Spartacus: Gods of the Arena - Poster
Poster key art © 2011 Starz Entertainment

With the illness of Andy Whitfield, the second season of Spartacus on Starz has been delayed. To keep fans of the series satisfied, the producers came up with a unique concept – to do a prequel.

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena explores the deadly history before the arrival of Spartacus, and the death he carried with him. Quintus Lentulus Batiatus (John Hannah) takes the reins of his father’s stable of gladiators, with ambitions to elevate the house beyond all former glories. With his beautiful, scheming wife Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) at his side, he will stop at nothing to see his name forever carved into history.

Also returning for the prequel is Peter Mensah, who plays Oenomaus, a gladiator who later joins forces with Spartacus in the series. I spoke with all three at the TV Critics Association

Having already gone through one season, how is it as actors, to tell a back story on characters that you may have already decided a back story on?

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena - John Hannah
Batiatus (John Hannah) © 2011 Starz Entertainment

John Hannah: Personally, I went through a lot of debate within myself about how to do that. Where you came from, whether you are bad to start with, or are you bad because of what you do, or do you do what you do because you are bad, and then you get the script and you just do that!

Lucy Lawless: It was a rare pleasure actually. That never happens where you get to go back and fill in blanks and actually find out more about your own character. It was a huge thrill for me. And you get to see our characters when they are in the honeymoon phase of their lives.

John Hannah: That was the honeymoon?

Lucy Lawless: That was it. That was all you get. Hey, come on. It was all right for you.

John Hannah: It was good. I guess it could have been worse.

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena - Peter Mensah
Oenonaus (Peter Mensah) © 2011 Starz Entertainment

Peter Mensah: [laughing at John and Lucy] This is what it’s like at work, by the way! It was really exciting. And it is something that’s really rare to actually get a chance to explain yourself. And this is pretty much what this gives us a chance to do, is go back, and for me, take a look at this man that is given all kinds of reason to be the way he was, and find out what Steven [DeKnight, the writer of the series] had set up in my past. I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t as much of a challenge as a pleasure to get back and take a look at how did I become the man everyone meets in Season One.

Lucy Lawless: Were you surprised?

Peter Mensah: Every script surprises me. But I was surprised more by the range of events that happened. There’s so many twists and turns in the story. And yes, it was a difficult thing to plan, because you never really know what Steven has in store for you. But I was really pleased the way it turned out.

Lucy Lawless: You really get to see a lot of Peter’s range. I thought you did a beautiful job in it, and you get to see a lot more of Doctore emotionally and more of his history.

Peter Mensah: Thank you.

Was there anything that you guys did to not just physically appear younger but getting back to a younger self in terms of attitude?

John Hannah: I just got the hair and the fuzzy lens.

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena - Lucy Lawless
Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) © 2011 Starz Entertainment

Lucy Lawless: They fixed us in post. That’s not a lie. But my character certainly was a bit more bright-eyed and bushy-tailed before her rotten college mate, Gaia, played by Jamie Murray, came back and taught her all these bad tricks. But my character did not abuse the servants in the beginning, and she was devoted to her husband. And so you get to see the raw Satan, and that’s always fun to play.

Peter Mensah: I thought it was actually fun because I got to smile more.

Lucy Lawless: And cry a bit.

Peter Mensah: Yes, there’s that too.

Lucy, in the next season Lucretia’s apparently a little less dead than Batiatus.

Lucy Lawless: Well, it was just a little poke in the tummy (she laughs). Put a poultice on it, she’ll be alright.

John Hannah: I could survive [too]. It wasn’t that bad!

Lucy Lawless: Yes, it was just a flesh wound.

John Hannah: I believe that Batiatus does actually have a twin brother who we get to meet later on!

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.