As Da Vinci’s Demons prepares to descend on New York Comic Con on Saturday, I’m ready to spill some of the discussions I had with the cast and crew when I visited the set of the Starz show in August.
Starring Tom Riley as Leonardo da Vinci and coming from writer-producer David S. Goyer (Batman Begins, Man of Steel), Da Vinci’s Demons introduces a new showrunner in season 3: John Shiban, whose impressive credits range from The X-Files and Vampire Diaries to Supernatural, Breaking Bad, and more.
Of course, if you haven’t seen season 2, turn back now—massive spoilers ahead.
What I saw on set—particularly the filming of portions of scenes from episode 4—while visiting the show’s studio in Swansea, Wales, I just can’t talk about now/yet/possibly ever. I can promise that, from a production perspective, the quality fans have come to expect from the series remains.
While we eagerly await season 3 revelations out of NYCC, here are a few Q&As from the August 26 set visit—with spoilers strategically excised. (Is it 2015 yet?)
TOM RILEY, Leonardo da Vinci
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY COMMUNITY: Last we spoke, season 3 was just announced, and you were talking about the transition of your character from season 1 to season 2 and the dimension you were able to add to him. I was just wondering where it goes from season 2 to season 3 now that you’re in it.
TOM RILEY: It’s been the hardest yet, the hardest work, and the hardest on Da Vinci—and me, at the same time. They very much wanted to deal with everything that he had done up to this point. The writers thought, What would be the most interesting thing to do to this kind of impenetrable hero, as he began? He began sort of being the guy who could do anything and complete anything and was always the smartest, coolest, cleverest man in the room. But he didn’t earn it, necessarily—he was just riding on his brain, you know, just on his wits alone. So that kind of hubris has slightly taken him into a darker place, and he’s caused all sorts of trouble, as we can see—the sort of mess and deaths he left behind in season 2—and the cliffhanger he’s found himself in at the end of season 2 has to be resolved somehow.
We’re only four episodes in [at the time of the interview], and it’s going like a rocket—and it’s going to continue to.
I was told that episode 4 allowed them to completely change the dynamic of some of your characters’ relationships.
It’s going to be a very cool reveal at the top when you first see it … Will Pascoe, who wrote it—who wrote [Hugo-nominated Orphan Black episode “Variations Under Domestication”] … he was just determined to make this beautiful, self-contained story, and it really is—it’s heartbreaking. And also what it allows us to do—and this is something else the writers were very keen on doing—is shedding some light on the Book of Leaves. That’s what season 3 will do.
Yeah. It’s going to be less kind of ephemeral—”Oh, this book. This is this mysterious book. We have to get it.” “Why?” “I don’t know; we just do.” This season … not necessarily are we going to say what it is, but we’re going to say, “This is why it matters.”
LAURA HADDOCK, Lucrezia Donati
In season 1, I was so in awe of your character, and then in season 2, she got beaten down by life.
LAURA HADDOCK: I think for the first two seasons, Lucrezia was just a puppet, and she was just being told to do this and to do that: “Even if you don’t like it, still do it. You might feel terrible, but I still need you to do this for me. Not for you—for me.” And now this feeling in this episode—particularly in episode 4—I feel like it’s mine.
I think Leonardo is my truth, though … Lucrezia’s truth. That relationship and that feeling that she has when she’s with him is just completely real and honest, and it’s not fabricated like maybe other relationships she’s had with other people … he woke something up in her. Her whole life has been about avenging her sister’s death and doing what her father tells her to do.
At the end of season 2, I think I was so disappointed because the love between the two characters—
I know: Why isn’t that enough?
I was like, That’s lame: Why is she leaving him? Why does she have to make that choice?
She needs to prove to herself and to him that she’s worthy of being with him … She needs to press reset and discover who she is before she’s able to give herself to him—because she’s still caught up in all the lies. And she’s done some terrible things. And I don’t know if you can start a relationship as intense as theirs with all of that stuff behind you. I think she wants to go and cleanse herself, do something good, and then come back and say, “I’ve done this,” and then he’ll see someone who’s good.
In season 3, are we going to see a little bit of a return to form?
We get to see her go through all the motions that someone who’s done something they feel guilty about goes through: denial, beating herself up for it, trying to rectify it, literally trying to purify her body … and searching for the thing that she decides will cleanse her and would be a good thing to bring to Leonardo and say, “I know all the stuff that I did was so terrible, but I’ve done this thing for you, and I hope you can forgive me for—erm—destroying Florence.”
GREGG CHILLIN, Zoroaster
The last time we spoke, you said we were going to find out more about Zo in season 3.
GREGG CHILLIN: [Episodes] 1 and 2 of season 3 are like a two-hour war movie, and stuff happens on that journey where Zo kind of has to take charge of a situation that he’s never been in. And he kind of gets so emotionally charged that he reveals bits about his past—about his family. For me, it was like, “Oh my God! I’ve got a family! I’ve got a past!” And I think that’s what Shiban is doing this year, is really giving us all these amazing stories and pasts that have shaped our choices now, which is cool. It’s been really rewarding creatively thus far.
Emotionally, where is Zo in season 3?
[In season 1, he was] naïve and ignorant and not—just young, youthful, not particularly responsible for his actions, even though some of that moral compass stuff came into it … He has grown into a definitely different, maturer Zoroaster, which has been really nice … He’s kind of—not necessarily in a sad way, but downtrodden by life and his experiences, and because of that, he knows also who he is more. It must be so difficult to break free from someone like Da Vinci, who is so clearly intelligent and a genius and blah-bi-da, but Zo does, because he knows who he is and the sort of person he wants to be, and he doesn’t want to be taken for granted, and he has a life to lead and relationships to build.
What about his friendship with Nico?
I haven’t seen Nico yet, and we’re nearly halfway through the season … so that kind of Scooby-gang element—even though I know people like that, but we’ve all been on our total different worlds, and we’re all just about to, as I say, rekindle in Florence.
JOHN SHIBAN, executive producer
I’m a fan of the show, and I’m just wondering why the audience isn’t even bigger.
JOHN SHIBAN: What we realized is that true, hardcore fans even of genre work, but of TV—especially TV drama—come in for character, and they come in because they want to dig deeper into the character, not throw more things at the character. So we dug into everybody, but especially Leo. Leo has to face this season that his weapons and his ideas and his brain basically have been pillaged. And the bad guys have his weapons, have made them better—basically, he has to fight himself.
Did you say “fight” or “find”?
“Fight.” “Fight” and “find” in a way, because that’s kind of the struggle of us all to a certain extent: a battle with ourselves, more than external forces. So we started with that as the spine and that kind of applies honestly to all of our characters; they’re all struggling with who they are and how they fit in this crazy world and which side they’re going to be on, and will they fulfill their parents’ wishes or will they go their own way.
Is episode 1 set up so that people new to the show can just pick up from there?
Very much so … We’re using [the Ottoman] invasion as a way to bring everybody together, and that way new people will quickly understand what Riario was facing, what Lucrezia’s facing—because they’re all facing one giant event. It’s their Pearl Harbor. It’s their 9/11 … The war begins, and you’re meeting all these people in light of that.
ED THOMAS, production designer
It must be wonderful to have such a creative job.
ED THOMAS (while giving a tour of Bay Studios): For me, what’s amazing is that they let me look after the studio space as well, so it’s as much about the building for me as what we put in it—so it’s great.
We have three stages: We’ve got a 35,000-square-foot, a 55,000-square-foot, and then a 165,000-square-foot … but when we came here, it was just one big building with no electricity and no water, so we’ve had to work hard to get it into a usable state. The great ambition of this show is … to be able to create massive sets on this scale and only go back to them once or twice, because it really means that the show’s quite varied then in its vision.
British TV doesn’t get to this scale at all. There’s no show being made in Britain that’s this scale, apart from maybe Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland—and that’s an HBO show, so it’s really the American shows coming here, bringing the ambition … To be able to create a show with one vision—which means you can design everything and you can build everything and keep everything within the world rather than trying to piece stuff together—it’s such a privilege to be able to do that.
TOM HORTON, visual effects supervisor
[We also spoke in August, but Horton, Emmy-nominated in 2014 for his work on the show, kindly gave an update by phone on September 29.]
What’s in store for season 3?
TOM HORTON: In this season, with a lot of stuff being back to the solid drama and the core of the story in Europe, it’s a great chance for me to build out those worlds and to bring some magic to them in terms of CG. I’m hoping to do some really lovely environments this season, so that’s a big change, and of course, there’s still some epic stuff to come later in the series as well, so I’m sort of steeling myself for that.
That’s exciting—but I don’t think I could possibly ask anything about that that you could tell me.
Well, I’m not sure I actually know yet, so there you go. It’s all top-secret and a mystery. We have hints of what might go on. But look, we started with such an epic scale; I’m sure we’ll go out that way as well. I’m looking forward to it. The great thing is that we have made a big investment at the end of season 2—certainly into Otranto and then 120 ships—and received an Emmy nomination for it, which was exciting … so I’m sure we’ll get the most out of that world in season 3.
Speaking of the Emmy nomination, what went through your mind when you found out you were nominated?
I was totally thrilled and blown away and honored. Initially I thought, Well, I haven’t got a chance—I’m going to be up against some amazing people, and I was. But it was interesting: As I got closer to the Emmys and talking to lots of people, I did think, Aw, we really are in with a shot, because I thought we did do some pretty cool stuff in season 2 … When I didn’t win, my team and I were totally gutted. We were absolutely “gold-statue envy” all night. We were just saying, confidently, “We’re going to come back next year, and we’re going to win that.” We left with that in mind, and we’re really going for it this season … It was great motivation for us all to kind of run into this season [with]. It was super-exciting. Took my mum.
Da Vinci’s Demons returns to Starz in 2015.