TORONTO — Although he’s not sure his show shares all that much in common with other TV period dramas, the Canadian star of The Borgias says it’s a great time for the genre.
“I think there is some kind of interest in period costume drama now — with Rome a couple of years ago, The Tudors, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey — these shows are doing well, and if it can bring us a greater audience, why not,” says Montreal-born Francois Arnaud, who promises an action-packed second season of The Borgias, which kicked off Sunday on Bravo! in Canada and on Showtime in the U.S.
The Borgias is set in 15th century Italy with Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons starring as Pope Alexander VI, who schemes his way to become head of the Catholic Church and then does everything he can to keep a firm grip on his family’s power and wealth.
Arnaud plays his son, Cesare.
“The first season you have to set things up, you explain a little bit more about the political, historical background and now we’ve done that and in Season 2 we’re going straight into the action and straight into the psychology of these characters,” says Arnaud.
“More sword fighting, more twisted relationships, more power struggles — good stuff.”
One thing most period dramas do share in common, Arnaud says, is a cinematic esthetic that resembles a big screen production. The Borgias was shot in Hungary and the first season cost more than $40 million to make.
“I never thought of it as a returning series, I always thought of it as a nine-hour or 10-hour long movie and I think that’s how everyone thought of it in the process of making it,” says Arnaud, who credits the vision of Oscar-winning director Neil Jordan, best known for The Crying Game, The End of the Affair and Michael Collins, for elevating the drama to another level.
The combination of stepping into a period-piece role and sharing scenes with Irons was a bit intimidating, admits Arnaud, who counts The Borgias as his first big English-language gig. He previously appeared in Xavier Dolan’s I Killed My Mother (J’ai tue ma mere) and starred in Heatwave (Les grandes chaleurs).
“I had to face the challenge and although it is intimidating acting off someone like Jeremy Irons it’s also very rewarding,” he says.
“Now I think we’re really good co-workers. He often will give me a call the night before an important scene and he’ll ask me about it and what I want to bring to it. It’s been great, he’s lovely.”
With the tagline “Sex. Power. Murder. Amen,” The Borgias was clearly not envisioned as a family friendly network show, which suited Arnaud fine.
“The shows I have been watching over the last few years have been on cable really and not many network shows. I think (cable networks) trust the directors more too when it comes to nudity or violence, the possibilities are there,” he says.
“But I think as much as they promote the nudity and the violence in the show it never felt contrived when shooting it, it always felt it was part of the story we were telling. We’re not telling a story about saints, so I think it’s part of telling the story right and if we weren’t allowed to do that, then it wouldn’t be worth taking on that subject.”
There’s been no official commitment for a third season of The Borgias yet, although Arnaud and his fellow cast members have their fingers crossed. It took a few weeks after the debut episode aired before the second season was officially confirmed.
“I think people were confident because we knew the material was strong and we believed in what we did. But some really good shows get cancelled early on, it happens — and some bad shows go on and on and on,” he says.
“I think we’re all hoping for a Season 3 as well.”