Starz may replace 'Spartacus'' Andy Whitfield

Casting directors notified as star undergoes cancer treatment

Starz is exploring its option to recast the lead role in "Spartacus."

With star Andy Whitfield unexpectedly having to resume treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma, sources say the network has begun talks with casting directors about possibly finding another actor to take over the show, THR's Live Feed reports.

Though the actor would most likely play Spartacus, another, much less likely, possibility involves re-shaping the series around a new central character. If no suitable candidate is found, Starz and producers may opt to delay or cancel production

The decision to audition other actors was made in conjunction with Whitfield, who is said to support the series continuing forward.

Even if the second season begins shooting without Whitfield as Spartacus, producers are searching for some way to have the actor remained involved in the show. Any credit will also ensure that Whitfield remains an employed member of the production.

During Whitfield's first round of cancer treatment, Starz put production plans on hold and crafted a prequel mini-season that did not require Whitfield until his doctor gave the actor an all-clear. Filming on the prequel is currently underway in New Zealand, with the second season scheduled to start production immediately afterward. With Whitfield having to undertake a new round of "aggressive" cancer treatment, the network must either recast the title role quickly -- within the next eight weeks -- or halt production.

The decision to potentially recast, sources say, was not made easily. Starz executives, along with members of the cast and crew, have been devastated by this turn of events and would prefer to keep Whitfield in the role.

But there's several financial realities to be considered, too. "Spartacus" is the network's first and only breakout original series. DVD sales on the just-released first season are tracking strong. Plus, there's the rest of the cast and crew of other "Spartacus" employees awaiting word on whether their jobs will continue. Delaying production could potentially mean losing key actors or writers to other opportunities.

The prequel is set to air in January.