Although bigger names were initially floated, Starz has gone with a relative unknown to replace Andy Whitfield as title star of the "Spartacus" franchise.
 
Starz announced on Monday (Jan. 17) that Liam McIntyre will play the Thracian slave-turned-revolutionary in next installment of "Spartacus," which will begin production in the spring of 2011.
 
"Since no one can really replace Andy, we realized that we should instead find an actor who can truly lead ‘Spartacus’ forward," states Starz President and CEO Chris Albrecht. "It was important to us to have Andy endorse the idea of recasting this part, which he did in the same heroic manner that he’s dealt with his whole ordeal. And that, coupled with our fortune in finding a young actor with the gladiator credentials and the acting ability of Liam, makes it easier for us to keep this hit franchise going."
 
Whitfield, star of the first season of the hit series, initially prompted a production delay while undergoing cancer treatments. Amidst the delay, Starz moved forward on the six-part prequel "Spartacus: Gods of the Arena." When it became clear, though, that Whitfield's battle with illness was going to be protracted, the producers opted to move forward with recasting the role.
 
A slew of familiar talents, including "Prison Break" stars Dominic Purcell and Wentworth Miller, were linked to the role in online rumors, but McIntyre's name remained in the mix up until the final decision. At the Television Critics Association press tour last week, producers told reporters that a final announcement could be weeks away, but apparently clarity arrived sooner.
 
The Australian actor's small-screen credits include "Neighbours" and "Rush," plus a role in HBO's "The Pacific." The Starz press release says McIntyre is currently getting in shape for the role.