'Tut' Boss on Exploring the Ancient World With Spike, Possible Second Season

Tut Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Spike

Tut Still - H 2015

Cutting through the clutter of original programming is a daunting task for any cable network, but particularly for one that isn’t known for its scripted shows. Like many other cable networks, Spike TV is looking to a high-end miniseries — Ben Kingsley starrer Tutto put the Viacom-owned cable network back on the map as a player in the scripted arena. The six-hour event series is Spike's first scripted show in eight years and is based on the life of the young Tutankhamun

(aka King Tut, who is played by Twisted and Victorious star Avan Jogia).

The lavish production is really about the complex relationships that defined the life of the troubled Pharaoh, executive producer and director David Von Ancken told The Hollywood Reporter. “I treated everything else as secondary to what was going on in Tut's heart and the mind of Ay (Kingsley), the puppet master,” Ancken said. “How does he look at himself in the mirror while he's screwing over the young man he's effectively raised?” Here, Ancken talks with THR about the challenges of re-creating the ancient world and the harsh life of one of Egypt’s best-known Pharaohs.

You worked with WGN America on its first scripted series — Salem — how did Spike compare after being out of the scripted game for eight years?

They got behind me and they were very good to work with. It's not as if they didn't have opinions. Far from it — they had very specific opinions. But they were also very interested in supporting the ideas I had put forth early on. Tut isn't the obvious choice for your first scripted series if you've never done it before. But I think that's part of the point for them. This was a more aggressive foray in scripted programming than the other ones. These people were as much wanting to get people to watch the show as to announce that Spike has been redesigned into a general entertainment network where you can turn to programming as far afield as a big sword and sandals epic.

What kind of feedback did Spike have during production?

When I came on board, I suggested to writer Michael Vickerman that we cut 65 pages out of the script because otherwise we would have an eight- or 10-hour series on our hands. Paring the script down helped tell the story in the most limited way possible. We wanted to tell it with the energy that was required to keep the audience engaged, emotionally and physically. Ultimately, the Spike executives and everyone else involved were all more or less saw the same picture — and that was the key to getting it done.

Tut is a well-known historical figure, but I don't recall there ever being a movie done about him.

It's pretty amazing that there he hasn't been more of the focus of a movie before this one. Going back to the direct lineage of Liz Taylor in Cleopatra, no one has ever told the story of Tut. There have been a few documentary-style dramas, but there's never been a Tut film, not in TV or the movies. Which is odd, because he's one of the most recognized figures worldwide. And when I realized this, long before we started to shoot, that was part of the appeal frankly. All of us — from Spike and the other producers to the writer and every department head — found ourselves a bit amazed over what we created. We had 800 background people on set every day for weeks in a row. We had 65 stunt guys every day for eight or nine weeks. The average big movie in this country has maybe a dozen stunt guys on it. We had massive stunts.

How much of the finished project is based on Tut's real life?

We were able to use what was found in his tomb to help flesh out his story. By point of fact, he was probably not able to get up and run around. He was essentially inbred because his parents and grandparents and great-grandparents were brothers and sisters or cousins. And that doesn't bode well for you. When they unearthed his tomb, there was something like 119 canes they sent with him to the after-world. It was a sobering and somewhat sad fact of his life. The guy obviously had trouble walking. There are just these little details that you would otherwise never find, because they would just be destroyed by the ages. We get a chance to see his chariot and the bed that he used — everything is there. We took considerable license with him, but based the initial elements as close to history as we could.

If this is successful, is there a plan in place to do a second season?

The good thing is that the show is a true ensemble cast. It's Tut's story, but he's really a through line to talk about the relationships between the other characters. We were careful to keep alive the various storylines and keep the option of a second season available. This season is mostly Tut and his main adviser Ay in this season. But not completely. And if you look back, historical documents tell us that after nine years as Pharoah, Tut dies at age 19. But he's replaced immediately as Pharoah by Ay. And that's interesting, because he's a commoner and yet he ascends to the throne. But he only lasts three years. And if there’s a second season, it would focus on Ay and the story of his short time as Pharoah.

Tut premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on Spike. Will you watch? Check out the trailer, below.