Six hours was far too short of time to spend among such fine gladiators in Starz’ Spartacus prequel, Gods of the Arena. Below is our Q&A with creator Steven S. DeKnight. We talk about the prequel’s finale and learn some details about season two (and when it airs), plus get an update on our favorite gladiator, Andy Whitfield. Warning, spoilers ahead! …
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Gratitude for this interview!
STEVEN S. DEKNIGHT: [Laughs] Sure, I love the way it’s starting.
So one headline is: “Gannicus lives!” Your “Han Solo meets Achilles” — as you once described him — will fight another day. Those who know the history of Spartacus figured this, but was still great to see him make it out alive.
Yes, Gannicus is one of Spartacus’ generals in the actual war. Our original plan was always to introduce Gannicus unto storyline. We will set him up to at some point to come back. It was a wonderful performance. When I designed that character I wanted something different from Spartacus and Crixus. He brought it in spades.
‘At some point’? So not necessarily at the start of season two?
We’re still working on it. We don’t know when or how. We got some very juicy ideas. He won’t pop up immediately.
So one possible take-away from this season: It’s pretty much all Lucretia’s fault. Did you hesitate to have her poison Batiatus’ father? That seems pretty heartless even for her.
The two major things she does — poisoning Titus and maneuvering her husband to kill Tullius — are all done for love. Love of her husband and her friend Gaia.
Glad to see one of my favorite characters, Ashur, got so much development this season. Is it fair to assume he will be serving Lucretia like he did Batiatus in season two?
Ashur serves himself at the end of the day. Who he aligns himself to is an ever-shifting arena all its own. I love the character at the end of season one when you realize the reason he’s bad is he just wants a hug — he wants love and respect, but he can’t get it. It was great to show how he got started, and how it all fell apart. He’s going to have some amazing stuff in season two.
Does it ever get boring dreaming up new gross ways to kill people?
Does any red-blooded American male ever get tired of that? We come up ideas in the writers room, it’s part character focused and part “wouldn’t it be cool.” Then we turn it over to the stunt team and they make it ten times better.
Also noticed you threw in some mixed martial arts moves in this season.
Yeah, it started with that first blindfold fight with Gannicus. We didn’t want him to appear to be a superhero. [Executive producer] Rob Tapert and the stunt team came up with the idea the best thing to do is get him on the ground and grapple. Then they found some natural places to throw [MMA] in.
You once again had some great dialogue, though not all of it I’m happy to have in my head: “Words fall from your mouth like s–t from a–” still haunts me.
I can never tell what the audience will really love. That one I see retweeted all the time. It seems to have culturally stuck and I’m thrilled.
The show must be a blast to write.
I love the world. I love playing with the language. But it’s a pain in the ass to write. It takes twice as long. We tried writing it in modern language, then going back over it, but that didn’t work. It’s a linguistic exercise that never gets easier.
The arena is such a major part of the storyline. With the escaped gladiators on the run, will there be gladiator fights in season 2?
We definitely won’t be in the arena as much. Season 2 is the segue period where we’re segueing out of the arena. Eventually we will put an exclamation mark on never returning to the arena.
Since the show is shot entirely on greenscreen, you need a number of regular interior settings since it’s expensive to use special effects to make outdoor backgrounds. Since the gladiators are on the run, what will those settings be?
We find incredibly inventive ways of putting them inside. One of the cool things is you will never see our heroes inside a tent for season 2. I can’t tell you what we do, but they find different places to be inside. And in season 2 an equal part of the story is the villains side, which is much more interior.
Can you give fans an update on how Andy Whitfield is doing?
Last I heard he’s doing great, fighting the good fight, very much concentrating on his health and family. It’s a horrible thing, I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. I have no doubt Andy will beat it. He’s one of the strongest and most centered men I’ve ever met. He’s very private, but I hear third-hand that he looks great and is in high spirits.
Liam McIntyre, who will play Spartacus in season 2, looks a lot like Andy. How important was that?
Not important at all. We were trying to find somebody who didn’t look exactly like him. We saw a thousand people. It came down to a handful of choices. Liam was the only one who resembled Andy. What we really loved about Liam is he had an honesty and intensity and compassion and sympathy in his performance — something that Andy really brought to the role. Spartacus doesn’t come from a place of anger.
I recently re-watched season one and was really struck by Andy’s performance — he played anger well, but he was also came across really vulnerable.
He was. It was incredibly difficult finding Andy. And nearly impossible finding somebody else to step in. Liam was so good in his audition, we overlooked he had dropped like 35 pounds for another role — he looked like Christian Bale in The Fighter. We’re keeping him down in New Zealand beefing him up, putting him on the [gladiator training] program. The last picture I saw of him, I can’t believe it’s the same guy.
Lesley-Ann Brandt, Lucretia’s body slave Naevia, is also leaving the show.
Things like that are always complicated. That had to do with her contract and the lost period of time it’s taken to get back to season two. She relocated to Los Angeles and is getting work and we couldn’t make schedules to work out. We wish her the best, she was great in the role. But in this show we weather characters dying and being recast.
So season 2 is not coming until next January right?
Unfortunately, we cannot air it until the end of January. Our post-production process takes so long. We can start airing it sooner, but we’d have to air five episodes and go on a long break. And Starz has Camelot in the spring and Torchwood in the summer.
And Gods of the Arena will be out on DVD when?
I don’t know the official date. I will assume it will be around the same time season one, which was September. We also like to pack in a lot of extras. [Note: Starz confirms September is the target, but adds this plan is still tentative.]
Since you have one season of Spartacus done, and you have the second mapped out, and you know the overall story of Spartacus that you’re telling from history — you must have some idea at this point how many seasons this story should be. So what’s that number?
It’s entangled with other numbers. One is budget — the show gets more expensive each season. The other is ratings. I could go anywhere from three to six seasons. Budget is not a small part of it. As the gladiator war continues and Spartacus’ army grows, it becomes more difficult to produce on a TV budget.
So is it fair to assume season two has a bigger budget than the first season?
Yes. The budget was always planned to go up a bit.
Anything else about season 2 you can tease to?
It will be epic. In true Spartacus fashion, nothing will be easy for our heroes or our villains. The thing I love about this world is you have villains who are not all bad and you have villains who will try to screw other villains — and the same is true on the heroes side. The scope and scale we are attempting is much larger than anything we have done before. And I’m guessing a few beloved characters may die.
Image Credit: Starz Entertainment