The first episode of Spartacus: Blood and Sand, a new series starring Lucy Lawless that tells the story of the legendary rebel Roman slave, finished shooting this week in New Zealand, and those involved say it includes graphic sex and violence unlike anything ever seen on television.
“[The network] has given us quite a bit of rope with which to hang ourselves,” says Rob Tapert, the co-creator of Xena: Warrior Princess who is executive producing along with Joshua Donen and Spiderman’s Sam Raimi. “It’s unlike anything we’ve done before, because it is very hard and very explicit. It’s harder than 300,” he says, referring to Zack Synder’s explicit 2006 movie adaptation of the graphic novel.
“We have something different,” promises Tapert.
The show, which will bow in January of next year, is being produced for Starz Entertainment, the premium cable network, which estimates that each episode will cost over $2 million. The first season will run thirteen episodes.
“We’re going to cut it back on Starz, which is premium cable, so that they feel it fits within the R-rating slot,” Tapert says. “If it went into a theater, it would definitely be R-rated.”
It’s not just the violence that’s explicit. “Violence and sex,” Tapert says.
Spartacus is played by Australian Andy Whitfield. Lawless, Tapert’s real-life wife, plays Lucretia, the owner of the gladiator school where Spartacus is imprisoned.
“The guys and girls who star in it are stars,” Tapert says. “That is exciting and reassuring.”
The historical Spartacus was a gladiator-slave who lived in Rome from 109 BC to 71 BC. In 73 BC, he led a slave rebellion that eventually included 140,000 escaped slaves.
“The first season is a retelling of the legend of Spartacus leading up to him getting out of the slave prison,” Tapert says.
As with Xena: Warrior Princess, the show will also feature strong female characters. “I come from the Joss Whedon camp, so I love strong women, and I love big sweeping romantic arcs that will probably end badly, just like Joss always does,” showrunner Steven DeKnight (Smallville, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) told TV.ign.com.
The action-adventure series will also include gay characters, both male and female. “All of the above,” Tapert says.