Cannes, 4 October 2010. The Borgia family, which gave the world two Popes, embodies more than practically any other family the spirit of the Renaissance with its now nearly inconceivable conflicts and contradictions. On the one hand, the Borgias were ruthless, corrupt, violent and scheming; on the other hand, under their rule, Renaissance culture reached its finest flowering under such geniuses as Leonardo and Michelangelo. Shooting on the twelve-part series Borgia, produced with a budget of 25 million Euros by Atlantique Production/EOS and Canal +, begins today in Prague. John Doman (“ER, “The Wire”) stars as Rodrigo Borgia, his daughter Lucrezia, one of the most enigmatic female figures of the Renaissance, is played by 17-year-old Isolda Dychauk, who was seen most recently as Gretchen in Alexander Sokurov’s “Faust” production. The director is Oliver Hirschbiegel (“The Experiment,” “Invasion”), whose feature film “Downfall” was nominated as best foreign film at the Academy Awards in 2005. Author and producer of the series is Tom Fontana (“Oz”/HBO, “Homicide”/NBC). International distribution of the English-language production (12 x 52’) is being handled by Beta Film.
Europe in the late 15th century: Leonardo da Vinci is working on his “Last Supper,” commerce is flouring in the cities, and pioneering scientific discoveries are being made at universities. But in the Eternal City, the darkest Middle Ages still hold sway. The city’s mighty families are at war with each other, the streets are controlled by unruly mobs, and the over 1000-year-old basilica of Saint Peter is a ruin.
Yet Rome is still the mightiest city in the world and the Pope is the venerated leader of the Church. Whoever is Pope holds the key to immeasurable wealth through sinecures from monasteries and dioceses, as well as through the sale of indulgences and administrative posts. Spanish Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia and his children Juan, Cesare and Lucrezia are part of this world, which is stamped by murder and violence, fanaticism, betrayal and promiscuity, as well as by deep faith and hope for redemption. Rodrigo Borgia is fully aware of the deplorable situation the Church is in, and is willing to fight to change it, yet he too is possessed by an unfathomable lust for power and wants to secure for his family the rule over all of Italy. He will stop at nothing to reach this goal – just like his enemies, the oldest and mightiest families of Rome.
The sons of Rodrigo Borgia – Juan and Cesare – are played by young actors Stanley Weber and Mark Ryder. The brothers are in constant, and often cruel, rivalry with one another. Whereas the dissolute, self-indulgent swaggerer Juan is his father’s favorite, Cesare, the more talented and intelligent of the two, has to suppress his natural inclinations and become a man of the cloth. Andrea Sawatzki, known in Germany as a “Tatort” inspector, interprets Adriana De Mila, Lucrezia’s foster mother, Udo Kier (“Halloween,” “Soul Kitchen”) plays Pope Innocent VIII, whose death plunges Rome into chaos and leads to the election of Rodrigo Boriga as Pope Alexander VI.
Assumpta Serna (Pedro Almodóvar’s “Matador”) stars as Vanozza Catanei, Rodrigo’s longtime mistress and mother of Juan, Cesare and Lucrezia. Rodrigo’s later mistress, Giulia Farnese, is played by Marta Gastani, who recently shot “The Rite” with Anthony Hopkins. The cameraman is Osuma Rawi (“Tudors”), the sets are being designed by Bernd Lepel (“Downfall,” “Pope Joan”) and the costumes are in the hands of Sergio Ballo (“Vincere,” “The Legend of 1900”).
The shooting takes place in the Barrandov Studios in Prague. Studio 5 is being transformed into the Sistine Chapel and the papal apartments. St. Peter’s Square and the streets of medieval Rome are being built on a c. 160,000-square-meter open-air set. Exterior shooting will also take place in Prague itself as well as in the Czech town of Telč which, with its Renaissance facades, is listed in the UNESCO world cultural legacy.
“Borgia has the feel of a civilization in transition, from the Dark Ages to the Renaissance, meaning from dark to light, sensuality mixed with high art.”