Da Vinci’s Demons isn’t ready to close the book just yet. The adventures of Leonardo da Vinci (Tom Riley) are coming to an end with its third and final season, but creator David Goyer, though in need of a break after long and expensive shoots overseas, says there’s a possibility we’ll see more da Vinci in the future.
When David Goyer created the Starz series, the premise was that Leonardo Da Vinci had written over 11,000 pages of notebook pages, and 6,000 pages went missing after his death. The dramatic license taken on the show could have just been contained in those 6,000 pages.
The third season, available to binge watch in full on Starz Play and Starz On Demand starting on October 24, picks up with Turks using da Vinci’s own weapons against him and a bloody battle brewing. We got to speak with Goyer (Man of Steel, The Dark Knight) about the decision to make this the final season and where da Vinci’s story will leave off, as well as his thoughts on the Batman Vs. Superman/Man of Steel 2 debate.
Den of Geek: How many of the 6000 missing Da Vinci pages will be filled by the end of the series?
David Goyer: I don’t know, 400-500. He had 11,000 pages and about half of them were missing, are missing.
Den of Geek: So the three seasons are still a small fraction of those?
David Goyer: Sure, because we only took him roughly to the age of 32. I think he died when he was 67.
Did he ever actually face his own inventions in real history, as he does this season?
It’s hard to know. Obviously there are a lot of missing pages. He worked for the Ottoman sultan purportedly for a period of time. He worked for Borgia at one point as well. So it’s hard to know. There are conflicting accounts.
Does the end of the series take da Vinci to a place where he’s more familiar to us in history?
Yes and no. The end of the series takes him to a place where he’s ostensibly had enough of being a war engineer. I will say that had we continued, our plan was season three was always designed to end at a natural cut point. Season four, our plan was to take place during the Bonfire of the Vanities which was about 14 years after the events of this season. So we always would’ve had a big jump forward, big leap forward. There was a natural pause. It’s not like it’s an incomplete meal or anything like that.
What was the ultimate decision not to continue forward?
It was a lot of things. Personally, I had taken a step back at the beginning of season three and that proved to be harder for me than I had thought. I came back in during production and post-production a lot more. The show films in Wales. I have a lot of small children. It’s a really far commute so it took a personal toll on me. I realized I wasn’t completely ready to give up the reigns of the show but at the same time, I had one son that was born during the show and another son that was born about a year and a half ago. We had reached this natural point. It’s also a very expensive show to do. It just seemed at the end of the day like it was the right time to take a pause. It’s possible at some point in the future we could do, like, a limited series and maybe one day we will still tell that story that takes place during the Bonfire.
You could wait 14 years for Tom Riley to age naturally.
You can wait 14 years. One of the nice thing about TV now is all these shows are coming back after a period.
Do you think the next time you do television, you might have more practical considerations like looking for a show that shoots in L.A.?
I’m already shooting a pilot next month that shoots in Brooklyn. Certainly the prospect of that is a nicer commute than going to London, but then there’s another show that I’m talking about shooting in New Zealand. At the end of the day, you shoot the show wherever it’s best to shoot the show and you figure it out.
At the point where Da Vinci is facing his own inventions and coming to terms with being a war engineer, is it fun to explore him losing his cool?
Absolutely, and he loses his cool for most of the season because in the first season we toyed around with the idea of him building these machine guns and seeing maybe a dozen people die, or a score of people die. Now he’s watching hundreds, if not thousands of people get killed. He was able to split and initially come up with these ideas in an abstraction, and then say, “Well, I’m not really responsible for how they’re used in the real world” but he can’t really do that anymore and he’s forced to come to terms with that.
Is Machiavelli in this season?
Yes, Nico. He’s always been. His apprentice was always Machiavelli. I don’t know that we explicitly stated it but we, the writers had known that. What was cool was they were contemporaries. Da Vinci was older than him, and later in life hey were friends. They both worked for Borgia together. Both of their fathers were notaries in Lorenzo Medici’s court. So they certainly would’ve known each other, even when Leonardo was back in Florence.
With this being the final season, are you able to go all out on “Da Vinci vision?”
Yes, we went all out in everything. There’s way more action this season, way more visual effects than we’ve had in any season which is one of the reasons why we had to delay the premiere of the show. Another reason was the decision that we would release all the episodes at one time which forced us to add about 10-12 weeks in order to finish up.
I remember “Da Vinci vision” was something you always wanted more of but it takes so much time.
It does. We have some pretty elaborate sequences this season. One of the things that’s nice about doing multiple seasons is you can kind of figure out what works and build upon that and build upon it and build upon it. I’d like to think that the performances and to a certain extent the writing and the visual spectacle got progressively more honed as the seasons continued.
When people see the eye torture in episode three, what are they putting in his eyes?
It’s saltwater. We saw a glimpse of that at the end of season two and it has to do with this mysterious group called The Labyrinth which are kind of the polar opposite to the Sons of Mithras.
Are they based in actual history also?
A little bit. One of the things that was neat about the Sons of Mithras is that they were a real mystery cult, but they only had an oral tradition. Nothing was written down so it allowed us to color in between the lines. The Labyrinth weren’t specifically real but it was based on Minoan culture. Again, which not a lot is known about. Minoan, King Minos, the Minotaur, things like that. So we knew a little about them and again it was a perfect opportunity to use them as, we jokingly refer to them as the Sith. If the Sons of Mithras are the Jedi, then the Labyrinth are the Sith.
Were you always planning to start killing off some main characters by season three?
Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I mean, we killed off some characters first season. That was always part of the plan. There are definitely some other bodies that will be dropping later on in the season.
Has it been fun to play Da Vinci and Riario’s up and down relationship as friends and foes?
Absolutely. They’re really up and down this season. Riario’s character in this season, I really like where he ends up at the end of the season. Let’s just say that.
Is that relationship so tenuous it’s hard to even talk about at this stage?
Yeah, I will just say that specific to Riario, there’s some incredible symmetry when people look at the first episode of Da Vinci’s Demons and look at his character, and see where he ends up at the end of the series. That was definitely by design. If you look at the slash fiction of the show it’s all about this bromance between Riario and Da Vinci. They’re definitely two sides of the same coin because Riario is sort of the only one that properly appreciates Leonardo’s genius, and he does appreciate it. And he does like him, maybe even love him in a weird way.
Did you get every Da Vinci myth or fact that you wanted to explore into the series in three seasons?
We got a lot. There were definitely some inventions we didn’t get to. There were definitely some stories that I would’ve wanted to have dealt with. I was keen on doing the Bonfire of the Vanities and bringing Savonarola, which was a really interesting historical figure. So there are some that we didn’t get to.
Since they’re not on the show, can you talk about any Da Vinci myths or inventions you had to cut?
Well, he had a really fractious relationship with Michelangelo. That’s a character that would’ve figured prominently had we continued. They hated each other. Michelangelo is probably the second most famous artist in the world, so that would’ve been really interesting to tell that story. I was also interested in getting into the Spanish Inquisition and things like that. Maybe one day we’ll go back and do that.
Do you get to introduce any new characters before the end of the third season?
Yes. Four or five actually. One of them, a secret character that we haven’t mentioned, figures very prominently in the show. I think he shows up around episode five.
Someone that we’ll recognize when we see them?
A new character. Somebody who may or may not have historically existed. There are rumors.
There’s been some back and forth between Henry Cavill and Zack Snyder about whether or not Batman Vs. Superman is Man of Steel 2. What is it to you?
I mean, there’s certainly a continuity between the two films. Let’s say that.
Will it be decided when we see it?
I guess it’s up to the fans to decide.
I would say it is Man of Steel 2 but I also say The Avengers was Iron Man 3 and Avengers 2 is Iron Man 5.
Probably. It’s a little bit like that.
What shows are in Brooklyn and New Zealand?
Brooklyn is called Brooklyn Animal Control. It starts shooting next month. J.T. Petty wrote that and Brian Kirk who did a bunch of Game of Thrones and did the pilot for Luther is directing that. Stephen Graham is starring in it. That’s really fun. I’m really looking forward to that. I can’t say with the one in New Zealand.
Were you involved with the Constantine appearance on Arrow?
Had Constantine continued, I was having some conversations with Kreisberg and Berlanti about doing a crossover. But once it was cancelled, they said, “Do you mind?” And I said, “Absolutely.” But we were talking about doing it even if Constantine continued at NBC.
What do you think is the longevity of dropping a whole season at once? I find that it just gives me a longer queue and takes me longer to get to another show.
I don’t know. I think the jury’s still out on it. We’ll see in the next five years or so. I will say this. There was that study Netflix had done that I was aware of, that a lot of people aren’t necessarily hooked on the pilot. They’re hooked on the third or fourth episode. I think sometimes having the ability to binge-watch something, I know as a consumer there might be a show that I’m on the fence about, but if it’s a Friday or Saturday night and I’m watching with my wife, I might watch the second or third episode because I have it. As opposed to I have to tune in the next week, so maybe that show might hook me in a way that if it was airing week to week it might not have. I don’t know whether it’s going to work or not.
The thing that’s crazy is as a consumer, I don’t feel the compulsion necessarily to tune in immediately, which I know terrifies the programmers. Even Battlestar Galactica, I didn’t come to it until after it was off the air. I knew people loved it. I just hadn’t seen it. I just had to be more careful about spoilers.
Are there any other historical eras you’re as interested in as Da Vinci?
I am producing and developing a film about Isaac Newton which is pretty cool, at Warner Bros. About a really interesting period in his life that not a lot of people know about. I’ve always been kind of interested in World War II so maybe I’ll dip my toe into that one day.