'Spartacus' prequel adds Temuera Morrison

temuera-morrison-getty-320.jpgStarz's "Spartacus" prequel started filming this week after filling two key roles in its cast.

Temuera Morrison ("Star Wars: Episode II") and Jeffrey Thomas will play key roles in the six-episode "Spartacus: Gods of the Arena," which is scheduled to premiere in January.

The prequel -- which came about in part because "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" star Andy Whitfield had to undergo cancer treatment (he's recovered and feels "10 years younger" -- will tell the story of the gladiator training academy before Spartacus arrives there. Morrison is playing Doctore, the predecessor to Peter Mensah's Oenomaus as the gladiators' trainer. Thomas ("Hercules," "Legend of the Seeker") is playing the senior Batiatus, the father of John Hannah's character in "Blood and Sand."

Whitfield will make a brief appearance in "Gods of the Arena" before returning full-time for Season 2 of the full series. The cast of "Gods of the Arena" also includes Dustin Clare, Jaime Murray and Marisa Ramirez in addition to "Spartacus" regulars Hannah, Lucy Lawless, Mensah and Manu Bennett.

"Audiences ate up the story of the House of Batiatus in our first season," says Carmi Zlotnik, managing director of Starz Media. "Now, with 'Spartacus: Gods of the Arena,' we've got a story that we think will keep them glued to their sets and ready for Season 2."

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