight people. It’s going to be a great mix of bringing the audience back to a world they know and just expanding it. For anybody who liked Season One, you’ll love the prequel, and for people who haven’t seen SPARTACUS yet, the prequel’s a great way to start.
CLICK HERE for our exclusive interview with JOHN HANNAH
CLICK HERE for Part 1 of ASSIGNMENT X’s exclusive interview with GODS OF THE ARENA creator Steven S. DeKnight
CLICK HERE for Part 3 of ASSIGNMENT X’s exclusive interview with SPARTACUS creator Steven S. DeKnight as he talks about what Season Two of the series will be
CLICK HERE for ASSIGNMENT X’s exclusive interview with GODS OF THE ARENA star LUCY LAWLESS
CLICK HERE for ASSIGNMENT X’s reviews of SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA and more news