Tonight, Starz premieres the original eight-part series Da Vinci’s Demons from the mind of David S. Goyer, the co-writer of The Dark Knight trilogy who also penned this summer’s Superman movie Man of Steel. He mixes fact and fiction in his imagination of an undocumented time in da Vinci’s life, his late-20s to early-30s, in which the famed artist and innovator (played handily by British actor Tom Riley) finds himself at the center of a web combining religion, politics, and both sorts of anatomy lessons. We spoke to Riley about the series, working with Goyer, and all the heavage you’ll see on the show.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: On a lighter note, your shirts are so low-cut on the show. I’m imagining multiple fittings to find the optimum depth. What can you tell us about that process?
TOM RILEY: As you say, we had various different shirts of differing lengths. The lower it went it became quite important that it should be just above the belly button. [Laughs] Because when you see the belly button, apparently that can be quite upsetting and quite distracting for some people. So we needed to keep that out, but keep enough abs and pectorals in. And of course, it had to be period, so it was long and flappy. And also, it was supposed to be in Florence, so it was supposed to be warm, even though we weren’t [filming in Wales]. Those are very cold nipples. [Laughs]
Since you brought up nipples: I was also wondering if you used double-sided tape at all to prevent nip slips.
What, like, tit tape, to sort of keep everything there? “Tit tape,” that’s what people call it, isn’t it?
I don’t call it that, but I love that.
It’s called tit tape in England. We’re far more straight about this. No, there wasn’t double-sided tape. If something was revealed, then that was just like an Easter Egg, a little bonus. [Laughs] You can tell I’ve been doing interviews for a few days. I’m going slightly mad. [Laughs]
The EPK includes an interview with a historian from Stanford who consults on the show. What is the strangest conversation you’ve had with her?
I’ve never talked to her. [Laughs] That’s the honest truth. I discovered her on the EPK, too. She seems very knowledgeable. No, but David did all the chatting with her about that. It’s funny, because so much on our show seems preposterous and kind of out there, and actually some of the weirdest stuff was true. Like right at the end of his life, Leonardo made a robotic lion for the king of France that walked towards him and then his chest opened and flowers came out. The strangest stuff was the stuff that was too weird to even put in the show. Pope Sixtus IV [played by James Faulkner], who is the chief villain of the piece, seems so awful that you think that can’t be real. But actually, he did stuff that was even worse than what we’ve shown. He tried to bring back the satanic high mass, human sacrifice. He was a crazy dude, and we only skim the surface of how awful he was.
The show has action and adventure, but it’s also complex. Viewers have to pay attention. Was there ever a scene that you yourself had to read multiple times to follow?
Yeah, there’s some really crazy plot twists. About midseason, something happens — I won’t say which episode to spoil it — but it’s so out there that you just can’t get your head around why it could be and how it could be. David S. Goyer, who wrote it, he told me what that all was leading to and it all makes sense. But not only did I go, “What?!” I had to call the rest of the cast and go, “Have you read this episode? It’s mental!” It’s great. Lots of exciting moments.
Da Vinci ends up creating military weapons for Lorenzo Medici (played by Elliot Cowan). What device do you think he would use to torture Man of Steel spoilers out of David?
[Laughs] David is so tight-lipped on Man of Steel. Generally, he’s really passionate and he can’t keep things in. He gets really giddy and excited about Da Vinci’s Demons. He’ll tell me he’s not going to tell me anything, and then all the sudden it will spill out of him after a few drinks. Man of Steel, he’s paranoid. You cannot get a word out of him about it. So I don’t know anything… apart from that towards the end, he and Lex Luthor have a love affair and have a little bald superbaby. So that’s a spoiler for you. He’ll kill me for that.
Last question: You have a great sex scene in tonight’s premiere. And then I don’t think there’s one in episodes two or three. What’s up with that?
Yeah. Well, the one in episode one was so good that we thought we should just hold off until episode four. So stick around. There’ll be more. It’s okay.