Actors try to fill sandals, royal shoes, Ike's boots in remakes
Spartacus director Robert Dornhelm remembers seeing the 1960 version, directed by Stanley Kubrick, as a teenager in Romania. "When the offer came to re-do it, I was, of course, first very intimidated," he says. "But then I revisited the movie and, as much as I adore and respect Kubrick, I do not think that this is one of his better movies."
USA Network will explore the slave leader's story in a four-hour miniseries April 18 and 19. The new version returns to the source material, Howard Fast's novel, and depicts some characters that were not in the original film.
Executive producer Angela Mancuso defends the remake for exploring the same political themes, such as personal freedom and segregation, that were pertinent more than 40 years ago. "I think it's more relevant today to look at the fact that we haven't maybe progressed as far as we think we have," she says.
By revisiting familiar titles, programmers can be assured they'll gain attention in the crowded television landscape. They frequently defend their remakes by saying that younger viewers haven't seen the earlier versions or that new technology and more modern attitudes can re-energize the stories. Yet a new Spartacus will be a tough sell to viewers who know the 1960 film and its strong cast, including Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton and Peter Ustinov in an Oscar-winning performance. The miniseries features Angus MacFadyen in the Olivier role, Rhona Mitra of The Practice in the Simmons part and Alan Bates, who died last month, in his final screen performance.
Visnjic, who plays Dr. Luka Kovac on ER, acknowledged the risk of assuming a role so linked to another actor. "Kirk Douglas is my father's favorite actor," he says. "So when I told my father I'm going to be doing Spartacus and I've made my decision, he was like, 'Better be good.' "
Beyond his personal challenge, Visnjic says the story of slavery in 72 B.C. and rebellion against the Roman Empire needs to be told again. "For Spartacus to create the uprising and to do something was so extraordinary," he says. "I would compare it with inventing the theory of relativity. It was such a huge issue."