By SEAN ELLIOTT
Posted: March 7th, 2011 / 11:51 AM
SPARTACUS GODS OF THE ARENA and SPARTACUS BLOOD AND SAND are two of the most popular genre series that have been on television in recent years. Both were immense hits for Starz, and in 2012 there will be a new second season picking up where BLOOD AND SAND left off.
Steven S. DeKnight, one of the series creators and writers loved giving back story for the prequel, and is looking forward to all of the challenges in the works for the next season of the Starz original.
ASSIGNMENT X continued our chat with DeKnight getting more insider information about GODS OF THE ARENA, some tidbits about the upcoming season two, and also the joys of creating his own version of swearing.
ASSIGNMENT X: Did you always plan on giving Gannicus a happy ending in GODS OF THE ARENA?
STEVEN S. DEKNIGHT: Some astute viewers out there, who have either jumped on the Internet or know their history, know that Gannicus is one of Spartacus’ generals in the third Servile War. He is an actual historical character. Interesting thing with Gannicus – we were always planning on introducing him later in the series and my thought for the prequel was I didn’t want it to be stopgap or just to inform season one, I really wanted it to be a link between season one and season two. I wanted Gannicus to strongly be part of that link. The historical problem is that Gannicus is a free man when he joins Spartacus. We had to figure out how to make it work, and we came up with the great idea that he’s a gladiator, he’s Han Solo meets Achilles, and in the big final opening he’s freed. Him being freed really screws Batiatus, and I was really interested in Batiatus having a massive victory at the end of this and then having it taken away from him. All of that came together in having Gannicus freed.
AX: Were Vettius and Tillius characters that didn’t make the first cut of season one?
DEKNIGHT: No Vettius and Tillius I had never thought about until the prequel. I love the idea that Vettius got away, and I loved the actor that played him. Will he reappear in the series? I don’t know. It depends on if we can find a great place for him. We’d love to bring them back, but he may just end up floating away out there.
AX: Did you know that Solonius was going to be a nice guy in the beginning of GODS OF THE ARENA and then be an enemy by the end?
DEKNIGHT: Not when we were doing season one, but we did know once we started doing the prequel. Another thing that interested us was in season one we came in hot on the fact that they hate each other, Batiatus and Solonius. The question was how do they get there? We really fell in love with the idea that they were best friends, more like brothers and then had this falling out. Then the question became “what was this falling out?” We threw around a lot of stuff – a lot of plot heavy stuff. Then I thought the strongest thing is that Solonius finally gets fed up with the way Batiatus treats him and everybody. I love in the finale the twist that Solonius didn’t sell him out and is actually helping him, but he is selling him out because he’s elevating his own house instead of Batiatus’. Of course, at the very end, when all of Solonius’ men get killed, he still has a victory because he robs Batiatus of his number one man.
AX: Did you announce a title for season two of SPARTACUS yet?
DEKNIGHT: No we’re still kicking that around. At some point in the past it was announced as SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE, but that’s very much up in the air.
AX: Lucretia will be back for season two, but will she be a cameo or a main character?
DEKNIGHT: She plays a major, major role. Lucretia has animosity for everybody at this point. She’s not a happy camper for sure.
AX: What new challenges are you facing with season two?
DEKNIGHT: Season two is very difficult for many, many reasons. It’s extremely challenging production wise because our gladiators have broken out into the world so we’re trying to figure out how that works on a green screen show where we’re all indoors. It’s not as easy as going on location. If we have something in a forest, we have to build a forest. It’s a tricky bit of storytelling because in season one and the prequel you had your villains and your heroes all in the same place by necessity.
In season two and moving forward your heroes and villains are separated. How do you have them cross each other and make it logical, because they are at war and they would try to kill each other? You have to be very inventive to come up with reasons and situations where they can cross each other and not kill each other, or almost kill each other. We basically blew up the paradigm of a successful show – since we are telling the story of Spartacus we have to tell the story of Spartacus. There was a lot of soul searching all around about should they really leave the ludus? Should we keep them there? You have noticed the title of the show right?
The amazing thing about SPARTACUS is we have now spent nineteen episodes on a section of the story that maybe is literally a couple of paragraphs in history. Spratacus was in Batiatus’ ludus and then broke out – that’s basically all it says about that. It never says he never fought as a gladiator, that’s complete embellishment. Just that he was there. That’s how the show was sold before I even came on, was gladiators being like the sports stars of the time. Honestly after nineteen episodes we’ve milked it for all we can, and it’s time to move towards the bigger story of the Third Servile War and the slave revolt.
AX: Is season two going to be as many episodes as season one or more than that?
DEKNIGHT: Interesting question that I don’t think I can answer yet. I think that’s a question for Starz. I don’t want to step on anybody, but I will say it will be more than the prequel.
Lucy Lawless in SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND - Season 1 - "Sacramentum Gladiatorum" | ©2010 Starz
AX: Now that you have re-cast Spartacus and are moving forward with production, how long until we see new episodes?
DEKNIGHT: It’ll be January 2012 before we actually are back on the air. We’ll premiere the next season about the same time we did season one and the prequel. We’ve been in pre-production and we start shooting in early April. Then it just takes a massive amount of time for the post process.
AX: Do you head down to New Zealand while shooting is taking place or are you primarily in Los Angeles?
DEKNIGHT: I’m in L.A. mostly, and I pop down a couple of times a year, but I leave that in the more than capable hands of my partner Rob Tapert and the fantastic crew down there. For the prequel we also brought on Rick Jacobson, a producing director that directed and helped produce the show and directed a couple of the episodes. He directed episode two and also the finale. He wasn’t available so we brought in Michael Hurst as our producing director for season two. Michael is a phenomenal director. He did some amazing episodes in season one, including episode nine called “Whore” were Ilithiya murders Licinia very viciously and violently.
AX: I’m guessing Ilithiya will be back for season two?
DEKNIGHT: Well I can’t have a show without Viva Bianca. [Laughs] Absolutely!
AX: What do you enjoy writing most for SPARTACUS?
DEKNIGHT: I’m sure everybody expects me to say the giant battle scenes and the gore and blood, but I really love the dramatic moments; particularly the romantic moments. I’m just a big softie, a die-hard romantic, and all of that sweeping epic love stuff. I just love writing. In season one the story between Crixus and Naevia was great to explore. Spartacus’ love for his wife. The love triangle in the prequel involving Gannicus and Melitta. One of my favorite things in the prequel in episode four is the sweeping kiss that Gannicus plants on Melitta. It’s that kind of stuff that always gets me. I also love writing for the female characters. Especially in season one. Nothing delighted me more than writing for Lucy Lawless and Viva Bianca.
AX: Was the language of the series always planned to be so Shakespearean?
DEKNIGHT: That was quite a struggle. I had always wanted to do it, but there was a lot of doubt from my producing partners and Starz. They wanted to make it modern. It just wouldn’t have the same feel. So my first draft of the first episode, the biggest note for me from my producing partners and Starz was they didn’t understand what anybody was saying because it was much more Shakespearean. I’ve toned it way down since then. If you look at the first couple of episodes of season one, you can see it takes a few episodes for the language to really gel. Once we hit episode four, we get a good handle on it.
Some people love the language of the show and some people hate it. I get a message every now and then on Twitter or Facebook asking if it would kill me to use an article now and then. There are other people who are well versed in Latin, point out that they did use articles in Latin. I totally understand that but it’s a device to give a feeling of an ancient time. I’m the first to say that it doesn’t have to go as far as I go, but I studied as a playwright so I’m well steeped in Shakespeare. I love Shakespeare, so for me it always seemed natural to do it this way. Having said that, I kind of bit myself on my own ass because it is so much harder to write these scripts. If it were modern, I could blast through a season much more quickly. It’s incredibly time consuming. At first, some writers would write the scripts or scenes with modern dialogue and then go back and change it – which doesn’t work at all. You’ve just got to sit there and it doesn’t come very naturally. It’s incredibly time consuming, but also very rewarding. One of the most rewarding things is after practically every episode airs people are quoting lines from the show.
AX: How about the swearing in the show?
DEKNIGHT: Jupiter’s C**k was a curse based loosely on stuff our historical consultants sent us. Season one I read about the Jupiter’s C**k drinking game. You take one shot for c**k and you take a double shot for Jupiter’s C**k, and then rush yourself to the hospital. [Laughs] I’ve had a lot of people asking me if they really said c**k that much. I don’t know, but the point is it’s a word that works in our world. Do I sprinkle it in a lot? I sprinkle it in just enough for what I feel characters would say.
When the show first aired, I got a lot of complaining about the profanity. People were absolutely 100% certain that they didn’t curse like this back in ancient times, to which I reply that I’m pretty sure the caveman had a grunt that meant f**k. It’s just one of those words. Every once in a while I have to reply to some know it all who tells me the language is so historically inaccurate and that they didn’t have the word f**k back then – it came about in the fifteen hundreds – at least that version of the word. Every single curse word we use on the show is based on Latin, and the Latin that means the same thing. So they have a word that means f**k. I do get snide comments telling me “shouldn’t they be speaking in Italian accents instead of an English accent?” The ancient Roman conceit of people having an English accent is what people are used to, and it’s what works. It elevates the language. And again since I am going quasi-Shakespearean it also works that way too.
AX: So at this point I really had expected toys for SPARTACUS, so any idea where all of the merchandise is?
DEKNIGHT: You and me both on the action figures. I keep pestering Starz on the action figure side. I don’t know if we are ever going to have them, but we God damn should! I’m glad you reminded me, because I’m going to poke them again. [Laughs]
Basically here’s what happened, once season one was successful, there was a huge interest in merchandising, and because Andy got sick and we weren’t sure if we were continuing, everybody backed off. They wanted to make sure they were investing in something that was going to continue. Now the merchandising machine is cranking back up. I definitely would love to have action figures. This kind of show just cries out for action figures. What I really want to do, iswhat Marvel did and have a Gladiator Series One set where each character comes with a piece of Theocles. I can say there is quite a bit of merchandising on the horizon. I believe that there will be Halloween costumes this year, and there’s been a lot of talk about weapon replicas coming out. My Holy Grail is those action figures though!