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Spartacus: Gods of the Arena – Producer Rob Tapert and stars Dustin Clare and Peter Mensah on the tragic past

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Spartacus: Gods of the Arena 1.01 - Dustin Clare
Episode 1.01 - Gannicus (Dustin Clare) © 2010 Starz Entertainment

The extraordinary success of Starz graphically violent, explicitly sexual, series Spartacus: Blood and Sand guaranteed it a second season  – but when its star, Andy Whitfield, became seriously ill, the show was put on hold. Then the producers came up with a brilliant stop-gap, to do a prequel.

In Spartacus: Gods of the Arena the story revolves around the House of Batiatus before Spartacus’ arrival. It’s a time of transition as Quintus Lentulus Batiatus (John Hannah) takes the reins of his father’s stable of gladiators.He stakes his fortunes on the roguish gladiator Gannicus (Dustin Clare), a man whose skills with a sword is surpassed only by is appetite to live every day as if it were his last. Also returning in the prequel is the popular character, Oenomaus (Peter Mensah).

The series’ producer Rob Tapert and actors Dustin Clare and Peter Mensah spoke about the prequel at the TV Critics tour last week.

In the beginning you were shooting a lot of blue screen, are you still using that technology?

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena - Dustin Clare
Gannicus (Dustin Clare) © 2011 Starz Entertainment

Rob Tapert: In terms of production, we only do more virtual sets as we go forward. So what we had in the first season of Spartacus and in the prequel were a fixed amount of locations and a lot of the skies and some arenas.

In the prequel we actually built an arena, which was kind of cool. But going forward into Season 2, it is much more using all the technology that’s available out there. So we will be a much more expensive show, and a show that has a much larger visual range to it because we’re using more blue screen, utilizing the technology to tell our great stories against.

We know that Oenomaus has a tragic past; in the prequel do we learn how he came to the House of Batiatus?

Peter Mensah: This particular version of the show Gods of the Arena is just five years prior. So it doesn’t go back far enough to tell the beginning of his relationship with the House of Batiatus.

Rob Tapert: You will find out in Season 2 how Oenomaus/Doctore came to the Ludus.

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena 1.01 - Peter Mensah
Episode 1.01 - Oenomaus (Peter Mensah) © 2010 Starz Entertainment

Peter Mensah: I didn’t know if I could say anything!

Your main protagonist in the first season was obviously Spartacus, do you have a central protagonist this season?

Rob Tapert: We do, it’s very similar to Season 1 except that the engine is going faster. Gannicus is the gladiator at the middle, and the stories are spinning around him, the same way the stories spun around Spartacus.

Can you tell us a little about Gannicus?

Dustin Clare: Gannicus is a very self-destructive character. He’s always trying to escape his reality, and he does that through abusing things like alcohol in excess There are a lot of contradictions in the character. So that’s always a nice thing to play with, not only physically in the arena.

All [the gladiators] are very confident. There’s only one reason you can be that confident when you are in a fighting sense, like an arena, because you are extremely good at what you do, and I think Gannicus is very good at it. And he uses the crowd.

What was the preparation like for this?

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena - Dustin Clare
Gannicus (Dustin Clare) © 2011 Starz Entertainment

Dustin Clare: The preparation was all the normal preparation you do as an actor in terms of research and history and the accent. And then there’s a big work life physically for the gladiators. So there was a lot of training, a lot of not much eating.

My character fights with two swords, so you are also learning a left-brain and right-brain kind of action, which takes a little while to get down. I had a great set of trainers, so I’m very grateful for that. But he’s a very self-destructive character and he’s also probably got suicidal tendencies. So I think you are going to see a really nice journey through the six episodes. He has a great relationship with Oenonmaus, and it’s kind of the saving grace. In the Ludus they have a great relationship.

Why do you think the series has such a large appeal?

Rob Tapert: I think it’s great storytelling and really good scripts at the end of the day that invite the audience in and can put them on the journeys that all the characters are on. That’s the one thing [I’ve learned] working in the genre over time, if you have well-written stories, it makes all the difference in the world.

Where does the show go from here?

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena 1.01 - Peter Mensah
Episode 1.01 - Oenomaus (Peter Mensah) © 2010 Starz Entertainment

Rob Tapert: We are looking at potential actors to play Spartacus. It will mean that Andy Whitfield, who is unable to play Spartacus will be recast. And I think there will be a separate announcement in the coming months as to who is the new Spartacus.

Nothing good came from losing Andy, in terms of the guy for that role. We have had the luxury now of building an infrastructure and having the prequel, which sharpened the performances, the skills, the actors, and brought them altogether. So probably if there is any upside to Andy’s illness, is that we are better prepared to support the new Spartacus when he comes into the role, in what will be a very epic Season 2.

A story that takes place is no longer in the Ludus, and is really the story that we came to that you normally associate with Spartacus. So it’s a different world and a different set of shoes to fill. And we feel confident, as does Starz, that we will find the right person for that.