Friday, April 1, 2011

The Borgias: The Original Crime Family

Photo by Siebbi

Showtime is billing the characters in their new series The Borgias as “The original crime family.” People unfamiliar with history may be surprised to find out that this isn’t a story about the creation of the Cosa Nostra in Sicily but the tale of Pope Rodrigo Borgia and his reign in Rome. At a press event in anticipation of the new show, the cast including Jeremy Irons and series Creator/Executive Producer/Writer/Director Neil Jordan talked about corruption and power in the 15th century.

Jordan described the Borgias and how the papacy was different from the modern day office. “It was Rome in 1492. The popes had mistresses, shockingly. And the entire family were pretty hot and lascivious.”
Irons acknowledged of his ruthlessly ambitious character, “I think he's a pretty good guy just doing the best he can. I mean, power corrupts. It was a time quite unlike the time we live in today. There were murders in Rome every night, poisonings most weekends. There was incest here and sodomy there. It was a good old rolling, rollicking society.”

He joked, “I played him. I thought I was quite a good guy. But George Bush probably thought he was quite a good guy, too. I mean, they all do. Berlusconi, they think they're wonderful. Everybody does… Stalin probably liked himself. It’s for us to judge them.”

But the corruption didn’t stop with Rodrigo, Jordan called the whole Borgia clan “one of the most notorious families to have lived. And Rodrigo Borgia definitely was one of the most notorious men ever to have become Pope. He had a family. He had a beautiful daughter Lucrezia, who became a byword for sinister female machination.”

Still Jordan expressed his desire to look at a different side of Lucrezia. He stated, “We want to present her as a real person and as a heroine, actually. So we're trying to do our best to tell the truth, okay?”

Jordan added, “I tried to stay as accurate to the broad historical shape as I could. But you didn't have to invent much to make these guys fascinating… because what they went through was actually extraordinary, quite extraordinary.”

Jordan intends to include the fact that Rodrigo Borgia brought his family into the Vatican and included them in internal affairs. He recounted, “He put his daughter in charge of St. Peter's for a period. That doesn't happen in this season, but in the next it will. He went away to do some business, and he left Lucrezia in charge of the Vatican, which shocked the entire world at the time.”

Holliday Grainger, who plays Rodrigo’s daughter, examined her character, saying, “There seems to be numerous interpretations of Lucrezia, from being a complete victim of her family's power and being a victim. And then at the other side, there are instances where she really was the manipulative villainess that people believe. So I think there's quite a lot of tension in her character.”

For his part Irons defended his character, focusing on how the conflicted leader of church and state maneuvered in his position. “He has, yes, religious convictions. I'm not sure all his family did. That's another question. But I think he was a man who believed implicitly in God and his position within the structure. But I think we have to remember that he was more like a king than the present Pope. In other words, the position of Pope was more civil than the position of the Pope these days.”

When the Academy Award-winning actor started to research his role in The Borgias, he found that it was easy to compare Rodrigo to some modern day leaders. “If you read the newspapers over the last ten years to try to discover what sort of man George Bush is, you read a whole load of different things. Whether it's FOX or whether it's the New Statesman or whoever it is writing, it's different opinions.”

He found similarities in the texts written about a ruler who lived so many centuries ago. He remarked, “It's the same when you're trying to get to, for my character, Rodrigo Borgia. What sort of guy was he? You have to read a lot of different people and say, ‘Well, they would have said that because...’ or ‘That's their standpoint.’ And from you filter through all of that to try to find the heart of the character. That's the only way I know how to do it.”

Jordan joked, “As a director, it's a nightmare because they all come with the books about their character. ‘Hang on, I didn't do that. Look, it says here he did this. It says here he did that.’”

But when push came to shove, Jordan said that the events were all very well documented. Of Rodrigo he observed, “He did try and protect the institution of the papacy with all the weapons that he could muster. So it's not I don't think the Vatican or the Church will be unhappy, because actually what we're making is about characters who were kind of perched between God and mammon really.”

And while it’s difficult to ignore the more scandalous things that the Borgias did, Jordan explained that it isn’t his focus in telling their story. “I was more interested in the story in what getting the greatest prize in the world has to give you does to the characters and the family… There was ample opportunity for scandal there, but I was more interested in the story of the power struggle to survive and what it does to the family themselves.”

Watch the story unfold when The Borgias premiers on Sunday, April 3 at 9 p.m. EST/8 p.m. Central on Showtime.

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