Tom Riley in DA VINCI'S DEMONS - Season 3 | ©2015 Starz

Tom Riley in DA VINCI'S DEMONS - Season 3 | ©2015 Starz

DA VINCI’S DEMONS, the brainchild of series creator David S. Goyer, begins its third and final season on Starz Saturday, October 24. Tom Riley stars as the legendary historical inventor and artist Leonardo Da Vinci, who as a young man has quite a few adventures. Season 3 sees him making some surprising new alliances as the Turks threaten Da Vinci’s native Italy.

Riley, an Englishman whose work includes the films I WANT CANDY and MONROE, is in a garden at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons Hotel, where he talks about DA VINCI and more.

ASSIGNMENT X: Going into Season 3, did you know this was the last season?

TOM RILEY: It came up a little later, but as we were going in, we felt like we were coming to a natural end of the story, particularly with our plan for Season 3. There was always the feeling that if a Season 4 was wanted, we could certainly find a way to do it. But we kind of knew this would be the end.

AX: In reality, Leonardo De Vinci lived to be quite an old man. Do you get into age makeup at any point?

RILEY: I got into age makeup in Season 2, but there’s no age makeup this year. We leave him more as the person he was always going to become, but we don’t take him to the seventy-year-old, sixty-year-old man.

AX: Can you tease what happens for Leonardo this season?

RILEY: He’s been pushed into a position that he wasn’t expecting, where he has to potentially open fire on his own mother, who he’s been searching for for two years. But what he’s going to realize is, all his actions up to this point have horrible, drastic consequences that he has to deal with, and it’s going to throw all his relationships with new characters and old characters in a completely different light. He’s going to have to side with people that were enemies previously, he’s going to have to lose friends.

His priorities I think have moved away from being him. His goals shift from being very macro, and very about, “I just want to change the world and I want to be the greatest designer who ever lived and I’m going to be amazing!” to being more, “I feel I can solve this problem that I have created. I need to take responsibility for my actions.” So his goals become far more short-term than long-term this season, defeating the Turks.

AX: Does he feel the need to defeat the Turks because he’s ultimately an Italian and the Turks are attacking Italy, or because he’s philosophically opposed to the Turks?

RILEY: Initially, he’s being a good countryman, he feels, but actually, it’s the way the Turks attack him personally, not only because he’s been betrayed, but they do other things that aren’t great. He feels he needs to take a personal mission of vengeance against them, and if it means siding with the Pope and Italy and Rome, for example, for the first time in the series, he’s prepared to do that in order to win.

AX: Do Leonardo with his former patron, Lorenzo de Medici, who’s played by Elliot Cowan, have any interactions this season?

RILEY: They do. They’ve got a great friendship, but this year, Lorenzo goes on his own personal journey. He’s very cleansed spiritually, he’s purged by his actions, by the things that happen to him while he’s in Atranto and at the hands of the Turks, so he comes back to Florence a very different man, and therefore their relationship is changed forever.

AX: Before DA VINCI, you and Elliot Cowan had worked together on the miniseries LOST IN AUSTEN.  How was it working with him again in very different roles?

RILEY: It was very, very different. Elliot’s fantastic, but we were in very different head spaces as actors. Elliot had been through more, he was the lead in LOST IN AUSTEN, I was the lead in this. The dynamic shifts as actors, but he’s very easy to act with, he’s a good listener, he’s there, he gives a s***, he cares, he knows his lines. I loved working with Elliot. So it was completely different [on DA VINCI], but better.

AX: Would you say that Leonardo’s relationship with the pope’s sometime hitman Riario, played by Blake Ritson, is his most complex relationship?

RILEY: I would say so. I would say he’s gone from having an uneasy nemesis/enemy relationship with Riario to having an uneasy friendship. So whereas previously they respected each other grudgingly but they had polar opposite ways of dealing with different situations, now they respect each other again equally. Previously, they would have left each other to drown if necessary. Now, they wouldn’t abandon one another. They like each other too much. So that leads to some very messy situations this year. Their affection for one another is a problem. Leonardo would never abandon Riario, and vice-versa at this point.

AX: You’ve had some pretty big physical challenges on DA VINCI’S DEMONS?

RILEY: A lot of the time, we ran out of time to train for a lot of things. It was a case of, “Okay, here’s the zip line, get on it, here’s this horse, ride as fast as you can over that hill.” Fortunately, by that point, I’d developed a certain level of fearlessness with it, which was probably foolish, but I just felt I could cope with it, so it would be okay. This year, we had a new stunt coordinator who was determined we all did our own stunts, so it’s pretty much me – everything you see this year is me.

This season I got an explosion that went off in my face, which meant we couldn’t film for the rest of the day. That was fun. That’s actually in the show – I think it’s in the trailer. There’s a point where I run up to a young soldier and I say, “I can fix this,” and then I run away, and as I run away, the explosion blows up. But instead, I got to the guy and I said, “I can fix …” and it blew up while I was still there and hit me in the face. We put it in the show because it looks so good – you see me go to my face and I went to the floor and that was that for the day. Everyone was going, “Stop! I think the show is over, I think we’ve killed Da Vinci!”

AX: Did you have to go to the hospital?

RILEY: No, no. They just had to patch up my face. It just missed my eye. I’m very lucky.

AX: You also had to dress like you were in Peru when you were actually filming in Swansea, Wales …

RILEY: Yeah. Pretending it’s too hot – “Oh, it’s so sweltering” – and we were freezing. That’s the thing I’m going to miss the least, how cold it was.

AX: Were there any scenes that surprised you in the way they looked when they were all cut together?

RILEY: Peru. When we were walking along a foot off the ground in a car park, with a llama walking behind us, we had no idea that it would look like Machu Picchu and like we were up in the air at forty thousand feet. It was incredible.

AX: What do you think are the big change scenes for Da Vinci throughout the three seasons?

RILEY: Throughout the three seasons, I would say, firstly, the reveal of Lucrezia [played by Laura Haddock] being a spy at the end of the first season, [after] he trusted her. Second season, I would say his understanding of Riario in Peru, and then the death of [his mentor] Verrocchio [Allan Corduner], and then seeing his mother. Third season, I can’t tell you them all, but they happen regularly and he really changes drastically in third season.

I always knew that I was going to get a chance to take him from a bit of an arrogant [jerk] towards someone that history recognized better, someone with a bit more humility and a bit more of a tempered ego and someone who was slightly more aware of the weight of his own genius. I just didn’t know how fast we’d get there, and we were very lucky with the third season to have an arc that allowed me to get to that point of being humble around his ego. I knew that would be the case. I’m glad we got to play it out – I’m glad we didn’t cut off midway and I just ended up being the guy who made Leonardo a d*** for two years [laughs].

AX: Did your real-life art skills improve at all from playing Da Vinci?

RILEY: No, not at all. I mean, I got a little bit better at doing the bits individually that would be seen on screen, but I actually just went to Tuscany with my girlfriend for a week, and we took a painting class. The teacher said, “Why don’t you do a painting of your girlfriend?” I said, “I can do this, I play Da Vinci,” got out the watercolors – awful. The most offensive thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s just an appalling painting. [The girlfriend is still] with me, but the painting was burned [laughs].

AX: Do you have any different feelings about art or inventions after playing Da Vinci?

RILEY: I think I have more of a respect for the times in which such work was created. In previous moments, in galleries, I’d look at a painting and just judged the art on its individual merit, rather than thinking about the situation in which that art was created. And that’s what’s perhaps the most fascinating about some of that stuff, and the Impressionists and Renaissance artists, is that they were painting in an extremely difficult time, they were doing things that no one had ever done before. They’re now sort of things that have been subsumed into our culture to such an extent that you just go, “Oh, that’s how people paint, and that’s how they painted,” but it wasn’t. People were completely making waves, and to do things that beautiful and that innovative in such repressive circumstances amazes me.

AX: You also played Robin Hood on DOCTOR WHO last year. How was that?

RILEY: That was the most fun. That was one of those phone calls where they said, “Do you want to play Robin Hood in DOCTOR WHO?” And I had to act cool. I’m thinking, “I don’t even have to read the script, of course I’m going to do that.” Peter [Capaldi] had just started playing the Doctor and he was finding his way and working it out. Jenna [Coleman] had obviously been there for a year, the crew’s amazing. It was back in Wales, I was back in pits and holes that I’d shot DA VINCI in. I loved it. It was such a fun three weeks.

AX: We find out that Robin is deliberately overplaying his jolliness …

RILEY: Yeah. They said, “You’ve got to really play it up as though he’s not real, and then you’re going to reveal he is.” And I said, “How are we going to do that balance? Unless we pull off that final scene, going, ‘Here’s why I’ve been faking it, I’m faking it for other people, it’s not me.’” And that was my favorite scene in the episode, between the Doctor and Robin at the end, where they [talk about] stories that live forever. I just found that beautiful, and it gave me the leeway to be larger than life for the rest of the episode.

It was before the third season of DA VINCI. There were moments where I was concerned, I was sword-fighting again, I was in tight leggings and boots, but it was such a different character. It was like a bit of a palate cleanser between series, particularly because this third series of DA VINCI is very intense. There’s not much lightness to Leonardo any more, he’s been through it and he’s come out the other side. Whereas with Robin Hood, I could just be as light as I wanted. Even in moments of great peril, he was still going, “Ha, ha!”

AX: There’s a lot in DA VINCI’S DEMONS about Leonardo dealing with his own artistic ego. Does any of that resonate for you as an actor?

RILEY: Yes. The perfectionism thing, the always feeling like what you’ve achieved isn’t good enough, I think that’s very much an actor’s thing. “Am I being good enough? Have I achieved what I wanted to achieve?” It’s that weird clash that a lot of actors have between that belief that, “Of course I can do this, I’m great,” and “No, I’m not, everyone knows I’m a fraud.” And that dichotomy of thought, those two paradoxical ideas about oneself that constantly bash heads, that’s very much something that I recognize in him and in me, too.

AX: Has doing this changed or your attitudes toward your own work?

RILEY: Yes, it has, but I would say more because, in the first season, I completely devoted myself to it, I was like, “This has to work, I have to get it right.” In the second season, I became a producer and I lost all my time, I stayed up all night on the edits and the cuts. The third season, I realized if I stepped back and allowed myself to have a bit more of a life outside of work, I was better in work, and I think that’s what I really took from the third season, was that you’re able to do the work without completely letting it consume you.

AX: Has being a producer on this made you think you’d like to produce other things?

RILEY: Yes, but I think things that I’m not in. I think it’s too much to be in something and produce it at the same time, particularly as hands-on as I wanted to be.

AX: You’ve done a couple of films lately as an actor …

RILEY: Yes, I’ve just finished a movie called KILL YOUR FRIENDS, a movie called PUSHING DEAD, and I’m about to start shooting a movie called MODERN LIFE IS RUBBISH.

AX: Is there anything else you’d like to say about DA VINCI’S DEMONS?

RILEY: No. Only that I’m going to miss it hugely. It’s been the opportunity of a lifetime to play that part and I don’t see another one like it coming around soon.

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Article: Exclusive Interview with DA VINCI’S DEMONS’ Tom Riley on the third and final season



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