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.

The title character in the series is played by Andy Whitfield, a veritable newcomer who was picked from a casting process of considerable length. “We did an extensive search in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and Great Britain,” said DeKnight, “Andy was in L.A., and he came in and auditioned, and we auditioned the hell out of him. We brought him in multiple times because we just had to be really, really sure, and we always kept coming back to Andy. I mean, his audition was fantastic, and he just felt like the part. He just exudes what you want in a Spartacus.”

Not that the role didn’t still require a rather ridiculous amount of training and preparation. “It was kind of pretty brutal, actually,” said Whitfield. “The first, I think, two days after I got the job, I flew to New Zealand, and I was in gladiator boot camp, which is a month of four hours a day getting smashed to pieces by big stunt guys and learning how to fall and sword fighting and not eating anything, and it was really hard. And then you get to the end of that first month, and then they’re going to do an eight-and-a-half-month shoot where you have to stay in that shape.”

As gigs go, Whitfield could do a lot worse than having the title role of the series – talk about being guaranteed a certain amount of job security – but now that the series has been granted a second-season pick-up before even premiering, one wonders how long the story of Spartacus can be told. After all, the Stanley Kubrick film might be long, but it isn’t that long.

“Without getting into details, the plot continually thickens,” said DeKnight. “Obviously, we’re looking at a show that hopefully will go five, six, seven years. People know the basic story of Spartacus, (but) there’s a lot of interesting bits and pieces of that that people don’t know about that we want to explore, and we want to really take Spartacus the man from where we are starting in Season 1 and slowly open him up to the idea of trying to end slavery in the Roman Republic. It’s not an overnight process for him. That is not his main goal through the first couple of seasons. It’s something he comes around to, basically putting aside his own feelings and his own emotions of what he wants and giving over to the greater good.

“There is a message in the ‘Spartacus’ story, but it all depends on who is interpreting that message,” he continued. “The Russians who translated most of the scraps that were known about Spartacus had their own agenda about how they wanted to present that story, and that’s how you get a wonderful, wonderful book and movie that’s the Howard Fast novel and the Stanley Kubrick movie, but there was an agenda to that movie. I’m taking a very different tack. I always go the David E. Kelley path. The thing I love about David E. Kelley shows is that, when it gets down to the final argument and the prosecutor gets up and he finishes his argument, you say, ‘Well, yeah, of course.’ And then the defense attorney gets up and presents his argument, and you say, ‘Oh, I agree with him, too. I don’t know which one.’ So when we finally introduce Marcus Crassus…Laurence Olivier in the movie…we’re going to get a different view of slavery altogether.

“I want to really explore both views of slavery,” said DeKnight, “because, in a lot of ways, slavery in Rome was not the horrible, horrible thing that we think we know. A lot of slaves had their own homes. They had their own families. They were free to come and go. They were highly trained artisans. It was more like a job. It was more like working for a corporation, honestly. And that’s something we want to explore, too. So we always want to get both sides of the argument. It’s not just going to be, ‘Oh, my God, the Romans are horrible, and slavery is awful.’ There will be two sides to the argument. But will it ever be, ‘This is our message’?” No. We just want to tell a really, really great story.”