TCA Tour: Spartacus: Blood and Sand

Although the new Starz series, “Spartacus: Blood and Sand,” may involve a lot of guys and gals running around and committing all sorts of swordplay, you should in no way take the fact that it’s executive produced by Robert G. Tapert to indicate that it will in any way resemble earlier Tapert productions like, say, “Hercules” or “Xena.” I mean, heck, if the warrior princess herself doesn’t see any similarities, then anything you think you’ve spotted is strictly a case of looking too hard to find something that isn’t there.

“It’s totally different to me,” said Lucy Lawless, who plays Lucretia on the show. “Completely different, tonally. The fighting, the technology, everything has changed so much. I don’t recognize the fights at all. The way they do them is foreign to me.”

At the very least, there’s one element inherent to Lawless’s new gig that, for better or worse, her former series did not possess: lots and lots of sex. Despite the incredibly graphic nature of the intercourse, Stephen K. DeKnight – creator of “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” – does not seem to be overly concerned about how audiences will react.

“Well, who doesn’t like sex?” he asks, quite rhetorically. “I mean, seriously, I think we’re all sexual beings, and back in the Roman times, it was a completely different idea about sex. It was much more open and free, and it was pre-Christian constraints. So we wanted to explore all that, quite frankly. It was very common to have sex with your slaves. It was extremely common. So we wanted to explore that, too. And part and parcel is the sensuality of the human experience, and we certainly didn’t want to shy away from that. Is it graphic? I personally don’t think it’s that graphic, but that’s me. I think it’s beautifully shot. There are some very steamy things. You know, it’s not pornographic in any way, and the sex scenes almost always come from a place of character. There’s always something going on. It’s not just ‘cue the funky music,’ and they start having sex. It’s not that. Somebody is always angling. It’s always about power. It’s always about love. It’s always about loss. Every sex scene has a purpose. It’s not just sex for sex’s sake.”

DeKnight described the series’ two distinct sides – one sexual, one violent – as going together like chocolate and peanut butter, and while he may have been kidding a bit with his Reese’s-inspired comparison, there’s a certain logic to his position. “It’s a violent time,” he said of the show’s era. “Much like their views on sex, the Roman views at the time on violence was you did not shy away from blood. Blood and death, it was part of being Roman. You embraced it. You liked to watch it. And also, just the sex and violence is part of the show, but if you’ve seen the first four or five, the plot lines become incredibly intricate. We really play with the idea that everybody wants something, everybody is after something, and everybody is against everybody else. Everyone is maneuvering, and it becomes very complicated and messy, and out of that comes blood…and often sex.”

Well, fair enough, then.

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2009: A Year’s Worth of Interviews – The Top 100 Quotes

Some people think that the life of a work-at-home entertainment writer is one of the most lax jobs out there, since the perception is generally is that all you do is sit around and watch DVDs, occasionally venture out of the house to see movies or concerts, and then sit in front of the computer and write about them. Okay, it’s a fair cop. But when you throw interviews into the mix, there’s a bit more work involved. First, you’ve got to get the interview (they aren’t always handed to you on a silver platter), then you’ve got to do the research to make sure that you can ask some halfway knowledgeable questions, and after you conduct the interview, let’s not forget that you’ve got to transcribe it, too. In other words, yes, there really is work involved…and when I went back and discovered that I’d done well over 130 interviews during the course of 2009, I suddenly realized why I’m so tired all the time.

For your reading enjoyment, I’ve pulled together a list of 100 of my favorite quotes from the various interviews I conducted for Premium Hollywood, Bullz-Eye, Popdose, and The Virginian-Pilot this year, along with the links to the original pieces where available. As you can see, I had some extremely interesting conversations in 2009. Let us all keep our fingers crossed that I’m able to chat with just as many fascinating individuals in 2010…

1. Pamela Adlon: “In the first season (of ‘Californication’), when we had the threesome with the nipple clamps, I was, like, ‘I don’t get this, I don’t know how you’re gonna do it.’ And then, all of a sudden, there’s a crane with a camera hanging over our heads, and you’re, like, ‘Okayyyyyyy. But how are you gonna sell this? How are you gonna make it work?’ And they ended up shooting it brilliantly, cutting it together, and it just all ended up working without me having to compromise my own personal morals.”

2. Jonathan Ames: “After my first novel, my mother said to me, ‘Why don’t you make your writing more funny? You’re so funny in person.’ Because my first novel was rather dark. And I don’t know, but something about what she said was true. ‘Yes, why don’t I?’ Maybe I was afraid to be funny in the writing. But since then, seven books later, almost everything I’ve done has a comedic edge to it.”

3. Ed Asner: “I loved journalism until the day my journalism teacher, a man I revered, came by my desk and said, ‘Are you planning on going into journalism?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘I wouldn’t.’ I said, ‘Well, why not?’ He said, ‘You can’t make a living.’”

4. Sean Astin: “When somebody brings up a movie (of mine) that I haven’t heard about in a long time, I feel like a 70-year-old pitcher at a bar somewhere, and somebody walks in and says, ‘Oh, my God, I was in St. Louis and I saw you. You pitched a shutout.’ It’s real. I really did do that, because someone today remembers it.”

5. Darryl Bell: “The legend of ‘Homeboys in Outer Space’ has become much more incendiary than the actual show. It’s funny how I usually challenge most people who talk about how much they disliked ‘Homeboys’ to name me five episodes. Most of them can’t, because they just bought into the ‘oh, it’s awful, just the title. Oh, it’s terrible.’ What’s interesting is that I had a great conversation with Chi McBride, who was doing ‘The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer,’ which, if you want to talk about in terms of the imagery of what was wrong, that show was much more infamous than ‘Homeboys.’ Yet it’s not remembered in the same way because the title didn’t grab you in the same way. I remember Chi pulled me aside and he was, like, ‘Look, everyone who is criticizing what you’re doing would take your job from you in two seconds. All of them. So all I can tell you is that this is one blip on both of our careers, and we are moving on.’”

6. Adam Campbell: “For some reason, people always pick on the British sensibility, and we always come across as stupid, but remember: we used to run this country!”

7. Nestor Carbonell: “Let me make this perfectly clear: I do not wear make-up, and I do not wear eye-liner. This is something I’ve had to deal with my whole life. I remember I was in college in Boston, I had a commercial agent, and they sent me out for some print commercial stuff. And they called me into the office and said, ‘Look, we called you in to talk to you because we just want you to know that…well, we don’t think you need to wear eyeliner.’ And I’m, like, ‘What?’ ‘Yeah, it’s okay, you don’t have to wear it for print ads.’ ‘No, I’m not wearing eyeliner!’ And I kept dabbing my eyes and saying, ‘Look! No eyeliner! I’m not wearing any!’”

8. Elaine Cassidy: “The last two days of shooting (‘Harper’s Island’) was probably the most hardcore, the coldest anyone has ever been. It was like your head was freezing, and my motivation for most scenes was, ‘The minute this scene is over, I’m heading straight over to that heater to get warm.’”

9. Chris Cornell: “I started as a drummer, so I sort of took on singing duties by default. I had sung backgrounds and some lead vocals from behind the drums in different bands that I’d been in, and I’d gotten great responses for the songs I would sing. I really started pursuing the possibility of being a lead singer based on the fact that I was working a full-time restaurant job and then playing gigs at night, hauling drums around. One day, it just dawned on me that, ‘Hey, I could be in a band and be the singer, and it would be a lot easier!’”

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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.

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Battlestar Galactica: What the frak happened in the series finale?

I thought about posting last night, but I’ve gotten into a rhythm this season with letting the episode marinate in my brain overnight and then posting on Saturday morning. I know a lot of people TiVo shows nowadays (myself included) and end up watching the episode later that night, the next day or the next week, so there isn’t a huge rush to get something up.

Was it a great finale? Absolutely. Was I blown away? Not entirely.

Let’s start at the beginning (which is always a good place to start) — more flashbacks of life on Caprica. Bill is thinking about retiring and entering the private sector, Roslin has a blind date with a former student, Lee gets to know Kara. Great, let’s move on.

Back in the future, Baltar’s vision tells him that he will “take mankind’s remnants and guide them to their end.” Last week, after watching him struggle with the decision in the hanger, I wondered whether or not Gaius would in fact volunteer to go along with the rescue mission. The truth is that it should have been obvious that he would. Creator Ronald D. Moore wasn’t about to take one of the main players out of the game in crunch time.

After an emotional scene between Roslin and Doc Coddle, Laura had a great line:

“Don’t spoil your image. Just light a cigarette and go and grumble.”

Then the planning began for the assault on the colony — that’s when the episode really got going. The final four move Sam to the CIC (more on this later) and Galactica prepares to jump.

Like just about every battle scene in the entire series, this one rocked. Galactica jumps in and immediately starts to get pummeled by the colony’s weapons. After the terrific rescue mission on New Caprica, the show had a lot to live up to, and once the birds were away and Bill ordered his crew to ram the colony, Moore and Co. had cleared the bar. It was very cool to see Lee leading a group of Centurions into the colony. Even when they’re on “our” side, they still scare the ever-loving crap out of me.

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Battlestar Galactica: Daybreak

The name of this episode was “Daybreak,” so it’s not surprising that the fleet turned a corner of sorts this week. Specifically, Bill finished mourning for the Galactica and made a major decision — that he would lead a rescue mission for Hera. This started when he saw that picture of Hera and Athena was left on the Galactica bulletin board, and I think he took it as a sign that he had to do something. We didn’t see Sam provide the location of the colony, but that’s the assumption.

I’m not clear on why we spent much of the episode back in Caprica City before the attack. The first scene was with Bill talking to someone about something that he did not want to do. After just meeting Gaius, Caprica Six met his elderly dad. She set him up in a nursing home, so maybe that’s how she earned Gaius’s trust, eventually leading to his betrayal of his fellow humans. We saw Kara and Lee’s first meeting, though she was his brother’s girlfriend at the time. And then there was Roslin — after losing her entire family in a car accident, she had a bit of a mental breakdown.

One of the last flashbacks was of a drunk Lee having an encounter with a pigeon.

What’s the point?

I have no idea.

Back in the present, Kara continues to work on the meaning of her song, even trying to turn it into some mathematical formula, but she’s not having much luck. Gaius pleads with Lee to give his “people” representation in the government and Lee asks him if he’s ever made a single selfless act in his life. Later on, when Bill asks for volunteers, it looks for a moment that Gaius is conflicted and may join them, but when we cut to the final shot of the hanger, I didn’t see where he was. My guess is that he’s ultimately going to stick with the fleet.

That’s about it. Not a whole hell of a lot happened this week, save for Bill’s decision to go after Hera. Based on the reconnaissance, it’s going to be tough to get close to the colony…

Next week should be interesting.

  

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