"I like the dark stuff, and I like to push it," DeKnight explained.
Indeed, on a few occasions Starz executives found themselves pulling back on the producers' leash. A messy scene in which Spartacus tears out a rival's throat with his teeth had to go, DeKnight said.
And as for the sex? One orgy sequence contained "an incident with a ladle that I won't get into," DeKnight said. That too was nixed after pleading from executives. In retrospect, "I think I agree with them on that one."
Lawless, who became a feminist icon with her portrayal of Xena in the 1990s, said she'd never done a nude scene before. But as shooting on the first season's 13 episodes progressed, the actress -- who plays Lucretia, the Lady Macbeth-type wife of the owner of the school where Spartacus trains -- became blasé about the show's rampant sexuality.
"You just get incredibly comfortable with it," she said on the phone from New Zealand. "You're like a tribe in a far-flung corner of the world."
Even so, it's likely most viewers won't be quite as nonchalant -- and Starz executives are praying that many will be shocked into watching.
Whitfield, who plays the title role, noted that a PG-13 version of "Spartacus" is scheduled to be shown in his native Australia.
"I'm anxious to see it," he said with a wry chuckle. "I can't imagine what's in it."