As Pope Alexander VI’s daughter, Lucrezia Borgia enjoyed riches, money and, it turns out, a considerable amount of power for a woman in 15th century Italy.
That was one of the reasons British actress Holliday Grainger was excited about Season 2 of Showtime’s “The Borgias,” in which her Lucrezia quickly grows from innocent girl to a fierce mother and shrewd politician.
“Stray Dogs,” the April 29 episode, Alexander (Jeremy Irons) puts Lucrezia in charge of the cardinals when he leaves Rome to check on the progress of the war against the French.
“I was so excited when Neil [Jordan] had written that into the script. I’ve read quite a few biographies on Lucrezia Borgia and I was fascinated by the fact that she was the acting pope many times. There's a famous portrait of Lucrezia on the papal throne and, yeah, you think that back then maybe women didn't have too much power, but she did,” Grainger said during a phone interview at the beginning of the season. “There was no one else that [her father] trusted.”
Lucrezia not only sits in the chair of St. Peter in the episode, she and her mother, Vanozza (Joanne Whalley), and her father’s lover, Giulia Farnese (Lotte Verbeek), team up to help Rome’s poor and to clean up the city, an effort that will pit them against many of the cardinals.
“The three women … form a charity against the cardinals to kind of root out the corruption within the conclave, which is fantastic to have the girls doing something on their own and not just having the men with the power and the politics.”
Grainger and I talked more about girl power, Lucrezia’s journey in Season 2 and how much Grainger likes it when Lucrezia goes bad.
Lucrezia takes over the pope’s chair, doesn’t she? He actually puts her in charge of the cardinals at one point. Yeah, it was great as an exercise to kind of have those scenes where you’ve got to deliver the speeches and you kind of have that audience of men, but I think that kind of marks a point of Lucrezia’s growing up, in reaching a sense of maturity where she can start to take an interest in the politics.
The historical text I’ve read indicates she was intelligent and was well read and sort of knew all kinds of things, spoke a lot of languages and everything. Yeah, absolutely.
So I guess it’s no surprise that she could handle a bunch of old men. [Laughs.] Yeah. She would have been incredibly well educated and she had to put that to good use as well because they would have all been taught to speak publicly. And Lucrezia later on in life she became, in her third marriage, when she became governor of the city [of Spoleto]; she was like a patron of the arts and she’d have to govern the city while her father was away. So it’s like it was incredibly important for them to be smart and educated because they’d have to take, even if it’s sometimes behind closed doors rather than in front, the women and the wives would be the ones that were writing politically manipulative letters to people.
There was more than one circumstance where Lucrezia had a lover that was her husband’s worst enemy and it was all to do with Lucrezia’s manipulative letters that made sure that their town wasn’t invaded. They really did count on her. It was important for them to be intelligent.
It sounds like you’ve really done your research. [Laughs.] Because I didn't know about the Borgias when I auditioned for it. And so as soon as I got the part, I was just like, “Oh my gosh, there's such a massive, rich amount of information about this girl.” Which is so exciting as an actor to kind of have it all out there and there's so much that you can read about. It’s more important to kind of deal with the scripts and go off what Neil writes and David Leland writes. It’s also fantastic to kind of feel like you’ve got that kind of backbone of research that you can enmesh yourself into.
Have you seen anything in the script and you’ve gone, “Well, from what I know, this isn’t right.” [Laughs.] Well, I think they’ll always have artistic license because it’s a TV show. Nothing’s completely set in stone about what happened then. A lot of things, like about Lucrezia having sexual relationships with her father and brother, I mean, a lot of that was rumor back then. So it’s like everything, as much of it is rumor as it is history, and there are lots of biographies you can read. They’re all interpretations of history anyway, so I think that whatever we read in the scripts is just an interpretation of that history. Some people will believe that as fact and some people won't.