Re­nais­sance man goes sci-fi

There is an in­trigu­ing un­told story about Leonardo da Vinci, writes AP’S

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N the 500 years since Leonardo da Vinci, he has up­staged ev­ery ge­nius multi-tasker in his wake. Da Vinci was a whiz as a painter, a sci­en­tist and en­gi­neer, and a fu­tur­ist dead-set on fight­ing the grav­i­ta­tional pull of his own times.

He was an in­tel­lect, free thinker, veg­e­tar­ian and hu­man­ist who sup­ported him­self by de­sign­ing weapons of war.

He was tall, hand­some and a hit with the ladies. Be­ing am­bidex­trous, he was great with a sword.

‘‘The phrase Re­nais­sance Man was de­rived from him,’’ says David S. Goyer, who has spent a lot of time study­ing the man to cre­ated Da Vinci’s De­mons, a scifi thriller set in the 1400s.

An­other cool thing about da Vinci: He was a man of in­trigue, en­sconced in se­cret so­ci­eties, his pa­ter­nity un­re­solved (he was born out of wed­lock), per­haps di­vinely in­spired as he clashed with the Ro­man Catholic Church – a man who seemed to defy the con­fine­ments of any sim­ple nar­ra­tive.

‘‘There’s a tan­ta­lis­ing five-year gap, stretch­ing from when he was 27 to 32, where there’s al­most no record of where he was or what he was do­ing,’’ says Goyer. ‘‘A gap like that is gold when you’re the cre­ator of this show.’’

Da Vinci’s De­mons is a his­tor­i­cal fan­tasy, says Goyer.

Born and raised in Michi­gan, Goyer re­mem­bers spend­ing half of each Satur­day in a comic book shop, the other half at the city’s li­brary.

Now 47, he is wiry and bald­ing and bears a strik­ing re­sem­blance to the ac­tor Stan­ley Tucci, whom he says he’s never met but is of­ten mis­taken for.

His cred­its in­clude the short-lived but am­bi­tious sci-fi thriller FlashFor­ward. He was script con­sul­tant and story de­vel­oper for the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops and its se­quel. He cowrote the 2005 film Bat­man Be­gins and its two se­quels, and wrote the screen­play for the up­com­ing Zack Sny­der-di­rected Man of Steel.

In Goyer’s view, da Vinci was the pro­to­type of a su­per­hero.

‘‘I pic­ture him as one-third In­di­ana Jones, one-third Sher­lock Holmes, onethird Tony Stark (Iron Man),’’ he says.

To play this ex­tra­or­di­nary chap, Goyer chose English-born ac­tor Tom Ri­ley. The 31-year-old ac­tor starred in the Bri­tish TV med­i­cal drama Mon­roe, and in 2011 per­formed on Broad­way in the re­vival of Tom Stop­pard’s Ar­ca­dia with Billy Crudup and Raul Es­parza.

Ri­ley’s da Vinci is sexy, mer­cu­rial and ir­re­press­ible. He savours life in his na­tive Florence.

Goyer says he hit upon do­ing a show about da Vinci only by chance. He had never done any­thing his­tor­i­cal be­fore, and when asked by Starz to cre­ate a drama fo­cused on some tow­er­ing fig­ure from the past, he first de­murred.

‘‘I said, ‘I’m not – no of­fence – in­ter­ested in do­ing a kind of dry, BBC his­tor­i­cal drama.’’

A num­ber of pos­si­ble can­di­dates were con­sid­ered for what was now en­vi­sioned as a ‘‘rein­ven­tion-of-his­tory show’’.

There was Cleopa­tra and Genghis Kahn, and also on the short list, da Vinci, re­calls Goyer.

‘‘Then I re­alised, no one’s ever done a show about da Vinci! That’s crazy! Peo­ple say he’s the most recog­nised fig­ure in his­tory other than Je­sus Christ,’’ he says.

To pre­pare for the se­ries, Goyer read dozens of bi­ogra­phies, da Vinci’s jour­nal pages and many of his let­ters.

He has writ­ten or co-writ­ten all eight episodes of sea­son one, and di­rected the first two episodes of the show, which shoots in Wales.

Re­cap­tur­ing 15th-cen­tury Florence, not to men­tion the high­fa­lutin ex­ploits of da Vinci, de­mands im­pres­sive vis­ual ef­fects, and Goyer has set the bar high.

‘‘My goal was to be at least on par with the pro­duc­tion val­ues of Game of Thrones,’’ he says.

But even as it re­cap­tures the past, the show, like da Vinci, is for­ward-look­ing.

‘‘The cen­tral con­flict is about who con­trols in­for­ma­tion.

‘‘On the one hand, you’ve got the Vat­i­can Se­cret Ar­chives. The Church wants to con­trol the in­for­ma­tion.

‘‘On the other hand, shortly be­fore our show starts, Guten­berg in­vented the print­ing press.

‘‘This is a mod­ern-day touch­stone that view­ers can iden­tify with. If da Vinci were alive to­day, his slo­gan would be, ‘In­for­ma­tion wants to be free’.’’ Tom Ri­ley as Leonardo da Vinci

April 16, 7.30pm, FX.


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