September 27, 2010 / 8:15 AM / 8 years ago

Cancer-stricken "Spartacus" star may be replaced

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Starz may recast the lead role in “Spartacus” after star Andy Whitfield was unexpectedly forced to quit earlier this month so that he could resume cancer treatment.

Sources say the cable network has begun talks with casting directors about possibly finding another actor to take over the show. Though the actor would most likely play Spartacus, another, much less likely, possibility involves re-shaping the series around a new central character. If no suitable candidate is found, Starz and producers may opt to delay or cancel production.

The decision to audition other actors was made in conjunction with Whitfield, who is said to support the series’ continuation.

The 36-year-old Welsh native was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma earlier this year, forcing Starz to delay shooting the second season of the swords-and-sandals saga. Having said in July that he was looking forward to returning to the series, his announcement on September 17 that doctors had advised an “immediate” resumption of “aggressive treatment” for cancer came as a shock.

Even if the second season begins shooting without Whitfield as Spartacus, producers are searching for some way to have the actor remained involved in the show. Any credit will also ensure that Whitfield remains an employed member of the production.

During Whitfield’s first round of cancer treatment, Starz crafted a prequel mini-season that did not require Whitfield until his doctor gave the actor an all-clear. Filming on the prequel is currently underway in New Zealand, with the second season scheduled to start production immediately afterward. The network must either recast the title role quickly — within the next eight weeks — or halt production.

The decision to potentially recast, sources say, was not made easily. Starz executives, along with members of the cast and crew, have been devastated by this turn of events and would prefer to keep Whitfield in the role.

But there are several financial realities to be considered, too. “Spartacus” is the network’s first and only breakout original series. DVD sales on the just-released first season are strong. Additionally, there’s the rest of the cast and crew of other “Spartacus” employees awaiting word on whether their jobs will continue. Delaying production could potentially mean losing key actors or writers to other opportunities.

The prequel is set to air in January.

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