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Francois Arnaud of 'The Borgias' clears up a horse tale


  • Francois Arnaud plays Cesare Borgia on "The Borgias."
Francois Arnaud plays Cesare Borgia on "The Borgias." (Showtime )
May 20, 2011|By Curt Wagner | RedEye

For the record, Francois Arnaud did not fall off his horse while filming “The Borgias” for Showtime. (Note from Curt: I've updated this interview with videos and more Q&A about Season 2 below the main story.)

“I never fell off my horse!” he told me this week, disputing a recent interview claiming the opposite. “I never fell once. … I don’t know what I said to make them print that. … Maybe I said it to make myself interesting. I have no idea.” 

Arnaud definitely doesn’t have to work at being interesting. Jeremy Irons may be the undisputed star of the series, playing embattled Pope Alexander VI, but the 25-year-old from Montreal has caused quite a stir as the Pope’s sinister, sexy son, Cesare Borgia.

“The Borgias,” based on the real-life story of the 15th-century cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, who basically bought and bullied his way to becoming pope, closes out its deliciously devilish first season at 9 p.m. Sunday. (It’s already been renewed for a second.)

According to Arnaud, the finale doesn’t steer away from the Machiavellian maneuverings or murders. Arnaud says something unexpected happens, too.

“It’s a bit of a family reunion, I’d say. It’s like the Borgias’ Christmas. It’s very sweet,” he said, laughing. “That’s what it is, yeah, that’s why it’s surprising actually, because you don’t expect the Borgias to be sweet.

“[There’s] a bit of torture and a lot of sweetness.”

Viewers can expect that Cesare and his henchman, Micheletto (Sean Harris), will be doling out the violence. When “The Borgias” premiered, it seemed Cesare was the “good” brother while Juan (David Oakes) was more troubled and dangerous. But Cesare became more menacing—and maybe just a bit evil—to keep his father in power and dispatch his own enemies.

Arnaud still sees the good in his character, even if he doesn’t seem fully convinced how good he is.

“I didn’t want to portray him like a Disney villain,” he said. “I wanted him to be like an everyday young boy looking for his father’s approval and love, but still with that power and that hunger for power. He changes, he evolves into this monster slowly, I guess, but we’re all monsters a little. [Laughs.]

“He stays loyal to his family, to his beliefs all along. I don’t think he is all bad—at all actually.”

Viewers will see both the sweet and scary sides of Cesare’s personality in Sunday’s finale—and also the riding scene in which his horse, a Spanish Beauty called Carmen, gave him fits, but no fall.

“I just saw a blooper and it was raining a lot on that day [of filming] and … it’s me and Sean Harris on our horses and mine was misbehaving so bad,” Arnaud said. “He just goes everywhere; he didn’t respect me a lot. But I never fell.”

If you skip to the 8:49-minute point of the blooper reel below, you will see Arnaud dealing with the horse.

For being about religious men, “The Borgias” is quite sinister. And Cesare has been downright scary at times.
That’s what we want. [Laughs.]

Did you know about the Borgias before you took the role?
I knew a little bit about their reputation, but not much, no. But I did a lot of research before I took the part obviously. I read a lot of biographies and also fiction books that were inspired by their story and or by the character of Cesare Borgia. At first I only knew a couple of the clichés and that’s it.

There has been a lot written about the family, but most admit they’re not quite sure what actually happened. Was it difficult for you to sort of find the man or did that make it easier?
It probably did make it easier. Any choice was good in the end because there was so much to choose from, and a lot of people seemed to disagree on the character, so then I just took Neil [Jordan’s] script as my bible and I made my own choices according to what I thought of [Cesare]. I guess I just brought him closer to me in the end, weirdly.

I don’t want to sound scary or anything—[laughs]—but I just wondered what would I do in this situation and in that position and realized that the character wasn’t probably that far away from me. [Laughs.] And it is a bit scary.

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