In advance of Da Vinci's Demons season 2 'The Blood of Brothers' broadcasting tonight on Starz, Crave Online has shared their interview with Tom. Read it in full on the website.
CraveOnline: Were you a co-producer on last season too?
Tom Riley: No, that’s this season.
What does that entail?
Personally, for me it’s entailed I’ve fought really hard for character moments, script notes on early scripts and then notes on the edits. I know the acting side of things, so it’s been saying, “How about this performance? Can we get more emotional juice out of this?” So I’ve kind of tried to safeguard character moments that sometimes in a show as big and exciting as this get lost in favor of explosions. What might be an example of a character moment you fought for? There’s a moment in the blood transfusion where I looked at Verrocchio and said, “You have to believe in me.” I think we originally lost that in the edit and then it came back. Why not? Why not have that connection between them? Why not show a little bit of vulnerability in Leonardo? For me, it was quite difficult last year, I think for an audience too, to have a guy who’s right all the time, just pulls the answer out of his ass every 10 minutes. It gets frustrate him, we return to not have him win like that. Even with the blood transfusion, I don’t think he necessarily saves Lorenzo’s life. They just don’t kill each other. They’re lucky they’re the same blood type.
It seems like things don’t go so well when he meets the Incans.
No, it doesn’t. Things don’t go so well there at all.
Has doing “Da Vinci’s Demons” opened more doors for you in the rest of the industry?
It’s been strange because between one and two we had so much publicity that we didn’t get to do anything else in between, but certainly, the fact it’s a hit in 150 territories is something we never predicted when we were doing the first series, like being on holiday in the Indian Ocean and someone would be crazy about it there, or be chased around the shopping center being photographed in Japan. We didn’t see that coming.
Is season two more physically demanding?
Yeah, it’s just bigger. This season I’ve learned to stretch. Last season I didn’t. I was like, “I can do this. I can get in a harness.” And I pulled muscles left, right and center. I didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of the crew going, “Hold on, I’m just going to do 100 toe touches.” This time I’m just like, “You know what? I’ll just look like an idiot because I’d rather that and slip a disc.” Is 100 the number to do to be properly stretched? 100’s too many. I might have been exaggerating. Just one or two is enough.
Does that change the dynamic of the show that you’re less in Italy this year?
Certainly I’m in Italy for the first few episodes and then we set off. A lot of the characters don’t stay in Italy. Certainly, the Medicis are there necessarily and Clarice is in Florence holding down the fort while Lorenzo has to go off on his own business, but Italy is still the lynchpin. It’s still what they’re fighting for. Florence as a city is still the thing they want to keep alive, but the quest takes them elsewhere.
Could you have imagined when you started last year that this is how big the show would get?
Not when I started, no. We had no idea we’d be off with the Incans. David [Goyer] told us at the end when we shot season one and we’re like, “How are you going to get out of this cliffhanger? How are you going to pull yourself out of this?” He said, “Beginning of season two, you [and] Riario [are] seemingly friends in South America.” We’re like, “What?” So we kind of knew where it was going by that point, but I didn’t know when we started.
We see the Book of Leaves and the blood transfusion this season. What other sort of da Vinci nuggets are coming up?
Oh, there’s loads. The submarine we’re going to see, which is something he genuinely created. We don’t know if it was seaworthy. Ours certainly wasn’t seaworthy. I wouldn’t even take it in a swimming pool. The amazing art department comes up with these things that work inside and out. It’s extraordinary. So yeah, the submarine. We’ve got loads more weapons. There’s lots of good ones this year.
Do you feel closer to da Vinci now?
I don’t think anyone could ever feel close to him, if I’m honest. I feel like I know more about him than I’ve ever known about any historical figure because I’ve done so much research, but our version’s a fantastical version. He still has the mind, but I couldn’t even begin to compare myself to the man.
I guess I should ask in the second season, are you more comfortable in the role?
I think so because we built foundations. We built the characters, we built the world and then you get to play within it. We spend the first few episodes kind of going, “What are we? Are we a procedural? What show are we?” I think tonally we hit our stride about four or five episodes in and just built on it. Certainly we came back this season knowing what we were.
When you form this uneasy alliance with Riario, how does that change your working relationship with Blake Ritson?
It doesn’t actually. We have a fun working relationship anyway. We just enjoy the craziness of it, just the fact that rather than smoldering and raising our eyebrows at each other, we’re actually having to connect which is quite nice. It’s been fun, that side of things, but it’s always fun when you throw characters together in unlikely combinations because you get to pull stuff out of the bag that you wouldn’t predict otherwise.
Are there new love interests for da Vinci this year?
I wouldn’t say so, no. There are certain interests and flirtations but for him, his main love is knowledge and to pursue The Book of Leaves. That’s all he’s after this season.
How much of the Incan set is real?
Oh loads. It was almost a 360 degree set with Machu Picchu and certainly within all the tunnels. They were all real. A lot was there. Very little green screen actually. Certainly the shots out across Machu Picchu, they are filmed by people who went on location. There’s a lot of real stuff there and some great VFX this year. We’ve also come into our own with VFX I think.
There was a great sword fight on the boat.
How long did that take?
Ages. Ages, and our knuckles were wrecked. We just kept saying, “Sorry, sorry. Are you all right? Are you all right?” We both had to have gloves on because we just kept hitting each other’s arms and wrists. It was just a very complex fight and also, the ship wasn’t level ground. It was this kind of grid and we’d go up onto it and down and we’re walking backwards and twisting our ankles. It’s a good fight though. It’s great.
What other action is coming up?
There’s going to be lots. There’s going to be a lot of moments. Riario has some great stuff later in the season and getting away from the Incans is going to be tougher than they imagine it would be. There’s some really good fights ahead.
When you talk about fighting for character moments, are there also times you’ve learned it’s not appropriate right now?
Oh yeah. All the time. The story’s got to keep going. It’s interesting because it’s a very strange balance of trying to make sure the story and the characters are interesting enough that people will invest in a story as a result, and the story’s interesting enough that people want to watch the characters in it. It’s a very fun balancing act. You’ve got to give certain stuff up in one hand and you’ve got to fight for stuff on the other. It’s knowing which one’s right at the right time.
When they meet the Incans, is there room for character moments then?
There’s room for character moments. They’re going to change. For me, this is the best thing. In season one, Giulino had a really strong arc. We saw him go from a naive Medici brother to by the end of it being on a quest to save Florence. In season two, we all go on a journey. The trip changes people, so being away, being in Incan land, suddenly Leonardo realizing he’s not the smartest man in the room and maybe this is a world he doesn’t understand, a culture he doesn’t understand. It will change Riario, it will change Nico, it will change Lucrezia. Everyone ends the season in a different place to how they started.
Do you have any scenes with Laura Pulver this year?
Are they coming later?
No, there are a few here and there. They’re good.
Is the finale this year another cliffhanger where you’re asking David how he’ll get out of it?
I couldn’t possibly tell you.
But should we look forward to another big cliffhanger?
I’d say the final episode is fantastic. It spins a million plates and then brings it together to an incredible head.
Is that stressful to you as an actor, knowing all the elements going on and what you have to do to pull it off?
It can be, yeah. You can sometimes worry that you’re not fulfilling it enough to make sense, for the story to make sense or you’re not doing the right stuff. But no, David, if he’s pulled off what he’s pulled off this season, then I trust him to pull off season three as well.
Have you heard from fans who have taken it upon themselves to research da Vinci or learn more because they’ve been inspired by “Da Vinci’s Demons?”
Interestingly enough, yeah. It’s funny, I was really concerned that the art historians would get really crazy and give us a hard time. To a certain extent, that did happen at the top of the city. We went to Comic-Con. Hearing people genuinely invested in the character and asking, “You’re clearly going to Peru. Will you have withdrawal from Opium because he won’t be able to get it there? Will he take ayahuasca?” I was like, geez you’ve really thought about it. That’s the best thing, when you’ve got fans who actually care enough to think of utterly intelligent, logical questions.
You learned to draw last year, right?
Yeah, with my left hand.
Is art still a part of this season?
Art will always be a part of the season because the way Leonardo visualizes things is in a sketchbook form. That isn’t going anywhere. He doesn’t have time to stop and paint this season. It’s the inventions that will get him out of his predicament, not the drawings. David said those da Vinci vision sequences are really complicated.
What do you have to do for the visual effects?
They are the one part, occasionally we fly by the seat of our pants occasionally in how we’re setting up a shot, but those are very carefully storyboarded so we know what’s going to cut to the eyes, what we need to see, what needs to be in the shot. Also, they’re the ones we find ourselves going back and picking up quite a lot because they put it together and they go, “We haven’t got it. We’re missing a bit. We need a closeup of the eyes. We need you looking here.” So they’re meticulously mapped out.