"The Borgias"

Brothers Juan (David Oakes) and Cesare (Francois Arnaud) rekindle their rivalry in Season 2 of "The Borgias." (Showtime / April 8, 2012)

“The Borgias” returned Sunday, with Francois Arnaud literally racing back to our TV screens as cardinal-turned-vigilante-killer Cesare Borgia.

Cesare has become a breakout role stateside for the 26-year-old, Montreal-bred actor, who will play a soldier in an indie movie about the Civil War before going back to Hungary to film Season 3 of “The Borgias” later this year. (If the show is renewed.)

But for now, Arnaud is anxious to see more episodes of the new season of the Showtime drama, in which Cesare, he says, will take control of the fortunes of the 15th-century family headed by patriarch Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons), a.k.a. Pope Alexander VI and the father of sibling rivals Cesare, Juan (David Oakes) and Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger).

“He kind of goes rogue, such that he perceives he’s the best person to defend the family, and he’s not waiting for his father to approve of every single one of his actions any more,” Arnaud told me last week during a phone interview. “Yeah, he’s becoming the man.”

In Sunday’s premiere, “The Borgia Bull,” the increasingly vicious feud between Cesare and Juan played out in the form of a dangerous horse race that Arnaud actually did himself over a couple of days.

But it wasn’t easy, Arnaud said. “I remember the second day of the race where I was worrying so much, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do it,” he said, laughing. “I said, ‘Just give me half an hour,’ and I popped like five Advils and rubbed my thighs with like cold cream and I was ready to go.”

Arnaud and I chatted about filming the race, how Cesare has changed this season, how he broke his elbow in Budapest where the series is filmed, and what’s in store for the Borgia family. We talked about the entire season, so check back each week as Arnaud introduces episodes or gives us some extra insight about scenes like tonight’s horse race.

How goes it?
It’s going well, yeah. I’m excited about the second season. I haven’t seen it all, so I’m just looking forward to see it myself.

How awesome is that that you get to be the first conspirator we see in the new season?
[Laughs.] Yeah, I think it starts off with Cesare in a new place. I think he’s taking control a little more and I think it’s great that we get straight into the action. No more explanations [like in Season 1].

How do you think Cesare’s changed from Season 1 to Season 2?
Well, I think he’s still changing, but I think he’s not looking for his father’s approval as much. He still dreams about the possibility, but he’s realized that no matter what he does the other brother will always be the favorite. I think he sees that his father, a little bit later in the season, you’ll see that he knows that the Pope is getting older and also that he’s not necessarily making the right decisions for the family.

You said something interesting about Cesare not feeling that he’s ever going to be his father’s favorite, but Juan I would say feels the same way, right?
Does he? Maybe, yeah.

It seems that way to me that they both kind of feel like the other one’s the one who has their father’s attention and love, which is kind of interesting.
I think the way I see it is that the father would just love Juan to be the one, you know? He would love Juan to be perfect and he knows that he isn’t. But I feel that Cesare has been working so hard at making the right decisions every single time, and no matter what he does it’s not recognized. But you’re right, maybe Juan does feel that Cesare’s the favorite. I never thought of it that way.

Tell me about that rivalry. How’s that going to heat up this season?
Oh gee. I think it’s less childish, less innocent, and I think it all comes from a very deep place. But I think it’s the first time that they’re ever taking it out physically. I think Cesare’s really sick of it completely and I think a lot of that is control, and Juan faces different struggles in the season. I don’t know how much I can say though. It’s in front of us not to reveal anything. Juan faces drug addiction problems, the drugs, the whorehouses.