Verbeek Borgais
Credit: Jonathan Hession/Showtime/Landov

Last Sunday, the premiere of The Borgias, written and directed by Neil Jordan, had Showtime’s strongest drama premiere ratings in seven years. It’s the first American TV series for Lotte Verbeek, who co-stars as the beautiful Giulia Farnese, the younger mistress of Jeremy Iron’s Pope Alexander VI (a.k.a. Rodrigo Borgia). Having seen the next two episodes, we were surprised to see the mistress keeps her clothes on. “Knowing that she is a mistress, the most uninteresting thing would be to have a lot of sex scenes. You know that that’s happening. I think the stuff around it is far more interesting to portray. That’s where you start to wonder, so what else happens? And why? What’s with the age difference?” Verbeek laughs. “I was actually pleasantly surprised by how much value she even has to his life, and the fact that she’s eventually much more than a mistress. You’ll see that later on. She’s not a typical mistress. She’s far from a cliché. She’s talking about not only to use your beauty as a woman, but also your wit and your intelligence. And I think that’s exactly what she’s doing.” Fortunately, for those of us who do tune into historical dramas for the love scenes, she says we are right to hold out hope that François Arnaud’s Cesare will find more time for sex in the future. “What can we expect when one is a young, beautiful good-looking guy?” she teases. Um, incest with his sister, Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger)? “I wasn’t there when they shot that,” she says of the sibling’s touchy-feeling entrance. “When I saw it, I was like, Hmmm. Interesting. Is that just me seeing stuff happening? That’s the fun part about this series. Even though it’s strong and it speaks about very powerful human forces, desires, dark sides of people, it’s still done very poetic, and very subtle, and very intelligent. That’s really Neil Jordan’s power as a writer and a director.”

Lucrezia, Borgia’s daughter, who Giulia has befriended, is the best-known female in the tale of the original crime family. “It’s not as clear what happened to Giulia as with Lucrezia, so it gave a lot of freedom to Neil and to me as well to give it our own twist, which is a bit more fiction, and I like that,” she says. Verbeek won the role less than a month before shooting her first scene. “I taped myself in my best British RP, and Neil Jordan invited me to Budapest to have lunch, and then they offered me the part. It was within a week from the first moment I got the script,” she told us earlier this week, phoning from her home in Amsterdam. “Living in Budapest for half a year [filming], and I was the only Dutch person on set, I had to speak English, so I thought I may as well just speak in the required accent. I spoke like a full-blown Brit all the time. It must’ve been a bit odd.”

She must have had a lot of time to practice. It was an hour drive to the set from her hotel, and then another hour or two in hair and makeup each day. “They were working with such a perfectionism, they were even measuring so the part in my hair was exactly center,” she says. “You’ll never really reach perfection, but the strive for it, I love it.”

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