It isn’t easy being Juan Borgia, especially when his own brother, Cesare, stabs him to death and throws him off a bridge on Showtime’s The Borgias. In part one of my interview with David Oakes on June 11, Oakes talks about how Juan just was looking for love even if it was in all the wrong places.
In the second part of this interview, Oakes talks about how he got
the role of Juan and what it’s like working with Jeremy Irons. Oakes
also mentioned what his next dream role would be. Hint: It includes
wearing a cowboy hat or shooting in Hawaii.
Do you think your work in Pillars of the Earth led to getting the part of Juan?
think it led to the role. I’m pretty certain in fact. I only met Neil
[Jordan] only once and the only audition scene he asked me to read was
the bit with me on the horse in Episode 3 of the first season where
Juan’s just arrogant. So I think it was to see if I could do the
petulant childish side of him. I think the fact I could play a psychotic
rapist was taken for granted.
I was watching bits of Pillars of the Earth recently and cutting together my show reel. It’s very interesting for me to see where I was with Pillars
two years ago and the final scenes of this season in Episode 7, 8 and
9. I feel like I’ve certainly gotten better. I’m playing more with
characters now and manipulating them in different ways which proved very
exciting for me. I’ve really enjoyed it.
Do you think Juan is bothered by being a bastard or being called a bastard?
think in the first season that definitely was his driving force,
especially when you’ve got Theo, his potential real father there. I
think in the second season, especially when he’s come back from Spain
and he had his child, I think he’s come to grips with it. It’s that
confrontation with Lucrezia where he does the Michael Jackson baby
dangle, it’s then when he says to her, “We’re Borgia bastards,” and he’s
accepted that. He knows that they all are. He is very secure in himself
at that point I think.
Did you ever create a back story for Juan?
really other than the one that already exists. I think that was the
great thing about playing a genuine character although we play a little
fast and loose with some moments in history. During the season I
definitely felt the lead up to the first season was pretty much accurate
as it is in the history books. A great deal is known about Juan. I
think that’s quite interesting, but I mostly took all the factual stuff I
Now that you’re done with The Borgias, what’s next for you?
are a couple of plays I’m going to be doing in England soon, but
they’re not very long. I want to do a big TV series. I love having years
of time to present a character across a long distance. I’m becoming
less interested in playing smaller parts, not just because of the
profile, but you don’t necessarily get the chance to play all those
nuances across their existence. So it’d be nice to do a big series or a
film or two. Who knows? I’m open to suggestions.
Do you have an ideal character you’d like to play? Do you want to keep playing the baddie?
don’t know. Part of me wants to do a rom-com [romantic comedy], another
one wants to play a cowboy, but I love playing the bad guys. They’re so
much fun. I wouldn’t mind a rom-com, maybe something nice and fluffy,
maybe in Hawaii.
Was there any filming location for the Siege at Forli?
that’s all pretend. That’s all constructed and it was built just for
that. I think they left it up. I think they’re going try and use it for
Season Three. I imagine Caterina and Benito Sforza will come back to
play some significance in the third season. That was great fun. We
literally spent a week in a field with this wonderful horse which we
trained up for especially that scene. We bought it whilst we were out
there. He’s a brilliant horse, so well trained.
You seem very comfortable horse riding. Do have a background in it?
used to ride a bit as a kid, but over the three years when I’ve been
out in Budapest, when I haven’t been filming, I’ve just gone horse
riding. I love it. I’ve ridden a lot, but I’ve never had to do armed
combat. I never jumped until I did The Borgias
in the first season and jumping has been great fun. There’s nothing
quite as exciting as that symbiotic link between man and beast.
I’d love to do some kind of extension of that. That’s why I’d like to
do a Western. You’ve got Ronan [Vibert] (who played Giovanni Sforza).
He just did the Hatfields and McCoys and in fact Sarah Parish, she played my mother in Pillars of the Earth, was in it as well. We were filming The Borgias so I couldn’t do it, but I was so jealous.
Do you have a favorite scene this season?
my favorite scene was with Jeremy and the dagger, partly because I was
working with John Maybury. John pushed it quite big for the first four
takes, really big performances, all very different because it was all
the drugs, all opium. I’m sure when you play those takes back it’s like
pantomime, like it’s really quite silly, but it’s the best bit of
directing I think I experienced on the job. He went, “Okay take that all
away and just try one really flat, really quiet,” and that’s the take
they used for the close up on me which was take number five. And I think
It’s a great cross section between myself and my performance being
focused. You’ve got Jeremy feeding all the lines and giving a great
performance behind camera and you’ve got John Maybury who allowed us to
have the time and manipulated us in such a way that I think is really
electric. I think from that moment on if you don’t have any sympathy for
Juan your heart is dead and you’re holding too strongly on to his past
mistakes and not letting him be forgiven because he’s very vulnerable in
What’s it like playing opposite of Jeremy Irons?
and Jeremy had great fun playing together. We both trained at the same
drama school which part of me likes to think might be the reason that we
approach characters in the same way. We quite often do big things. I
think if you compare my and Jeremy’s style of acting to Francois’ acting
(Francois is always quite still and contained, sort of brooding and
moody) whereas Jeremy and I do quite large things.
The challenge then is to make them seem truthful which we may not
always do, but we try to make it quite dynamic. I mean he’s the pope for
Christ's sake and I’m this crazy, drug-addled disease-ridden entity so
why wouldn’t they be massive characters? It’s really fun to play.
Sibling rivalry is huge on The Borgias. Do you have any siblings?
do. I have an older sister, a half brother and a half sister, and a
step brother and a step sister from a previous marriage, but one way or
another I’ve always been quite independent. I’ve always gone as far away
as I could. So when I went to university, I went to the other end the
I went to Manchester and then when I went to drama school, I
went to the other side of the country to Bristol. I get on really well
with everybody. That’s always been my thing. I’ve always been nice to my
family and to my siblings and hopefully my friends. If anyone has nasty
things to say about me, I’m really sorry, but I didn’t mean to be
horrible to you. With that rivalry with Francois, it’s all acting. We
get on really well.
What has been the fans’ reception to Juan?
very supported by the fans. It’s been great actually, even more so than
with William [Hamleigh]. People have really gotten behind Juan. There
are very few who hate him and the people who hate him kinda scare me. I
don’t understand why they hate him strongly, but I feel very well
supported which is lovely.
What do you think will happen on The Borgias now that Juan is out of the picture?
Who knows? It could be many things. It could be the Addams Family or it could be the Brady Bunch.
Exclusive interview with François Arnaud (Cesare Borgia)
David Oakes interview, Part One
The Borgias reviews
World of Wonders
Truth and Lies
The Siege at Forli