Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Borgias' David Oakes interview explores Juan Borgias' downfall - Part One

As Showtime’s The Borgias nears its second season finale, I talked with David Oakes on June 11 about his character, Juan Borgia, and the direction the show might take after Juan’s final scene in ‘World of Wonders’ (Season 2, Episode 9).

Athough Oakes has a reputation for playing the bad guy back from his days as William Hamleigh in Pillars of the Earth, my impression when I talked to Oakes is what a nice guy he is. Oakes doesn't see Juan as the villain and often empathizes with Juan who is stigmatized as the black sheep of the Borgia family, especially by Juan’s siblings, Lucrezia and Cesare. While Juan’s life ends tragically on The Borgias, it was a dream role for David Oakes.

What were you thoughts on your final scene? Was it as intense as you thought it’d be?
It was the last thing that was shot. It was the penultimate day of shooting. It was a nice thing to die when you died and not have to come back to work the next day after being thrown off a bridge. It was kind of like his confession scene. It was the previous three episodes worth of gangrene, syphilis, opium addiction, cigars, horse riding and everything coming to a head and just exploding. It was great fun to do. I think Francois liked it immensely too because he didn’t have to learn any lines. He just had to stab me which was fine at least when he got the safety pad that I was wearing. He kept missing me now and then and stabbing me in the stomach. He needs to get some fight training at some point. (Laughs)

Did you know Juan was going to die at the beginning of the season?

I knew I was going to die. I knew that was going to happen. I didn’t know when. At one stage they were toying with killing me off in Episode 3. The next rumor I heard was Episode 5, then it got to Episode 7. I definitely was going to die episode in Episode 7 they told me. Then I had Episode 10, then I had Episode 9 and then I thought I was going to make it to the third season, but then I was knifed. It’s a funny thing, scripts come out and you only find out piece by piece.

I didn’t know it’d be quite so fun to build up to my death. I didn’t know the gangrene and the syphilis and the opium would all come into play. It was a gift of a part as an actor really. I think while everyone is falling in love or getting a bit angry or coping with cathedrals falling down or whatever I had an amazing personal journey to go on with that character and hopefully I presented it with a sense and reality and hopefully you will feel a bit sorry for the guy. I don’t think he’s useless. Everyone says he’s a useless coward. He’s just placed in some sh*t situations. I mean he would have won Forli. He would have kicked ass at Forli if his character had let him know the other Sforza was coming to cut him down from the rear.

Cesare kind of set him up on that because he didn’t warn him.
Yeah! I mean what’s his beef? He makes me lose a war, then he blames it all on me and then he kills me, but I’m not entirely sure why he kills me.

I think out of jealousy sometimes.
Huge jealousy. I always ridiculed him when we were filming because there’s at least two situations, one in Episode 8 and one in Episode 9 where for no reason Cesare goes, “Ten more sons,” just to wind him up like proper little brothers do and push their buttons and make them go crazy. I just kept telling him, “None of them [the fans] will like your character because he’s just such a bitch.” It was quite nice to do that because everyone knows Juan is a useless cowardy worm so it was quite nice to get Francois worried the girls would stop liking him for a bit.

You know there a quite few women who like your character.
Well they’re all sick and wrong. (Laughs)

How was it like working with the cast?
It was great. The funny thing is by the second year you take it all for granted. I think for me personally I was most excited working with Gina McKee as Caterina Sforza. I remember watching her in so many stage productions over here (England) and films like Notting Hill. It’s a treat. It’s what actors dream and die for really. As you said you get to wear the armor and ride the horse for a job.

I was really pissed off when I started shooting Episode 8 because I wasn’t able to walk everywhere. At that point onwards I’m in a wheelchair or I got a stick or a crutch and felt restricted. There’s a reason why Juan starts in a wheelchair and switches to a crutch and then ends up with a walking stick, but quite often forgets his walking stick because I didn’t want the prop.

I was shocked at how quickly Juan’s downward spiral was. Do you think the Siege at Forli was the downfall for his character?
Yeah. I think there is the syphilis as well which he had before Forli. The one issue I’ve always had is I wanted to elongate certain sections. Every episode has so much stuff going on and so many great meetings whether it’s the fight between Juan and Cesare or Lucrezia meeting her different lovers or it’s the pope talking to different people about political machinations. I always wanted to have Juan in Spain. I wanted to have a month where I could go over with my own unit of shooting where he finds himself a wife, but that’s not to be.

Do you think Juan was different when he came back from Spain?
Neil [Jordan] was always keen on Juan coming back different and secure and grounded. That’s how I wanted to play it when he came back. I think the shock of Lucrezia actually manning up and trying to kill him had a huge effect as well. He’s growing and maturing, his pleasures were being taken away from him. He definitely was becoming an adult. Certainly there are moments in the second season where he manipulates other people in a similar the way they’ve been manipulating him. The scene between Jeremy and myself with the dagger is a last ditch frantic attempt at trying to win him over. It’s kinda successful in a weird way. He’s just a bit useless at that point.

Do you think Juan was genuine in the knife scene? Do you think he would have killed himself?

Yeah I think so. I think if there’s one aspect of Juan that never changes throughout both seasons is he always does what it true inside him whether it’s an attempted rape or trying to win a war. I also believe if Lucrezia hadn’t come over in the first season during the first war, he would have led all his troops into death. He’s not afraid of dying in that sense, he’s afraid of not being liked or loved and being left by his family. If Jeremy disowned him he would have done it. I don’t think he’s a coward in that sense. I don’t even think he’s that much a coward. It’s just his entire family, whether they know it or not, has been ganging up on him from the very beginning of the first season. What’s the problem with him? I think he’s lovely. I think he’s really kind and compassionate and cuddly.

Do you think Juan is jealous of Lucrezia’s and Cesare’s relationship?
Definitely. There’ a great little scene which we shot on the third from last day which is Juan in the opium den scene, looking up at the ceiling with the smoke everywhere where he says, “I think my brother and sister are having congress,” which is the first time anyone in the entire series. I mean the audience had been thinking that for awhile that something twisted was going on between them and the fact that Juan is aware of this and concerned by this is quite an interesting one.

I don’t think he’s jealous of them being together. I think he’s jealous of not being a part of it as well. When he forgives Cesare at the end saying how they’re brothers and wants to be together, I think that’s genuine. That’s the first time you realize what he’s always wanted. He just wants to be a part of the family and at every turn they’ve not allowed him. They’ve always pushed him away which is a great a shame.

In Juan’s final scene, I thought there might have been some reconciliation between the two brothers.

It gets very close doesn’t it? It’s interesting that Juan’s attempt at relieving pain is through closeness and hugging and love. Cesare’s attempt to relieve pain is through murder and fratricide and that’s very interesting. It would have been quite nice to have seen where the character could have gone next, but I think what it certainly sets up is (God knows what will happen in Season Three) the downfall of the family. It will be a very different family without him. They will need different things to get annoyed by.

Part Two of the David Oakes interview

Exclusive François Arnaud (Cesare Borgia) interview

The Borgias reviews:
World of Wonders
Truth and Lies
The Siege at Forli

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