Recently SciFiPulse was lucky enough to attend a phone conference with Steven S. DeKnight, the creator, writer, and executive producer of the world of Spartacus in anticipation for the upcoming Spartacus: Vengeance.
Below are just a few highlights from that conference.
Question: One of the thing speople love about the show is that no character is safe at any time. How do you go about deciding which of the characters should go and when and is there any character that you wish you still had for this upcoming season?
Steven S. DeKnight: Yes, on this show characters literally get the ax. I think really ultimately for me it comes from the story is how is the story best served by a character death. I don’t ever want somebody to just die. It needs to have ramifications either emotionally or towards the plot. So that’s always the number one driving force of – on who do I kill.
And do I miss people? I don’t regret killing anyone, but of course, you know, John Hannah, number one. His presence was just so fantastic on the show and he was such a joy to work with and write for. You know, he’s definitely – he had to go, but that was a painful one.
Q: I want to congratulate you for hiring Liam McIntyre on as Spartacus because I feel like he captures the essence of what (Andy) started but makes it his own.
SDK: That’s really what drew us to Liam is that we didn’t want to try to duplicate (Andy). I mean, that will never happen. He was such a singular, amazing talent. But we wanted to find somebody that had the same base qualities of compassion. And I told all the actors when they auditioned that even though Spartacus may fly into a rage now and then, he never comes from a place of anger, it’s always from a place of a wounded heart. And we really felt like Liam captured that essence.
Q: The character that I fell in love with is Gannicus, so I’m really curious to find out how he ends up coming back into the picture. Like maybe you can tell me under what circumstance.
SDK: That would be giving away too much. I can tell you that he comes back in a very unexpected way. It’s not what you would think. And one of the things I love about the show and one of the things I wanted to do from the start is that our band of heroes are not Robin Hood and the merry men. They have a lot of problems internally, which is very historical since they kept breaking apart and, you know, different groups would split away from Spartacus. So I can say when Gannicus comes back, it’s not a happy reunion. There’s definitely a lot of problems that come with him.
Q: What kind of a journey is Spartacus and the other characters on this season?
SDK: Well, with Spartacus this was always planned to be the season where he goes from a man really searching for his personal redemption in the death of his wife and his feelings of responsibility for that, that’s why he wants to exact the vengeance, and transitioning him into a true leader. And it’s a very, very bumpy ride for him to go from someone that we see in Season 1 who’s a good man, but he is much more concerned about himself and his wife. Everybody else is secondary. And this is where he starts to move into caring more about the group and putting their needs above his own eventually.
And everybody else, of course, I love to take to people on journeys. Crixus goes – definitely goes on a journey. You know, even characters like Agron, which was one of the two brothers in Season 1 that we didn’t get to know that well, has a major story (op). Everybody grows up in this season.
Q: Have you had any criticisms of the show and have or would you adjust anything based on negative feedback?
SDK: Yes, of course. I mean, I think the show just welcomes criticism. Especially when we first started out, if everybody remembers back that far, this show was universally hated. You know, we got off to a rocky start. Rob Tapert, my incredible producing partner, and I always say that that first episode was by far our weakest one where we were trying to figure out the show and it took a while to get going.
So we took a lot of criticism for too much sex, too much violence, everybody hated the language, not the cursing but the actual language of the show. It just took a while, you know, for everybody to warm up to it. So early on I got a lot of criticism about how people speak, which I steadfastly refused to change.
One of the other things that I’m still to this day getting comments about is, and I put this in air quotes, all the gay shit in my show. And people asking me to tone it down, which I always say no. I mean, as far as I’m concerned it’s barely in there to start with. And it was part and parcel of this world and it’s part and parcel of our world now. So I just – yes, I ignore that. If people want to stop watching the show because two guys kiss, well, I shrug my shoulders. You know, that that will always be in there.
Q: Professional athletes have to attend training camp to get in shape. Is there something similar that the actors must go through to appear on Spartacus?
SDK: Yes. We have a boot camp every year that it’s for new people coming in and our returning cast to bone up on their fighting skills and to help them get back into tip-top shape. And I think we’re one of the few shows that actually – the men have it rougher than the women because the men are often practically naked all the time, you know, with just a little bit of strategic covering. So they have to watch what they eat and train like crazy for the entire shoot of the show, which is incredibly difficult. But I think the evidence is up on the screen that they literally work their asses off.
Q: Which character on the show do you most relate to?
SDK: Well, I’ve always said that, you know, for me, my inner voice is Batiatus. You know, that strangely his ranting profanity-filled monologues I have all the time. But now that he’s gone, I guess I don’t really have an inner monologue on the show. But, yes, but Batiatus – that’s the Steve.
And every now and then somebody will say something about oh it’s too violent, oh there’s too much sex, but that’s the show it is. So basically I guess my answer is sure we get criticism, but, you know, thankfully STARZ is very supportive and we get to tell the story we want to tell.
Q: Is there a character that you wish you could squeeze in more, but you just haven’t been able to yet?
SDK: Well, yes, we have so much story we try to put into each episode that some characters, you know, we don’t get to pay enough to. We felt that way Season 1 with Oenomaus. We felt like there was so much going on with Spartacus and his journey and Batiatus that he got a little bit of short shrift. So we wanted to do more with him in Gods of the Arena and we wanted to do more with him in this season, which is really nice to do.
And, you know, it’s always – we have so many characters, it’s a bit of a juggling act because we don’t want to short change anyone. But yes, I’d say Oenomaus was the one that we felt was underutilized at first and we tried to bring him more to the forefront.
Q: How far in advance do you actually know where you’re going with the story? Like do you have next season planned out, if there is a next season already?
SDK: Yes, we’re actually writing the next season as I speak. Luckily I’ve got history as a guidepost, so it’s just basically each season being, okay, well, how far along do we want to be in history and so we know the basic tent poles of where we’re going. And the way it works for us is that at the beginning of each season I get together with the writers and we spend two weeks basically laying out the gist of each episode. The big idea and where we’re going with the characters. And then we spend the, you know, the next six, seven months writing the episodes.
Q: Writers always say that as they develop a series, they pick up things from the actors and incorporate them into the way they deal with the characters and stuff, so are there any changes or different approaches now that you’ve switched from (Andy) to Liam?
SDK: You know, that’s a good question. Actually, no. We had a discussion before we started writing this season of should we tailor the show for Liam. And my feeling and Rob and STARZ, we all agreed, was that no, what we should do is write Spartacus as Spartacus and Liam will bring what he brings to it and it will be a different take, but what he says – what Spartacus says and what he does will still be consistent with the Spartacus that we know.
Spartacus: Vengeance returns to STARZ on January 27.
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By Ian M. Cullen