Steven S. DeKnight On The Vengeance Of Spartacus
By Ian Cullen Jan 25, 2012, 17:11 GMT
Badass Spartacus showrunner Steven DeKnight - 37th Annual Saturn Awards - Press Room - The Castaway - Burbank, CA, USA © Tina Gill / PR Photos
We’re just days away from the January 27 premiere of "Spartacus: Vengeance," which is the long awaited continuation of the fantastic "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" and we here at Monsters and Critics cannot wait.
So when we were asked to attend a conference call with series creator Steven S. DeKnight, we were there. Below are just a few highlights from what was a very informative 90 minute phone conversation between various bloggers and the producer.
One thing we seen a bit of in Blood and Sand and Gods Of The Arena was characters that we had come to know and love getting killed off and when it comes to killing off characters DeKnight admits that he is not beyond doing this, but it always has to service the story and is never on a whim.
Steven S. DeKnight: Yes, there's always a question of, you know, on this show characters literally get the axe. I think really ultimately for me it's always - 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.
The second episode of the new series features a fair bit of back story for Oenomaus, which apparently was something DeKnight had been wanting to do and hinted at in Gods Of The Arena.
Steven S. DeKnight: Oenomaus was kind of a special case because this is something that we hint at in Season 1 and we hint at even more strongly in Gods of the Arena with his relationship with Titus Batiatus. So we always wanted to explore that in a one episode quasi-flashback kind of way. Something like that might happen in future seasons, but that's the only time it happens (in this).
Having seen the first two episodes of the new series. I have to admit that Liam MacIntyre, who takes over the role of Spartacus from the Late Andy Whitfield does a fairly credible job of continuing from where Whitfield left off with the role, but still manages to bring something of his own to it. So when asked to talk about that DeKnight explained that they were looking for a specific kind of actor to take it over.
Steven S. DeKnight: 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.
Spartacus Vengeance sees the introduction of a fair few new characters, but we’ll also get to see a character or two return to the series and one such character is Gannicus, who we last seen getting his freedom in the finale of Gods Of The Arena. When asked about the character DeKnight wasn’t giving to much away, but was more than happy to tease his fans a little bit.
Steven S. DeKnight: 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 seldom - they're not Robin Hood and the merry men. They have a lot of problems internally, which is - it's 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.
When ask for a little more information with regards to the journey that Spartacus is on this year. The producer had quite a bit to say and was more than happy to break things down a little more about some of what the main character is dealing with this year.
Steven S. DeKnight: 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 he'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.
One thing that Spartacus didn’t have in its early days was an easy time with the critics and when asked if he had ever changed anything based on criticism DeKnight had a fairly long answer, which boils down to sadly not being able to please everyone all of the time.
Steven S. DeKnight: 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, you know, 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.
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.
Spartacus has a wealth of characters and there are times when producers on a series feel that they would have liked more screen time for specific characters on a show, but were unable to do so because of the story. DeKnight admits that this has happened on Spartacus.
Steven S. DeKnight: 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 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.
In regards to the third season. When asked how far they plan in advance. DeKnight revealed that writing for the third season is underway and was happy to talk about the writing process on the show.
Steven S. DeKnight: 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.
When it comes to tailoring a role to specific actors you do not get that on Spartacus, and one thing that DeKnight was conscious of was not changing the approach to how they wrote the main character for Liam MacIntyre.
Steven S. DeKnight: 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.
In terms of stunts and the sex scenes. When asked the producer was very complimentary about the stun co - ordinator and was more than happy to discuss the mechanics of the sex scenes a little bit.
Steven S. DeKnight: Al Poppleton is just phenomenal. The thing that he does for us, it would not be Spartacus without him. On the page, it depends on what we're describing. Generally if it's a big battle, we - we'll give the high points and let them work it out. If it's a more intimate one-on-one battle, we'll be more detailed because we'll want the specific moment.
And I always try to build a fight with specific emotional moments in it. And then Al and his team will fill in the detail, expand on it, they'll suggest things. So it's kind of 50/50.
With the sex scenes, again, if there's a specific emotion we're looking for, we'll get into a little more detail. Otherwise, we tend to just describe what kind of lovemaking is going on...the words that keep popping up are, tender, gentle, vigorous. Vigorous pops up quite a bit as you can imagine. So that's usually a little less detailed. And again, we're more concerned on the writing side with conveying the emotional beats of what's going on in that situation and we leave the actual technical what's touching what, who's kissing where to the director and the actors.
Although Spartacus is very male driven. The one thing that it has always done well is bring the female character to the forefront and give a fair bit of attention to the story - lines of Ilithyia, Lucretia and Mira. DeKnight was more than happy to tease us with hints about what those characters would be up to this season.
Steven S. DeKnight: Without giving anything away, Ilithyia and Lucretia, which is two of my favorite characters to write especially when they're with each other, they continue their frenemy dance in a very convoluted, unexpected way.
What happens between those two is not what you would think is actually going to happen, especially based on where we left them at the end of Season 1. They are in fine form totally. They really continue that storyline in an amazing kind of way.
With Mira, as we left her in Season 1, she really responded to Spartacus and was falling in love with Spartacus and Spartacus had compassion towards her, but I wouldn't call it love. Where we move with them, they have moved into a quasi-relationship, but it's a relationship that's very bumpy and rocky and may or may not work out in the end.
By the close of the second episode of the new series it would appear that Ashur who is played beautifully by Nick Tarabay is setting up his next move with regards to his vengeance and of course elevating his own position. And when asked to explain a little about that characters thought processes DeKnight gave use quite a lot of what we can expect to see in the series.
Steven S. DeKnight: What I love about Ashur and the way Nick Tarabay really brings him to life is that Ashur is a guy who ultimately doesn't really think he's the bad guy. You know, he's just a guy trying to navigate the choppy waters of life. And he comes from a place, and we explored this in Season 1 and in Gods of the Arena, of deep insecurity where he feels like he is disrespected and not treated as well as he should be. And those deep seated feelings on insecurity is what really drives him to get to the top.
And in this season, you know, he's out for vengeance against the rebels because he was just - he was being promoted to being in the Ludus with Batiatus, being Batiatus' right-hand man, he had finally been elevated and then Spartacus literally topples him off his perch and, you know, ruins everything for him. So he's got an axe to grind there. And he also tries to ingratiate himself back in with the Romans.
One of the things that has separated Spartacus from other series set in Roman times as well as more contemporary television series is how the character construct their sentences. Which is something that Steven DeKnight reveals has come from him and the writers and is not based on any old latin dialects.
Steven S. DeKnight: It's actually not based on Latin. In fact, in Latin they do use articles. I tend to drop out ands and thes in the way they speak. And again, it's just to give a flavor of antiquity to the language.
For me, I studied as a playwright so I was deeply steeped in Shakespeare, which is really my main influence in the dialogue. Not to say that it's Shakespearean. I think this is - I call this Shakespeare extra, extra light. And I wanted to cross that - I always say the language is a cross between Shakespeare and Robert E. Howard who wrote all the Conan stories. So it's kind of a mash up between those two.
It's absolutely not historically accurate. Much the way when people bring that up to me about, 'well, they didn't speak this way in Latin,' I always point out, well, in Shakespearean times they didn't speak in iambic pentameter, but that's an affectation to give it a style, which is exactly what we wanted to do on this show. And again, about five scripts in after we had done this I realized holy shit, I got to write - I got to keep writing this way for the rest of the series, which is extremely challenging.
One character that no one expected to see return at the close of Blood and Sand was Lucretia and during the chat her character came up and we were informed that there is still life in her yet. Although with a somewhat shakey start, but we were also told that her survival will be explained as the series unfolds.
Steven S. DeKnight: Yes. She's in a bad state. As seen in the trailer, she's not doing too well when we first find her. Which is not surprising. I mean, it's - she's very lucky to be alive. And a lot of people have asked, well, last we saw her she got stabbed in the stomach and sure she was twitching at the very end of Season 1, but how is it possible she survived. And we do explain how she survived. It's a few episodes in and then we tell you what happened.
For her, she is a shattered woman. And this season is about her putting the pieces of her life back together and trying to move forward. And along with moving forward, much like everyone else this season, she does have some scores to settle. But for her, it's going to - she's going to have to be incredibly crafty and smart about her maneuvering because now she has absolutely no position whatsoever. She's basically - she's living off the kindness of strangers at this point.
A character seen very little of in the first season was Glaber who is played by Craig Parker. Glaber is the man responsible for bringing Spartacus to Rome, but he got very little screen time in Blood and Sand, but apparently gets much more screen time in Vengeance, and that’s something that DeKnight was keen to discuss.
Steven S. DeKnight: Yes. Glaber, who we only saw in two episodes back in Season 1, he is a major player this season. He is the - he's the big bad of our season. He's - historically he's the next guy that was sent after Spartacus and we follow that history here, so that he's going to be Spartacus' arch nemesis nipping at his heels for the entire season.
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