By Curt Wagner
10:23 PM CDT, 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.
He’s the vice guy.
Yeah. He’s becoming dangerous for the safety I think of Lucrezia as well, and with Lucrezia being the one thing that I cherish the most I think a point will come where a decision needs to be made about Juan and what we do around him in the position that he’s in.
You guys sword fight and then you have that really crazy horse race. Last year we cleared up the fact that you didn’t fall off the horse. (Read "Francois Arnaud clears up a horse tale") Anything you need to tell me about concerning that horse race? That must have been scary.
Yeah, I didn’t fall off the horse. But it was crazy actually. It’s a bareback race, so it’s pretty intense. The difficulty with the bareback thing actually, is to be stable on the horse without squeezing your thighs and giving the horse contradicting signals.
I had an amazing horse. It was coming from Spain specifically for the race and I don’t know that I was ready, but I wanted to do it so I did it all myself. But they wouldn’t let me, actually, when we started shooting. For insurance purposes they thought I hadn’t had enough training. Well, I had a lot, but it was a big race.
Honestly, we shoot in bits and pieces so we don’t have to do the whole race at once, but you still have to like attain a certain speed. So I asked them to just let me do the starting line to a little ways, and that went well. After we shot they said, “Well OK, you can just do it.”
It’s amazing that because our characters are leading the race we’re in front of everybody else. So if we ended up falling we would have had like eight horses just riding over us. It was really thrilling.
And we were in new sets as well. The back lot is much bigger this year. You can really feel that you’re racing along in the back streets, so that was really cool.
I heard that you got injured this season.
I got injured, yeah, I did, but not on the set. It was another thing that was completely unrelated to “The Borgias.”
You broke your elbow?
Yeah, I broke my elbow. It wasn’t while I was filming. It was out in the streets of Budapest. I was running and I just tripped over something and fell on my elbow.
Actually, I think we managed to hide it pretty well. We changed the shooting order for a couple of scenes, but it’s for the last two episodes I think that I was injured, that I was like, I had my arm in a cast for a couple of weeks maybe. Then I had to do physical therapy and I’m back in good shape now, almost. But I don’t think it’ll show. We just managed to tweak the cast a little bit. I think my arm is bent in a couple of more scenes than usual. But I’m always holding something. Honestly, I think if you don’t talk about it people won’t know.
You’re OK now?
Yeah, better, yeah.
I remember last year you said that you feel there’s a lot of you in Cesare and if that’s the case, I hope we never meet in a dark alley after watching you this season.
Yeah. [Laughs.] I think I bring a lot of myself to the character, but it’s not necessarily in our actions that we are alike, luckily. But in a way I feel that I could, not in an actually violent way like to other people, but he has this rage that I understand, and he has this ambition and he has this loyalty to the ones he loves which I understand. But the worse thing that can happen in a dark alley is me breaking an elbow.
Did anything surprise you more about Cesare this season?
He always surprises me because he’s just changing so much and he’s evolving so much. … I feel that by the end of Season 2 Cesare’s transformation is complete and … it’s like someone completely different than he was a year ago. I think that’s exciting and that’s why it’s not boring to be on a show like this for that long, because it doesn’t feel like it’s repeating the same thing over and over again. It’s not like “House.”
I agree with you. I think these four episodes are a lot different and a lot more, I don’t know, action-packed, sinister, than the whole of the first season. Everybody starts going off in their own directions.
Yeah, that’s where it’s headed. And yeah, it doesn’t really stop until the end of the season. Well, I think the first season, especially for a historical show, you have to set things up historically, politically. Now that people know the characters and the historical context a little bit more, I think we can jump right into the action and I think it’s less explanatory. I think you get to work the events more in Season 2 than you hear about them, you know? I like that.
The dark partnership between Cesare and Micheletto becomes a lot more solid this season.
We talked about it a lot with Sean and it’s not friendship. There is some friendship but it’s not, you know, friendship as we know it today. It’s not equal. They’re not on the same level. But I think they respect each other a lot and Micheletto is certainly not Cesare’s tool or slave. They have a relationship on another level...
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.
Cesare trusts him more than he trusts like say Juan.
Oh, definitely, definitely. [Laughs.] Juan cannot be trusted.
Do you find it to be a brotherly relationship? Do you think that he thinks of Micheletto, “Too bad this guy wasn’t my brother instead of Juan?”
Not exactly either, because Cesare and Micheletto’s relationship is possible because it’s more or less secret, hidden. They don’t know too much about each other. Well, Micheletto has absolutely no grasp of what the rest of Cesare’s life is like, you know, growing up in such a powerful family. And Cesare is very respectful of Micheletto being so secretive about himself and I don’t think he really wants to know. When he ends up learning a bit more about Micheletto later on, he kind of chooses to ignore it or let it be private in order to keep the relationship as it is.
The wig looks a lot longer this year.
Yeah. It’s much curlier. I think they thought that the first one was a bit too “priesty” for what was coming and wanted something that could be more, you know, active or a better flow to it.
Yeah. Less L’Oreal.
Do you have any other projects coming up?
Yeah, yeah. There’s a role in a movie that I’m doing next month, but think they’re signing it right now so I can’t reveal the title but I can tell you what it is. It’s an American independent movie about the Civil War. I play a soldier.
That’s nice you can squeeze that in before Season 3.
Yeah, it’s great. It’s good to do something different and be happy to come back to Cesare after that.
I wanted to mention that I discovered website called “In Love with Francois Arnaud” today.
What do you think of that?
Well, you know, good for them. [Laughs.] I don’t Google myself, so I don’t know these things and I’d rather not. I was presenting at the Juno Awards this weekend and I was just walking backstage and there’s a girl, I guess who was a friend of the show, and she’s chasing me and she’s asking me, “Can I just get a hug from you?” And so yeah, we hugged. [Laughs.]
That’s sweet. You’re a sweet guy, Francois.
[Laughs.] Yeah, I try to be.
Thanks again for taking the time. The second season’s really good so far.
Yeah, good. Well, I’m happy with it and I’m looking forward to seeing it all. And I’ve seen it up to Episode 4 as well. I’ve seen a little bit more except on ADR for like my scenes, but not all of it.
How was it being back in Hungary now that you know people there and everything?
It’s great. Yeah, it felt like a home away from home.
Except for the elbow.
[Laughs.] Yeah, except for that elbow. And then you just want to be home for real and have your mom take care of you.
You have to stop getting into bar fights, Francois.
Yeah. [Laughs.] There’s nothing there. Don’t—there’s nothing to find there. [Laughs.]
No, no, I am just teasing. Francois does not get into bar fights! Well, thank you very much.
Thank you. Have a good day.
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