When Andy Whitfield, who played the title character in Starz’ Spartacus: Blood and Sand, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in March 2010, the producers and cable channel responded by giving the actor time to recover: they commissioned a six-episode “prequel” series, which airs later this month, with a different lead.
But Whitfield did not respond well to initial treatment and subsequently had to bow out of the part completely.
Last week, Starz officially announced that the series would have a second season, but the producers have been saying for months that a re-casting was in the works. Deadline reported in November that three actors had been flown to New Zealand to screen-test, but none ended up getting the part, according to the website.
So how is casting going?
Still no decision has been made, which means they’re cutting it rather close, since shooting is tentatively scheduled to begin in April, and if they follow the procedure of the first season and prequel, the actor will require at least a month of training beforehand to get in shape.
“We’ve been seeing a thousand actors,” says the show’s producer (and co-creator) Steven DeKnight in an exclusive interview last Friday. “It’s such a difficult part. We had such a hard time casting it in the first place. And Andy was a roll of the dice – a risk, taking a relatively unknown and making him the star of the show. And he gave a phenomenal performance.”
Nobody can take Andy’s place, DeKnight says. “That’s a given. But finding someone who can carry the show forward, that’s very, very difficult. You’ll find someone who looks right, but doesn’t have the sympathy, or you find someone who has the sympathy, but doesn’t have the body. It’s a very tall order. We’ve got some people that we’re very, very interested in — that are strong, strong possibilities, fantastic actors, they look fantastic. But this is kind of unprecedented where you’re going on with a show and you lose the lead.”
When asked for specific names, DeKnight demures: “They’d kill me.”
“It’s a very difficult decision, and we want to make sure we make the right decision,” he says.
How many episodes are they planning in season two?
“Anywhere from ten to thirteen episodes,” DeKnight says. “It might be slightly less than thirteen, because season two is so much more expensive than season one. It becomes an epic show. The stories we’re planning are gigantic. Without losing the emotional anchor, there’s a lot of big stuff going on once the rebellion breaks out.”
As to where the season will take place geographically, “We will definitely move outside the city of Capua,” he says. “We’ll be Capua-adjacent for season two, then we’ll go farther and farther from Capua to follow history. [The historical figure] Crassus [an historical figure charged with ending the Spartacus-inspired slave rebellion] will probably pop up in season two. We talked about adding Veronus, who is one of the guys who goes after Spartacus, and other guys from history.”
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