Andy Whitfield, the actor who played Spartacus on the Starz series Spartacus: Blood and Sand, was diagnosed with cancer after shooting the first season. Starz waited for him to undergo treatment and hopefully reprise his role ... but the cancer came back.
Now the only way to continue the series is to recast the title role, and Starz president and CEO Chris Albrecht told the Television Critics Association that they are close to finding that actor.
"This will be the official second season, which picks up where we last left Spartacus and his gang of escaped gladiators," Albrecht said at the TCA winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan 7. "We don't have casting news for you today, but the reason that we are announcing the official moving ahead is because we're very confident that where we are in the casting process will result in finding a lead actor who can ably step into Spartacus' sandals, although we will never be able to truly replace Andy Whitfield."
You'll get enough bloody gladiators and Roman orgies to tide you over this month. A prequel series, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, takes place five years before Blood and Sand, so it features all the characters from the show except for Spartacus. Also, since it's only six episodes instead of 13, there's no fluff, says executive producer and writer Steen S. DeKnight.
"We basically cut out all the boring parts, and we hit the ground running," DeKnight said. "We learned a lot from season one about how we started and how it took the show a while to find its footing. When we hit the prequel we knew where our strengths were, and we know our footing. We start off right in the thick of it, the same way we plan on doing in season two."
Gods of the Arena will introduce a new gladiator, Gannicus, played by Dustin Clare. He's got some badass skills, and a dark side outside the arena. "My character fights with two swords so you're also learning a left brain and right brain kind of action, which takes a little while to get down," Clare said. "He's always trying to escape his reality, and he does that through abusing things like alcohol in excess. He's a very self-destructive character, and he's also probably got suicidal tendencies."
The deaths will be even bloodier than ever in the prequel, and they'll have to top that in season two. "There are some deaths that are so incredible, you just have to rewind to watch again, because you can't believe what you just saw," DeKnight said.
Familiar characters like Lucretia and Doctore are in a happier place during the prequel's golden era. Lucy Lawless plays Lucretia, the manipulative wife of gladiator owner Batiatus (John Hannah). Five years ago, though, she was a doting wife.
"You get to see our characters when they are in the honeymoon phase of their lives," Lawless said. "My character certainly was a bit more sort of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed before her rotten college mate came back and taught her all these bad tricks, played by Jaime Murray, who plays Gaia. My character did not abuse the servants in the beginning, and she was devoted to her husband."
Doctore, in fact, wasn't even named Doctore. Gods of the Arena shows him when he was Oenomaus. Actor Peter Mensah got a break from being Mr. Serious. "I got to smile," Mensah said. "You do get to see how he became the severe man you meet in season one. It goes back a little ways into the relationship with the House of Batiatus."
Now that they have the go ahead for recasting, Spartacus producers have some outrageous plans for the official second season, also. For one, Lucretia, who was stabbed in the stomach, will survive to cause more trouble.
"What we have planned for Lucretia in season two makes season one and the prequel pale in comparison to what she's up to in season two," DeKnight promised.
Spartacus: Gods of the Arena premieres Jan. 21 on Starz.