As soon as Cesare Borgia’s nun lover was found murdered in Sunday night’s “Stray Dogs,” I just knew the cardinal and Showtime’s “The Borgias” were going to take viewers on a thrill ride.
And thanks to a superb performance by Francois Arnaud as Cesare, it was a fascinating trip into the dark corners of a vengeful mind and hurting soul.
The ride started when Cesare’s chief henchman Micheletto (Sean Harris, also wonderful) rounded up Rome’s stray dogs—a group of soldiers for hire—to attack the French with less-than-honorable weapons and tactics. It ended with rather barbaric torture of captured soldiers before delivering the final blow to the French in the middle of the night.
I asked Arnaud how difficult it is to shoot scenes like the torture sequence in “Stray Dogs,” when Cesare seems to have lost all emotion but the burning desire to get vengeance.
“I think you have to find it in yourself to go there,” he said. “In those scenes, I think what they did was so awful, you know?
“I’m against the death penalty, but I can understand when someone you love gets killed or tortured and raped, and you’d like to kill him with your own bare hands, you know? So morally, it’s completely wrong. But on an intimate level I think it’s very easy to understand.
“So I just stay focused on how awful I think these people are and then I can be awful to them.”
The episode also showed that Cesare, as Arnaud told me in our interview before the season began, is no longer going to sneak behind the Pope’s back to do what he thinks is right for the Vatican and Rome. He’s just going to do what he does. The episode ended with a great confrontation between Cesare and Rodrigo (Jeremy Irons), in which Cesare essentially busted his father for sleeping with the wife of the Duke of Mantua, the man fighting the Pope’s battles.
“My night was as satisfactory as I’m sure was yours,” Cesare said. “I slept the sleep of the good and the just, as I hope you did, Holy Father.”
Arnaud had more to say about the episode, including how he helped choose the weapons with which Cesare outfitted the wild bunch (the scene in the video below).
Let’s talk about when you and Micheletto get the wild bunch together. How is it working with Sean Harris? I was a bit worried about what Sean would think of the Wild Bunch, about getting other people to come into our little assassination bubble. But I think he knows and Micheletto knows that we’re—we just hired them because there’s not enough for the two of us to do all the work Cesare wants to do. To me these characters are all a little dumb, you know? They’re bad killers that don’t really get it; they just follow orders. And I think that’s not the relationship that Cesare had with Micheletto.
They have a relationship on another level too and I think it’s—and we get to know more about Micheletto this season actually, Episode 5 especially you’ll see something about Micheletto’s family and like where he comes from.
Did you have to do some weapons study? Yes. [Laughs.] The weapons that we’re using on the show like are so, like I mean totally [crazy]. I picked the weapons that I wanted to use for that scene where I show them to the Wild Bunch. The guy who makes the weapons for the show gave me a couple of books actually about weapons of that era and we tried to pick them together.
So for each weapon there are like three versions of it. There’s one that’s a hard plastic one and painted. And one that’s completely working, it’s just like an actual weapon. And one that’s like—how’s the third one—it looks real, it’s not that you can actually shoot with it.
So it was just great to actually get to rehearse with the old weapons. It was amazing. [Laughs.] It’s awful, really.
It’s awful and amazing at the same time. [Laughs.] I mean it’s just like, the ways to torture someone are just shocking.
But you got to help pick the weapons you’d use. I don’t know, did you feel like a kid again a little bit? A kid again? Yeah, I felt like a kid with big heavy weapons. [Laughs.]