DA VINCI'S DEMONS RELATED
Horse riding - was it a new skill for this role?
Horse riding was not new for Da Vinci’s Demons. I’d learned it a bit for Lost In Austen, but I wasn’t very good. I’d taken lessons with a woman who was very specific that I should do modern style riding. So, by the time I got to the set for Lost In Austen, they said “No, no… no-one rides like that! They ride like this - one handed, straight backed...”. I was too busy learning how to ride like I was about to enter dressage in the Olympics [laughs]. So, it meant I had to completely rethink it; and it also meant that they had to change a few scenes in Lost In Austen, to accommodate the fact that I was not great*.
For Da Vinci’s Demons I’m good now. I can really ride, and they’ve thrown a lot of things at me which I’ve managed to pull off. So, when you see me galloping in season one, that IS me! Even though it looks like a stunt double, it’s really me. [laughs].
Do you enjoy riding?
I love it.
How do you feel about having your chest exposed about 95% of the time in Da Vinci’s Demons?
[laughs] 95%, and in the other 5% everything is exposed. It’s…it’s part of the job. I’m not crazy about it. I’m not crazy about anything which is aesthetically based, and you need to go away and work on it. It’s an anathema to me - I don’t enjoy it very much. But, you know [smiles] it could be worse.
Did you have any injuries in season 1? You were very convincing when limping about in episode 7.
I hurt my hip and lower back when I was going up the scaffolding in episode 2, when I was chased by the Officers of the Night. The harness I put on was pulled up suddenly - I hadn’t stretched, I hadn’t prepared, and something went in my lower back. We spent the whole of the season…well, we shot it out of order, but up to episode 8 (which was about 4 episodes in), I was out of action, for anything which involved running, jumping or climbing trees. By the time we got to episode 7, which we shot after episode 8, I was better. So there I was just remembering what it was like to have a bad back. [smiles]
Did you do any directing for season 2?
I did not, no. But don’t rule it out for season 3.
Do you have particular ideas or aspirations about directing in future?
Yeah, I love that side of things. To be honest, with writing, directing and producing, there is a certain level of control which gives me butterflies. I just get excited about the ability to take things from the beginning to the end. With acting, you lose control the minute you have said the words. It goes out, and you watch it saying “No, that’s not the best take, and that’s not the best angle, and that isn’t how that scene was written…”. Invariably, that is the hardest thing - that’s not how the scene was written, and yet it has been cut to fit, and suddenly it looks like I’m making odd choices.
I am as guilty as the next guy - I watch people on screen and go “I don’t know what they’re doing there”. And I have to remind myself that they probably weren’t doing that actually, that’s probably what has been inflicted on them in the edit. At the same time, editing can save you if you have had a terribly bad day. They can come in and make it all better.
With directing and producing, you can try to follow through, and bring as much of the vision to the screen as you can**.
Have you managed to continue with your writing, while making Da Vinci’s Demons?
No, Eliza (Coupe) was working so hard on Happy Endings, and I was doing this, so we never managed to. Laura (Haddock) and I are in the middle of putting something together in our off time. It’s a very, very low key thing. Mine and Eliza’s - they were received wonderfully, but they were very high concept, which are always very difficult to get off the ground.
So, Laura and I just decided to make a small relationship drama, for 2/3 people, which will probably go nowhere. It was fun to bash out the ideas for it and the first draft.
Is that project a film?
It is a film, yeah. An hour and twenty.
Which scenes in Da Vinci’s Demons were most difficult to shoot, and least difficult to shoot?
Most difficult to shoot. That’s a difficult question. A lot of the time it is the big exposition dumps… it’s tough. That is a tough question... Do you know what? I do have an answer for that! In episode 4, at the end, there is a sequence with a pomegranate and gun powder balls exploding overhead.
I have a system whereby, I have so much to learn every week - pages and pages and pages - that the script coordinator, the week before, sends me the week’s worth of lines. And that’s when I just go off. I look at the scenes, before and after, I get prepared, read the scripts and learn that week’s scenes.
I got there on the day, and I hadn’t got that scene. It had been left out the pile. And it was a scene with lots of 'da Vinci-esque’ dialogue. In a sequence where I had to look completely in control. On a horse which wouldn’t stay still. And it was raining - but only for some of the scene. And I just didn’t know the lines.
I was doing everything in my power to sit down and learn them between takes, and then get up and try and make it look like it was fine. I had no idea. That was the most difficult.
You did amazingly well. Fans loved that scene, especially between you and Blake.
They like me and Blake. They think we’re about to kiss. All the time. That’s fine. They’ll get more of that in season 2! [laughs]
The easiest scenes are the ones with Laura (Haddock) and Elliot (Cowan), who are both so good at listening. And so good at reacting. The scene just comes alive. Invariably you finish your day, and go "That scene didn’t work", or “That wasn’t quite right”, and every few days you get one where you go “Oh, we got that!”.
They were mostly like the scene in episode 8, between Laura and I, and the scene with Elliot in episode 1 - where we talked about the clockwork losing its lustre…those moments. On those days we can go home and say “You know what? We told a story there, the best it could be told”. And that is always quite nice.
I also loved your scenes with the older actors in the series.
I love working with Allan (Corduner) and David (Schofield). We’ve got some really wonderful older actors, and that includes James Faulkner who plays the Pope and the Prisoner as well. We really lucked out with the older actors. They’re really experienced in theatre and film. All these actors have had incredible careers, in different things, and yet they’re all going “This job is brilliant, we’re having such fun”. That’s exciting - when you have actors feeling like that about the job, it makes it easier.
So, when you get to that age, what would you like to be doing?
I’ll be playing Bernard in Arcadia. [laughs] It will all come round again.
Do you have any funny anecdotes from shooting Da Vinci’s Demons?
It goes on every day, but I can never think of any when people ask me!
Do you have a favorite quinoa recipe?
[laughs loudly] Favourite quinoa recipe! That’s amazing. To be honest, I do something simple with quinoa, because it has to be pure and healthy. It’s tuna, chopped chilli, tabasco, salt, pepper, coriander and sweetcorn with quinoa. It’s basic, with no dressing and a pretty miserable meal. It’s only protein, but gives the illusion of taste because it is so spicy. When the dish is drier, I feel like I’ve eaten more, and it convinces me that I have had a meal.
You spend your life just being hungry then?
I do, yeah.
Will you be able to eat more when you finish filming?
Yes! I’ve got a big bar of Dairy Milk just waiting in my fridge as a treat.
What happened to the gag reel that was supposed to be on the dvd - will it ever see the light of day?
I don’t know where that is. I hope it shows up, because it was good.
What modern day things would you show Leonardo in a Lost in Austen style swap?
The only things I think would fascinate him, are those things which appear to work by magic. Even things like cars, he could look at and unpick. I think things like iPads and iPhones. I remember the first iPod Touch coming out and just not knowing - “How is that doing that?”. They use so many recent discoveries to create something seemingly magic, he would have no context with which to understand it.
Any plans to promote S2 in Florence again?
We would like to go to Peru.
What do you like most about your character?
I like his fierce belief in what he is doing. The whole thing which underpins the character is his utter belief that what he is doing is right.
Was Magik ever recorded?
No, I never had the call from them.
Anything lined up after the season shoot is over? Any plans to return to the stage?
Nothing confirmed. I would love to return to New York, but being tied to possibly filming season 3, it is very difficult to find things to fit the dates.
We know about the M&Ms one, but have you voiced any more adverts?
Rimmel and Head & Shoulders - (see here for details).
Any other voice work we can hear?
I would love to do a book narration, but it is a very difficult area to get into.
If you could have voiced any Pixar/Disney character, who would it have been?
Dug from Up.
Dream project if money was no object?
To create a production company, with moral values and ethical concerns.
Terrence Higgins Trust and Scope.
Guilty pleasure TV?
Australian Masterchef and Great British Bakeoff. Tom Mison and I trade notes across the Atlantic.
If you could go back and 're-do' any past performances on stage/screen/film - would you?
I wouldn’t necessarily want to do it again, but there were lessons I learned from making Return To House On Haunted Hill - even if the project is not quite what you thought you were signing up for, give your absolute best to it, in order to at least have some pride in yourself.
Best detective - Poirot, Marple or Lewis? Which one would win in a fight?
Poirot best detective, but Marple might win. David Suchet was such a great inspiration as a leading man on the set of Poirot. Taught me the importance of leading by example - things like knowing lines, being on time.
In a rhetorical fight between Mr. Wickham and Leonardo who you think would win?
Wickham wouldn’t turn up.
*Tom earlier told me that the scene with Wickham waving Caroline off in Lost In Austen, was originally meant to be with Wickham on horseback.
**Tom revealed during my visit that he was made a co-producer for season 2.