Dear Blog Readers,
Last week I took a break from some of the usual news stories I do– Vatican, Politics, Strikes etc, to do a feature story for our entertainment department on the TV series “Borgia”. They were filming scenes for the second season in the little Italian town of Sermoneta. I went with a crew to get a behind-the-scenes view. Here are bits of pieces of what I was working on for AP.
A stocky Italian charges across the courtyard of the Caetani Castle near Rome and yells, “Action, Silenzio!” prompting a tall, blond German to lift a movie camera off a metal frame, and a glamorous, Italian stunt woman to hoist herself onto a horse, as dozens of extras come to attention. Nearby in a black tent a British director is following the activity closely on a TV monitor, as an Irish actor, taking a break, enjoys a cigarette, careful not to dirty his red velvet Cardinal’s robes. These people are all taking part in a startlingly successful pan-European project that is making money during an economic crisis. They are filming the second season of the TV series “Borgia” about the power-hungry Italian dynasty that included Popes and Princes, Knights and Duchesses who dominated the Italian and European political landscape from the late Middle Ages to the early Renaissance.
The first season of “Borgia” was made up of 24 one-hour episodes that chronicled the rise to power of Rodrigo Borgia (played by John Doman), a Catalan Cardinal with boundless ambition who was willing to bribe and kill to win the papacy. It begins in the late 15th century and follows the lives of Rodrigo, his sons Juan and Cesare and daughter Lucrezia, their friends, enemies and lovers. The episodes were filled with sex, violence, love, lust, faith, betrayal and intrigue. It appears to be a mix that sells.
The series has been sold to 85 countries around the globe on television, DVD and streaming on the internet. “Borgia” is primarily a French-German production with an Austrian contribution as well. The show is clearly expanding. The first season cost 25 million euros to produce and was shot over six months in the Czech Republic. The budget for this season is 30 million euro and will be shot in eight months; 25 percent will be shot in Italy in 20 separate locations, the rest will be shot again in the Czech Republic.
The atmosphere on the set in the castle courtyard is vibrant; several languages can be heard as a Czech film crew stand about cracking jokes, as Italian extras pull out their cell phones at the first break, and an Irish actor chats with an American producer.
There are a total of 24 different nationalities among the “Borgia” crew leading to a mix of languages and styles that somehow pull together in a unique example of cooperation. “We have all come from different places and we are all together working here on this project about a family and we’ve really kind of gelled as a family,” explained actor John Doman, who plays Rodrigo Borgia.
The executive producer, American Tom Fontana says they have searched across national borders for the best talent, “we were always determined to have the best actors, the best designers, the most talented people here, regardless of what country they come from and so I think what has happened is, everyone who is here, knows they are here because we think they are the best.”
The talent comes from around the globe, according to Irish Actor Diarmuid Noyes, but the work ethic comes straight from their team of directors, ” It is just how they, every day for eight months, are on the ball and they just bash it out, and they are shooting, shooting, shooting, shooting, and they never let up.”
On set, it is clear that intense research and effort has been put into the set and costumes, elaborate and dramatic recreations of the early Renaissance period. Several stuffed pheasants and a deer lean against an old cart with large wooden wheels pulled by a donkey. A team of extras, in plush black costumes with gold rimmed button holes and puffy hats, carries Isolde Dychauk, the actress playing Lucrezia Borgia, in a litter across the courtyard as an escort on horseback follows.
In the first season the striving, power-hungry Rodrigo Borgia achieves his goal, becoming Pope Alexander VI. According to writer Tom Fontana, “he would enact decrees which all true Christians were expected, without question, to follow. But Rodrigo Borgia and his children would ignore…They were exempt, meaning the Borgia did not commit sins.” But it is indeed their sins that are the centerpiece of this drama as they pursue their goals and desires. Brutality and ambition are interwoven with romance and loyalty.
The second season will have more of the same, it is titled “Rules of love, Rules of war.” It begins in 1494 and slowly moves the attention away from the domineering Rodrigo to his charismatic son Cesare (played by Mark Ryder) as he begins his meteoric rise to become the famed warrior-prince Cesare Borgia, the figure who insipired Niccolo’ Machiavelli’s “The Prince.” Ryder said the biggest challenge has been taking his character from a whiney, young boy in the first season to a “magnificent man of the Renaissance” in the second.
I particularly enjoyed my interview with writer Tom Fontana. He told me about his fascination with the Borgias and how he has more than 400 books at home on that period. He said he thinks he became interested in Popes because he always believed they were supposed to me “paragons of virtue” and instead they behaved worse than others considered less “holy.” He also said that he is fascinated by human behavior and although the Borgias with their ferocity, brutality, and passions seem extreme, there is much in the story of this ruthless family that people today can relate to.
Here is a link to a site that has my ap wire story: LINK
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.