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Interview: Neil Jordan Talks Filming 'The Borgias' and Writing Series Two
11 May 2011 : By Aileen Moon
The Borgias

Following its record opening in the US, there was never a doubt that ‘The Borgias’ would return for a second installment which show's creator, writer and director, Neil Jordan is currently writing. In a Q&A with IFTN, Jordan tells us about convincing Jeremy Irons to take the series’ lead role of Pope Pius III, as well as working with a writing team for the second series which is to start shooting on July 1st.

Created by Neil Jordan and starring Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons (Reversal of Fortune), ‘The Borgias’ is set during the Western Renaissance and the discovery of the New World. The series follows the Borgias family, one of the most notorious and infamous families in history whose patriarch rose (in a questionable manner) to the position of Pope, becoming Pope Pius III.

The series premiered on America’s Showtime network on Sunday, April 3rd to 3.7 million viewers, the highest ratings for an opening pilot on Showtime in eight years. The first two episodes of the series were also highly praised by an audience of Irish Film & Television Academy (IFTA) Members who were privy to a preview screening of the first two episodes on April 28th.

Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan has written and directed over 16 feature films including ‘The Company of Wolves’, ‘Mona Lisa’, ‘The Crying Game’, ‘Interview with the Vampire’, ‘The End of the Affair’, ‘The Butcher Boy’, ‘Breakfast on Pluto’ and most recently the IFTA winning ‘Ondine’. Jordan has been honoured with several awards for his films including an Oscar, IFTAs, BAFTAs, and a Golden Globe amongst many others.

He is currently putting the finishing touches to the screenplay for series two of ‘The Borgias’ which is to be delivered to the Showtime Network execs in five weeks. The second series will start shooting in Hungary on Friday July 1st and Jordan tells us he will need four series to completely tell the story of the Borgias family on the small screen.

In the (relative) quiet before the shoot we caught up with one of Ireland’s busiest filmmakers to see what else he has in mind for ‘The Borgias’ and find out what other projects he’s hoping to get his teeth in to this year.

IFTN: Neil, how did ‘The Borgias’ make the journey from film to TV series?

Neil Jordan:“I tried to make ‘The Borgias’ as a film with Dreamworks about ten years ago and I think it was Steven Spielberg who actually then suggested that we do it as a cable series. Two years ago then Showtime had finished up with ‘The Tudors’ and were looking for a replacement so we approached them.”

IFTN: Did you ever consider bringing the series to Ireland?

Neil Jordan: “We did look in to shooting ‘The Borgias’ in Ireland but there were a few factors that came up against us, the main one of these being the lighting which just wasn’t right here. Hungary isn’t ideal either but they have great long summers. Obviously Italy would be the ideal but unfortunately there is no television co-production deal between the Italian government and other countries.”

IFTN: How did you and Jeremy Irons work together to cultivate his portrayal of Pope Pius III?

Neil Jordan:”Well first of all Jeremy took a lot of convincing to take on the role, he looks nothing like the real Pope Pius III but, as I said, Laurence Olivier was this tall, elegant man and he played Richard III. So anything’s possible! In Tom Fontana’s ‘Borgia’, the other TV series about the Borgias family, the lead actor is more physically like Rodrigo Borgia.

”I don’t really care about creating physical similarities between characters and actors, I’ve really tired of actors gaining and losing weight for parts in the last few years. Robert de Niro did it well but now it seems everyone is doing it.

”When it came preparing for his role myself and Jeremy spoke a lot about the balance required in the character of the Pope. Here is this strategically brilliant man who is plagued by constant guilt as to how he has come into this role of God-like power. He really became a partner in the process of exploring this character.”

IFTN: You wrote the entire first series of ‘The Borgias’ alone in a matter of months but you have two co-writers working with you on the second series, is it a huge relief?

Neil Jordan: “I enjoyed writing the first series a lot and, though I’ve worked in writing partnerships before, this is the first time when I’m working with a writing team. I’m writing the second series with David Leland who wrote ‘Mona Lisa’ with me and Guy Burt who is another brilliant script-writer.

“I’m writing the first five episodes and then David is doing the last five and Guy did up this huge Borgias bible for us as to what needs to happen in the second series. It’s working really well because they can come to me with points like ‘There’s way too much talking in that scene’ etc.“

IFTN: Will the show’s second series have a different ‘feel’ to it than the first?

Neil Jordan:Oh yes. The first series, the first two episodes in particular, had to spend a lot of time on explanation. There was a lot to be made clear and I was aware that certain people might find it less than fascinating. With the second one though we were able to really bring in more cruelty, more dynamism and more of a Hitchcock-y feel to the show.

We do still have some of the same problems in the second series as we did in the first such as trying to keep the characters sympathetic and trying to get the Pope out of the Vatican for some scenes because there is a real danger there of him becoming a reporter of external events as opposed to a key player in the country’s affairs.

IFTN: You’re also adapting Paul Murray’s ‘Skippy Dies’ at the moment, was that put on the back burner slightly while you worked on ‘The Borgias’?

Neil Jordan:”Yes, ‘The Borgias’ has had to take priority for the last while but I am working away on Skippy Dies and it’ll be hopefully next year that I’ll go into development with that. And of course that will have to shoot in Ireland, there’s nowhere else it could possibly be made.”

IFTN: There’s been a lot of talk recently of cable dramas such as ‘Camelot’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ replacing films, what is your stance on this?

Neil Jordan:"There’s great stuff being done at the moment like ‘The Wire’ and ‘Mad Men’ and personally, I see these cable dramas as a great creative opportunity because I’m not being challenged by the film industry at the moment. I think that Hollywood has been coming out with really dull stuff lately and a lot of directors are now leaping at the chance to work with the cable studios. Apart from one episode of ‘Wanderly Wagon’ which I wrote, this is my first experience of working with a TV studio and it’s been a very positive experience so far.”

  • ‘The Borgias’ broadcasts on Showtime at 10pm on Sunday evenings. The series will broadcast on Sky Atlantic from July.




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