USA skeds $20m gladiator event with 'ER' star

“ER” star Goran Visnjic will trade scalpel and scrubs for sword and sandals to topline in “Spartacus,” a four-hour USA Network mini based on the Howard Fast novel that Stanley Kubrick turned into the 1960 Kirk Douglas drama.

Robert Dornhelm has committed to the project after directing USA’s recent James Woods starrer “Rudy.”

While best known for playing the brooding hunk doctor Luka Kovac on “ER,” Visnjic has been making headway in films like “The Deep End” and the upcoming thriller “Hypnotic.”

“He was suggested to me as the right type, and he had all the physicality needed for the role, plus this sad, somewhat despairing Eastern European look,” said Dornhelm.

Alan Bates has been cast to play Agrippa, the role played by Charles Laughton in the Kubrick classic.

Dornhelm said his version of the epic will be quite different from the one done by Kubrick. He just arrived in Bulgaria, where the pic will shoot on a $20 million budget.

“They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, but six weeks isn’t a long time to accomplish it either,” Dornhelm said. “We’ve got 400 people here, and we’ll build the gladiator school, the Senate, the streets of Rome and the underground Roman baths. It’s big stuff, and the people here are very excited to build our version of the revolt by slaves.” He added that the Bulgarians are working cheaply to re-create ancient Rome.

Dornhelm has made socially conscious TV films like “RFK” and “Sins of the Father,” but “Spartacus” is his first period pic.

Still, it has relevance to current events, Dornhelm said. “There are interesting parallels about power and evildoers.”

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