Renaissance man goes sci-fi
There is an intriguing untold story about Leonardo da Vinci, writes AP’S
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.