Created by David S. Goyer (Batman Begins, Man of Steel) and set in 1477 Florence, the eight-episode Da Vinci’s Demons stars British thesp Tom Riley as the infamous artist, inventor and swordsman and visionary, a 25-year-old determined to make his mark and suffer no fools, oft at his own peril — such as when he tests the patience of the House of Medici. In the first hour alone, Leonardo outfits his apprentice in a flying apparatus, fashions a giant mechanical bird and, yes, sketches the occasional pretty (and pretty naked) lady.
Does it all seem like a bit much? You may be surprised. Goyer shared with TVLine the facts, more facts and hint of fiction behind his take on the definitive Renaissance Man.
LEO WAS ALMOST CLEO | Recalling the genesis of the series, Goyer says that when Starz reached out to him to bring his filmmaker sensibilities to a historical figure, “We talked about a variety of different people, ranging from Genghis Khan to Cleopatra — who they are developing a show about right now. But when da Vinci’s name came up, I just said, ‘Wow. For somebody who’s as famous as he was and who’s so well-known, it’s kind of crazy that no one’s every made a movie about him or have him be the lead of a TV show.'” After diving deep into research that, he says, oft cited Leonardo as “the most recognizable historical figure in the world, other than Christ,'” Goyer’s takeaway was: “Who better to do a show about?”
THIS HISTORICAL FICTION ISN’T SO FICTIONAL | Though the onset of Da Vinci’s Demons may give the uninitiated pause, even a cursory bit of research reveals the very real basis for his small-screen endeavors. “Like with any show, we created some things out of whole cloth,” Goyer allows, “but we did not do nearly as much invention as you would think.” Also, who’s to say what fills in the blanks in the man’s storied life? “At the time of his death, [Leonardo's notebook] had 13,000 pages — and we only know of about 6,000 to this day,” Goyer shares. “So I thought, if he created all that stuff within the pages that we know about, what the hell did he create in the other 7,000?”
GREAT ADVENTURE | Goyer stresses that this series is “a very different kind of beast” than, say, The Tudors and The Borgias. “I’m a big fan of cable TV right now. We’re kind of in a golden age with television, where some amazing stuff is being done,” he surveys. “But there aren’t a lot of just fun adventure shows on. A lot of people have told me they’re surprised that this is as fun as it is — and that it can also be funny,” in the vein of the UK’s Sherlock, of which Goyer is a huge fan. “I’m trying to do the kind of show that I would like to watch.”
DA VINCI’S NAME-DROPPING | Leonardo’s teacher, Andrea del Verrocchio, and his contemporary, Sandro Botticelli, are among the other famous faces who will pass through Da Vinci’s Demons, while others — including Medici mistress Lucrezia (Strike Back‘s Laura Haddock, photo), whom the artist covets — are based on real historical figures. “If we are fortunate enough to go a few more seasons, Michelangelo will absolutely be showing up,” Goyer assures. And though Leonardo’s most famous work is chronologically a far ways off from the series’ timeline, “We could see The Mona Lisa as soon as second season,” Goyer winks. “As evidenced even by the first episode, I’m a big fan of nonlinear storytelling.”
HE’S BATMAN | Goyer asserts “it’s not just possible, but probable” that the gadget-happy crusader Leonardo begot the Dark Knight. “[DC Comics vet] Bob Kane himself has said in interviews that Batman’s cape was based on Da Vinci’s ornithopter (see drawing) and that Da Vinci was one of the antecedents for Batman.” Holy Life-Imitates-Art! — Leonardo even has a dark memory pegged to a cave. “Da Vinci writes about it in his journals, and he sketched the mouth of the cave,” Goyer relates. “Something bad happened in that cave, and then he went on to build a flying machine. I mean, it’s kind of an eerie parallel.”