Spartacus: Gods of the Arena 1.01 - John Hannah and Dustin Clare
Spartacus: Gods of the Arena 1.01 - Batiatus (John Hannah) and Gannicus (Dustin Clare) © 2010 Starz Entertainment

With the unexpected illness of its star, Andy Whitfield, the producers of Spartacus, Steven S DeKnight and Rob Tapert, reverted to Plan B, which was to do a prequel in the hopes that the actor would be well enough to star in Season Two in the future. Unfortunately, Whitfield has decided to pull out of the series because of his health issues, and the search is on for his replacement.

Steven S DeKnight spoke about the prequel and the future of the franchise at the TV Critics tour.

Because of Andy Whitfield’s health, are you having to make any more changes to what you were doing in Season Two because he is completely unavailable now?

Story-wise, no. Season Two is continuing with the story we were planning on telling about Spartacus. So in that regards, no, the story will be the same. It was very unfortunate circumstances.

I hear there is a gay gladiator, is that true?

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena - Antonio Te Maioha
Spartacus: Gods of the Arena - Barca (Antonio Te Maioha) © 2011 Starz Entertainment

Yeah, Barca from last season returns this season. And since we’re going back in time, we see his relationship with another gladiator before Peitros arrived at the Ludus.

In the season finale Lucy Lawless’s character, Lucretia, seemed to be killed, but apparently she’s back next year

I remember when we made that decision. I got a call from Rob saying Starz really loves John [Hannah] and Lucy, as did we all. John obviously got this head almost completely severed, so there wasn’t any way we could bring him back. But what [the network wanted to know] was there any way we could bring back Lucretia, and I said, ‘Absolutely not. No, she has to die. There is no way she could survive.’

Then I called him up the next morning and I said, ‘I’ve got an idea that I really like for Season 2.’ And it’s been a thrill. And what we have planned for Lucretia in Season 2 makes Season 1 and the prequel pale in comparison to what she’s up to in Season 2.

In the first season it took awhile to establish the world and the characters – was there any concern that you only had six episodes with the prequel?

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena 1.01 - John Hannah
Spartacus: Gods of the Arena 1.01 - Batiatus (John Hannah) © 2010 Starz Entertainment

Well, we basically cut out all the boring parts, and we hit the ground running. We learned a lot from Season 1 about how we started and how it took the show a while to find its footing.  When we hit the prequel, we knew where our strengths were, and we start right off in the thick of it. The same way we plan on doing with Season 2.

Can you elaborate on what you learned from Season 1 and how that knowledge is changing Season 2

Sure. Season 1 was when we started off, we went straight to 13 episodes with no pilot, so it was a lot of research and development on the job in all aspect, from production to writing to the acting and the visual effects. And if you look at the first episode of Season 1 and the last episode of Season 1, you see how far we have come, speaking just towards the scripts.

It was a little bit of everything and the kitchen sink at first, as we tried to find our way, so we weren’t 300. We weren’t Rome. We weren’t Conan. And it took just a while to dial that in.

It was just a learning process. And after a couple of episodes, we really found what worked and what not to do, and how much cursing to do and how much cursing not to do, and how to balance the sex and the violence, the emotional story lines, and we really took all of that into the prequel and were able to start off right when Spartacus really gelled in Season 1, we were able to start right there from the first episode of the prequel.

From working in this genre for many years, do you feel you have a better understanding of what the fans are attracted to?

Spartacus 1.04 - Andy Whitfield
Spartacus 1.04 The Thing In The Pit - Spartacus (Andy Whitfield) © Starz

I’m always surprised by the fan base, especially for Spartacus. I’ve heard stories from everyone from grandmothers in their late 60s loving the show, to ministers. The ministers really surprised me, by the way. It’s such a wide range. I think the great thing about the show is that we don’t try to make it something for everybody. We’re trying to tell a very specific story, but I think because we are not trying to make it for everybody, everybody seems to like it.

We’re not trying to water it down and pander to the mass market. We’re telling a story we want to tell, and the response has been great. It’s been everything from high school students all the way up to grandmothers and grandfathers who have responded to the show.

What lends itself to such a broad appeal?

I think it’s a timeless story of the downtrodden and justice. And also, who doesn’t like a lot of backstabbing and intrigue and a good sword fight every now and then.

You’ve found a lot of inventive and gruesome ways to kill gladiators and various other people, which I think is why people tune in. How do you top yourself?

I was telling Rob not too long ago, the special effects make up for the prequel is  just phenomenal. There’s some deaths that are so incredible, you just have to rewind and watch them again because you can’t believe what you just saw. Rob and his team have definitely managed to up the ante. And I was stunned by how great some of this stuff looks.

Judy Sloane

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