This spring Starz is debuting ‘Da Vinci’s Demons’, a series that while based on history’s Leonardo Da Vinci, also takes some liberties and has some fun with the time period and characters in his life. British actor Tom Riley steps into the role of Da Vinci, and though you’ve most recently seen Riley in Monroe and Bedlam, his suave, confident, edgy Da Vinci will undoubtedly remind you of Colin O’Donoghue’s Once Upon A Time version of Captain Hook– in style but also sentiment. For Riley, it is truly a role of a lifetime.
In this telling, Riley’s Da Vinci is a charming, seductive, and at times persuasive man, and though the series shows him directing such energy toward a number of women, Riley admitted that they are not drawing a line and intentionally dispelling the rumor that Da Vinci was gay. Instead, they are painting him as a well-rounded, open-minded man in many areas, including the artistic, scientific, and “superhero esque” sides to him.
“He was a man who obviously wasn’t necessarily going to be constrained by the society that he was in, and we’ve certainly reflected speculation about him in a way that will hopefully please an audience as far as combining all the different elements of a personality like that,” Riley said.
“Being someone whose mind was so expansive and consequently quite factious, and bordered on being a savant, [he] had to be charming at the same time in order to bring people into his ideas, because he was known as [having] a big mouth. He could talk people into things. Giorgio Vasari’s “Lives of the Artists,” which is the biography written closest to his life, it goes on and on about how he was all these things. So actually because he did so much in his life, and he was a polymath, it felt right that he should be played in so many different ways as to reflect that.”
Although the powers that be behind Da Vinci’s Demons— from executive producer David S. Goyer to the network executives at Starz– have called the show “historical fantasy,” Riley took his research and preparation extremely seriously, even going so far as to “train” his left hand to be as strong as his right. Riley is naturally right-handed, but Da Vinci was ambidextrous, and he felt it would add to the authenticity if he showed scenes drawing with both, interchangeably.
“I spent quite a lot of time with a pair of foam nunchucks to get my left hand and my left wrist as dextrous as my right, because he was ambidextrous. A lot of the strokes in his paintings came from his left hand, when others came from his right. So I spent a lot of time trying to learn. I have a lot of half-finished sketches that the art department would provide in my apartment in Swansea, where we shot it, trying to draw the lines, catch up. We had a fantastic artist who would recreate paintings in the style of Leonardo, and then I would try my hardest to copy them with both hands. The left hand ones were shaky. But by the end I think, you know, there were real moments where it is me doing it,” Riley said.
According to some of that research, Riley noted that when Da Vinci died, he had thousands of notebooks full of ideas for inventions and other great works. Yet, when we remember him, we most think of him as an artist. Da Vinci’s Demons is not out to pigeonhole the character in that way, and that is what is most interesting about embodying the man– the full man– to Riley.
“I went to an exhibition when I was researching this in Buckingham Palace, which was all his anatomy, and how he’d spent his entire life dissecting bodies. And it was never published. All this work dissipated into the royal notebooks. It was never published. But if it had been, he would have been one of the most important anatomists who had ever lived,” Riley said.
“The fact that that is an aside to his life is extraordinary. And I think this show pays tribute to all the stuff that perhaps we don’t know so much about.”
Da Vinci’s Demons premieres on Starz on April 12th 2013 at 10 p.m.
Want more Da Vinci’s Demons news and interviews? Follow LA TV Insider Examiner on Twitter!