François Arnaud is a busy guy. During his break before returning to film the third season of Showtime's The Borgias, Arnaud was wrapping up shooting the upcoming Civil War movie, Copperhead. I talked with Arnaud on June 14 about his character, Cesare Borgia, and where The Borgias will go now that Cesare's troublesome little brother, Juan, officially is out of the way.
Have you started filming third season of The Borgias yet?
No. I’m starting third season next week. I’m going to Budapest on June 23. I’m also doing a movie called Copperhead
which is an American Civil War movie. So we’re shooting now. We just
wrapped today (June 14). I’m going back home for eight days and then
flying to Budapest on the 23rd for bootcamp. I need to do some training
with the stunts master for like eight days before the rest of the cast
arrive to get ready for a lot of action for season three.
Do you have a background for horseback riding and sword fighting before you started The Borgias?
Not in horse riding. I’ve done a little when I was 12, but I’d completely forgotten it. In The Borgias
Season One was the most horse riding I’d ever done. I got better by
season two and we work with great people, Peter Miles who is the stunt
coordinator. I’ve worked on some amazing movies with Tom Cruise. So
there’s some sword fighting, but mostly stage fighting which is a little
bit different, but I’ve done a little of that in drama school.
How did you get the role of Cesare?
I had an agent in L.A. and he sent me the script for The Borgias.
I sent a tape for it since there was casting in London and then a
couple of days later, like 24 hours later, I got a call from Neil Jordan
saying he wanted to meet me. Then they flew me over to London the first
time just to audition with him and the casting director and then
another time to test with Jeremy Irons. So it was like a two month long
Do you remember what scene they had you audition?
I remember it was a scene in the first episode where I confront my
father and he wants to make me a cardinal. I wasn’t a cardinal by then, I
was just a bishop. He forces a cardinal hat on my head and I remember
the day of the audition Jeremy had no cardinal hat. He only had his
cowboy hat. (Laughs) So it was like a different [scene] completely.
Do you have a favorite scene this season?
my favorite scenes are in the finale. I thought it was a great episode
when I first read it. Everything I’ve been feeling as Cesare kind of
came together. [In the finale] I confessed to my father about Juan’s
murder. It was a very headstrong scene I thought. I love working with
Holliday [Grainger] and Sean Harris too. It feels like walking on air
really. It just feels so natural and we all connect to one another.
Where will The Borgias go now that Juan is out of the way?
think there’s still a long way to go. Obvious the rivalry between the
brothers was a big part of season two and now that that’s over with
we’re going to need some more enemies. When the rest of the family hears
about Juan’s death I think it’s like a bomb just dropped. It doesn’t
really resolve any conflict. There’s that and early in season three we
understand that the Borgias have a lot more enemies than they thought
and I feel that Cesare is going to go after every single one of them.
What was that scene like killing Juan?
It was an
intense scene to do. We had been working on this rivalry between the two
brothers for so long that there’s a certain sense of closure that comes
with the scene, but also it was his [David Oakes’] last scene on the
show too. I think it was the last thing that we shot in season two
actually so David was such a big part of The Borgias on and off
screen that is was a bit sad to see him go. It was time for my
character to take the final step and go somewhere else.
Do you think Cesare believed Juan was going to destroy the family or killing him was a means to get what Cesare wanted?
think he had different reasons for doing that. Obviously Juan has
become dangerous for the rest of the family and for Lucrezia’s baby and
he hadn’t been much use as head of the papal army. He was a bit of a
wreck at that point of dying from syphilis. Those are all reasons that
made it possible for Cesare to finally do what he wanted to do for years
really. I think it’s still fueled by envy and rage, but I think he
finds some morally righteous reasons to commit that act, but still I
think it’s out of envy and anger.
Was the fire real in 'World of Wonders' or was it all CGI?
No, there was a lot of fire actually. It was really hot. I had dry ice for two weeks after that. Steven Berkoff
was a trooper, who plays Savonarola, actually did quite a bit himself
like even when they set him on fire it was a stuntman wearing a mask of
Steven’s face, but it was all pretty real. I don’t think there was any
So when you see fire on his robe that’s all real?
They actually set a guy on fire. I mean he’s wearing layers and layers
of cold cream and woolen robes, but it was great. Steven Berkoff was
amazing and also the conversations I’ve had with him in between takes. I
mean he’s a fascinating man. He’s an actor, a director; he’s directed
some of the great actors of the 20th century. He was fascinating to talk
Do you think Cesare ever was afraid Savonarola would survive the fire?
I don’t think so, not at first, definitely not when he challenged him
to do it, but maybe when Savonarola is starting to walk through fire I
think there might be a little moment where he wonders. Same thing like
with the plaster cannons in episode three. It was pretty risky actually.
That could have failed miserably.
Did you ever read Machiavelli’s The Prince as inspiration for your role?
During the first season I read The Prince
a couple of times. It became like my Bible for the character. I think
Machiavelli’s character is interesting on the show. They’re so clever,
both of them, and they both inspire each other and it’s great.
What is it like working with Sean Harris?
I mean he’s nothing like Micheletto, but he keeps a lot to himself and
is very reserved and composed, but since our characters are so close and
have such a unique relationship, I think he kinda lets me in a little
more than he does with others. That relationship between Cesare and
Micheletto is so different from anything else that I’ve ever seen or
known. It’s not exactly friendship, it’s not master and slave either,
it’s not brotherhood, it’s something really unique that they’re kinda
figuring out themselves so it keeps you on the edge. You can’t fully
trust that person either, not from the start anyway, so you can see that
trust and that bond developing and I think that’s great. That’s the
great thing about doing a series, you have that time to do these things.
Will we see Cesare's and Lucrezia's close relationship from Season One reemerge in Season Three?
think we’ll get some closure on that. They’ve grown up a little bit.
They can’t be as childish anymore. There was an innocence in that
relationship that I think was beautiful actually, but I think you’ll see
in Episode 10 in the finale as well where you see that moment when
Cesare kinda decides to move on because he feels that he needs to move
on and move away really, but then I think season [three] will bring them
Did you know you were going to kill Giovanni Sforza in season two?
Oh yeah. I knew from the start and made sure that it would happen. That was a very intense scene.
You had some sexy scenes with Gina McKee in 'The Choice.' Was that awkward?
was lovely. I get to work with such brilliant British actors that I’ve
never seen onstage because I’m not from London. With Gina McKee I heard
so much about her and I was impressed. She was lovely from the start. It
is touchy material to begin with because it’s seduction, but it’s also
power play and they’re sex scenes, but they’re not love scenes. It’s
about who’s in control and letting the other one be on top of the
situation. So yeah, she was great.
How was it like working with Jeremy Irons?
is great. He’s such an experienced, seasoned actor. I was terrified
when I started working with him, but very early on he made it clear we
were in a working relationship and we’d be working as equals regardless
of what his background was and I think he’s been great. He calls me the
night before a big scene and we talk about what we want to do or we
think what we could have done better or how we can improve it next time.
It’s a really great relationship and he’s a hard worker. He really
comes to set completely prepared. Sometimes he questions a lot of the
lines, but I think it’s great he wants to be comfortable with everything
he has to do and I think that’s very inspiring. He never just mimics
something or he does something because he was asked to. He needs to
understand before he does it. I think that’s why he comes across as
Do you have any siblings?
I have a younger sister
who I love more than anything else. I would do anything to protect her
and I wouldn’t stab her ever. If anyone tried to I probably would stab
David Oakes said you kept missing the pad and stabbing him in the stomach.
a wanker! He kept moving all over the place. He kept sliding up and
down and it never was in the same place twice so I probably did stab him
in the stomach. He’s been baiting me for two years, so he probably got
what he deserved.
Exclusive David Oakes interview
The Borgias reviews
World of Wonders
Truth and Lies
The Siege at Forli
Day of Ashes
The Beautiful Deception
The Borgia Bull