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Steven DeKnightSteven S. DeKnight - "Spartacus : Gods of the Arena" Tv Series - Assignmentx.com Interview 1
Saturday 5 March 2011, by Webmaster
SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA has ended a trifle happier than one would guess from the previous season of BLOOD AND SAND. True the six episode series was bookended with death, but that doesn’t mean the story within didn’t have a bit of a happy ending.
Steven S. DeKnight, series creator and executive producer, has had a blast writing within the world of SPARTACUS and was more than happy to re-visit favorite characters and the Ludus of Batiatus once more.
ASSIGNMENT X got to chat this week with DeKnight now that the second season has ended and we picked his brain about some of the origins of GODS OF THE ARENA, his favorite moments that were part of the series, and even some things that weren’t.
ASSIGNMENT X: How far back did you decide to do a prequel series to the first season of SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND?
STEVEN S. DEKNIGHT: I had talked in season one about the possibility of doing a flashback episode in season two. John Hannah had expressed to me that he really loved being on the show and wanted to know if there was any way he could pop back in. I’d been talking about doing a mid-season flashback episode of Batiatus and having his father turn up. It was actually jotted down on the board when we were trying to figure out season two. We had written the first couple of scripts for season two when we found out Andy was sick.
AX: What did you do at that point?
DEKNIGHT: We had to stop and figure out what to do. We were heading towards shutting down for seven to eight months, and everybody’s concern was that once we shut down the writers’ room and shut down production it was infinitely harder to convince Starz to keep going. It was easier to write everything off at that point. So I hatched this idea of this flashback episode that I had in mind and blow it up to a two hour event just to air over the summer to keep the show in front of the fans. I was worried that if we were shut down and then started back up again, it would be a year and a half to two years before we had any more SPARTACUS on the screen. So I suggested that idea and nobody wanted to do it. Basically Starz had a hole in their schedule and that didn’t help. It didn’t make dollars and sense to do a two hour one shot. The thing died. So a couple of weeks later, Rob Tapert, my producing partner called me up from New Zealand, and suggested four episodes. I shot it down. Four episodes isn’t enough time to build an intricate story, and it’s too long for a one-two punch – it was neither here nor there. So it died a second time. Then a few weeks later Starz called up and said six episodes would really help them out. It was like Goldilocks, the bed was just right. It worked for production, it worked for Starz, and it worked story-wise. Then we dove in to try to figure out how to make the story work.
AX: So you really should have called it SPARTACUS: PHEONIX by that point?
DEKNIGHT: Exactly! The odds were really against us from the start. Everybody had a lot of concern if it could be as good as season one, or had we mined everything out of Batiatus’ Ludus that we could. On the writing side we were very confident and excited that we could tell a story that the audience would find exciting. There is also the TITANIC concern, we were doing a prequel and everybody knows what happens. Everybody knows who lives, and who dies. They know new characters that pop up probably die. I wasn’t really worried about that. I knew there were a ton of twists and turns that we could do, even though you know Crixus doesn’t die and Batiatus and Lucretia don’t die. It was actually an unfortunate circumstance that caused us to make the prequel but it turned out to be a great opportunity to go back and fill in so many character blanks that we would never otherwise have the opportunity to do.
AX: Did you enjoy going back and taking characters that were “lovable bastards” in the first series, and making them the heroes of this series?
DEKNIGHT: Oh yeah, I love Batiatus and Lucretia. I always say if there is a character that I am closest to its Batiatus. Not quite so villainous, but the long soliloquies of profanity … yeah that’s me. [Laughs] It’s great to explore and take them a step back where they are shifty but not bloodthirsty. The same this is great with a character like Ashur. It was great to take a step back to before he was such a villain, where he had some tendencies but hadn’t been forged into the man he was when we met him. It was great with all of the characters – to see Crixus before he was top of the heap and Oenemaus before he was Doctore. Even minor characters like Gnaeus before he got his net, little things like that delight us in the room. Explaining how Gnaeus became a retiarius.
AX: Crixus was one of my favorite journeys to watch on the show, because he had such a long climb ahead of him from being a street slave to being a champion.
DEKNIGHT: I love the Crixus stuff, and Manu Bennett did such a great job, and to be able to explain Crixus and why he is the way he is. It was an absolute joy and there were little tiny grace notes that we put in that had some of my favorite things. It’s not until the very, very, very end of the final scene of the prequel where a lot of people realized that Gannicus was wearing the same necklace that Crixus wore all through season one. We never draw attention to it and we never talk about it; he just hands it over.
AX: I felt that Lucretia wearing Gaia’s red wig, it was her way of never forgetting and never forgiving what had happened in the past?
DEKNIGHT: Absolutely! It was very symbolic in that way. In terms of back story it almost didn’t happen. We cast Jamie Murray, and it took us a while to find a Gaia that we all were crazy about and we really fell in love with Jamie. By the time we could get her to New Zealand we were very close to shooting, and it takes a month to make these custom wigs, so we didn’t have enough time. We had to see if they could make Lucy’s wig work. I can’t completely remember, if they made Lucy’s wig work from season one, or they put a rush job on it. I think it was probably Lucy’s wig. It was a nail-biter right up until we were starting to shoot to know if we could have Gaia wigged for this thing to work. I was hoping and praying that we could get it done because it is such a powerful image. It’s one of those little things that we love that explains why she wears wigs. We also had a subplot that we jettisoned. We had a whole wig motif seeing Solonius pick out his first wig, but that luckily fell by the wayside.
AX: It was set up to make the audience believe that Batiatus would kill his father Titus, and then in the end it is ultimately Lucretia that does the deed. Was that always the plan?
DEKNIGHT: We knew early on. The broad strokes started out as “Batiatus kills his father”, but as soon as we started talking about it, we decided it was a little too obvious. We decided to have Lucretia be the one who does the deed. Batiatus can’t do it so she does it and can never tell him. The twist in case people saw it coming, one way or another they knew the dad was going to die, but the twist here was Lucretia killing off Oenomaus’ wife along the way. We had a devil of a time and we went round and round for a week, trying to figure out how Melitta gets a hold of the wine and how she drinks it without Gannicus drinking it. It was all a bit of a conundrum.
AX: So is that why Doctore doesn’t drink wine in the first season?
DEKNIGHT: It’s very interesting. I had some broad strokes in the back of my head figured out about some of these back stories, but all of the details like that didn’t exist when we did season one. When I wrote the line about Doctore not having drank in many, many years I didn’t already know that his wife died of poisoned wine. There’s a lot of interesting reverse engineering we had to do from season one that made it very complicated and difficult because we locked into certain things that we had to have to make sense. I’m very proud of the fact that 99% of it matches up. On repeated viewings you might catch something that doesn’t quite line up, but I swear to Monkey Jesus we’ll address that in the second season.
AX: Did you always have the bookend in place for the prequel that it would start and end with Batiatus’ death?
DEKNIGHT: Interesting story there, from the start of actually breaking it, yes. From the original concept, no, there was no bookend. It was felt very strongly from our parent company that they wanted to see Andy Whitfield in this. The whole prequel was devised to keep everybody working and keep the show alive while Andy was going through his treatments for Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and for him to recover and come back to the show. Then we started getting calls for DVD and International that it would be great if Andy were in it. They didn’t understand that due to health reasons he couldn’t be in it. It was this real conundrum, and there were many ideas thrown at us about how to get Andy in it. One being that Crixus was telling him the story of what happened, and I thought “Oh God! Throw me out the window.”
So I came up with the bookend and a focus of Batiatus’ last moments before he dies and what led him to this fate. The original idea was released in scripts on an iPad application where you can read the original opening, and there was more material. The original plan was to shoot extra parts of the massacre you didn’t see, between the time when Batiatus leaves Lucretia and when he faces Spartacus what happens to him. The plan was to try to shoot some extra material with Andy at the very end of our shoot when he was better. Unfortunately he had a relapse and wasn’t able to come back and shoot anything; so we ended up using existing footage. Ultimately I feel two ways. I think it’s very powerful to do it this way, the theme of the choices you make leading you to your fate. On the flip side I’ve heard a lot of complaints about people who watched this first and are yelling that I ruined season one for them and spoiled it. My feeling is if you get upset because you watched the second part, basically the second season of a series and you haven’t watched the first part; I’ve got nothing for you. [Laughs]