I had the privilege of speaking with Tom Riley (Leonardo da Vinci) and David S. Goyer (Creator, Executive producer) about season two of “Da Vinci’s Demons” at a press roundtable back during New York Comic Con. If you missed it, here's my interview with Gregg Chillin and Laura Haddock. Catch the season two premiere of “Da Vinic’s Demons” on STARZ on March 22 at 8.
Q: What made you decide to take everyone out of Florence and to split everybody up in different stories?
David Goyer: I was just A. very conscious of the fact that, well, okay, let me back up. The first season was bookended by a big historical event, the Pazzi conspiracy, which is something real, which is erupted in Florence and caused a lot of problems. We deal with the ramifications of that at the beginning of the second season. But I just was very conscious of, I always wanted the show to be a road show, and I didn’t just want to repeat ourselves for the second season. So I didn’t want, I call it, “It’s too tiny town.” I didn’t want it happening. You know there’s a move, it’s like, “Oh, we’ve already built these sets, so let’s just keep writing scenes that happen on the same sets,” and I kept pushing for, “No, I want to go to Naples. I want to go to South America, and I want to go to tall these places. And eventually, there was this negotiation. “Oh can you go to South America for two episodes?” And I wanted six, and then we ended up somewhere in between. But having done it, we also have a much bigger effects budget this season. And we were able to build on, we had our existing sets, and we used that as an asset. We also have our digital sets. We spent close to half a million dollars building digital Florence and digital Rome, but we already had those things, so we weren’t starting from scratch, so we could add money to other things. And, I think STARZ was nervous about going to South America, doing something like that, Machu Picchu, but they were very impressed. We pulled it off. Now they said we can go anywhere in the world we want.
How does it feel to get out of da Vinci’s workshop and to be out and about?
Tom Riley: It’s fantastic, actually. It’s very interesting. I just shot a scene when we finally get back, and it was a very strange sort of a feeling. When you are a kid and you go back home, everything suddenly, the house feels smaller. Your yard feels smaller. And it was that sort of strange sort of feeling on the set as you go back to the workshop, and having done these huge wide open spaces, and seeing the scope that the show can go to. You go back to the workshop and think, “Why this feels small. We’ve got somewhere else to go.”
At the end of season one, Leonardo chooses to go save Lorenzo instead of getting on the ship like he is supposed to. Can you discuss the ramifications of this?
TR: Certainly the Turk thinks he’s not, he’s abandoned his quest. Yes there are ramifications, the problem is he’s in a tight spot with Lorenzo, literally and figuratively the man’s has his hands to his neck. Elliot Cowan is like six foot four. It was a very difficult situation to get out of. There’s obviously going to be emotional ramifications and physical ramifications for that. But David and the writers came up with the most ingenious way to solve both of those issues at once in the first episode that will actually lead to…that will actually strengthen everything he needs to go on the rest of the quest. We can talk about that. Can we talk about that?
TR: So, yeah. I reckon. The blood transfusion?
TR: So there’s a very early version of a blood transfusion in the first episode. Of Leonardo deciding the only way he can potentially save Lorenzo’s life is by pouring his own blood, and I think you see a glimpse of in the trailer, into Lorenzo’s arm. Fortunately he has no idea about blood types, which they must just be the same. It just worked out.
DG: They kinda become, well they do become, blood brothers.
TR: Blood brothers. So it’s a very, it’s a very, it’s a smart way of to get out of a very, very difficult situation.
DG: I think the idea is that we lost, I mean we knew historically that Giuliano was going to die. Although I love the fact that Giuliano, I don’t know if you caught it, he’s in the trailer. I have always said that the show has a non-linear structure, and that, we thought it was fun to… Yes we shot with Tom Bateman who plays Giuliano in the second season, so. Yeah the idea is that Giuliano died, and he lost his brother, and that Lorenzo kind of adopts Leonardo as his new brother, to a certain extent. But, I mean, I’m really proud of the second season. I love what we did the first season, but I think the second season is stronger.
TR: Oh yeah, it’s great.
DG: It introduces a ton of new characters, and there are some stand outs, I mean aside from the obvious ones like Tom and Blake and what not. da Vinci and Riario get thrown together for quite a bit this season. They’re together for about five episodes, which is quite fun. Eliot Cowan who plays Lorenzo, who couldn’t be here, I mean we had to pick. We are still filming right now so we had to pick some of our actors. Elliot Cowan who plays Lorenzo is amazing this season.
TR: Smashes it out of the park.
DG: Really gets the shit kicked out of him as a character and an actor, which is fun. He’s not in Florence for most of the season, which was fun. We took him out of his comfort zone. If you know your history at all, what happened after the Pazzi conspiracy is that Rome declared war on Florence. And then Naples, which had the biggest standing army in Italy, sided with Rome, and Lorenzo traveled to Naples to try to reach a political accord and was taken prisoner, which is what really happened, and so, that’s part of Lorenzo’s story for the season. It’s just fun. He was kind of like this…
TR: Buttoned up and stiff
DG: Buttoned up ruler in the first season, and then he’s like a prisoner and having to fight for his life for the bulk of the season two, and it’s fun. I think you kind of see him being whipped and tortured in the trailer. Anyway, Elliot really kicks ass this season.
TR: Yeah he does.
STARZ released some photos, and one is da Vinci standing in front of the Mona Lisa. Is there anything you can say about that?
DG: Again, we say time is a river, and I’ve said that the structure of the show is non-linear. I can’t remember the date he painted the Mona Lisa.
TR: About fifteen years after…
DG: Yeah about fifteen years later. And again, I’ve even said that we may see a glimpse of the end of Leonardo’s life in this season, so the plan was always to hop all over the place. Do we see any more of his childhood in this season? I can’t remember.
TR: We might. We see more of himself as a child.
DG: Yes. Ooh, tricky answer. Tricky answer. Yes, we get into the Mona Lisa. One of the things that is also fun about this show is just because a character is killed off, doesn’t mean you won’t be seeing them again. And there’s actually another character that died that you will be seeing again this season too, so.
How do you decide what parts of history to follow?
DG: What the writers and I have always done is to say A. What are the big giant events that are happening? So we knew the first season would sort of happen with sort of the killing of the Duke of Milan and then end with the Pazzi conspiracy. And then roughly, the second season is sort of bookended by the rest of Pazzi conspiracy and something called the Siege of Otranto, which is when the Ottoman Empire attacked the southernmost shores of Italy. And so, the plan has always been to say that we are going to take these big milestone and work in between them, and then various things happen in between. In some of the cases, some of our characters might die a little sooner or a little later than they did historically, but the big sign posts we’re still adhering to.
TR: As far as Leonardo and Riario’s concerned, and the other people who might travel with them to South America, that is the lost years. There’s no historical basis. We go a little crazy.
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