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Steven DeKnight - "Spartacus : Blood and Sand" Tv Series - Starz.com Q&A

vendredi 23 avril 2010, par Webmaster

1. How much consultation, access, or input do you have from historians ? I am curious about what kind of feedback about accuracy you may have gotten.

We have two fantastic historical consultants, Aaron Irvin and Jeffrey Stevens. They are instrumental in our attempt to remain as historically accurate as possible. However, Spartacus : Blood and Sand is designed first and foremost as entertainment. I’ve often said that while we may bend history, we try to never break it. But I will always opt for what delivers the most dramatic impact over a strict adherence to historical fact. When I do stray, Aaron and Jeff point it out – often loudly and passionately. They deconstruct each script down to the very syllable, and no inaccuracy escapes their attention. Their input has been invaluable, even when story or budget force us away from 100% adherence to their wisdom on the subject.

In an interesting side note, there were quite a few denizens of the internet and professional reviewers that decried our lack of historical accuracy based solely on the use of profanity that they erroneously identified as anachronistic. Absolutely not true. Early on I asked Aaron and Jeff about profanity in ancient Rome, and they sent me a delightful rundown on all the vulgarities that have been cited either in recorded documents or ancient graffiti. They were surprisingly the same as we use today. I believe the confusion comes largely from the fact that the infamous f-bomb originated in the 15th century, some 1500 years after our story takes place. While this is true regarding the specific rendering of the expletive, what the critics didn’t take into account is that the pre-Christian Romans definitely had their Latin equivalent, “FUTUERE”, which means, quite simply, to f***. (My historical gurus point out that the primary Latin dictionaries bowdlerize all Latin curse words because of the Victorian sensibilities of the time that they were written, so that if someone were to look up “futuere” in the big Lewis and Short Latin dictionary, the definition would say “to have connection with a female”. This is a very polite way of saying “to f***”.) Since our show is presented in English, the word is translated into the closest modern equivalent. The same holds true for all other basic obscenities presented on the show.

Although I will openly admit that there is no historical basis for how often the characters curse on the show, I believe the characters curse as much as the characters would curse. No more, no less. It’s how I hear them speak in my head. Which gives you a bit of insight as to what’s going on in there.

2. What made you boldly push the envelope with more and more full-frontal nudity and strong sexual acts in spite of today’s political climate of censor groups and religious watchdogs ?

Let me be perfectly blunt : censor groups and religious watchdogs can kiss my creative ass. I have no time for those who would hold themselves above the rest of society and claim moral authority to dictate what books we read, music we listen to, or entertainment we watch. These calls for censorship are often couched in the hysterical battle cry of “we must protect our children !” Yet it is a fine line between protecting our children and being treated like a child. This show is clearly designed for a mature audience. If your kid is watching it, well then you need to keep a better eye on your offspring, buddy.

I set out to tell a story the way my producing partners and I wanted to tell it. This was a brutal, visceral time filled with violence and passion. And frankly there is nothing in this show that you won’t see in an R-rated movie. It is not even close to pornographic or even soft-core, as many of these self-styled arbiters of decency have labeled it. I mean seriously. Pornographic ? Turn off your safe search and spend five minutes on the internet and learn the meaning of the word. Soft-core ? You obviously haven’t seen The Hills Have Thighs or The Devil Wears Nada. And please understand I am in no way knocking those in the hard or soft-core business. I strongly support their right to do what they do, and would be absolutely hypocritical if I said I didn’t sample their wares. Of course I do ! I’m human, and as such a sexual being. It is completely natural to be interested, intrigued, and aroused by sex and sexuality.

I honestly don’t think we’re pushing any envelope that hasn’t been licked before. Take a look at the brilliant show Tell Me You Love Me. That pushed a serious sexual envelope, and I applaud them for it. I also applaud Starz for letting us tell the story we wanted to tell. Some of the sexuality may have made them a bit nervous, but they refused to buckle to the fear of incurring the wrath of the rabid watchdog groups. It is beyond refreshing to be working with a studio/network that puts creativity above all other concerns.

3. Would you consider an alternative ending for the Spartacus story line than the historical account ?

Sneaky bastards ! Trying to get me to reveal what happens five to seven years from now ? You’ll get nothing out of me ! Although I will say that most people are under the assumption that Spartacus was crucified by Marcus Crassus along with six thousand of his rebel slaves. This is actually not true. Spartacus is believed to have fallen against Marcus Crassus, but his body was never found among the tens of thousands of bodies on the battlefield. Personally, I’m leaning towards aliens recovering Spartacus’ corpse and reviving him as an astro-zombie to fight in the intergalactic arena. Can you say “spinoff” ?

4. Would we see other major historical gladiators/Romans (ex : Leonidas, Alexander, Maximus, etc.) fight or make an appearance with Spartacus ?

The only historical figures that you will see on the show are the ones that are actually relevant to the story and time period. No Leonidas, Alexander, or Maximus. But you may very well see Varinius, Furius, and Marcus Crassus, among others.

5. How are you planning to have more strong roles for actresses in that next phase of the show ?

By writing them ! I come from the Joss Whedon camp, having worked on Buffy, Angel, and Dollhouse, and fully share his love and fascination for strong women. Moving forward I will continue to develop these kinds of roles. And historically they eventually fought in Spartacus’ rebel army, so don’t be surprised if you see quite a few women on the show kicking serious ass in the seasons to come.

6. Why did you have to kill Varro so soon ? Weren’t there enough plot twists that could act as a catalyst for Sparty’s rebellion and S2 focus on vengeance ? More than any "death" to date, this one has turned the fanbase on its head !

Varro was arguably the most heart-wrenching death in all of season one — and it was absolutely designed that way from the beginning. Varro’s character was constructed to be the happy-go-lucky charming rogue that you fall in love with despite his very human flaws, as well as becoming Spartacus’ only true friend at the ludus. His death was crafted to not only force Spartacus to reject the Roman way he had embraced, but also to highlight a complete and utter disregard for human life that permeated Roman culture at the time. That such a good man could be sentenced to death for the amusement of a 15-year-old boy was a serious wake up call for Spartacus — and the audience. The safe route would have been for Spartacus and Varro to figure a way out of it. And at one point it was discussed since we all loved Jai Courtney’s performance so much. But it would have been disingenuous to the moment and the series as a whole. Varro had to die, and I’m incredibly proud of how emotional his death is. Andy, Jai, the director Chris Martin-Jones, the writers Brent Fletcher and Miranda Kwok — everyone was at the top of their game.

Here’s a little tidbit to help balm the wound of Varro’s passing : we originally planned to kill him in episode 108. But we loved Jai’s performance so much we held off until episode 110.

7. Do any writers read these boards to get a feel of what the community is seeing in each episode and the direction of the characters ? If the answer is yes, how much rewriting of the second season is/has taken place ? If characters have been rewritten, which ones and why ?

A lot of us do frequent the boards to gauge the reaction to each episode and the season as a whole. And while we appreciate the comments and the input, the actual breaking of season two and the development of the characters are influenced solely by our creative inclinations (along with certain financial realities associated with producing a television series). The absolute worst thing we could do is start second-guessing ourselves based on what we read on the internet. If we did, we probably would never kill another character, especially after the uproar over the death of Barca, Sura, and the beloved Varro. I’m a firm believer in doing what I feel the story needs as opposed to what the audience desires. After Varro’s death, many viewers threatened to stop watching, and that was a risk Starz, my producing partners, and I were willing to take in order to stay true to the story and our creative vision. If there’s one thing I can promise you in season two, it’s that we will continue swinging for the fences. No character is safe. No character is sacred. And that’s what makes the show so damn exciting.

8. How is the storyline for a season developed ? Do you start with the main characters and develop a plot line for them or a basic story outline and add in detail ? Have you modified the story during the filming of the season after watching and testing the initial episodes or stick with the plan ?

Each season we start with nothing but five huge and imposingly empty whiteboards. I usually will have a strong sense of the overview of the season, especially the beginning and the end. The middle is often a bit more murky and up for grabs. Then we spend two weeks in the writers’ room in a rousing free-for-all of ideas, arguments, and — hopefully — creative gold. Then we pitch the overview to my producing partners and the good people at Starz. Much discussion is had, wrangling wrangled, and off we go into breaking each episode one by one.

And that’s where the true magic happens. The story takes on a life of its own, often leading us down exciting and unexpected paths. A perfect example of this is Batiatus’ brilliantly twisted plot to frame Solonius for the murder of Magistrate Calavius. When we first broke the overview for season one, Calavius didn’t even exist. As we progressed, we realized we needed a public official for Batiatus to try to ingratiate himself with for political gain. This became Calavius. We then added his son Numerius because we wanted to dramatize that Spartacus had become the modern day equivalent of a sports star. Introducing a privileged boy that idolizes Spartacus was the perfect solution. Early on we knew we were going to kill Varro as a “party favor,” but once we had Numerius in the mix everything came into sharp focus. What better way to illustrate to Spartacus the inhumanity of being a slave than to have a young boy command he murder his only friend ? This also compounded Batiatus’ rebuke when Calavius tells him he doesn’t have the breeding for politics. At this point we had already decided that Ashur was not actually betraying Batiatus, but was in fact a double agent working to destroy Solonius from the inside. In episode 111 the Calavius storyline naturally intersected with the Ashur/Solonius storyline in one gloriously devious climax, none of which was worked out when we started on episode 101 many months before.

Regarding the testing process, we did in fact test episode 102 before we aired (101 was visual effects heavy and wasn’t ready yet). However, since we were nearly done with shooting season one by this point, the data from this did not in any way influence the creative process.

9. Will we see the series take a more mythological turn in the future, with monsters and such, like in 300 ?

Absolutely not. While the world we have created may be larger than life, at no time do I ever plan to cross over into the purely mythological. We will, however, explore the belief systems so prevalent during this time period. Many people believed in the gods, in dreams, and in visions of the future. But in our world I will always land on the side of events having at the very least an ambiguous explanation. A perfect example of this is Spartacus putting his fate in the hands of the gods in the arena fight at the end of “Great and Unfortunate Things”. He closes his eyes, one of the prisoners he’s facing throws his spear — and it narrowly misses killing him. Was he spared by the gods ? Or was the prisoner just a bit off in his throw ? I know where I land on this (the prisoner needed a little more practice), but I find it more intriguing to let the audience decide for themselves. The same goes for Sura’s “visions”. Did her dream before he left for war really predict what would happen ? Or was it just her subconscious worrying about him, and the whole “Red Serpent” gladiator shield just a coincidence ? I may skirt right up to the mythological and supernatural, but I won’t outright invade that territory on this particular show. I’m saving that for the astro-zombie Spartacus spinoff.

10. Thank you so much for giving a non-monochromatic / heterogeneous view of the ancient world and its inhabitants. Will we continue to see a diverse cast as the series moves towards other locales and action ?

This is extremely important to me. I am a firm believer in promoting a world where race, gender, and sexual orientation play absolutely no part in how people interact with each other. Take Doctore for instance, played by the amazing Peter Mensah. The fact that we have a man of color in charge of the gladiators — including their often brutal punishment at the end of his whip — immediately and quite visually sets up the dynamic that a man’s race is meaningless in this world of gladiators. The only thing that matters is your skill, cunning, and strength.

The same holds true with sexual orientation. Barca was one of the most feared gladiators in the ludus and Batiatus’ personal bodyguard/hit man — who just happened to be gay. This fact was completely accepted by Batiatus and the other alpha male gladiators without question or comment. His relationship with Pietros was treated by everyone as just that — a relationship. In the beginning, I read a lot of comments on the internet by our less enlightened viewers complaining about this and asking us to tone down “the gay shit”. My answer was and is a resounding hell no. Same sex relationships will continue to be presented in every season that I am associated with, along with a multi-racial cast.

Thanks for taking the time to ask these marvelous questions. As our first season draws to a bloody close, I wish to extend my sincerest gratitude to all of you for making Spartacus such a rousing success. In the agonizing months before the premiere of season two, I invite you all to join me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/people/Steven-S-DeKnight/757737626) and on Twitter (www.twitter.com/stevendeknight ) where I will be giving updates on our progress, as well as insight into the creative process of making our epic tale.


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