Starz will pay tribute to former Spartacus star Andy Whitfield, who died of cancer last Sunday. The tribute, which will air this Sunday at 9 PM, will include five episodes of Spartacus: Blood and Sand, including the premiere and finale episodes. The network is set to re-air the entire first season of Spartacus: Blood and Sand starring Whitfield starting on Dec. 16.
In the arena as Spartacus, he was invincible. But in real life, former Spartacus: Blood and Sand star Andy Whitfield has lost his battle with cancer. The Welsh-born actor, who was beloved by fans of Starz’s gladiator drama, passed away today in Sydney, Australia, where he had lived since 1999. “On a beautiful sunny Sydney spring morning, surrounded by his family, in the arms of his loving wife, our beautiful young warrior Andy Whitfield lost his 18-month battle with lymphoma cancer,” Whitfield’s wife Vashti said in a statement. “He passed peacefully surrounded by love. Thank you to all his fans whose love and support have help carry him to this point. He will be remembered as the inspiring, courageous and gentle man, father and husband he was.” Whitfield was 39.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of our dear friend and colleague, Andy Whitfield,” Starz president and CEO Chris Albrecht said in a statement. “We were fortunate to have worked with Andy in Spartacus and came to know that the man who played a champion on-screen was also a champion in his own life. Andy was an inspiration to all of us as he faced this very personal battle with courage, strength and grace. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time. He will live on in the hearts of his family, friends and fans.” Added Spartacus creator Steven DeKnight via Twitter, “No words to express the depth of such a loss. You will be deeply missed, my brother.”
Whitfield got his big break when he was cast as the title character on Spartacus: Blood and Sand. But during a routine checkup in March 2010 just before production on Season 2 was to begin, he was diagnosed with what was described at the time as treatable Stage 1 non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Production was put on hold while Whitfield underwent treatment. He eventually went into remission and was days away from starting filming on Season 2 when his cancer came back and he had to resume aggressive treatment. Despite that, he remained positive, while the Spartacus role was eventually recast with Liam McIntyre.
EXCLUSIVE: Spartacus will not be the only recast role on the second season of Starz’s flagship series Spartacus: Blood and Sand. I hear Lesley-Ann Brandt, who played Naevia, body slave to Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) and lover of Crixus (Manu Bennett) on the first season of the show and in the prequel, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, has decided not to renew her contract and won’t return for season 2. She just started a recurring role on CSI: NY and opted to also pursue broadcast pilots, which are currently casting. The part of Naevia, a fan favorite, will now be recast. Starz is known as being less restrictive in its actors contracts, which allowed Jane Lynch to leave Party Down when she was cast in Fox’s Glee. Season 2 of Spartacus: Blood and Sand will also introduce Liam McIntyre as the new Spartacus. He replaced ailing original star Andy Whitfield. Production on the second season of the sward-and-sandal drama is slated to begin shortly.
It looks like with Spartacus, Starz not only has a breakout series on its hands but also a solid franchise. On Friday night, the premiere episode of Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, a prequel to Spartacus: Blood and Sand, drew some 1.1 million viewers for its debut 10 PM airing, 66% higher than the original series’ premiere a year ago, and 1.9 million viewers combined for the 10 PM and 11 PM runs, 77% above the debut of the mothership series. However, Gods of the Arena couldn’t break the ratings records set during the first season of Spartacus: Blood and Sand, which is slated to begin production on its long-delayed Season 2 with a new actor, Liam McIntyre, replacing ailing Andy Whitfield.
EXCLUSIVE: With the long-delayed second season of Spartacus: Blood and Sand officially a go, who will replace cancer-stricken Andy Whitfield as Rome’s most famous gladiator? Last Friday, Starz’s boss Chris Albrecht said that the network brass are “confident that we will find an actor who can ably step into Spartacus’ sandals.” I hear that that same day, the pay cable network’s executives had received a screen test for the role done by former Prison Break star Dominic Purcell. Throwing Purcell’s name into the mix is an intriguing proposition. For once, he does have the the physique to pull off a believable gladiator. Australian actor Liam McIntyre is said to still be in serious contention for the role, and he continues to bulk up as the network execs reportedly liked him as an actor in his November screen test but his thin frame was a problem. But last week, rumors started circulating that Starz had also approached a name actor for the part. Purcell has been vacationing in his native Australia, so he put himself on tape there and emailed the clip to Starz brass last Friday. It is not clear what the network’s final decision will be, but if Purcell gets …
EXCLUSIVE THURSDAY UPDATE: I hear that none of the three actors who screen tested for the Spartacus lead this week, Stephen Amell, Aiden Turner and Liam McIntyre, got the role. However, Starz is still holding onto McIntyre, the Australian, while the other two have been released. He may still get to be the next Spartacus, succeeding the ailing Andy Whitfield. But I hear Starz brass is considering all options for its hit series, including the possibility of ending it or bringing in someone else for the lead.
This shocking news that he needs aggressive treatment for a recurrence of cancer was made public today by Starz cable network and the Spartacus: Blood and Sand star himself, Andy Whitfield. He was first diagnosed with treatable Stage 1 non-Hodgkin lymphoma in early March. But recently the actor had been in remission and training hard for Season 2. He even attended the Spartacus panel at Comic-Con where he said he felt “better than ever”. His first diagnosis put production on hold for the next season while he underwent treatment. He was given a clean bill of health in May. To bridge the two seasons of Spartacus, Starz greenlighted the prequel Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, which is now filming in New Zealand and will premiere in January as planned. However, the future of the mothership series is unclear. Production on the second season was supposed to start soon.
Here is the network’s statement:
Andy Whitfield, star of Starz’s “Spartacus: Blood and Sand,” has been advised by his doctors to immediately resume aggressive treatment for a recurrence of cancer, as a result of which he will not be returning for the series’ second season, which was tentatively set to air in September 2011.
“It’s with a deep sense of disappointment that I must step aside from such an exceptional project as Spartacus and all the wonderful people involved. It seems that it is time for myself
Already the global screen production industry contributes $2.2 billion to Auckland’s economy with over 1440 production and post-production businesses. Recent productions made in Auckland include Warner Bros’ 3D version of Yogi Bear, Ice, Tracker, The Hopes and Dreams of Gazza Snell; Disney telemovie Avalon High, Power Rangers, and the U.S. TV series Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Now Auckland City Council has released a new protocol — i.e. code of conduct — to “make filming in Auckland even easier and more attractive to international and local producers. Auckland City Council developed this protocol in close consultation with Film Auckland and industry practitioners. The protocol is designed to be easily followed and simplifies the consent process. It will enable quicker turnaround times with all decisions made transparently.” More and more, it seems that California doesn’t stand a chance to keep filmmaking here at home.
Dustin Clare, a virtual unknown in the U.S., but a popular TV actor in his native Australia, has landed the lead in Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, Starz’s six-part prequel to hit series Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Jaime Murray and Marisa Ramirez are set to co-star in the prequel, which focuses on the House of Batiatus in its pre-Spartacus days and chronicles the rise of Gannicus (Clare), the first gladiator to become Champion of Capua. Returning to reprise their roles from Spartacus: Blood and Sand are Lucy Lawless (Lucretia), John Hannah (Batiatus), Peter Mensah (Oenomaus) and Manu Bennett (Crixus). Murray, repped by Gersh and Luber Rocklin, will play Gaia, Lucretia’s (Lawless) friend and a Capua social climber. Ramirez will play a beautiful slave girl with complicated relationships. Spartacus: Blood and Sand star Andy Whitfield will appear briefly in the prequel, which is slated to begin production in August in New Zealand for a January premiere on Starz. Whitfield, who plays the title character of Spartacus, will then rejoin the show in season two, which is set to begin production later this year. Whitfield, Lawless, Hannah, Spartacus: Blood and Sand co-star Viva Bianca and executive producer/head writer Steven S. DeKnight will be on hand for the series’ panel at Comic-Con on July 23.