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Flesh & Blood - Spartacus Blood and Sand

TV Guide
18-24 January 2010

Scanned by Roger

Starz whips up the sex and violence for Spartacus, a graphic adaptation of the Roman slave myth.

A 2,000-year-old dead guy is about to change the future of television. Spartacus: Blood and Sand—the new Starz show about the famed Thracian rebel who led a revolt of 120,000 slaves against the Roman Empire—is the first series ever to be presented in the graphic-novel style that made the film "300" a worldwide box-office smash. That means violence and bloodshed galore—slashed throats, skin ripped from skulls, entire bodies sliced in half like overripe honeydews— all of it artfully done in balletic slo-mo, along with frontally nude gladiators, no-imagination-necessary sex scenes and wildly foul language. (We're talking enough C-words and F-bombs to make David Mamet faint.)

Already green-lit for a second season before it hits the air, Spartacus is so visually dazzling and complex that each episode requires 120 days for the editing and effects alone—in other words, this is the kind of stuff you'd pay to see at your multiplex. It's intended to shock and awe and shock some more, and the show's execs make no bones about it. "It was always our goal to push the boundaries of what's possible on TV, and I think we even surprised ourselves," says creator Steven DeKnight {Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Adds executive producer Rob Tapert (Xena: Warrior Princess): "Most television is not about setting a new bar. It's about playing it safe. Starz was willing to go out on the ledge and take the leap with us, without all the feedback and silly note-giving. It's unprecedented, really."

The Spartacus team is well aware the series can't survive on lust, gore and ancient eye candy alone. "Viewers won't keep returning just to see two gladiators beat the crap out of each other in the arena," DeKnight says. "Basically, we're softies. At the core of our show is a sweeping drama and a passionate romance." Early in the first episode, Spartacus (Andy Whitfield) and his wife, Sura (Erin Cummings), are brutally separated by Roman soldiers who condemn him to die in the gladiator games and sell her off to a Syrian slave trader.

"It's Spartacus' all-consuming love for his wife that makes him survive against impossible odds," Whitfield notes. "It's a story so amazing you can't get your mind around it. I still stand back and go, 'This guy I'm playing actually built an army of slaves and took on the entire Roman Empire? Really}"'

Whitfield's own story ain't too shabby, either. A former engineer who hails from Wales, he only took up acting seven years ago—at the age of 30. Until then, he'd made his living as a facade specialist, scaling the exteriors of skyscrapers and bridges to spot architectural problems. "Finding Andy was like finding another Russell Crowe or Viggo Mortensen— a tough son of a bitch with soul," DeKnight says. "We really lucked out."

But the execs didn't push that luck when casting the plum female role, Lucretia, a desperate, social-climbing conniver married to Batatius (John Hannah), the downwardly mobile owner of a gladiator school. They simply handed it to Tapert's internationally adored wife, former Xena star Lucy Lawless. "I keep being asked, 'Why are you doing the sword and sandals thing again?', but this is so different," Lawless says. "And who doesn't want to play Lady

In a career first, Lawless has agreed to perform topless—frequently. One sequence has Lucretia and her husband carrying on an everyday conversation while being manually stimulated by slaves in preparation for sex. "We really pull the audience into a whole other time and place," Lawless says. "When some people see that scene, they'll flee their living rooms and never turn on their TVs again. Others will go, 'Wow, I'm really not in Kansas anymore! What's next?' And that's the crowd we'll attract. Spartacus is not a show for lightweights."

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