From David S. Goyer, the Starz drama series Da Vinci’s Demons tells the secret history of Leonardo da Vinci’s (Tom Riley) tantalizing life, revealing a portrait of a young man tortured by the gift of superhuman genius. With a quest for knowledge that is sure to be his undoing and armed only with his genius, he finds himself caught in the conflict between truth and lies, and religion and reason.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, co-stars Laura Haddock (“Lucrezia Donati”) and Lara Pulver (“Clarice Orsini”) talked about how they each came to be a part of the show, what they enjoy most about their characters, how they view the multi-layered women they play, how much research they chose to do, what the elaborate costumes are like to wear, and just how sexy and daring the show is. Check out what they had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
LARA PULVER: I read the script, virtually straight after Sherlock. And then, when I came to Los Angeles, I met David [Goyer]. We read and played with some scenes, and they made me the offer of this character, but she wasn’t really written yet. I read Episodes 1 and 2 and said, “This is great, but who the hell is she?” And David said, “There are some characters I just like to hold back. They’ll end up being at the forefront of the show, but it’s always good to have a few trump cards up your sleeve. I want to leave her as a slow burn, so you’ll have to trust me on this, but I have a very good vision for who she is and what she stands for.” And there was something about him and his vision for the entire show that I found really captivating. I think he’s a man with huge integrity, as well.
LAURA HADDOCK: I’ve been very lucky and been able to work, as an actress, but I’m definitely a working actress. I get a script, I audition, and then I pray. The second time I went in for this, I actually met Tom [Riley] and we had a chemistry read together, and that went well. And then, I got a phone call the next day to say, “Are you available to fly to L.A.?,” and I said, “Yeah. Why?” And they said, “Well, Starz wants to meet you in the flesh.” So the next day, I was on a plane. I met with Starz, left the meeting and was just wandering around Barney’s going, “There’s nothing I can afford in here. This is ridiculous!” And then, I got a phone call on my mobile from an American number. I answered it and it was David Goyer, and he said, “Hey, Laura, you’re taking the bullet.” I was like, “Oh, okay. Don’t worry. Thank you so much for having me.” And he was like, “No, you’ve got the job!” In England, “taking the bullet” means you’re out and that you didn’t get it. So, I wanted to call everyone at home, but it was the middle of the night there. I called people, but no one answered because they were all asleep, so I just wandered around for hours. I was just telling random people, “I got a job today.” Actually, a buddy of mine was here and he was going to a comedy club in L.A., so I went and watched some stand-up comedy, and then went for a beer. He was like, “What have you done today?,” and I said, “I just got a job!” So, we celebrated together.
HADDOCK: It’s so multi-layered. From the outset, when I read Lucrezia, I just thought that she was the most three-dimensional, multi-layered, confusing, exciting, challenging woman I’ve ever read. I wanted it so much. And then, when I was cast and we read the scripts, I just fell in love with the challenge and fell in love with her. She’s gone to places that I never would have dreamt of being able to go to with the character. Even though we’re playing within the Renaissance era, she’s absolutely as strong as every man in this show. For a woman, it’s a privilege and an honor, and I feel very blessed to be able to play a woman who is able to do all the things that strong leading men can do in television. And it gets even more chaotic with her.
PULVER: It feels so subtle with Clarice. It’s been great, for me as an actress and for me as a person, just to take my foot of the gas. Nothing needs to be in your face with her, at all. She works at a slower pace. She comes from a much more privileged background. She’s clever and she’s charming, and everything is very deliberate and thought through. Nothing is brash with her. She has an etiquette, in a Kate Middleton-esque type of way. Also, when you’re playing someone of such high status, they have a facade that needs to be shown to the people of Florence. What I love is that one of the first scenes you actually see the character in is a behind the scenes shot, between her and her husband, and it says so much about the relationship.
Lara, was the fact that Clarice Orsini is so different from Irene Adler part of the appeal for you?
PULVER: It wasn’t deliberate at all. It was just a love for David’s writing, really, and the concept of what he was creating. I love playing that kind of powerhouse woman. It’s a wonderful gift. But, this was a lovely change.
PULVER: Clarice is the woman behind the throne. She’s a devoted wife. She is a dutiful wife. She is a huge lover of Florence and her people. She will never undermine her husband. She will do everything to empower him. And yet, sometimes she’s a step ahead of him. She’s a shrewd politician and business woman who is ahead of her time. She’s a Hilary Clinton or a Jackie O. of the Renaissance. Behind every man is a good woman.
Laura, how do you view Lucrezia?
HADDOCK: On the outside, it looks like all the men in her life are controlling her, but in my opinion, they are absolutely not. She is in complete control of every situation and every man and every relationship she has, for great reason. That’s what drives her through, and that’s why she is as strong as she is and she sticks by her guns. It’s all for this bigger cause. The only man in her life that she suddenly loses control with is Leonardo DaVinci. She starts making decisions from her heart, as opposed to her head, which is always the dangerous place to be in. He’s utterly charming and confusing, and she can’t quite work him out, but she’s completely drawn into him. She’s an extremely fragile, broken person, and there’s a part of her that thinks maybe he can fix that and make everything okay. But then, there’s also a part of her that thinks she can fix him.
Do you think Lucrezia knew the situation she was getting herself into?
HADDOCK: I definitely don’t think it was a case of her being born manipulative. It’s something she’s had to learn, and she does it extremely well. She uses her sexuality as a weapon, to any means, really. But, she’s a multi-layered woman. She feels guilt, she feels passion, she feels loss, she feels love, she feels hatred. She feels everything. If I’d read a character who was just evil, or who was just a soppy romantic, I’d go, “Meh.” But, she’s everything. It’s exciting for me. She’s a wife, she’s a mistress, she’s a lover, and she’s all of the things that most of the women, during that time, wouldn’t have been able to explore.
HADDOCK: We have the lovely situation of being able to make believe with a little bit of it, but then you absolutely have the truth. Most of the situations that you read, in some way or another happened, and then David comes in with his imagination and says, “You know, it would be cool, if we did this, as well.” There was this massive chunk of his life that we don’t know about because he destroyed all of his diary pages. So, David had this lovely few years of his life that he could just do what he does and just put his imagination into action and go for it.
PULVER: What I liked was that David was challenging what we know to be Leonardo DaVinci. As a person, I was going, “Oh, gosh, I didn’t know this.” It was really informative. It was like a history lesson. And he’s not shying away from any aspect of it, whether it be the sexuality or any part of what we know to be Leonardo DaVinci. He’s not leaving any stone unturned.
Did you do your own research into this time period and how women were regarded then, or do you stick with what’s in the script and the specific direction the show is going in?
PULVER: It is a mixed bag, where you do your research, and then you know it’s there and you let it go and allow yourself to live in David’s world because it is a fantastical drama, at the end of the day. There are certain elements, like the pressure to have a son. That doesn’t really exist in our world. Then, she bore three girls. When we first meet Clarice, she has no male heir, and that pressure could be the end of their relationship and the end of her life, as she knows it. The priorities were so different.
HADDOCK: It was vital for Tom to research Leonardo DaVinci. He absolutely wanted and needed to do that, and he knows that man so well. For me, I did a little bit of research, but then just let this woman develop. Davis has written her so well that I didn’t feel like I needed to do a lot of research to get her and to understand her. I understood who she was, from the person that David had written. And she’s so different from everybody else back then that it probably wouldn’t have helped.
PULVER: Well, there’s three girls on the show. When you do see each other on set, which is few and far between, it’s so lovely to go, “Oh, my god!,” because it’s so testosterone heavy. It’s been a gift of a show. It’s an ensemble show, and the nature of it is that you’ll shoot for a few days, quite intensely, and then maybe you’ll have a week off while they’re shooting in a different location. It was so interesting for me to watch the first episode because I had no idea what the other characters were really doing, and what they were creating in their world and their storylines. You just hope that you’re all on the same page and in the same show. I think we’ve managed to accomplish that.
HADDOCK: It’s really fun, especially when you’re working with such brilliant, talented actors. They’re all so great. It’s a joy. Every time you come to a scene, you get excited because of who you get to work with. Any of them bring something new and exciting to the moment, and you discover something fun. In the chemistry test with Tom, I suddenly had such a strong feeling of who Leonardo DaVinci was. He brings play to him and intelligence and sometimes slightly ADD tendencies. You’re catching up with all of the things that he brings to the character, all the time, and just bouncing off them all. It’s really exciting. It’s such a wicked world to play in.
Lara, how do you see the relationship between Clarice and Leonardo?
PULVER: He can’t charm Clarice, in the way he does with other women. She’s not flocking at his feet. She’s not in love with him. And yet, they’re very intrigued about each other. It’s a very interesting relationship that we only touch on, in Season 1.
HADDOCK: They’re very, very artistic. To be honest, when I read her, I instantly knew that she was the kind of woman who uses her sexuality as a weapon. She’s manipulative within relationships and within sex. If those parts of the story weren’t there, I wouldn’t be able to tell her story properly because that’s a massive part of what she’s doing and who she is. It’s real life. You have relationships with people. You have passionate moments with people. You have tender moments with people. So, we honor that. I trusted that it would never become gratuitous. I trusted David, and I trusted the script. I want to explore this woman and play this woman too much to let something like that make me say no. It’s all very protected and looked after, but it’s a completely alien situation to be in. It’s not you, it’s the character. It’s just another scene. You’re demonstrating what the scene is saying, in that way. Of course, there are moments that you feel insecure, like any human being would, but it will be okay. We’re all friends. Everyone supports each other. Nobody wants it to feel or look awkward. You just knuckle down and put your game face on and tell the story.
What are the elaborate costumes like to wear?
PULVER: It was a part of the process, which I’ve never felt so inclusive in. Our costume designer had this wardrobe idea for Clarice, which involved color and texture and a Renaissance feel, and then she wanted to couture it up a little bit. She wanted it to be like something you would see on the catwalk. We just had fun, and added my personality to it, as well. We ended up just making her a woman before her time.
HADDOCK: The costumes were amazing. We’ve taken the Renaissance era and the costume designer has mashed it up with modern couture design. It’s brilliant because we’re not suffocated by time or conforming to the era, at all. The lighting is dangerous. The make-up is really extravagant. They never would have worn that much make-up. Everything is slightly heightened. I really feel like it’s almost mimicking who Leonardo DaVinci was because he was constantly forward-thinking and wanting to invent his dreams. We’ve taken a show that’s in the Renaissance era and made it something even more huge than that. It’s such a pleasure. And being a girl, it’s really fun. You wouldn’t wear this stuff, in real life. It’s all handmade and hand crafted. One of my costumes had 1,800 hand-dyed, red chicken feathers. The skirt was just covered in all these feathers. It was an amazing piece that could go into some museum. It’s just amazing.
PULVER: It’s epic. It’s an eight-hour movie, in that sense. When David Goyer comes to the small screen, what he’s actually doing is making the small screen bigger. He’s bringing everything he knows and loves into people’s homes, making it an episodical drama that has cliffhangers and twists and turns. It’s everything you would get, if you were shooting a movie. It’s such a joy to have that kind of creative palate and opportunity. And the fact that he’s married that with Starz, Starz has been so supportive and willing to allow David to realize his vision. I think that’s why the collaboration has worked so well.
The Season 1 finale of DaVinci’s Demons airs on Starz on June 7th. The series has already been picked up for Season 2.