Written By April | May 2012 : Page 22

WritteN by Julio Martinez The Firs t Corleone Famil y Neil Jordan got an offer he couldn’t refuse : The Borgias. P romotional materials that Showtime released for the first season of The Borgias featured a banner promising the first crime family. Which prompted a denial from the writer who scripted the complete first season and directed the initial episodes, in-sisting that, “This is not a story about crime.” Neil Jordan went on to explain that chronicling the 15th-century machinations of the Borgia family, who dominated the Catholic Church and Roman society at the dawn of the Renaissance (1492–1515), helped the writer-director to sym-pathize and forgive, well . . . criminals. “You can say,” Jordan allows, “that Rodrigo Borgia crimi-nally bought his way into the papacy [ordained Pope Alexan-der VI in 1492]. And he used every stratagem possible to get that miter on his head. But once there, he was immediately overawed by the destiny that he had kind of grabbed. He was shocked by the fact that he was Pope, God’s representative on Earth. And he never lost that sense [of shock], no matter what he did. “The task for me as a writer has been to embrace the truth of the Borgia notoriety and debauchery,” continues Jordan, “portray it accurately on film, while also depicting them as the real people they were: capable, empathetic human beings who embraced culture and the arts, launching the careers of such artists as Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci. Lucrezia Borgia, much maligned by historians, was a much beloved patron of the arts and at the end of her life was considered a heroine. This aspect of her persona has to be realized, as well as the cold-blooded, unsavory historical facts.” He learned that most of the Borgias legend was written by their enemies. Newer research, much of it by papal scholars, provided “a fresh look at them and this era.” Such a compelling challenge had been frustrating Jordan for a decade at the time DreamWorks Television proposed the subject as a series. He’d been working on a saga about the Borgia family, struggling to develop the complex ge-nealogy into a feature screenplay. But with a series offer, the scripting suddenly came together for the writer of The Crying Game . Jordan discovered that, “All the character development, intrigue and historical nuances and story beats could be put to use in a longer serial format. The first 10 pages alone [of the original feature script] made for an entire two episodes. I had done so much research, and had so much material at my fingertips, it was an absolute joy to allow the characters to breathe and expand.” WG a W Written By AP ri L/MA y 20 12 The Corleones’ Family Tree The Borgias certainly made their imprint on European his-tory during the emergence of the Renaissance. They pro-duced 11 cardinals of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, three popes, a queen of England (Catherine Braganza, Queen consort of Charles II), and a saint (St. Francis Borgia). This is a family with long historical tentacles, beginning in 14th-century Spain, and reaching through the history of 15th-and 16th-century Italy and France. Jordan focused on three fig-ures: Rodrigo, who established the family’s power base; his son Cesare, who for a time was a cardinal before leaving the order to assume the station of power-hungry, ruthlessly effi-cient, and tyrannical duke—the model for Machiavelli’s The Prince ; and Cesare’s sister Lucrezia Borgia, demonized in his-tory as a poison-wielding villainess but according to Jordan the most misunderstood member of this colorful clan. “I tried to stay as accurate to the broad historical shape as I could,” he says. “And I didn’t have to invent anything to make these guys fascinating. What they went through was actually quite extraordinary. I mean, Rodrigo Borgia invited his family into the Vatican, including his mistress. He made his son Cesare a Cardinal at age 18 and put his daughter in charge of St. Peter’s for a period [a key plot point in the sec-ond season]. He went away to do some business and actually left Lucrezia to run the affairs of the Vatican, which shocked the Christian world at the time.” A woman oversees the Vatican! Such scandalous charac-ters, mixed into the innate glory inherent in the Renaissance, provides compelling melodrama for Showtime. The first sea-son, which ended May 21, 2011, averaged 3.15 million view-ers a week (including replays, on demand, and DVR). That beat out Showtime’s other costume drama series, The Tudors, during its fourth and best-rated season. Now a 10-episode series, The Borgias second season debuts April 8. For it, Jor-dan promises an even deeper probing into the Borgia family mystique. “I see this as a four-year project really,” he affirms. “In the first season, I felt like it was my job to very carefully plot out the historical context. But in writing the second season, I knew I wanted to get much more down and dirty. Rodrigo’s church is much more drenched in blood, as it should be.” Born and raised in Ireland (which he still calls home), Jor-dan was educated at St. Paul’s College, Raheny (a Roman Catholic secondary school for boys). “I was brought up as an Irish Catholic. I was beaten around the head when I was a kid, by guys who looked just like the actors in this series. In 22 •

The First Corleone Family

Julio Martinez

Neil Jordan got an offer he couldn’t refuse: The Borgias.<br /> <br /> Promotional materials that Showtime released for the first season of The Borgias featured a banner promising the first crime family.<br /> <br /> Which prompted a denial from the writer who scripted the complete first season and directed the initial episodes, insisting that, “This is not a story about crime.” <br /> <br /> Neil Jordan went on to explain that chronicling the 15thcentury machinations of the Borgia family, who dominated the Catholic Church and Roman society at the dawn of the Renaissance (1492–1515), helped the writer-director to sympathize and forgive, well . . . Criminals.<br /> <br /> “You can say,” Jordan allows, “that Rodrigo Borgia criminally bought his way into the papacy [ordained Pope Alexander VI in 1492]. And he used every stratagem possible to get that miter on his head. But once there, he was immediately overawed by the destiny that he had kind of grabbed. He was shocked by the fact that he was Pope, God’s representative on Earth. And he never lost that sense [of shock], no matter what he did.<br /> <br /> “The task for me as a writer has been to embrace the truth of the Borgia notoriety and debauchery,” continues Jordan, “portray it accurately on film, while also depicting them as the real people they were: capable, empathetic human beings who embraced culture and the arts, launching the careers of such artists as Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci. Lucrezia Borgia, much maligned by historians, was a much beloved patron of the arts and at the end of her life was considered a heroine. This aspect of her persona has to be realized, as well as the cold-blooded, unsavory historical facts.” <br /> <br /> He learned that most of the Borgias legend was written by their enemies. Newer research, much of it by papal scholars, provided “a fresh look at them and this era.” <br /> <br /> Such a compelling challenge had been frustrating Jordan for a decade at the time DreamWorks Television proposed the subject as a series. He’d been working on a saga about the Borgia family, struggling to develop the complex genealogy into a feature screenplay. But with a series offer, the scripting suddenly came together for the writer of The Crying Game.<br /> <br /> Jordan discovered that, “All the character development, intrigue and historical nuances and story beats could be put to use in a longer serial format. The first 10 pages alone [of the original feature script] made for an entire two episodes.I had done so much research, and had so much material at my fingertips, it was an absolute joy to allow the characters to breathe and expand.” <br /> <br /> The Corleones’ Family Tree <br /> <br /> The Borgias certainly made their imprint on European history during the emergence of the Renaissance. They produced 11 cardinals of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, three popes, a queen of England (Catherine Braganza, Queen consort of Charles II), and a saint (St. Francis Borgia). This is a family with long historical tentacles, beginning in 14thcentury Spain, and reaching through the history of 15th- and 16th-century Italy and France. Jordan focused on three figures: Rodrigo, who established the family’s power base; his son Cesare, who for a time was a cardinal before leaving the order to assume the station of power-hungry, ruthlessly efficient, and tyrannical duke—the model for Machiavelli’s The Prince; and Cesare’s sister Lucrezia Borgia, demonized in history as a poison-wielding villainess but according to Jordan the most misunderstood member of this colorful clan.<br /> <br /> “I tried to stay as accurate to the broad historical shape as I could,” he says. “And I didn’t have to invent anything to make these guys fascinating. What they went through was actually quite extraordinary. I mean, Rodrigo Borgia invited his family into the Vatican, including his mistress. He made his son Cesare a Cardinal at age 18 and put his daughter in charge of St. Peter’s for a period [a key plot point in the second season]. He went away to do some business and actually left Lucrezia to run the affairs of the Vatican, which shocked the Christian world at the time.” <br /> <br /> A woman oversees the Vatican! Such scandalous characters, mixed into the innate glory inherent in the Renaissance, provides compelling melodrama for Showtime. The first season, which ended May 21, 2011, averaged 3.15 million viewers a week (including replays, on demand, and DVR). That beat out Showtime’s other costume drama series, The Tudors, during its fourth and best-rated season. Now a 10-episode series, The Borgias second season debuts April 8. For it, Jordan promises an even deeper probing into the Borgia family mystique.<br /> <br /> “I see this as a four-year project really,” he affirms. “In the first season, I felt like it was my job to very carefully plot out the historical context. But in writing the second season, I knew I wanted to get much more down and dirty. Rodrigo’s church is much more drenched in blood, as it should be.” <br /> <br /> Born and raised in Ireland (which he still calls home), Jordan was educated at St. Paul’s College, Raheny (a Roman Catholic secondary school for boys). “I was brought up as an Irish Catholic. I was beaten around the head when I was a kid, by guys who looked just like the actors in this series. In Fact, I based the character of Rodrigo’s main nemesis Cardinal Della Rovere on a brother who used to whack me at school.” He admits to being quite religious at one stage of his life, but “then it just sort of left me.” <br /> <br /> Leaving in its place an imagination steeped in eros forbidden by the church. Since publishing his first book of short stories in 1976, Jordan has undertaken subjects of unusual sexuality, incorporating them within “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland (The Crying Game, Breakfast on Pluto), as well as stories of young people (The Miracle, The Butcher Boy). His directorial efforts, which began in 1982 (Angel), have branched out into fantasy and dreamlike films (The Company of Wolves, High Spirits, Interview with the Vampire, and In Dreams). His celebrated poetry and fiction also explores the erotic.<br /> <br /> “People have queried me about my use of sexuality in the Borgia series,” reveals Jordan. “Well, you know, it was Roman in 1492. Popes had mistresses and produced illegitimate children. And the entire Borgia family got pretty hot and lascivious. It just happened to be part of the story of their lifestyle. In fact, they were one of the most notorious families of power to have lived. And Rodrigo Borgia definitely was one of the most notorious men ever to have become Pope, although he probably was not the most criminal or the most lecherous. There is historical documentation of papal crimes that involved piracy, murder, sodomy, and even incest.” <br /> <br /> Disciples got his Back <br /> <br /> Jordan scripted all nine episodes of season one by himself, but found himself even busier than usual during the interim while adapting Paul Murray’s 2010 tragicomic novel, Skippy Dies, for the screen. To take on the second Borgias season, he enlisted the services of two noted British writers. “I enjoyed writing the first series a lot. But for this season, for the first time, I worked with a writing team, David Leland and Guy Burt. I wrote the first five episodes, and David wrote the last five as well as directing the final episode. And Guy did up this huge Borgias bible for us to lay out what needed to happen in the second season. It worked well because they felt absolutely free to come to me and point out things like, ‘There’s way too much talking in that scene.’ They were both quite candid and forthright. It was immensely helpful.”<br /> <br /> Born in Cambridge, England, Leland first gained acclaim with his 1986 screenplay for the thriller/drama, Mona Lisa, starring Bob Hoskins, which garnered nominations from the Golden Globes and Writers Guild. In 1987, he was also cited for his film directorial debut, Wish You Were Here. In addition to his many scripting and directing film projects, in 2000, Leland wrote and directed Episode 6 of the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers.<br /> <br /> Burt, a graduate of Oxford, wrote his first novel, After the Hole (1993), at age 18. After a five-year teaching stint, he became a full-time writer when After the Hole was adapted as a feature film in 2001. Burt is the author of two more novels, Sophie and The Dandelion Clock, and has been working in film and television since 1999, on such series as Kingdom, Afterlife, Wire in the Blood, and Murder in Mind.<br /> <br /> “The creation of season two has been a more mind-freeing experience,” Jordan says. “For the first season, I felt compelled to make sure everything was clear and understood, particularly in the initial two episodes [where] I spent a lot of time explaining things. For the second season, we were able to really bring in more cruelty, more dynamism, and more of a Hitchcock-y feel to the show. It’s more to do with the tension and development of situations of cruelty and murder and betrayal. It’s more to do with suspense than extravagance or sexual excess.” <br /> <br /> The second season elevates the treacherous machinations of Cesare Borgia, who executes heinous crimes to keep the family in power and is now a bitter rival to his brother Juan. Lucrezia is less a pawn to her father and siblings, becoming more of a player in the action. As for Rodrigo, now Pope Alexander, the relentless thrust of events surrounding him is affecting his conscience. The conflicts he witnesses within his family are the first rumblings that events are stretching beyond his grasp, inhibiting his political puppetry and the fate of his family. And lurking in the background are a pair of formidable enemies, the king of France and Cardinal Della Rovere (the future Pop Julius II), the moral compass of the series.<br /> <br /> “What’s more interesting to me [than criminality] is the way in which power wears a religious cloak,” Jordan says. “In this series I’m exploring the Vatican as an enclosed alternative universe, as well delving into the conflict between a religious view of the world and a purely political one. I found [during his research] the contradictions absolutely fascinating.” <br /> <br /> Jordan expresses satisfaction in dramatizing such themes.But the most important goal remains depicting the Borgias in the context of the times in which they lived.<br /> <br /> “It is almost impossible to judge them from a contemporary background,” he discovered. “With Rodrigo, we are telling a story about a man who, whatever you say about him, in the end he did try and protect the institution of the papacy with all the weapons that he could muster. He was mesmeric.And even the most salacious histories written about him say he was a supreme performer, a great actor. Cesare became one of the most fascinating monsters that ever lived, as welldocumented [in The Prince]. But even Machiavelli couldn’t take his eyes off him. He found him absolutely spell-binding.<br /> <br /> “As for Lucrezia, her reputed salaciousness and nefariousness is totally invented. I mean, what did she do? She was married off twice. But she had a baby out of wedlock. Many people had. And she ended up as the Duchess of Ferrara, alone among all of the Borgias as almost a saintly figure. And she ran that court up in Ferrara, becoming a beloved patroness of the arts and of poetry.” <br /> <br /> In other words, the Borgias were not the Corleones, nor criminals, at least as we understand that definition today.“They were larger than life, and I don’t want to judge them. I just want to tell their story.”

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