Add action and over-the-top violence to some pretty darn cool effects, excellent writing, genre goddess Lucy Lawless and Dollhouse, Buffy, Angel, and Smallville alum Steven S. DeKnight, you may very well have a hit on your hands. (Lead Andy Whitfield in some pretty darn kick ass and super bloody fight scenes certainly doesn't hurt.) 'Spartacus: Blood and Sand' premieres on Starz tonight, and we highly recommend you call your cable provider if you don't get it yet. A little 300, a little Rome and a little sex, drugs and rock...wait...sex, swords and naked dancers. Same thing. Want another reason to watch? The show has already been renewed for a second season...before the first one has even aired! We got a chance to take part in a conference call with Lawless, DeKnight and Whitfield about the show last week where we got the scoop on the show, the sex scenes, working with a slo-mo camera and yes, the fluffers.
On whether or not you'll see a minotaur:
Steven S. DeKnight: When we approached this, there was a very brief discussion about the mythological element, but we decided very strongly not to move into a 'Clash of the Titans' kind of arena. Which I love, but this is definitely not that story...you won't see Krakens or Minotaurs, but there will be talks about them.
On the sex and violence:
DeKnight: From everything I've read, this was a very visceral place, both in regards to sex and in regards to violence.
Andy Whitfield: I also think it's not out of context. It's not shocking when you watch the show, because it seems relevant to the volatile, crazy world it was. It would be inauthentic to not go there.
Lucy Lawless: All of us, the actors and the writers, are very serious about what we're doing. We do not want one single thing to be gratuitous, even when there is a sex scene. In fact, there is also business being transacted. The scene is about something else. Otherwise it would be on the Playboy channel...this is not soft porn. It's a bloody good yarn and you want to be on board. It's a great show.
DeKnight: Lucy has a great point, particularly with the sex scenes. I certainly don't shy away from it...I mean, you'll see some background sex going on, but when it's our main characters, there is always something else going on in the sex scene. It's a discussion, it's a power play, it's an exploration of love. It's never just the sex or titillation.
Lawless: It's a way of telling the audience, you ain't in Kansas anymore. You know? It certainly jolts you into a different reality where people had completely different relationships to their bodies and other human beings being merely tools. Slavery, different attitudes to sexuality, prostitution, you name it. They thought of things differently. But essentially, human beings haven't evolved very much. So you are still able to relate to them.
On the visual effects and the challenges it presents:
DeKnight: Everything has such a fantastic gritty feel. From the production side, using the green screen, we could not do the show without it. We do not have the deep pockets that HBO had on Rome. But we wanted to open it up and make it an epic scope. And the green screen really, really allows us to do that. It also allows us to do some very interesting, graphic novel-style interpretations of this world, to give it a different flavor.
On slo-mo screaming:
Whitfield: There was this camera, called the Phantom camera that shot a thousand frames a second, and you can slow things down...it can freeze things. It meant that I couldn't have a stunt double, because you could see it wasn't me. [laughs] I had to learn a whole new way of holding my face. Learning to not blink, because a blink is a minute long. [laughs] I also, if I had to scream in anguish, I had to get it in early, otherwise, it was at the end of the sequence, which is only two seconds, but it gets stretched out to thirty.
On the nudity:
Lawless: You get kind of used to it. It's historically accurate that there are slaves standing around in various states of undress. And after a while, it becomes a non-issue. It loses all that taboo...the scenes are always choreographed. There is always a layer...there is no skin on skin contact, apart from kissing. So it's pretty sanitized. [laughs]
DeKnight: One of the things with the nudity, and something I was always interested in, and what I think is great with Lucy and John Hannah's character, is they're a husband and wife. And of course husbands and wives get undressed and have a conversation while they're doing it. So the nudity is not always in a sexual situation. There is just...people do get dressed and undressed.
Lawless: And we have conversations while I'm in a bath with slaves...so naturally it's in a state of undress, but there is something going on in the scene that is more riveting than me. [laughs]
Whitfield: Oh, come on Lucy. That's not true!
And the ancient fluffers:
DeKnight: Well, you know, this actually came out of a conversation with Rob Tappert (executive producer, along with Sam Raimi...yes, that Sam Raimi). We were talking about the first scene. And it's really the first sex scene we see with Batiatus (Hannah) and Lucretia (Lawless). And the first draft draft, the way it was written, they were engaged in the act and having this conversation. And Rob felt, 'Well, this is something you can see anywhere on TV. How do we make it different for our show?' And there were a lot of extremely graphic, crazy suggestions thrown out that I couldn't repeat. [laughs] They shocked even me. Finally, I really started thinking about it, and I thought, this first scene is the set up for the master/slave relationship. Why not use that in a sexual connotation? And actually have them be fluffers. But not just the woman fluffer for the guy, but also have a fluffer for the woman. But it's interesting. Because the way it's shot, you really don't see anything of the fluffing going on. But it's the implication that just makes it extremely racy.
Spartacus: Blood and Sand premieres on Starz tonight at 10 pm.