More than a month before Spartacus: Blood and Sand premiered on the Starz Network, it was renewed for a second season. I guess the executives knew how positively the public would respond to violence, gore, nudity and sex… and they were right.
The series features newcomer Andy Whitfield as the title character, a Thracian fighting to return to his wife after being sold into slavery at a gladiatorial school, run by the deceptive Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) and her power-hungry husband Batiatus (John Hannah).
Rob Talpert, who along with Sam Raimi produced the cult hit Xena: Warrior Princess (which also starred his wife, Lucy Lawless) spoke with us about his new venture into ancient Rome.
This series is such a different style from your other works. This show has so much in-studio special effects, what made you excited about doing it in this way?
Certainly in the world of features, this style has already come before with 300 and Sin City, where an audience would accept a more stylized world. Really the chance to bring it to the screen was due to Starz believing that this was something that an audience would tune in to see and buy into this universe that we’ve all created. So that was really the reason to do it, is the opportunity was there and Starz was willing to take that chance.
How encouraging was it for you that the second season was picked up before the first one even premiered?
That was a great vote of confidence from Starz, it’s wonderful. Because of how complicated the post-production is, in order to be on the air at the same time next year we actually had to get going.
We had the benefit of Chris Albrecht, when he came in, the first thing he did was he watched all 13 episode, and I think he must have liked what he saw because he came down and sat with us and said what he liked, and how can we keep all of the things that he liked in the pilot.
What is it about how technology has advanced that helped you with budget and creating spectacular images?
This is what you call a green-screen show. Every single episode has 600 shots in it. We never go outside. Everything that is a sky, that is a distant image, is a painting or a treated photograph or a plate shot that we’ve done. So it allows you to play with all the different layers of the image in order to make sure that the background and the foreground and the mid-grounds are all telling the same story and all merging in as one to create an overall feeling.
Were you looking to develop a property with international appeal?
There is no co-production partner. But what we found that was interesting in the casting process is that the idea that the modern audience has of ancient Roman is of course dead wrong, which is everybody speaks with a British accent. They spoke Italian or Latin, but we have been so trained in that, that when we saw people come in and do the parts speaking American, it felt too contemporary and not of that time. So that, in turn, informed how we ultimately did a lot of our casting.
Did you cast for body types or abilities?
No. Long ago, we learned everybody for something physical pretty much can be doubled. It’s great to see somebody in action who can really do it, but that wasn’t a prerequisite. I mean, when you are getting casting tapes of people, you usually get [a head shot] of them and their performance. No disgrace to Andy and his lovely body, but there are Mr Olympians with the physique of Conan, and that was never the purpose of the show.
We needed the guys who were strong, who were wiry, who could fight, and you could believe were in that role and had lived that very tough life. But in terms of the actual casting, no, that wasn’t it. We can always fill the background with stunt men.