As fans of "The Borgias" can attest, one of the most promising young faces in Season 1 was Francois Arnaud, the French-Canadian actor who plays eldest son Cesare on the Showtime period drama. I sat down with Arnaud to talk about where Season 2 will take Cesare, and what obstacles he might face in the days ahead.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk about Season 2! Can we start off by discussing the chronology a bit? Exactly how much time has passed between the end of Season 1, and the events that take place in the Season 2 premiere? It's clearly enough time for you and Juan to get a little bit shaggy, and time enough for you to drive Cardinal della Rovere just a little bit crazy.
Francois Arnaud: Not much. I'd say about five or six months...I go by the age of Lucrezia's baby.
It's always hard to tell just how old a TV baby is meant to be.
FA: [laughs] Yeah, because they're only supposed to look like they're two weeks old, and they look like they're two years old.
So during that six month period of time between seasons, was there any one event that happened offscreen to drive a wedge further between Cesare and Juan? When people see the first two episodes of Season 2, they'll be intrigued by just how intense that animosity between the two brothers has become.
FA: I think as they grew up, that childish rivalry just became something more mature, something more like real hatred now. It's morphed into something deep and real, and I think that Cesare's envy and jealousy have escalated, as well.
In past interviews, you went on the record saying that Cesare thinks Juan is an idiot. With Juan's position strengthened in Season 2, do you think that perhaps Cesare underestimated his brother?
FA: No, I think David [Oakes, who plays Juan Borgia] didn't want Juan to look like an idiot, and tried to portray him differently. [laughs] I still think Juan's an idiot.
Speaking of David, what would you say was more grueling: The eight hours it took for you to film the shower scene in "Les grandes chaleurs" with Marie-Therese Fortin, or the time it took to choreograph and film that epic swordfight between you and David in the Season 2 premiere?
FA: David is a really good swordfighter. He's been in a lot of period pieces, so I had to work really hard to look as good as him. I have to be a bit better than him in that scene, so I had to really go for it. It was really dangerous at one point, because we use heavy iron swords for filming. They're not sharp, but if you hit someone's head with them, they're going to die. Neil Jordan [the show's creator] at one point stopped us and said, "Okay, I just don't want you to kill each other." He was really scared. [laughs] That shower scene in "Les grandes chaleurs" was hard, but in a different way.
So, speaking of swordplay, can we talk about Micheletto? It seems like Cesare trusts him completely.
FA: I think few characters on any other TV show have something similar to what Micheletto and I have. It's not really friendship, because there is an idea of hierarchy, but it's not master and slave, either. It's not boss and employee. It's something very complex. It's not equal, but there is a lot of trust. I know it's crucial to have him on my side, because he can save my life at any point. And I'm not sure that I wouldn't save his life, if it was really needed.
But your relationship with Micheletto isn't the only complex dynamic on "The Borgias." You also have a very unique connection with your sister, Lucrezia (played by Holliday Grainger). In past interviews, you've called that relationship both "pure" and "romantic." But no TV relationship can stay static. Do you see a potential for a more physical relationship with Lucrezia in the future, especially as both characters tap into their dark sides?
FA: I think we wanted to find a way to keep a certain tension between the two, but obviously it can't stay the same for two seasons without becoming boring. I don't know how much I can reveal, but I will say that Cesare becomes obsessed with power during the second season, and for a while love doesn't even cross his mind. But when Lucrezia finds a new love interest, I think Cesare is really, deeply hurt.
You have a beautiful moment in Season 2 when you're talking with Lucrezia, and you explain that a person can become addicted to impossible romances.
FA: And I think Cesare goes for that type of relationship with a lot of people, not just Lucrezia. There's Ursula Bonadeo, but there's also his relationship with Micheletto. Because of the difference in their social status, they aren't friends, but Cesare also doesn't have any real friends besides Micheletto. And later in the season, Cesare starts to spend a lot of time with Catherine Sforza. It's definitely not love; it's a competition, but it's a sexy one.
"Downton Abbey" star Dan Stevens told reporters earlier this year that all his work on period dramas had made him long to do something in a modern setting, something funny. Do you feel the same urge to flex your comedic muscles?
FA: [laughs] I am really sick of wearing that curly long wig. But then during colder months, we're all really glad to be filming while wearing garments with so many thick layers. I haven't done that many period pieces before; "The Borgias" is really my first big one, and it's been my main focus for the last two years. Actually, I have another period piece in the works, set during the Civil War era. But I'd love to do a comedy next. That would be great.
Critics and fans have drawn parallels between your character and other loyal, put-upon elder brothers in pop culture, like Michael Bluth from "Arrested Development" or Al Pacino's character from "The Godfather." Cesare, too, is defined by his loyalty to the family. Is there anything that the Pope could ask Cesare to do that Cesare would refuse?
FA: That's a great question. I think that in the first season, he's fighting so hard for his father's love and approval. But by Season 2, he's realized his father's growing old. There's a big threat to the family this season, and while the Pope just prays that the threat will go away, Cesare takes action. Cesare thinks he is the better decision maker, and I think there are a couple of moments this season where you can see him really coming of age, and not waiting for his father's commands anymore. But what he does, he does for the greater good of the family.
Season 2 of "The Borgias" premieres Easter Sunday, April 8th at 10 pm on Showtime.