The Brilliant, Bloody Borgias are Back

A stunt woman playing Lucrezia Borgia on a white horse at Caetani Castle in Sermoneta, Italy. Photo by Trisha Thomas

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.

An actress gets out of a carriage, behind the scenes with "Borgia" in Sermoneta Italy. Photo by Trisha Thomas

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.

Filming a scene for "Borgia" in the courtyard of the Caetani Castle in Sermoneta, Italy. Photo by Trisha Thomas

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.

An actor takes a break to read the paper during the filming of "Borgia" in Sermoneta, Italy. Photo by Trisha Thomas

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.”

A donkey cart in the courtyard of Caetani Castle in Semoneta, behind the scenes with "Borgia". Photo by Trisha Thomas

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.

An extra in armor whips out his cell phone during a break in the filming. Behind the scenes with "Borgia" at Caetani Castle in Sermoneta, Italy. Photo by Trisha Thomas

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.

The handsome extras taking a break. Behind the scenes with "Borgia". Photo by Trisha Thomas

Here is a link to a site that has my ap wire story: LINK


  1. Avatar
    Barbara Landi

    So this is a different production than the one we’ve been following in the US with Jeremy Irons as the Borgia pope. Sounds really good…the Italians have come along way since the days of spaghetti westerns…LOL!

    The story lines (I guess) are based in truth, and are just hilarious what with all the sex & murder committed by popes & cardinals

    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas

      Yes, it is a different show than the one with Jeremy Irons. It is just amazing to me that there is so much interest in this wretched, back-stabbing, brutal, ruthless family to maintain interest for two separate TV series. To be honest, I have only seen clips and have not viewed an entire episode, but I admit I loved seeing all the elaborate costumes and set…I can see how a mix of intrigue, lust and violence combined with extravagant period costumes can be appealing.

  2. Avatar

    . . looks like Amazon will make another fortune out of me!

  3. Avatar
    lisa | renovating italy

    Well I haven’t seen either version but I do like historical drama. This one looks interesting, and gives a glimpse into life at the time. Love the photos and especially the costumes, thanks ciao lisa x

  4. Avatar
    Rebecca Butler

    You have made my life! Finally they are making a second season! Let me tell you my husband and I love the history of the Borgias! It’s so insane and old world. It’s almost ancient Roman in some ways. And I watch the Jeremy Irons / Neil Jordan one which is lush and fascinating. But this is my favorite one (I had to get used to Borgia’s American accent – it actually WORKS for the show as you progress because everyone else has anglo-italian or british accents and he is supposed to be an outsider… so rather than an old Roman accent versus a Valencia accent (and different cardinals having different dialects, Florentine accent, Neapolitan accent, etc) they do it this way.

    I watched it two or three times a couple years ago and I absolutely love it. It’s one of the best television shows ever made in my opinion. It makes a visit to the Vatican’s Borgia apartments a richer experience. It makes the art and architecture and criminal and historical intrigue that much more interesting for me. I think it’s produced through Canal France which makes it very much a European show with english speakers (thankfully) and an American creator. The best of all possible worlds for this story.

    I can’t tell you enough how amazing the cinematography, writing, costumes, setting, acting, directing, etcetera are. I thought they were so under rated. It is not a slick show. It is moving art. It looks like a painting. But it’s not lush like the Neil Jordan one. It’s not Hollywood slick. It’s garish at times, it’s grimy, it’s decaying and frayed and faded. It’s really really brilliantly done and the people and costumes when shot look so authentic I feel like they stepped out of a painting. They pack in so much history and gorgeous language and details I think it’s a great, almost high art experience. And it’s TV! I watched it through netflix – they have instant watch and DVDS.

    I don’t usually go on about tv shows but I really admire this one!

    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas

      Wow Rebecca! You must be their biggest fan. I will pass on your comment to their press people. Maybe next time they are in set in Italy you can come with me and do another story!

  5. Avatar
    Rebecca Butler

    I just saw this response Trisha – thank you! And I would LOVE that. We were supposed to go in March but my husband’s terrible car accident before christmas kept us both out of work for a few weeks. So we were thinking late spring or more likely autumn.

    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas

      Rebecca, I am so sorry to hear about your husband. I hope he gets well soon.

  6. Avatar

    I started watching this seri on Netflix. Is there a season 3?

    • Avatar
      Ambrea R

      They are actually working on a season three and I do not think that it will be completed until sometime in 2014.
      I found this show through Netflix and had never even heard of the Showtime one. Everything that I have read when comparing this one to that praises Borgia–not *The* Borgias c:–and I cannot agree more with it. The characters really do look like they stepped out of portraits. And, the character development just makes this all so believable. The acting, in my opinion, is fantastic! :D Even from minor roles. This show is my current obsession and I am trying to finish season two as slowly as possible but it is just so difficult. I like it too much!


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