×

Behind the Italian Scenes on Upcoming TV Blockbuster ‘Romulus’

On a hilly patch of greenery outside Rome, a group of extras is milling about in a meticulously reconstructed eighth century B.C. village wearing leather sandals, coarse red tunics and baseball caps.

It’s scorching. The set is on a vast backlot on the grounds of the Cinecittà World theme park where during a period of roughly six months a temple of Vesta — the virgin Roman goddess of the hearth, home and family — was built by craftsmen based on input from archeologists.

It overlooks some 20 equally period-perfect mud-and-straw huts and stables that make up the village.

The production company is several weeks into the 28-week shoot of Sky original “Romulus,” a 10-episode high-end series filmed in archaic Latin, set in a primitive and brutal world in which man’s fate is decided by the merciless power of nature and the gods, according to promotional materials.

Romulus” is “about feelings, war, brotherhood, courage and fear,” says director Matteo Rovere, who is making his debut as a TV director after helming similarly themed but conceptually different feature film “The First King,” a realistic rendition of the mythical tale of the founding of Rome in the eighth century B.C. by twins Romulus and Remus.

The series, which features a young, relatively unknown cast, is a spin-off of the movie. However, Rovere is keen on distancing the show from the film, noting that it starts earlier and explores the lead-up to Rome’s foundation myth.

“It is a great, epic fresco, a highly realistic reconstruction of the events that led to the founding of Rome. But above all, it is an investigation into the origins and the profound meaning of power in the West: a journey into an archaic and frightening world, where everything is sacred and people feel the mysterious and hostile presence of the gods everywhere,” he says.

One thing is clear: this show is a far cry from the sword-and-sandals epics Cinecittà became known for in its heyday. Yet from a production standpoint, there are similarities: thousands of extras are being used, more than 700 stunt people and hundreds of authentic weapons were manufactured for the show, which is produced by ITV-owned Cattleya. ITV Studios Global Entertainment is selling the series internationally.

“For the costumes, our initial references were images we saw on an Etruscan tomb,” says costume designer Valentina Taviani, standing near a bubbling vat where handwoven fabric is being dyed for the tunics.

“It is not the most expensive Italian series ever made,” says Cattleya chief Riccardo Tozzi, who declined to specify the budget. “But I believe it’s the most complex one” in terms of narrative and production.

Tozzi says Italian TV series are rooted in the country’s filmmaking heritage: “director-driven and dare to venture outside the box.”

“A series like this has never been made before in Italy, nor has it ever been seen,” says Sky Italia director of original productions Nils Hartmann. He points out that “Romulus” is “clearly conceived as an international product” and fits in with plans recently announced by new in-house production unit Sky Studios to double investments in original programming as part of an effort to become the leading production force in Europe, under new owner Comcast.

Sky Italia chief of programming Nicola Maccanico says the project has at its heart “what is perhaps the most recognizable brand in our country: Rome.”

He has high hopes that with “Romulus” the Eternal City will once again draw worldwide attention with a great ancient epic. Except this time it will be “raw and realistic.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Lorene Scafaria, Jennifer Lopez. Lorene Scafaria,

    'Hustlers' Director Lorene Scafaria: 'We Wanted to Treat It Like a Sports Movie'

    The star-studded cast of “Hustlers” didn’t just become strippers in the empowering female-helmed blockbuster — they also became athletes. When speaking to “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s movie podcast, at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month, “Hustlers” director Lorene Scafaria explained the extreme athleticism required of the movie’s leading actresses, who all had [...]

  • Jonathan Van NessLos Angeles Beautycon, Portrait

    Jonathan Van Ness Reveals HIV Diagnosis, Former Drug Addiction

    “Queer Eye’s” Jonathan Van Ness is getting vulnerable in his new memoir “Over the Top.” In a preview of his book with the New York Times, Van Ness opened up about his early struggles with sex and drug addiction as well as his experience with sexual assault, revealing that he was abused by an older [...]

  • 4127_D022_00003_RC(l-r.) Elizabeth McGovern stars as Lady

    Box Office: 'Downton Abbey' Dominating 'Ad Astra,' 'Rambo' With $31 Million Opening

    “Downton Abbey” is heading for a positively brilliant opening weekend after scoring $13.8 million in domestic ticket sales on Friday. If estimates hold, the feature film version of the popular British television show should take home approximately $31 million come Sunday, marking the biggest opening ever for distributor Focus Features and beating previous record holder [...]

  • Gully Boy to represent India in

    'Gully Boy' to Represent India In Oscars Race

    The Film Federation of India has chosen Zoya Akhtar’s “Gully Boy” as its entry in the Academy Awards’ international feature film category. The picture, a coming of age tale about an aspiring rapper in Mumbai’s Dharavi slum premiered at the Berlin film festival in February before opening to a wave of acclaim at home in [...]

  • Lucy-Lost

    Cartoon Forum: 30th Anniversary, Little Giants and New Generations

    TOULOUSE, France –  Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Cartoon Forum wrapped Sept. 19 having showcased the ever-growing strength of European animation. 85 projects were pitched from 24 countries at the co-production forum platform that played host to north of 1,000 investors, distributors and producers – a record number. Falling on French-speaking Belgium – Wallonie-Bruxelles – whose [...]

  • Renee Zellweger Rufus Wainwright Sam Smith

    Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was 'My Childhood Hero'

    Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan. “Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood [...]

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content