The Borgias

Just when Pope Alexander was ready to forgive Cesare, he drank the wine and ... (Showtime / June 18, 2012)

Showtime's "The Borgias" ended its second season Sunday with a couple of confessions, a poisoning and one sadly missed opportunity, says series star Francois Arnaud.

"I think that the sad thing about that ending is that Rodrigo was about to tell Cesare that he did forgive him," said Arnaud, who plays Cesare Borgia, the son of Rodrigo, aka Pope Alexander VI (Jeremy Irons). "And I think Cesare needed to hear those words.

"And now he probably never will."

In "The Confession," Cesare told his father that it was he who killed Juan (David Oakes), Rodrigo's troubled other son and Cesare's reviled brother. In a touching scene at episode's end, Rodrigo finally opened up about why he favored Juan over the more dutiful and capable Cesare.

"You are our own doing; what you've done is our doing also. We've brought you to this," the Pope tells Cesare about his killing of Juan. "You say we granted every favor to him, but our favors fell on him so easily of their own accord. You are too much like me. A man feels less favor for his own image reflected."

When Cesare asks for his forgiveness, Rodrigo falls to the floor, the victim of the poison fed him by Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere's (Colm Feore) assassin. The season ends with the Pope writhing in pain before totally shutting down. But is he dead?

That's not a question Arnaud was willing to answer, even though he admits the show, which was renewed for a third season earlier this year, can't really go on without Pope Alexander. Yet when I asked him if he thinks the Pope will grant Cesare forgiveness in Season 3, he replied with laughter, "What, if he's not dead, you mean?"

Arnaud talked more about the finale, the "new" Cesare--who will no longer be a cardinal, finally--and what we can expect in Season 3, of which he has read two scripts.

"I can tell you that I wasn't disappointed with the first two episodes of Season 3, definitely not," he teased. "It takes it all to a whole new level."

Read my pre-finale interview with Francois Arnaud here.


When we talked before the season you said Cesare becomes what you thought he was from the very beginning. I would like you to expand on that, if you could.
I think you can see that, especially after the confession in the finale, he's completely taking charge now, he's not making excuses for what he is or what he wants. I particularly enjoyed that scene with Vanozza and Lucrezia right after I confessed to the Pope. I say there will be a funeral, there will be a betrothal party, shut the fuck up, basically. [Laughs.] I'm the one who decides now and I don't need anybody's approval.

And I think that's the new Cesare, it's the Cesare you can expect for a little while longer. In Season 3 as well, I think, from what I've read. I think there's a point where he just can't take it anymore. And that scene in the finale with Lucrezia on the bed where she asks me to marry her to Alfonso, I think he's just coming to terms with who he is and I don't think he's ashamed of killing his brother. He's ready to stand up for his actions and to be a leader.

Why do you think Rodrigo just doesn't get it about Juan? He seemed surprised even when Lucrezia says, "A lot of people wanted to kill him." Even after so many screw-ups, he still has this unbending love for Juan.
Well, I can't say I completely know, but I think there's a clue in that last scene with the Pope and I in the finale just before he gets poisoned, when he says, I can't remember the words exactly, but he says it's harder to love someone whose more like you. And a man can't love his own reflection or in the mirror. I think that's why he wasn't able to love Cesare as much as he deserved, maybe. And he created this idea of Juan that was in no way reality. It's like everybody else saw him as who he was and Rodrigo chose to see every single event as a mistake, a misstep [laughs] and not as part of something more global about that person that was obviously just a mad dog.

Do you think that Rodrigo's going to come around with Cesare?
What, if he's not dead, you mean? [Laughs.]

Yeah, if he's not dead. I feel we can't have a Season 3 with no Pope, right?
[Laughs.] Honestly, I've read two episodes of Season 3; I don't really know what happens. I doubt that if Jeremy Irons is in it they can manage to do a trailer for Season 3 without him. I'm not sure they're going to be able to keep people waiting, but…

Let's put it this way, going into Season 3, what would you like to see Cesare doing?
I would like to see Cesare avenge his father [laughs] and I think he will. And I think what you can expect from Season 3 is that there are a lot more enemies than you thought there were. And that if Della Rovere succeeded in poisoning the Pope, 10 more people were just waiting to do the same. And you were just not aware of it. I think once Cesare realizes that, they're in deep shit. [Laughs.]

And also I think the relationship with Lucrezia hopefully grows into something more mature and not necessarily easier, but more of an adult relationship, less childish and innocent.

More of an adult relationship, OK.
[Laughs.] No, not in that way!

I didn't say anything!
Well you thought it. I heard you.

No, no, no. Do you think Cesare's murder of Juan is going to weigh on him in the future or is it just done?
I think Cesare is building walls around his heart. I think you do get colder and less sentimental when you take that path. He has to go on and he can't mourn him forever, especially since he's responsible for his death. No, no. I think he's all right with it. [Laughs.]

He said a line in Episode 9, "We're Borgias, we never forgive." And I was wondering if that was going to be something that comes back and Cesare has to face that from other Borgias who may never forgive.
Oh, I think I get where you're going. OK, you mean the father?

Rodrigo, since nobody else seems to care.
[Laughs.] Nobody else does care. [Laughs.] I also liked line that Vanozza had in the finale. What did she say again? "I didn't want him dead, but there were many times I wished he was never born." That was pretty powerful. Well, I think that the sad thing about that ending is that Rodrigo was about to tell Cesare that he did forgive him. And I think Cesare needed to hear those words. And now he probably never will.

Now with Savonarola gone and Juan gone, it seems like Cesare might get bored next season.
No, he won't. [Laughs.] No, he won't. What I can tell you is that, oh my God, can I tell you that? There are always new enemies. Just see what happens, really. I'm not gonna say anything. [Laughs.] But it's like, earlier this season everybody got killed off, like all the young people: Ursula's sister, Martha, Prince Alfonso, Paolo. It felt for a moment there like we were just three people left on the show. Hopefully we'll explore other relationships more, like with the mother maybe, with Vanozza. I haven't read much yet, so I can't say.

I was looking at my history here, and Cesare apparently became commander of the Papal Army later in his life. So he sort of got his wish finally, right?
Mm-hmm. I don't know when that happens exactly, but it did, 'cause there's a lot that happens after that, so hopefully we get there. But yeah, he becomes a ruthless warrior, a better warrior than his brother ever was, that's for sure. And Micheletto kind of becomes, historically, his official No. 2, not just a man of the shadows anymore.

You're happy to come back for Season 3?
Yeah, well new challenges, really, because I think, as I said earlier, this is a new beginning for Cesare. I think there's a lot of room for exploring new sides of the character. Cesare's finally become what I thought he was from the very beginning.

I hear you are shooting a movie now?
I was shooting this movie last month, and we have some reshoots to do tomorrow. It's called "Copperhead." I don't have a huge part in it, but it's a good movie, it's a good little character. It's a Civil War movie and takes place in Upstate New York in 1863. There's a great cast, great young actors, and I play a soldier called Warner Pitts who is a little cocky and that's about it. [Laughs.]