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Costly 'Rome' Wasn't Built in a Day

(Posted August 29, 2005 by Leah Yoakum)

LOS ANGELES (Zap2it.com) - Coming so close on the heels of ABC's "Empire," HBO's "Rome" may seem like deja vu.

In true premium-cable fashion, though, the latest series to bring ancient Italy back to life goes places the other one couldn't in terms of violence and general frankness, a fact that becomes evident early on. Seven years in the making, the clearly expensive project that partnered HBO with networks in England (BBC) and Italy (RAI) premieres Sunday, Aug. 28, launching a weekly run that encompasses 12 episodes.

Opening in 52 B.C., the huge-scale saga -- shot, in certain instances, on the authentic locations -- features a principally British cast and revolves largely around two soldiers of different temperaments in Caesar's (Ciaran Hinds) army, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo (Kevin McKidd, Ray Stevenson). Mark Antony (James Purefoy) sends them to retrieve a stolen symbol important to their troops, making them privy to the best and worst of a society divided by vastly differing levels of prosperity and power.


Among those encountered by the duo: Atia (Polly Walker), Caesar's niece who manipulates her secret connections to her own benefit; Servilia (Lindsay Duncan), Caesar's aristocratic lover whose higher station irks Atia no end; and Pompey Magnus (Kenneth Cranham), one of the grand old men of Rome who fears a changing of the guard as Caesar's popularity grows.

Kerry Condon, David Bamber and Max Pirkis also are featured in the drama, whose first three episodes were written by executive producer Bruno Heller ("Touching Evil") and directed by Michael Apted ("Coal Miner's Daughter").

Heller seems relatively unconcerned about "Rome" arriving so soon after "Empire" ... or, for that matter, after similarly themed big-screen ventures such as "Troy" and "Alexander." He reasons, "Every movie or every series is a thing in itself. If you were making a Western, you wouldn't worry about other Westerns. Either it's a good story or it's not. The period is the period, but the stories that are told and the characters they create are the important things.

"It was very important for us to get the facts right," Heller says, "but more important, the spirit of the times, to be very precise about this moment in history. I think to a degree, most Roman dramas are pastiches. They take elements from a lot of different periods, so they're not really being specific. This is a pre-Imperial period, so it was very important to get the fine detail right, so you felt you were in a real world and not a costume drama."

Even with the legendary trappings around them, the soldiers who are the central characters of "Rome" follow a traditional formula that actor Stevenson ("King Arthur") defines as "two people thrown together in a friendship in spite of themselves. In one sense, (they're) flip sides of the same coin. Their weaknesses are sort of complemented by the strengths of the other, and vice versa. They don't recognize it, but it's just the subtext of their relationship."

Co-star McKidd ("Kingdom of Heaven") notes, "They get an opportunity to kind of sever that when they get back to Rome and civilian life, but there's something they don't even know that's between them that keeps them together."

What keeps Atia together is her thirst for power, and actress Walker ("Enchanted April") -- who has a couple of show-stopping scenes in the "Rome" debut -- enjoyed portraying what she terms "a very complex character. I found it exciting to play such massive emotions and deal with such interesting, to say the least, situations. I saw it as a huge challenge, and I have huge admiration for this character. A lot of people might consider her to be sort of evil or bad, but I think she's wonderful. She's just a survivor, doing what she's got to do."

Should "Rome" be renewed, a second season won't be simple to make. It took 14 months to produce the initial set of episodes, but being based at Italy's famed Cinecitta Studios for so long generally agreed with the actors. "We sank into this world more and more," McKidd says. "We really had a chance to explore these characters in a much deeper way than you normally would, say, doing a feature film. I didn't see any downside to that at all."

Actress Duncan ("An Ideal Husband") reflects, "There was something about driving to work every day and going past the ruins of the Forum and thinking, 'These people actually walked the earth.' It really brings it home to you that Rome existed as the place we're trying to describe."

During filming, the stars of "Rome" and "Empire" were quite aware of each other's dramas, with some of the actors running into one another while working on their respective epics.

"We wouldn't go that far into detail," McKidd says. "We'd usually drink wine instead. But yeah, we did know quite a lot of the cast, because there's quite a small community of actors in England. It was a strange thing to have two of each character."

Stevenson adds, with mock remorse, that there was one major difference: "They got free cell phones."



Source: Zap2it
 


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