The action-adventure drama series Da Vinci’s Demons is currently in its second season on Starz. With Florence, Italy thrown into chaos, Leonardo Da Vinci (Tom Riley) must push the limits of his mind and body to defend the city against the forces of Rome, while also continuing on his quest to faraway lands to find the fabled Book of Leaves.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actor Tom Riley talked about how much fun it is to get to play Leonardo Da Vinci, what a huge challenge the show is, how viewers should expect the unexpected, how interesting it was to get to explore the dynamic between Da Vinci and his nemesis Riorio (Blake Ritson), where Da Vinci’s head is at this season, who his biggest allies are, and why Da Vinci feels such loyalty to Lorenzo Medici (Elliot Cowan). Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
TOM RILEY: It’s fun, particularly with where we get to take him this season. It’s a proper arc. He ends the season in a very different place from where he started.
After having a season of this under your belt, did Season 2 feel any easier, or was it even more challenging because of the bigger scope?
RILEY: It was still a huge challenge, but knowing the characters and knowing the tone of the show was a lot easier. I feel like we got there, by the end of the first season. By about Episode 4 or 5, it really took off. Knowing that you’ve got that as a foundation, it just means you can relax. Whereas in the first season, we were trying very hard to go, “What is this? Are we a procedural? Are we a supernatural show?” You’re not quite sure. But the minute you are sure, you can just have fun with the characters. This season, you see the characters just having fun and interacting. And we do pull the rug out from under you, a lot of times. This season, we decided that we’d put our flag in the ground and people know what they’re going to get, so no one’s safe. So this season, there are appearances that do not adhere to history. Not knowing what to expect is key.
When you shot that opening scene, and then go back in time six months, did you know how that was going to turn out?
RILEY: No, we didn’t know then how it would turn out. To be honest, we knew that was happening when we shot the end of last season. The minute we did that cliffhanger, we knew the first thing back would be Riorio and Da Vinci together, seemingly getting on. It was just great. David [Goyer] was so excited, and we were like, “Oh, my god, that’s amazing! We’d watch that!”
Was it fun to get to do more scenes with Blake Ritson, this season?
RILEY: Yeah. They’re flipsides of a coin, so it’s interesting. In Season 1, Riorio respected Da Vinci in a way that Da Vinci didn’t respect him back. He respects his mind and knows how useful he’ll be, whereas Da Vinci doesn’t want to be used and has nothing but contempt for what Riorio wants to do with the Book of Leaves. This season, he grows a grudging respect for who Riorio is and why he is the way he is. They have a joint purpose that they can only achieve together, so they have to get on.
What was it like to wear Riorio’s coat when you did the impression of him?
RILEY: I quite liked that coat, actually. There’s something about that costume. Da Vinci is very open, so to be suddenly buttoned up, and then jump off the side of a ship, it wasn’t easy. We did it down at Pinewood’s underwater studios. I did have to jump in. The plan was to shoot it three times in one day, but I got in and it was such heavy wool that they couldn’t dry it. We only got one take ‘cause it was so wet that we couldn’t do it again. It wasn’t easy.
Where is Da Vinci’s head at, at this point?
RILEY: For me, what’s been really great about the part is that it’s a little bit of a gamble, at the beginning of a role, to say, “I’m gonna play it a little unlikeable,” with the knowledge that we’re going somewhere, and hopefully the audience will be grateful that they invested, instead of turning off in anger. At the end of Episode 8, we realize that his conscious, for the first time, got the better of him. It’s the first time he’s begun to own up to the fact that with his genius, maybe there is responsibility. Actually, he can be of more use to the people, politically, than he wants to be, and maybe his quest isn’t the be all, end all. So, we see him trying to do what’s right. But ultimately, there is that side of him that still believes that this quest for the Book of Leaves is more important than anything, and that will wreak devastation around him, as a result.
Who are Da Vinci’s biggest allies?
RILEY: Well, he’s pretty awful to everyone. Gregg Chillin, who plays Zoroaster, were determined this season to explore, in quite subtle ways, why they hang out together and what makes him follow Da Vinci. Gregg did some great stuff this season. As well as being the funny comic foil that he is in Season 1, you get to see more of who Zoroaster is and why he believes in Leonardo, and that they have a past together that is maybe deeper than friendship. It was very much a case of trying to work out why he inspires the following that he does, despite how he behaves. There are a lot of people that believe in his clear-sighted vision and that he is a force for good, and other people just fancy him. In the case of Lucrezia, they’re just very, very similar. They’re going on the same path. They’re both being told what to do by mysterious men in the shadows. They’re both following a belief that they think is more important than anything else. They’re both leaving collateral damage in their wake. So, I’d say that Zoroaster and Lucrezia are the people he can rely on.
Why does Da Vinci feel such a sense of loyalty to the Medicis?
RILEY: I think this personally, as well, but Lorenzo Medici is the great unsung hero of the Renaissance. He is the reason that Florence was a crucible of knowledge, painting, art and creativity, at that time. He didn’t stifle it. He saw the value in it. And Lorenzo has that same opinion. Lorenzo may be a hothead, he may be difficult, and he may be sleeping with the woman that he’s attracted to, but ultimately, he is a force for good in the world. Even if Leonardo only sees a force for good as someone who champions the arts, that is who Lorenzo is, so he’s worth keeping.
Da Vinci’s Demons airs on Saturday nights on Starz. Click here for all our coverage of Da Vinci’s Demons.