Cesare Borgia (Francois Arnaud, left) takes bold moves free of his father,… (Tamas Kende/Showtime )
In "The Borgias," Francois Arnaud says, his character is finally "the Cesare Borgia he was meant to be, he always wanted to be."
He's also the Cesare Borgia that Arnaud always expected to play--"a warrior, a politician, a go-getter, really. He's now free from the cloth and from his father, pretty much. So it was a great year for Cesare."
Showtime's historical drama follows the family of Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons), a Spaniard who in the 15th century bribed, poisoned and otherwise forced his way to becoming Pope Alexander VI. Created by Neil Jordan, "The Borgias" is a thrilling potboiler filled with intrigue, murder, sex and--in the case of Rodrigo's driven son, Cesare, and daughter, Lucrezia--incest. Season 3 episodes air at 9 p.m. Sundays. (Spoilers ahead!)
So far this season, Cesare has acted swiftly to capture or kill the enemies who poisoned his father and tried to assassinate his entire family. He's going after the family's enemies, including Catherina Sforza (Gina McKee) and members of old Roman families who want to see their relatives on the throne of St. Peter.
He's making decisions free of his father's tutelage, and he's even opposing his father's wishes. Cesare has come of age and is his own man, a natural evolution for the character, 27-year-old Montreal native Arnaud said from his temporary home in Los Angeles.
"It felt like it's where he was headed since the beginning, but you never really know where you're going to go," Arnaud said. "I remember shooting a few scenes early on in Season 3 and ... it was like, 'Oh, my God. It feels like I'm playing a totally different character.' And for a while, I wondered if it was a good thing or not, but I think it is. I think people do change and can evolve into something completely different from what they were."
Arnaud believes he, too, has changed over the course of three seasons. "The Borgias" was Arnaud's first big international job after working mostly in Canadian theater and a handful of TV shows. The experience of filming in Budapest with Jordan and actors like Irons has made him more confident and assertive in his acting choices, he said.
"I guess I have evolved with the character," Arnaud said. "I feel a little bit more like a grown-up now. And I felt very much like a boy when I started playing Cesare. I think Cesare had good intentions in the beginning and was a little naive, and so was I."
"And now I'm cynical," he said, laughing. "[From] hanging out with those damn Borgias. But, no, it has been a great journey."
Arnaud talked more about the new Cesare, what's in store for the character this season, and what else Arnaud has been up to in the past year.
You're living in LA now?
I'm spending more and more time in LA, yeah.
How are you liking it?
Better and better. Yeah, yeah. I stopped hanging out with young actors so much. [Laughs.] But it's essentially more musicians and other types of artists. so that's a positive thing for me at the moment. Yeah, I live in this gorgeous little house with some musicians and, yeah, having a great time.
Are you into music?
I'm into music. I'm not a musician. I don't play music, really. I mean, I have a certain musical talent--I played music when I was a kid.
Do you think you have changed over the course of the three seasons? You've become more well known and probably more opportunities have opened up.
Certainly doors have opened but I still don't know where it's going to take me. I try to be in the moment and enjoy what I'm doing now ... I'm leaving for Argentina to shoot a movie. I'm leaving tomorrow to go back to Montreal for three days to pack more stuff for Argentina. And to see my accountant. [Laughs.] But I don't know how much I can say about the movie. But, yeah, great projects to come and maybe more of Cesare. We'll see.
You were saying that you feel like you've sort of grown up a little bit along with him. More confident; more professional?
Definitely more confident. More professional? I think I always was professional. [Laughs.] The experience has taught me just different things. Just working with people like Neil Jordan and Jeremy taught me to be maybe more assertive in my choices as an actor and to maybe not listen to other people as much, and just go for what my guts are telling me.
And Cesare as a character has also taught me a lot about myself. I think you end up digging inside you to find--I think Cesare gave me greater access to my rage and my anger--because they're all things that I have and I need to dig out to portray Cesare. But they're ultimately not things that you make up.
So, in other words, don't mess with Francois.
[Laughs.] You said it.