The Plot of Season Two:
Season two of Da Vinci’s Demons finds Florence thrown into chaos in the wake of the Pazzi conspiracy. Lorenzo is gravely ill and Leonardo da Vinci must push the limits of his mind and body to defend the city against the forces of Rome. While the Medicis go to unthinkable lengths to deal with new threats, da Vinci continues on his quest to find the fabled Book of Leaves and uncover the secret history of his mother. He’ll come to realize that he has lethal competition in his quest — new enemies who may be even worse than the forces of Pope Sixtus. His search will take him to faraway lands and force him to reevaluate everything he knew about the world and his own history.
Exclusive David S. Goyer Interview
Tom Riley says you have storylines planned through season four.
“Loosely, yeah. I always had season two in my mind when we were starting the first season. And we made some adjustments, but it more or less follows my original thinking.”
How far out have you got it planned? Is four the limit?
“Well, I mean I know if we’re fortunate enough to get there, I kind of know how the show ends. I think if we were completely going to do the show justice I would want at least five seasons. Could that be six or seven? If we extended it, then maybe we could. God knows there’s enough material. But the basic shape of what would be season three and four, you kind of have to have that in your head and at least know that you’re working towards something.”
Is there anything you did in season one that you now wish you had changed or maybe left a little more open-ended so that you could re-explore it in season two or future seasons?
“Sure. I mean, even in season two there was some things, in hindsight, that you wish you would have done. One of the things that originally happened is we had originally planned to do 10 episodes in season one and Starz decided that they were going to do all their first seasons as eight. But if I’d had my druthers, I would have told the same amount of story but stretched it out over two more episodes because there were definitely some things in season one that I would have expanded or elaborated on if I’d had more time.”
Season one surpassed, I think, what anyone expected it to do as far as viewership goes. Did you expect the numbers that you saw, given the subject matter?
“Well I didn’t know what to expect, honestly. I had no idea. It was just uncharted territory because it was such a bizarre show, or just different. I was just giddy that somebody was making my crazy ideas. I mean the fact that people tuned in was a bonus.”
And the fact that there’s season two is just awesome.
“The fact that there’s season two and that we have 10 episodes instead of eight and a bigger budget is even better, yeah. I was just sitting here with Tom a second ago and saying, ‘Wow, we’ve got like 18 episodes under our belt. That’s kind of cool.'”
You were given a bigger budget on season two? Season one looked phenomenal.
“Season two looks even bigger. I mean, yes, we had a bigger budget in season two.”
I’ve seen the first few episodes of season two and the tone, if possible, appears to be even darker this season.
“It is darker.”
Why is that and was that definitely in the plans all along?
“Yes. I will say this: I think that, on one hand, I always intended to introduce him as this, a little bit of a bon vivant, and then it’s kind of the hero’s journey. His life is going along one trajectory and then he’s handed the, sort of, reins of destiny and gradually takes on more responsibility. He’s been leading a relatively selfish life when the show begins.
But then the other thing that I always wanted to do with the show and him was I always described him as he’s the flame that attracts moths and people get burnt up in his aura because of his obsessions, because he’s so charismatic. So one of the themes for Da Vinci that I was always wanted to deal with was the idea that actions have consequences and that he might not have thought through the consequences of all of his actions and that sometimes he really f**ks things up and screws things up and people get hurt. Some of that starts to play out particularly in the second half of season two, because a lot of people are going to end up dying because of things he did, either intentionally or unintentionally, I guess, in the show.
But then I also think that with a lot of dramas that can sometimes be a natural trajectory to get darker, because as you become more invested… I don’t know. I’ve just seen that happen sometimes in the shows that I watch.”
You definitely get the feeling that you could kill off any character except Da Vinci.
“Yes, but I think that’s great. That’s what I love about Game of Thrones or Walking Dead. I think that’s exciting for an audience, that you just don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The threat is real. You don’t feel like, “Oh, it’s a major character so there’s no way they’re going to kill them off.”
“I think that madness and genius are often inextricably linked. I think if you chart a lot of historical figures that people would say were geniuses, many of them had problems with mental illness or were bipolar, because I often think it’s that slightly left of center sensibility that allows them to perceive the world in a different way. So I think they’re often twined and necessary, and if I look at some of the people I really admire throughout history, yeah, some of those people were difficult and had difficult lives. Anyone that’s an iconoclast often is difficult.
I’ve said he’s a charismatic character, but he’s also a very selfish character and he’s not always a nice character. He’s very flawed. I think that makes him interesting.”
In season one you introduced Dracula, or Vlad, and that episode became a fan favorite. Why did you make that choice and can we expect something similar this season?
“I made that choice because I’ve always said this was a historical fantasy. But one of the things that was interesting in my research is that I found out that they were contemporaries, that Vlad supposedly died around about the time that our first season would’ve ended. They were only about five day’s horse ride from each other and Vlad intensely hated the Ottoman Empire, the Turks. He was a prisoner of the Turks when he was a kid and there’s some evidence that suggests that the Medici Bank helped finance some of Vlad’s dealings. They were fighting kind of skirmishes, guerrilla warfare, against the Turks because they were kind of at the Eastern front. There is some evidence to suggest that the Medici Bank helped finance Vlad. I just thought, ‘Well, how can we not have these two iconic characters meet up with one another?’
Yes, we do a little bit more of that in season two and if we go even further, one should expect other various figures of history to rear their heads.”
Did you get any feedback from scholars about introducing the character?
“Vlad? Yeah, but nobody can deny the fact that they were contemporaries.”
It could have happened.
“Exactly. Let’s put it this way. I’m absolutely convinced that Leonardo Da Vinci knew who Vlad was, would have heard of him, so why not? The other thing about our show is that there were two, three, or maybe even four years that we call ‘the missing years’ around about 1480, ’81, ’82, where nobody really knows where Da Vinci was or what he was doing, and there’s all these conflicting accounts. So I just feel like that’s fair game.”
Anything could have happened during that time.
“Yeah. He, by his own account, claims … we have two letters in existence claiming that he was in Syria designing war machines for the Ottoman Empire. Then a lot historians say that was a prank, but yet this character that you’re going to meet in season two named Beyazid who is the son of the sultan, who at one point – and this is true – hired Da Vinci to design a bridge that crossed the Bosphorus. It was never built but he did actually hire him, so at some point they did come in contact with each other.”
Starz is actually good about letting include a lot of material that other networks might have balked at, and I’m specifically thinking about the strapping of the magistrate to a pig scene. Was that a hard sell?
“Yes. It was a very hard sell and it was one of the few big rows I had with them, big fights. But I just love it, it’s so mad. I just love that. But the crazy thing is that we actually go an actor to do that.”
Tom Riley said the actor didn’t know he signed up for that.
“No. Somehow he came in and auditioned scenes and we had sent him the whole script because, as you can imagine, we had a hard time finding an actor that was willing to do that. He was supposed to have read the script and he claimed that he had read the script, the whole script. He came in and I said, ‘So are you cool with what we’re doing?’ And he said yeah. Then we started talking and it became clear to me that he hadn’t actually read the whole thing. I said, ‘Do you know what we’re doing?’ Then I told him and he thought we were kidding. But to his credit, he said, ‘Okay. I’ve signed on. I’m going to do it.'”
Tom mentioned that the actor made friends with the pig.
[Laughing] “Yeah. Well, he had to because he was strapped to it for a good two hours.”
You know, that is my favorite scene of all season one.
“I love it. I just love the fact that I put that on television.”
Does Starz pretty much leave you to do your own thing at this point?
“I will say this. They give me more latitude now than they did. They gave me a lot of latitude, in fairness. They’ve been great. We’ve had our debates, but having done the first season, I think I earned more latitude. They were willing to trust me more.”
For season two, you were obviously very actively involved with the production. How do you do that with your schedule with films?
“It’s really, really complicated.”
Are there times when you wish that you wouldn’t be involved in series TV just because you do have the Batman stuff going on and you don’t have time for it?
“No. I love series TV. I’m actually getting more involved. I have a new pilot that starts shooting next week. No, I love it. I think we’re in this Golden Age of television, and I don’t differentiate between features and TV.”
What makes this TV’s Golden Age and why is this a good time to be involved with a television series?
“I think that there’s been a sea change with pay cable channels like Starz and with basic cable, and I think that it used to be that there was a divide. If feature people were to do television, actors and creators like myself, we were slumming it. The quality wasn’t as good. I would argue that, pound for pound, there’s actually probably more interesting things happening on television these days than in the cinema. There’s so many incredible shows out there now that, from Game of Thrones to, I love The Americans. I love Justified. There’s almost too many shows for my wife and I to watch that we just think are incredible shows.”
I can’t believe you have time to watch any of the shows.
[Laughing] “We do our best.”
A lot of people binge-watch Da Vinci’s Demons. Do you think that’s the right way to watch it, not that there’s a wrong way to watch the series?
“It’s how I tend to watch serialized television. I kind of prefer it that way. One of the things that’s great about time-shifting and DVDs and things like that is that my wife and I tend to bank episodes of things and watch them two or three at a time. I think that the, particularly with serialized television, we’re sort of just taking a kind of novelistic approach. That’s where you can really enjoy sort of the subtleties as you get going.”
Before season one aired we spoke and I asked you why Tom Riley was the right guy to play Da Vinci. It’s obvious throughout season one that he was absolutely the right actor. What do you think it is about him that so captures Leonardo?
“Tom is, first and foremost, incredibly bright, and I remember saying this in the casting process, that it’s hard to fake intelligence. If you’re an actor that’s not actually that bright, it’s hard to fake that, and Tom is incredibly bright. Tom is very playful as well. I think he’s an incredible actor but he’s also genuinely become a friend. We just adore each other.”
It’s fitting that you describe him as playful because that’s also what I see in the character is that playfulness, which I think allows you to like him when he does things that you normally wouldn’t like.
“Yeah. Absolutely. Da Vinci absolutely has a playful side and he has a dark sense of humor. One of the things also that his character does is that he sometimes can’t help himself. He does things that are, he could get away scot-free but he chooses to go back. Just the whole thing with episode five and the judge and whatnot. It wasn’t enough just to be exonerated. He had to have very specific requirements met.”
Exactly. You directed a couple episodes of season one. Did you direct any of season two?
“Not as much. Sadly, I didn’t direct any full episodes. I did some second unit in season two. I’ve got little bits and bobs. I actually got some stuff in the first episode. It coincided with Man of Steel coming out and things like that, but I would love to get back in the saddle again and to do some more episodes because I just love the cast and the crew.”
What so far has been your biggest challenge of actually writing a script for Da Vinci’s Demons? Is it that you can’t put as much in as you want to put in or figuring out how to balance all the elements?
“I would say that’s been one of the challenges. But I’ll tell you the biggest challenge is just, he’s a smart guy and if you’re going to do a show about Da Vinci, that comes hand in hand with, presumably, the show is going to be smarter or part of the fun of the show is that we’re going to put Da Vinci in these ridiculous situations and have him sort of figure his way out of them. It’s stuff like I said, with an actor, it’s hard to fake being smart. Sometimes we really wrack our brain. There’s episode seven, for instance, coming up which is when we actually get to the Vault of Heaven, where presumably the Book of Leaves is. This doesn’t give too much away, but that whole episode is kind of this … I don’t know … series of death traps and things like that. We spent a really long time figuring out each one. There’s a series of puzzles that Da Vinci has to circumvent, and we just spent a really long time trying to figure out some really, hopefully, clever ones.”
When you create these things like that, do you ever worry that the audience can’t follow how you’re connecting points A and B?
“We try our best, but no. [Laughing] I mean, it makes sense in our heads, hopefully.”
-Posted by Rebecca Murray
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