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