Re-creating the Roman Empire for the small screen is no easy feat.
Just ask Stephen S. DeKnight, creator and executive producer of Starz’ blood-and-swords historical drama “Spartacus.”
There’s the issue of re-creating ancient Rome on a limited budget, and balancing historical accuracy with the need for drama. And, in the case of “Spartacus,” there’s the awkward process of bringing ancient Rome’s penchant for clothing-averse bacchanalia to the set.
“It’s the worst thing in the world,” DeKnight says of the series’ frequent — and, according to him, “awkward” — nude scenes. “Imagine, you’re having a party in your living room, with all your friends there, and everybody has to get naked — you don’t know where to look.”
DeKnight made his naked revelation at West Los Angeles’ Landmark Theater Monday night, during a screening of the penultimate episode of “Spartacus: Gods of the Arena.” The screening and subsequent Q&A session, moderated by TheWrap news editor Daniel Frankel, was part of TheWrap’s Emmy Screening Series.
In truth, too-generous glimpses of one’s cast is far from the biggest hurdle for the series.
The show hit a major stumbling block when its star, Andy Whitfield, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma last March, forcing a postponement of the series.
DeKnight and his production partner, “Xena: Warrior Princess” and “Evil Dead” maven Rob Tapert, had to scramble, re-imagining a six-episode prequel narrative for “Spartacus” that would lead into the period during which Whitfield’s lead Spartacus character was introduced.
“Spartacus: Blood and Sand” transitioned into the temporary six-episode placeholder “Spartacus: Gods of the Arena.” The plan was to shoot season two of “Blood and Sand” when Whitfield got healthy.
But Whitfield experienced a recurrence in September, forcing him to drop out of the series altogether, forcing the producers to replace him altogether with Liam McIntyre. The 10-episode “Spartacus: Vengeance” is currently in production in New Zealand.
DeKnight understands that audiences might greet the switcheroo, necessary as it might have been, with skepticism.
“I absolutely expect resistance,” DeKnight conceded. “It’s absolutely impossible to replicate your lead actor and not expect some reluctance [on the audience’s part].”
It wasn’t easy for DeKnight and the “Spartacus” crew to accept a new Spartacus, either. “We had many, many dark nights of the soul [while deciding what to do about the series],” DeKnight recalled. “We came very, very close to closing up production permanently.”
Unltimately, DeKnight was encouraged that Whitfield himself gave his blessing to the replacement.
“[Whitfield] got in touch with us and said, ‘I love this story, I love the character, and I want to see it played all the way through, and you have my full support to do that,” DeKnight said.
DeKnight further revealed that, when circumstances permit, he and Whitfield plan to collaborate in the future.
“I have the utmost faith that Andy and I will work together again,” DeKnight divulged. “In fact, we’ve joked about working together on a project — as he says, ‘One that I have clothes on for.'”
With a new Spartacus securely in place, DeKnight can now move on to another challenge — namely, finding new avenues of violence for a series that runs heavy on vicious gladiator battles and other blood-soaked intrigue.
“There’s ultimately so many ways you can kill a person,” DeKnight mused. “I think we’re about halfway through the list.”