HeyUGuys were lucky enough to sit down with four of the principal cast members from the show, and we’ve got those spoiler-free discussions here for you now. First up we spoke to Tom Riley, who plays Leonardo Da Vinci himself, and Laura Haddock (The Inbetweeners Movie) who plays the part of Lucrezia Donati. And after the jump you’ll also be able to read our interview with Blake Ritson, who plays the primary antagonist Girolamo Riario, and Lara Pulver (Spooks, Sherlock) who plays Clarice Orsini. Da Vinci’s Demons will air at 10pm on Friday evenings for the next eight weeks on FOX.
Are you looking forward to finally being able to show Da Vinci’s Demons to people?
Tom Riley: Yeah, at last. It’s been sort of bubbling away since the beginning of last year.
Laura Haddock: I’m really excited about it. I’m really proud of it. I feel like it’s ticked all the boxes.
TR: Yeah, it’s nice to be able to come and do these [interviews] and actually want to talk to people about it!
LH: And not have to fib!
I could ask you what you’ve had to fib about now, but I won’t! It seems like a show that’s got elements that will appeal to a British audience, but also fit right in on Starz in the US?
TR: I think it will, I mean hopefully it’ll be a really interesting thing for them. Spartacus ends this year and then this is sort of stepping into the breach.
Tell us a bit about your characters and their relationship with each other. The first episode shows your characters both manipulating each other.
LH: My character [Lucrezia] has to be a very different person with all the different people she’s interacting with, for very good reason. That very good reason is something that I held onto tightly otherwise I’d have felt like I had multiple personality disorder. She absolutely needs to play those different games with the different people she’s with, and there is this very powerful motivation and that’s what I held onto.
Does it become clear which side she’s on?
TR: I wouldn’t say that we come down on one side or the other.
LH: No, and up until this point she’s essentially a businesswoman. She’s treating things as business because of the things that she’s fighting for, but she’s absolutely using her brain and her intelligence in the decisions that she’s making. But the problem is with Lucrezia is that she didn’t expect to be blindsided by what and who Leonardo is, and how he makes her feel.
She’s going head to head with one of the most intelligent men in history, and an action hero to boot. How was that to play, Tom?
TR: I tried to cling to the human side of him, I tried to cling to what about him I could understand, because no matter how long you spend in the library you’re never going to have a brain as full as his. So I just tried to cling to the more human elements; the struggle for perfection, the intense self-criticism that he had, the frustration at the people around him. The demons. There’s a big old world out there and he’s not allowed to be part of it because of his social status. And then when he meets Lucrezia then suddenly there’s a puzzle that he can’t unravel. He definitely knows something’s not quite right there, but he just can’t put his finger on what it is.
We meet him in a period of his life that we know less about. Does that make it easier to blend the fact and the fiction?
TR: David [S. Goyer] pitched it very clearly as a historical fantasy. The foundation of the events that appear in the show occurred, upon which he’s built these tangents. And the great thing about Leonardo in that period is that we don’t know a lot about him, we know him as an old man. We’re showing the kind of mistakes he’s made along the way to become that person. The journey’s much more interesting than just showing the fully-fleshed man.
Was David’s involvement a big appeal for both of you?
TR: I was like a Batman freak. I’ve always been a fan of his work, when I watched Batman Begins I though, finally, someone’s made my Batman. So to know he was attached…but this was one of those jobs that you read and assume, well this won’t go to me, but I can’t wait to go in and meet the people involved. There’s people from Doctor Who, and knowing there was cinematographers from Sherlock, Emmy-winners and BAFTA-winners.
Leonardo here even feels like a Batman-esque hero. He’s got his Joker in Riario…
LH: He’s got his Catwoman!
That’s what I was about to say, is that how you see your character?
LH: Do I feel like Michelle Pfeiffer? I didn’t really think about it like that, but now you’re saying it I guess so.
TR: Yeah, she is Catwoman isn’t she. Yeah, you’re the first one to make that link.
You’ve got a largely British cast and you shot the show in Wales, so does it feel like you’re making a British show or a big American production?
LH: A bit of both.
TR: Yeah, a bit of both. It feels very rare to have something with these kind of lavish production values over here. Where all the scripts are finished and ready to go, where the production design can put stuff in the background of episode one which you’re not going to know why it’s there until episode seven. It doesn’t tend to happen here. So it had the luxury of having a very talented British crew, but with such a driven, passionate, geeky American man as our leader. And everyone else then ups their games to match his ambition.
LH: And sometimes you’d walk onto set and just go, this feels huge. It really did sometimes feel like we were working on something enormous, and at other times it would feel like this little, secret thing that we were making in Swansea. We had that real lovely balance. Something that’s epic but also intimate at the same time.
Do your characters, Clarice Orsini and Giroalmo Riario, cross paths much during the course of the show?
Blake Ritson: We do over the course of the series, there tends to be a hint of menace in those scenes.
Lara Pulver: We’re are war essentially, aren’t we really. I’m Florence, you’re Rome.
BR: Yes, we’re very much at loggerheads.
So is Riario very much the villain of the piece?
BR: Well I remember David Goyer saying he’s the primary antagonist, he’s the nemesis, but he’s not the villain, because in his head he believes himself to be the hero of the piece. In a very amoral universe he actually almost has the deepest convictions. He believes himself to be a soldier of god, a crusader. He’s literally a ruthless bastard. He’s the illegitimate son of the Pope, the leader of the papal army. His mission is basically to save souls. He believes he’s on this righteous crusade to save people and there’s no limit to what he’ll do to justify that. And it’s not that he’s a raving sadist, it’s just that cruel things are a part of his day to day living. If a few people have to bite the dust along the way then so be it. But he’s looking at the bigger picture, he’s trying to save the whole of Italy and it’s just collateral damage. He’s like a religiously motivated terrorist and that’s terrifying because he can justify anything in god’s name. It gives him an extraordinary, robust fortitude to do terrible, terrible things. Which he does routinely throughout the series…and they get worse.
And Lara, your character is married to the leader of Florence, but we don’t see a lot of her in the first episode…
LP: You won’t see a lot of her until episode three or four. She’s a slow burn, deliberately so. She’s a principal female character. There’s only maybe three female roles in the show, and she’s the devoted wife of Lorenzo. She’s his confidante, his power behind the throne, a devoted wife, a lover of Florence and her family, and she has huge amounts of integrity.
BR: And good dress sense.
LP: And great dress sense!
So she is a straight hero, not a Lady Macbeth figure who’s scheming in the background?
LP: No, I think she’s brilliant at being seen and not heard, and yet when called upon for an opinion she’s able to sum up or offer assistance in few words.
Was it difficult to commit to a TV show for a potentially long time, when in the first few episodes she barely features?
LP: This was the dilemma, the offer came through and they sent me the first two scripts, and I went ‘well I’m not in it, so thank you but not thank you’. And David Goyer went ‘get her on the phone,’ and I spoke to him and he has this journey of all of our characters, possibly over six or seven seasons should we be fortunate enough to get that far. His vision was so clear and his passion and zest for this project is infectious. And he said to me Jack Davenport signed up for FlashForward having only one line of dialogue in the Pilot and had to say to him ‘you’re just going to have to trust me on this’. And he said to me, ‘I’m asking you the same thing,’ I’m writing a character for you and you’ve got to trust me on this.
BR: But you talk to him about any character you see the passion he has and the crazy encyclopedic knowledge he has of where every character is going to go. It means that you have the opportunity to play characters who are very rich and have great detail and are nuanced and will go on extraordinary arcs and journeys. He teases you with bits of information and about where your character’s going to be going without giving too much away. So you know it’s going to be an extraordinary journey working with him.
LP: And you know it’s a long-term journey you’re on, so it buys you the time to play subtleties and be patient.
BR: It’s an ensemble piece, so there’s a real joy in not knowing who’s going to step out from the shadows and take the reins. You also don’t know which characters are going to get killed. You might thing one person is one of the main characters and then suddenly they’re gone. David Goyer’s wonderful at ripping up the rulebook and I think there’s something very exciting about a set of characters when you don’t know where they’re going. I remember reading the scripts and thinking that it’s constantly unsettling, it’s constantly pulling the rug out and seeding little clues and adding mythological layers
LP: But what it doesn’t do is underestimate the intelligence of its audience. It gives you enough for you to be hooked but be intrigued for more.
It feels like in a post-Lost world there are a lot more shows planning for multiple seasons in advance, and it seems to be really benefiting television…
BR: I think it’s a wonderful idea being able to start a show and have that kind of depth of research and thought going into a character. It’s incredibly advantageous to us as actors. The conceit of a showrunner is an American idea, people are beginning to import it a little more into England now, but that scale of ambition means that in England people fight to get a second season, but in America that’s just the hope right from the beginning.
LP: And I think that they make such a huge investment both in time and financially, that for it to be gone in five months of shooting. For it to be financially viable they have to be able to return.
And yet while being this big American show, you’re a largely British cast and you’re shooting in Wales…
BR: Swansea as Florence! It’s obvious. It’s testament to the incredible CGI and the map paintings that they’ve got away with that, but I think all of us when we heard it was Swansea thought, ‘hmm, interesting’. But the truth is, apart from the weather it has amazing resources. We shot in disused mines, Anglo-Saxon ruins, gothic follies, there are 60 castles in Wales. And it feels big, like you’re making eight one-hour movies. The ambition is unbelievable. They’re pretty few and far between shows on this scale.
Going back to your characters, how much time do you spend with Leonardo himself?
BR: I spend quite a lot because we are nemeses, and I suppose I am one of his demons in human form. And as our relationship changes I try to enlist him, and we’re constantly playing cat and mouse. Quite often we’re one step ahead or behind each other, but when we do meet it tends to be a fairly formidable showdown.
Are you almost two sides of the same coin? Like Batman and The Joker in a way?
BR: Absolutely, that’s very much what David said to me. They’re both master manipulators, they’re both ferociously intelligent. There’s not many people who can compete with them intellectually, and they’re both illegitimate so they both have this search for legitimacy. I think the first meeting which you see in episode two, I think Riario sees a kindred spirit. I don’t want to kill him when I first meet him. I want to enlist him; I want him on my side as a friend and an ally. I recognise his genius before anyone.
LP: As do I. I want him as a friend and an ally and a war hero. I want him to protect Florence, to protect my family and to protect my city.