SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE, which premieres tonight on Starz at 10 PM, is actually the second season of the SPARTACUS series, even though it’s the third year of the show. Series creator and executive producer Steven S. DeKnight understands how this might cause some head-scratching.
In 2010’s SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND, Andy Whitfield starred as the famous historical figure. The season followed him through his early days of being enslaved, being trained as a gladiator and finally leading a revolt at the Ludus (gladiator training camp) that left its owner Batiatus (John Hannah) definitively dead and Batiatus’ pregnant wife Lucretia, played by Lucy Lawless, probably mortally wounded but still twitching.
Sadly, while Season Two was being planned, Whitfield was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Waiting for Whitfield to return to the show after he underwent treatment, the SPARTACUS company decided to do SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA, a prequel season of six episodes, which ran in 2011, showing the earlier days of Lucretia and Batiatus and introducing Dustin Clare as Gannicus, a fighter who later figures into Spartacus’ story.
Then Whitfield’s remission ended and it became unhappily clear that his health would not allow him to return to the series. Whitfield passed away on September 11, 2011, but gave his blessing to his SPARTACUS colleagues to recast the role and continue making the show. SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE went forward with Liam McIntyre as Spartacus.
DeKnight understands how the fractured timeline can lead to mix-ups. “VENGEANCE is actually Season Two,” he explains. “It confuses everybody.”
Between them, DeKnight and Lawless have enough genre street cred to give rise to a two-person convention. Lawless in fact will be at a Creation Convention in Burbank this weekend honoring her indelible title character in XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS; she also played the Cylon D’Anna in BATTLESTAR GALACTICA.
DeKnight has been a writer, producer and director on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, ANGEL and SMALLVILLE. They tease each other often during a private interview during the Television Critics Association press tour at the Langham Hotel inPasadena.
DeKnight’s fellow executive producer and Lawless’ husband Robert Tapert is just around the corner, giving interviews of his own
ASSIGNMENT X: If you weren’t going into Season Two, would you have liked to extend GODS OF THE ARENA?
STEVE DeKNIGHT: When I first suggested the idea of the prequel, I suggested a two-hour movie to keep the show alive, but it really didn’t help anybody, and then Rob suggested four hours, and that didn’t quite work with the writing, it wasn’t long enough for a convoluted story, and it was too long for a nice short story, and then Starz wanted to do six episodes, and that was just right. I think any longer, GODS OF THE ARENA wouldn’t have worked, and any shorter, it wouldn’t have worked.
AX: In SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA, you had the bookend sequences that began and ended with the events at the end of Season One, so when does VENGEANCE, Season Two, start in terms of the story?
DeKNIGHT: Somewhere six to eight weeks after the breakout in Season One.
AX: Is that enough time for Lucretia to have recovered from being nearly killed, or is she still recovering?
LUCY LAWLESS: Evidently she is not fully recovered. We find her when she’s in quite a state. I loved [acting] it, but I got a little bit lost inside myself [laughs], so it was an uncomfortable two weeks of actual madness.
DeKNIGHT: Rob must have loved that.
LAWLESS: Oh, he didn’t notice.
LAWLESS: I just had no reference, so I did way too much research that I don’t know was particularly helpful, because I lost my bearings a little. I needed somebody else to take the reins at times – the director being the one to have the taste of how to play this thing. He reined me in.
AX: Now, because Lucretia didn’t run off with Spartacus et al –
LAWLESS: I wasn’t invited, okay?
AX: Can you tease at all how she’s worked back into the story and how much of a challenge was it to work her back into the story?
DeKNIGHT: It worked really organically. Lucretia originally was supposed to die at the end of Season One. We loved the character so much that Starz asked, “Is there any way to bring her back?” And Rob called me up and said, “Starz would really like to bring Lucy back.” I said, “So would I – but she has to die! There’s no way to bring her back!” Rob said, “Okay.” And that night, I had an idea and I called Rob the next morning: “I’ve got an idea of how to bring Lucy back that I think is really, really juicy.” And it was really down to the wire. That’s why we filmed it both ways at the end of Season One, one where she’s twitching and one where she’s clearly dead, because we weren’t really sure at that time which way we were going to go. It was actually very natural. She basically never leaves the Ludus. That’s where we find her when we come back and I don’t think it’s giving a lot away that we re-use Batiatus’ Ludus in a different way this season and she’s part and parcel with the Ludus.
AX: How is Liam McIntyre different from the late Andy Whitfield in playing Spartacus?
DeKNIGHT: With Liam, we were looking for someone to fill those sandals. We weren’t looking for an Andy clone, because quite frankly, nobody could replace Andy. He was such a singular talent. We were looking for somebody that had similar qualities. And what was great about Andy is that he had this quality of compassion that was really important for the character. When we were auditioning people, one of the things we told the casting directors is, “Spartacus may go into a mad rage and kill everybody, but it’s not from a place of anger, it’s from a place of a wounded heart,” and that kind of pain and compassion is what we were looking for, and that’s what Liam had in his auditions. And then there was a lot of talk about, should we write Spartacus specifically for Liam, should we change the way we’re writing him? And we decided, no, we’ll write Spartacus as Spartacus, and Liam will bring his own [qualities].
LAWLESS: Liam has a leadership quality that I think is really important to Spartacus now that he’s out on the road and he’s got to bring all these disparate peoples together as an army. Liam is very outgoing in that way, so I think his strengths play really well to the requirements of the role.
AX: Besides recuperating from her injuries, how is Lucretia different than we’ve seen her before?
LAWLESS: She’s a kinder, gentler Lucretia [laughs]. She wants everyone to love her, because they’d better, because something bad’s going to happen if she doesn’t find a friend, and quick. Fortunately,Olympia’s around, and she should be an easy mark. [Lucretia] does find a little friend, somebody she’s never paid much attention to before, and he falls in love with her. By the end of the season, all Lucretia’s dreams will come true.
AX: With Lucretia’s injury, does this mean you’re not doing as much skin-baring as in the other seasons, or are you baring the injury?
LAWLESS: Oh, the poke in the tummy. I guess I’m baring the injury, is the answer to that question. I think I did have some weird makeup on.
AX: Does that help you play it, or is that like, “Get this horrible sticky thing off of me”?
LAWLESS: I love it. In fact, I wore my scars home.
AX: Had you done any research to play Lucretia at the beginning, in Season One?
LAWLESS: That’s [DeKnight’s] job, he does that. And the costume does it. All the work that the designers do to make things authentic and also beautiful and suit your frame – when the wig goes on, the character just emerges out of me and it’s in the script, so between all of their hard work, all I have to do is just expand to fit it, I guess, and it’s a beautiful thing.
AX: So you hadn’t written a big back story in your mind for Lucretia that you got to act out in GODS OF THE ARENA?
LAWLESS: In the first two episodes of Season One, Lucretia was really a minor player, so I made up all sorts of stuff that didn’t at all fit with where they were going with her [laughs], so I had to immediately dump it. But that’s what you do for auditions, you just make up stuff to try to make it real.
AX: Can you say what you invented?
LAWLESS: No, I can’t even remember. I always make my characters much more important [laughs] – huge, vital back story and it turns out to be a waste of time.
AX: As a writer, did you mentally do back story for your first season and then put the back story into the prequel season, or did you wind up doing something completely different?
DeKNIGHT: If you look at the first season, there are a lot of little things in there that I’d always planned on, eventually throughout the series, to address, little things like Oenomaus [Peter Mensah] mentioning that he had a wife, and she’s dead. And Batiatus a couple of times mentions his father. And I’d always planned on filling that out at some point. Not to the extent that GODS OF THE ARENA [did]. So yeah, there were little things laid in. And that’s something when I was working with Joss Whedon that he would always do, is he would reference something that happened three seasons ago.
LAWLESS: And fans love that.
DeKNIGHT: Yeah. The network hated it when I was on BUFFY, because their opinion was, “Well, nobody’s going to get that.” Joss always felt like, for the people that did get it, it’s great. For the people who don’t get it, it doesn’t matter – the story still works. So GODS OF THE ARENA was this odd opportunity to really explore those things that we were going to [only] explain in dialogue. The greatest thing about that was being able to really explore Batiatus and his father. When we were originally talking about that in GODS OF THE ARENA, Batiatus was going to kill his father. And then we thought, “Eh, that’s kind of standard, what if Lucretia kills him?” And it just felt so much better, and that Batiatus never really knows what happened.
AX: Going forward, in VENGEANCE, are we going to see little things from the prequel and from Season One that will factor in?
DeKNIGHT: Yes, absolutely. There will be things that wrap around. And the other thing about GODS OF THE ARENA – we really didn’t want it to be just this standalone island of the story. We wanted it to bridge Season One and Season Two. And Gannicus goes a long way to accomplishing that. He is back, in a very unexpected way. That was always the plan. We had always planned to eventually introduce Gannicus, [as he is] an historical character. When we did the prequel, we decided this was a great opportunity to lay him in even earlier and really tie the whole story together.
LAWLESS: Of course, that was six of the best hours of television ever. Amazing – they had to pull it together so quickly and write something so complete and the complexity of the interwoven [storylines] were unbelievable.
AX: John Hannah’s character Batiatus is dead, but might we be seeing him in flashbacks or dreams?
DeKNIGHT: Not this season, unfortunately. I would love to. He’s so fantastic on the show. We resurrected him from the dead for six fantastic episodes.
LAWLESS: He’s the working-est actor in the world, so it would be hard to organize anyway. We’ve missed him a lot. But there you go.
AX: So if he’s said, “I have a free week,” you’d write Lucretia has a dream or Spartacus has a dream or Gannicus has a dream …
DeKNIGHT: If we hadn’t shot the whole thing already, yeah, but you never know in the next season. Spin-off!
AX: In making VENGEANCE, have your responsibilities as executive producer changed at all?
DeKNIGHT: Just the same. It was a bit of a weird season, because we had started writing Season Two when we found out that Andy had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, so we had to stop writing Season Two, and then we wrote GODS OF THE ARENA to give him a chance to recover, and we were just starting to work on Season Two again when we found out, unfortunately, his cancer had returned. So it was this odd shifting back and forth on the writing side, and by the time we came back to [VENGEANCE] after GODS OF THE ARENA, we took a look at a lot of stuff we had done and we decided to throw out episode two, move some stuff around. So it was a much longer process, but the responsibilities of everything were still the same. We write it here and poor Rob Tapert has to figure out how to shoot it in New Zealand [laughs].
AX: Are you relying on as much CG this year as you have in the past, or are you going outside the soundstage a little more and shooting the landscape?
DeKNIGHT: There’s more in this season than in VENGEANCE, because we do go outside of the Ludus, so there is a bigger canvas.
LAWLESS: And it’s astonishing. It’s really rich, the experience – it’s a very rewarding show to watch. Visually, they’re just pouring so much into it. This season is bigger than ever.
AX: Any plot hints you can divulge?
LAWLESS: Spartacus has a love match. [laughs] Sadly, it’s not me. He’s not the lower-class gentleman I’ve taken up with. Gannicus comes back, of course. Actually, we have some wonderful new characters.
DeKNIGHT: Yes. As Spartacus tries to grow his army, they liberate some slaves that are some very interesting characters.
AX: Obviously, you are now experienced with shooting in New Zealand and Rob Tapert is even more so, but has your experience of writing in Los Angeles and having production over there gotten any easier?
DeKNIGHT: Luckily, I had a similar experience on SMALLVILLE, since we wrote here and shot in Vancouver, so it’s always a bit of a game of telephone, but with Rob down there [in New Zealand], I can sleep easy, because I know we write it and put it on the page, and then we see it, and it’s like, “Well, that’s ten times better than I thought it would be.” So it’s a great partnership, and this show would not be the show it is without Rob’s work there and the team down inNew Zealand, which is an incredible team.
AX: As far as your overarching plan for SPARTACUS, do you know how many seasons it’s going to take you to tell the story that you have planned?
DeKNIGHT: You know, we always said five to seven. Things that have happened kind of affected that, so right now, we’re not really sure. The most important thing to us is that we don’t ever want to overstay our welcome. It’s also kind of a unique situation, because there is an endgame in history. We know where we have to get to, so we can’t just keep treading water. So we’re not a hundred percent sure yet. We’ve been discussing a possible end date. The most important thing for us is that we want to go out strong.
AX: And is there anything else you would like to say about SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE?
LAWLESS: Lots of surprises. But Lucretia ends up a winner.
DeKNIGHT: It’s epic, it’s gigantic.
AX: Do either of you have any other projects we should know about?
LAWLESS: I am going to work on Jane Campion’s TOP OF THE LAKE [feature film] in New Zealand with Holly Hunter and Elisabeth Moss. I’m excited about that, a chance to work with an auteur director. Whoo-hoo!
DeKNIGHT: I’m developing a new show for Starz that I can’t say absolutely anything about.
LAWLESS: But it is not going to take any time away from the writing of SPARTACUS.
DeKNIGHT: Not at all. SPARTACUS is Job One.
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Click On Link: Andy Whitfield – In Memorium
Click on Link: Exclusive Photos from the SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE premiere
Click on Link: For Lucy Lawless talks about SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE
Click on Link: AX’s exclusive interview with SPARTACUS star PETER MENSAH
Click on Link: Part 1 of ASSIGNMENT X’s exclusive interview with GODS OF THE ARENA creator Steven S. DeKnight
Click on Link: Part 2 of ASSIGNMENT X’s exclusive interview with SPARTACUS creator Steven S. DeKnight
Click on Link: 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 on Link: ASSIGNMENT X’s exclusive interview with GODS OF THE ARENA star LUCY LAWLESS
Click on Link: ASSIGNMENT X’s exclusive interview with GODS OF THE ARENA star LUCY LAWLESS
Click on Link: ASSIGNMENT X’s reviews of SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA and more news
Article Source:Assignment X
Article: Exclusive Interview with SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE actress Lucy Lawless and creator Steven S. DeKnight