Sunday, July 1, 2012

Exclusive interview with François Arnaud explores Cesare and 'The Borgias'

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 process.

Do you remember what scene they had you audition?
Yeah. 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?
Some of 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?
I 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?
I 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 CGI.

So when you see fire on his robe that’s all real?
Yeah. 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 to.

Do you think Cesare ever was afraid Savonarola would survive the fire?
No. 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?
(Laughs) 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?

I 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 back together.

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?
She 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?
Jeremy 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 genuine.

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 them.

David Oakes said you kept missing the pad and stabbing him in the stomach.

What 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 Choice
The Borgia Bull

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