The new original Showtime drama series The Borgias, created and executive produced by Oscar-winning director Neil Jordan, is a complex portrait of one of history’s most intriguing and infamous dynastic families. Premiering on April 3, the series begins as the cunning and manipulative Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons) schemes his way into the position of Pope, causing him, his two Machiavellian sons Cesare (François Arnaud) and Juan (David Oakes), and his scandalously beautiful daughter Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger), to become the most powerful and influential family of the Italian Renaissance.
During a recent interview to promote the upcoming television series, British actress Holliday Grainger talked about taking on a role as complex as Lucrezia Borgia, working with acclaimed filmmaker Neil Jordan, acting opposite Jeremy Irons, and the lavish costumes that she got to wear. She also talked about her upcoming roles in the feature films Jane Eyre (opening March 11) and Bel Ami, working opposite Robert Pattinson, and her hopes of doing more work in the States. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
HOLLIDAY GRAINGER: It’s Lucrezia Borgia! She is so complicated and there are so many interpretations of it that you can go with. I think she had quite a strong moral center and she was quite religious, but she is ambitious, so it’s the tension between her staying true to her morals and her ambitions.
How do you see Lucrezia, from the standpoint of playing her?
GRAINGER: I think Neil’s script is pretty strong, so I had to stay true to what Neil had written. The couple of biographies that I preferred on Lucrezia were written by women who saw her as a very powerful, independent woman who was maybe ahead of her time. A lot of the negative rumors that have circulated about her, after her death, were based on the fact that she was ambitious and she was powerful, in her own right. Maybe people weren’t quite ready for that.
What did you find most challenging about playing her?
GRAINGER: Neil’s script is really beautifully written when it comes to Lucrezia. She goes through quite a journey throughout the first season. She starts off so innocent and youthful, and quite pious and pure, but she’s not at all naive. She knows what’s going on around her, and I think that interests her. It’s such a strong family that she’s willing to, in a sense, be a pawn to that family. She is willing to be married off, if it will help the family. And then, if she finds herself in a bad situation, she will do things that aren’t necessarily right to make sure the situation is better for her.
How old is she, in the beginning, and how much does she age over the course of the first season?
GRAINGER: We never put an age on it, in the series. I think, historically, when she got married, she was 13. She was a child. And, I think she was maybe 19 or 20 towards the end. She goes through quite a lot.
GRAINGER: I read quite a few biographies on Lucrezia and a few on the whole Borgia family. I think it was helpful because in Neil’s script, to begin with, Lucrezia is very young and innocent, but not at all naive. It’s important to know the kind of character that you need to be building up to, throughout the series.
What is the difference between the world’s take on Lucrezia Borgia and what she was really like?
GRAINGER: There seems to be numerous interpretations of Lucrezia, from being a complete victim of her family’s power to instances where she really was the manipulative villainess that people believe. I think there’s quite a lot of tension in her character.
Had you been in these kinds of settings before, in these grand cathedral-type places? What did it feel like when you walked into them?
GRAINGER: It’s always really surreal, being on a film set, but inside a beautiful, massive scene. We film mainly in the studio. When you’re on location and you’re in those real old buildings, that’s quite awe-inspiring.
Have you spent much time in Italy before?
GRAINGER: Well, my granddad is Italian, so I’ve been over there a lot, throughout the years. He’s from a little village in the mountains, just outside of Rome. But, I’m going to go back because I haven’t been for a few years. I’m going to have a little exploration and go around to the areas that Lucrezia lived. There are still 700 letters about Lucrezia. Basically, Lucrezia’s sister-in-law got someone to follow her and write down her daily activities, and 700 of those daily letters still exist with exactly what she was wearing, who she met and when she met them. It would be fascinating to get a chance to look through them and see what she actually did on a day-to-day basis.
GRAINGER: It was great. He’s a lovely guy and he really brings something to the scenes that you’re in. He’s got some great suggestions. It’s brilliant to work with someone as experienced as him.
How much time did you spend getting into costume for this?
GRAINGER: Quite awhile. I don’t wear very much make-up in it, but for my hair, I had this big, massive blonde wig. Because I’m a natural brunette, I’m quite dark, so I had to go every week to get my hair dyed. And, the costumes are absolutely amazing. My costume cutter is a costume historian and he really wanted to keep it true to Lucrezia. He knew all her favorite colors, throughout her life, and which color she wore when, and he insisted on the right lacing. Even though you can’t see it, it had to be the right lacing in the dresses. It was brilliant.
Can you talk about the roles you did in Jane Eyre and Bel Ami, which you also have coming out this year?
GRAINGER: When I was younger, I always wanted to do period drama and never got to do it, until last January. And then, this last year was just period drama after period drama. I have a small part in Jane Eyre. I’m one of the Rivers sisters that saves Jane (Mia Wasikowska) from destitution. They’re a very lovely, very godly, very pure family. Bel Ami is the opposite. My character is more like Lucrezia. She’s an evil little witch that knows what she wants and is out to get the guy that she wants. She’s willing to upset her mom and upset anyone, just to get the guy that she wants.
GRAINGER: Yeah, my character’s scenes are mainly with Rob ‘cause she marries him in the end. She does get him.
Are you ready for the bigger exposure that you’ll be getting with American audiences, with the TV series and the movies you have coming up?
GRAINGER: Well, I live in Manchester in Britain, so I won’t see it all.
Would you like to do more work in the States?
GRAINGER: Yeah, I’d love to. I love the opportunity to do lots of different kinds of projects – independent films and big studio epics as well. I’d love to be able to do a mixture.