TCA Tour, Day 2: “Spartacus: Blood and Sand”

Back in January, I covered Starz’s panel on their upcoming series, “Spartacus,” and at that time, I freely acknowledged that I didn’t personally have much to say about the show because there wasn’t anything to see. I mean, nothing. All we had to work with were the assurances of the executive producers that it was going to be a hell of a show, which I responded to thusly:

Executive producer Rob Tapert describes it as “our reinterpretation of the famous Stanley Kubrick movie,” calling it “a hard-core, testosterone-driven action drama unlike anything on television right now” and “a totally R-rated, hard, hard show that still has all the things that you need in storylines but that delivers the action component that theatrical audiences expect from their entertainment.” Sounds great…but it would sound a lot more impressive if they actually had anything at all to show us or, indeed, had even cast Spartacus yet.

Well, it’s over six months later, and the premiere is “Spartacus” is still another six months away, but at least we’re finally making some headway. Hell, just hiring some actors would’ve been forward motion from where we were last time, but we actually got to see a clip from the show…and, better yet, it was a kick-ass, completely unedited version that had never been screened for anyone else. So suck it, Comic-Con!

First and foremost, Spartacus will be played by Andy Whitfield, an actor who’s virtually unknown outside of his native Australia (and, to look at his paltry list of credits, possibly isn’t even known very well when he’s at home), with Lucy Lawless and John Hannah playing the owners of a gladiator camp, and Peter Mensah serving as Doctore, a trainer of gladiators.

As you may already know, “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” is going to have a very unique look for television, though it’s similar in appearance and tone, not to mention subject matter, to a certain numerically-named film, a fact which executive producer Rob Tapert tackled headlong.

“Yes, ‘300’ had a particular look and style,” Tapert admitted. “Zack Snyder brought that hyper-realistic style to a period piece, you know. Certainly, ‘Sin City’ prior to that had been all digital backgrounds, and there’s other shows currently on television that have digital background, from ‘Blue’s Clues’ all the way through to ‘Sanctuary.’ So what ‘300’ did so well was make a great deal of money so everyone said, ‘Hey, the audience will accept that,’ and equally the drama played. So it was very easy to point to something and say, well, it worked in that style. Plus, having a digital environment and not having to have ultra-realistic backdrops and an arena like in ‘300,’ or in, like, ‘Gladiator,’ it allowed us to actually bring this to the screen. There was no way to do it without having the artifice, so to speak.”

As Tapert noted last year, this is a reinterpretation of the classic story presented within the 1960 Kubrick film, but there is most definitely a tribute to the man who played that version of Spartacus. At least, I think it’s a tribute.

At first, Tapert was hesitant to speak of it at all, but he finally relented and explained, “There’s a great deal of nudity, both male and female, and some guys are not as well-endowed as other guys, so we had to create the Kirk Douglas, as it was aptly named, so that certain actors would have a prosthetic that they could wear and feel comfortable. Someone lovingly called it the Kirk Douglas,
and the name stuck.”

“That was Erin Cummings, who plays Spartacus’s wife, Sura,” said Ms. Lawless. “She thought she should have the right to name it. That thing gets shared around, though. At the moment it’s pinned to the wall next to all the merkins* in the makeup truck.”

Say, Lucy, about this nudity thing: is that going to include you getting naked?

“I’m afraid so,” she sighed. “Sometimes.”

It hasn’t happened yet, though, and she admits, “I’m kind of praying that day never comes. It’s really stressful. I don’t like it.”

But enough about nudity. (Well, at least for a moment, anyway.) Given their obvious similarities, people have been wondering how “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” will compare to HBO’s “Rome,” specifically if there’ll be room for any drama amongst the action.

“There’s a lot of morality in it and a lot of struggle,” said producer Steven S. DeKnight. “It was a very, very harsh, violent time. Pre-Empire, still, gearing towards the last days of the republic, and every day was a struggle. We don’t get into so much classic Judeo-Christian religion. We do delve more into the religions at the time with the gods, and one of the fascinating things that I found out about with the gods…? It wasn’t worship like we consider worship at all. Most times how they worship is that they would pray for good fortune. It was really, you know, ‘What can you give us? And if you’re not giving me what I need, I must have done something wrong to offend you, so let’s do some sacrifices and clear that up.’ But it wasn’t praying for salvation like we think of it today at all.”

Lawless clarified the vision of the show further, and if I’m to be honest, her statements will probably tempt you more than DeKnight’s.

“There’s a lot of sex and violence in this,” she said. “They don’t run along the same morals as we have. What strikes me, having worked in this and dragging slaves around and behaving a sort of way towards them, is that it’s just a singular lack of empathy. Human beings are just chattel and all about stages, and if you’re at a lower stage, forget about it, I can kill you tomorrow and buy another two of you with my spare change. So it’s really amazing, the high stakes for every slave, every gladiator and even high status people. It’s shocking.”

What’s arguably even more shocking is the trailer to the show, which is filled with more than enough blood, sex, and action to get your pulse racing, and a level of violence that’s liable to leave the more squeamish viewers in a puddle on the floor.

“You know, the initial rollout is to get something out there,” said Tapert, “and Bill Hamm, to his credit convinced his bosses. What you would first say is that it’s a kind of an action show is nowhere on premium cable. Certainly, there are shows that have violence flare up, but what you would consider an action show is still not there. We know, as everybody here knows, that action is just a component that is a tool that allows you to have a resolution happen differently. You still have to have great drama, and so that’s really what’s hiding behind the initial push out there: ‘Hey, this is a show that has action, has blood, has sex, has all of those components that you don’t get on network television shown in a balletic and different way.’ But all of that is just the initial wave, behind which really good drama is awaiting.”

“Spartacus: Blood and Sand” premieres on Starz on January 22, 2010. Mark your calendars now.

* Merkin (mûr’kĭn), n. A pubic wig for women.

  

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