Tom Riley, left, and Gregg Chillin in a scene from the TV series Da Vinci's Demons.
Tom Riley, left, and Gregg Chillin in a scene from the TV series Da Vinci's Demons. Greg Williams - Contributed by Foxtel/FX Channel

Fighting the demons

SUPERHERO reviver David S Goyer revisits history in the new FX drama Da Vinci's Demons.

The screenwriter is best known for breathing new life into Batman as the co-writer of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy and has also reimagined Superman in Warner Bros's forthcoming Man of Steel.

But in his latest TV project, Goyer has depicted famed Renaissance inventor and artist Leonardo da Vinci as a brash 25-year-old making a name for himself in 15th Century Florence.

Equal parts Indiana Jones, Sherlock Holmes and Tony Stark, Goyer's da Vinci is a knowledge-hungry genius who has yet to find his place in the world, earning as many enemies with his inventions as he does admirers.

Da Vinci's Demons - FX - Tuesday at 7.30pm

Goyer tells The Guide about the inspiration behind his eight-part fantasy series and its star Tom Riley.

Q: Why depict Leonardo da Vinci as a young man?

A: I'd done a lot of research and it turns out there's about four years of his life, age 28 to 32, where there's very little record of where he was or what he was doing and there's also a lot of legitimate controversy and gaps about his life. No one, to this day, knows who his mother was. Most of the public's perception of da Vinci is that self-portrait of him as an old man but he was meant to be an excellent swordsman, an excellent horse rider and then you read his journals and it's clear that art was not what he really was interested in. He was a good artist, and this is my theory and other people's as well, but he really wanted to be a scientist.


Q: Da Vinci is known as the great artist behind paintings such as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, but he invented a lot of weapons as well didn't he?

A: He did invent a lot of weapons. He was just this fabulous contrast because he was a humanist, he was a vegetarian, but he invented a lot of weapons that were designed to kill people. I just thought what a fantastic starting point for a story. Then, there was a mystery cult known as the Sons of Mithras and I thought how wonderful would it be if da Vinci got involved in the Sons of Mithras because they were very interested in promoting science and preserving knowledge. At the same time that all of this was happening, Pope Sixtus started the Secret Archives, which were the opposite; they were interested in withholding knowledge.


Q: Because da Vinci was a genius and because he invented weapons that killed people, how do you make him someone we can relate to?

A: He is a really complicated figure and Tom (Riley) is playing him brilliantly because he's, almost by definition, one of the smartest guys that ever lived and very hard to cast. We saw more than 100 people and we saw Tom and we were absolutely blown away. He's funny but also, he (da Vinci) smokes opium to dull his senses because he's got a lot of nightmares; we're playing him like a manic depressive. He's definitely his own worst enemy.


Q: You're best known for futuristic and fantastical stories. What's it like to work with historical material?

A: It's awesome because one of the reasons "history is a lie" is our catchphrase is because so much of history is unknown anyway. There's so much dispute about which paintings he painted or where his notebooks went, where he was during those (missing) years or who his mother was. A lot of historians guess anyway. So what we're doing is being a little cheeky and saying about 80 percent of this happened, then we're kind of filling in the blanks.

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