Last week, I was given the huge privilege of being invited to visit the set of Da Vinci's Demons season 3. Full details of my incredible visit, along with a few photos, have been posted in the forum. Once season 3 has been aired, I can share the photos I took on location. From what I saw being filmed, season 3 is going to be even better than the last 2 seasons, if that is at all possible. I truly witnessed magic being created.
As with my last set visit, Tom was just amazing. Kind, considerate, generous with his time, and so much fun. He also agreed to answer the questions I collected from fans in the forum, on Facebook and on Twitter. It turned out to be a surprisingly long interview, with some wonderful responses from Tom, so I decided to split it into 2 parts.
Part 1 below relates to all things Da Vinci's Demons. For those who asked questions, or who wanted messages passed on to Tom, I promise he saw them all, loved them, and answered as many questions as he could.
Are you enjoying the full producer role?
Yes, it’s been very interesting. Last year the co-producer role really only kicked in half way through. So, I only got a chance to do, what I hoped I could do, from episodes 3 and 4, and later. They’ve been really generous to me - really kind about it. They’ve taken on board things I have suggested. Things I haven’t liked as much, they’ve listened. It’s a give and take situation. Ultimately, there were enough strong, creative voices, that we came out with something we are very proud of with season 2.
This season, it doesn’t even feel like we need it, which has been quite interesting. John Shiban has a very, very clear vision for the show, and the scripts bear that out. You get the script, and you realize that you don’t have to write reams and reams of notes; you don’t have to panic that the characters don’t make sense, because it all does. So, I have been loving it, but have been particularly loving not having to exert too much on it.
Does it blend easily with acting?
It does. I try to leave the producing at home when I am on set, and save that for evenings, or when it is factored into my schedule - which they didn’t do last year, and might be the other reason it is easier this year. So, a screening of an episode will only take place when I’m not in, or I’ll have producing stuff on days I am not acting. Whereas previously, I was working until 3 in the morning every day, trying to get it done.
Do you have a specific remit as a producer?
It’s creative, primarily. A lot of producing is worrying about money - worrying if we have the budget for this, or whether we can reshoot that. I will always be pushing for the creative side of things, because I don’t have to worry about the purse strings too much, because that is someone else’s job. It probably drives them crazy, but at least I am fighting for the creative side.
Does it help having a cast and crew that you know well?
Yes! It really does. It is nice when you know what you’re doing - when you have a shorthand with people. You don’t have to find your way into something. And again, John Shiban is very clear about what he wants. He has given a remit to people who were here previously, and who are more than happy to take that onboard, even it it didn’t necessarily marry with what they had been doing before.
Did a lot come back for season 3?
Yeah, a lot of the crew are back. Though some have gone, and some can’t stay for the whole thing.
Are you able to say who will be directing in season 3?
Peter Hoar directed episodes 1 and 2, and will be doing the later episodes - 9 and 10 (the finale). He’s fantastic. He’s great, and knows the show inside and out. And he’s SO handsome. What a dreamboat [grins]. So, it’s just nice having him around. And there’s Alex Pillai who is directing now. They haven’t announced who is directing later on, but I think that’s solely because it could change. It’s so far away, that someone could take another job and drop out. There are people in place and they are good.
Episode titles - season 1 used Tarot inspiration. Was there a particular link for season 2? And season 3?
I don’t think so. Apart from the fact they are all linked by ‘the something of the something’. And in this season, they are all linked again by a common theme, but it isn’t like a variation of a tarot card. They would like for each season, that you could hear an episode title and go 'well, that’s season 3'.
What sequences were seasons 1 & 2 filmed in? And season 3?
Season 1 was very out of sequence. 2 wasn’t quite as out of sequence, though we did shoot everything simultaneously. So we would shoot 2 and 1 at the same time. At the moment we are shooting 3 and 4 simultaneously. So, not only are you non chronological in the episode, you’re not chronological in two episodes, which really plays with your head!
At the end of last season we did a lot of reshoots of episode 6. We went back and tried to do various things with that. It wasn’t quite as non-chronological as the first season, but still a bit of a mind trip.
Which season has been the most fun to film so far?
Um...2 was fun. In that we would be shooting it, and be thinking ‘this is an adventure!’. And actually to shoot the scenes - to be Indiana Jones, to hang off cliffs - with Blake and Gregg yanking me up from protracted things, as I hung looking for a missing keyhole…it was fun!
This season feels more grounded in truth, and reality, and character. So, you still feel like this is going to be a great watch for the audience, but it seems deeper and richer and smarter. I think that is fun to play, but in a different way. You just get to enjoy the character interchanges, enjoy the long dialogue scenes - moments of watching people’s relationships evolve. For an actor, that’s a different kind of fun to running naked through a cornfield, beating up giant Incan warriors. It’s as valid.
Da Vinci’s Demons has had quite a few iconic moments, iconic episodes, in season 1 especially. Will season 3 have more of those?
I really do think there will be some very iconic vanity images. The show looks beautiful. And that is something we have been intending to keep doing - to keep making it look like something which is Tumblr worthy, gif worthy and gorgeous [laughs]. It’s a shame we live in a world where that is something we need to fight for - but there will be things which could be framed in every shot. I think there will be those shots, and there will be those episodes.
As you saw today, there are things people are going to love, that are as mad as anything we have done before. And as beautiful. And as surprising. That people will be able to say is an iconic episode. I think we are shooting one at the moment.
Diet & training - you have had a very strict diet for a long time now. Are you in the habit of eating that way, or have you refined it at all to be able to maintain things?
I’m pretty much in the habit of eating that way. But I have also slightly eased off for myself this year, because we’re moving away from it a bit, and moving more towards a slightly more natural version, so I’m not quite caning it as hard as I can. But there is still a part of me, that once you get to that stage psychologically, you’ve got to keep going.
I do eat well, and I still train...
You appeared to bulk up a bit for season 2 - was that planned, or was it just a continuation of the training plan for season 1.
I think that was a continuation, as I was still doing it. I never really stopped between seasons 1 and 2. I just kept doing the same muscle pumping, and had the same trainer the entire time. So I was really surprised actually, seeing the difference. I mean, you live with it every day. And I hadn’t seen the difference, until I saw the shots from episode 6. I couldn’t believe it - it was good. We’ll find out in this season if I’ve doubled again...
Is there food or certain meals that you don't like, but feel obligated to eat because of your diet?
No, there’s no point really. For a while I would just force things down. But now I just think ‘forget it, eat what you want’. I kind of steer clear of bread, and I steer clear of pasta and white rice. That’s pretty much it. I eat a lot of carbs in other ways.
Stunts in season 2. Riding through the wood on the horse in episode 10? The fall in the forest, after the jump using improvised parachutes, in episode 7? How much was the stuntman?
The roll down the hill was a stunt double, they wouldn’t let me do it. The ride through the woods was me, but the fall from the horse was a stunt double. This year we have a new stunt guy, who is making me do everything! Everything! There is something is coming up that I am a little nervous about...
Other than the acting, is there a job from the amazing crew that you find particularly interesting?
Directing. I would love to direct. I think it’s fascinating. I’m not doing it this year - it’s such a big show, on such a tight schedule. It’s all about beautiful long shots, they would panic. They need experience. But I’m going to shadow someone, hopefully, this year. So I can set up to do it next, if we do another season.
I think it’s such an art, being good at all sides of it. Being good at the lensing, the cameras, the shots. Managing the team, understanding actors. Understanding the directions through lines, story, rhythm, beats. I’d love to do it.
Do you feel drained after emotional scenes? Does it take it out of you?
I tell you what, there is a scene in episode 2 of this season, which might not be the one you think when you watch the episode, which is quite a long dialogue scene between two characters, which is very emotional. It may not translate to screen, ultimately. But, on the day, we did it again, and again, and again... And I was wiped, as I’d never been wiped, after that scene. I was absolutely shattered for 3 days - feeling not very well. So, yes you do. You just feel it take it out of you. Because it is like having a real argument.
If you have a weepy argument with your partner, or spouse, or a friend, the next morning you wake feeling red eyed, and heavy lidded. You're doing that. For real. Or it feels like for real. If it doesn’t feel you’ve done it for real, then you’re not doing it right.
Do you need fake tears, or are you so much in the part you can really cry?
It depends, really. I haven’t yet on this series used fake tears, because it’s felt very real. And very painful. And I have lived with the character close enough. I think sometimes, like anything, there are days at work when you are off. I have seen actors who can cry on the spot, desperately need fake tears. Because everything is throwing them out of it, especially on the day it says in the script ‘he breaks down - the most emotional moment’!
I have been lucky enough not to have that problem on this. But there’s nothing wrong if you do.
Are there other scenes that you would change, or have you imagined a different end for any scenes?
Oh yeah! All the time. I’d overthrow a lot of the first season. Not huge changes, but certainly bits of it. Just tweaks - certain decisions were made, which could have been made differently. But that is the nature of it. If you are not constantly striving toy improve yourself, you may as well give up.
Is there a typical work day for you when you are filming Da Vinci’s Demons?
A typical day would be a 5am pick up, in the chair by 6. And then 2 hours makeup depending on whether I am beaten, bruised, wigged, unwigged, that kind of thing.
Then I get to set for 8 am, rehearse for half an hour, then they set the lights up for 15 or 20 minutes. Then you just go, and you probably won’t stop. You get half an hour for lunch at 1pm. Then you go on till 7 or 8 pm.
I then go to the gym for an hour. I will learn lines up until about 10pm, after I get home, in the bath. And I try not to fall asleep. Into bed for about quarter to 11.
Do you plan days off / holidays in advance, or do you prefer to wait until after filming is complete?
I think this year, I might try to factor in a holiday. I was supposed to go away to do pick-ups for Kill Your Friends in New York, but we just couldn’t get it to work. I would have taken a longer around that. Likewise San Diego Comic Con* The schedule just gets in the way.
As it stands, I would love to go away in September. Will it happen? Unlikely. I’ll probably just save it all up until the end, then go away for 3 weeks.
*Tom earlier told me that they were meant to be at SDCC this year, but season 3 start was delayed so they couldn’t go in the end.
Was ‘Shush' to Alfonso in the season 2 finale improv?
Yes. A lot of that scene was improv. ’Bore a hole’ was improv. ‘Where’s my f*cking ship?’ I wrote just before we did it. We just needed an in, and just came up with that. Alfonso hadn’t seen Da Vinci for so long, so we just sort of scripted all that.
To be honest, it’s always the way in a final episode. Because you are so running out of time, and that script is the one which will be examined the most by everyone, as it is the finale. And it is also the one which has the least time to get done, so everyone just starts pitching in. Fortunately we have writers who were amenable to just going ’that’s great, go for it!’.
What happened to Yana?
You actually see Yana, briefly, at the beginning of episode 5. She’s on the beach with me and Vespucci. There was a lovely little scene with Dilan, where she explained why she couldn’t come with us. She had a lovely little speech, which foreshadowed everything that would happen to Da Vinci in Peru. Then she turned round and got back in the boat. And that felt like the button on her story.
Unfortunately, we got to that moment, and it felt like it was slightly retreading the arguments she had in episode 4. The episode was too long anyway. We had already lost too much - animals which had been brought in, shots examining spiders - that had all been cut in the editing room. So unfortunately that went too. It’s a shame, because I miss Yana too. I thought it was a really interesting character.
Will we ever find out about the spinning tooth?
The spinning tooth was just something from Alfonso’s childhood. He was obviously a Daddy’s boy, and that was just something which sent a chill through him. It just remained ambiguous.
If Da Vinci could time travel, where do you think he'd go?
That’s a good question. He could be anywhere. I don’t know. It would have to be somewhere he had heard of - probably ancient Rome, because he was obsessed. When he was studying anatomy for example, he couldn’t shake ancient Greek and Roman opinions on anatomy. He was hung up on their humours, which was an ancient Greek idea. Maybe the philosophers, the great thinkers. Maybe they’d be somewhere he would visit.
What is going to happen to Leo’s hair this year? With reference to the season 1 hanging scene.
I’m aware of Ditch The Wig! I’m aware of this! Right, originally when we started the show, it was going to be a long haired Leo anyway. We decided we wouldn’t do it, because he would eventually become that man. As he got older and older, then to a flash forward that David always had an idea for. So, he will always have the hair that the story requires.
I can tell you that things go so quickly for the first 5 episodes, and in such a compact space of time, that Leo doesn’t even have time to change his underwear, [laughs] so I don’t know when he is going to have time to get a hair cut.
Will they revisit the hanging scene?
As far as it goes now, and I don’t know how they will change the scripts, you will not be disappointed about that. That will not be ignored.
How do you unwind from Da Vinci, particularly from a physically or mentally draining day?
I come home, and after all the lines, I try not to look at the rushes from the previous day. I just read. And I will set aside 45 minutes. Or I will watch an hour of what ever TV show is currently on Netfix. Something I can just go ‘well this is nothing to do with me, so I am just going to not think’. And that is something I have had to train myself to do.
In season 1 and 2, I lived and breathed every minute of it. It’s not great for you. To give your heart and soul. I’ve never been able to switch off easily. This time, it’s had to be regimented. I am going to have this hour. This is reading hour. Or go and have a drink with Laura hour, or a meal with Gregg somewhere. And don’t talk about work. We’re fortunate, and I have said this a million times. It really is a tight knit bunch. They are lovely. I just love them.
Would the cast like to do a Da Vinci's Demons convention?
It would be nice, but we have to go to other conventions first!
Will we see Da Vinci painting the Mona Lisa?
Maybe, maybe not...
Part 2 to come very soon...