Warning: contains spoilers for Da Vinci’s Demons season two.
Da Vinci’s Demons, a fantasy historical with a gleefully revisionist take on the life of Leonardo Da Vinci, played by Tom Riley, is primed to air its third and final season on Starz in the US and FOX in the UK.
To mark the occasion, we chatted to its creator and original showrunner, David Goyer, about its cancellation, the plans laid for its revival, and his work on the films of the DC universe…
So, Da Vinci’s Demons season two left us with another major cliff-hanger. The Turks are coming and Leonardo’s just discovered his mother, presumably the season three opener will throw us right into the action?
Literally. In fact, it even backs up about five minutes and then catches up to where we were, which is sort of what we did in season one.
With the explosion?
And what kind of timeframe are we looking at for the whole season, start to end?
It’s pretty fast, it all unravels in about maybe a month’s time, which is a little bit different from the first two seasons. It’s all wrapped about the Siege Of Otranto, which is this real event that happened when the Ottoman Empire invaded Italy.
So that siege takes place over multiple episodes?
It goes over the whole season.
Right! So you’re definitely not going to get to the Bonfire of the Vanities or Michelangelo then?
No. No. Which is something that I wanted to do. There was a lot of discussion about whether to continue the show or not and let me just say that the show has a definitive end that I think will be very satisfying, that was designed. Some of the stuff that happens at the end of this season were scenes that I was always going to do and I moved forward. We definitely had an idea for another season but it takes place during the Bonfire of the Vanities, so even if we’d done another season, we would have jumped forward fifteen years. It’s not impossible that we may at one point do another limited series or something like that, at least three or four years from now. We’ll see. In some ways it might work better because the actors will have aged a bit more.
Would that still be with Starz if it happened?
Yes. Probably yes. They know the idea, they’re interested in the idea but it specifically has to do with the Bonfire of the Vanities and Savanarola and Michelangelo and some other stuff and it would have been impossible to cram that all into this season.
So the door’s not firmly closed?
No. Someone else was asking about why it ended and it’s not always a clean question of commerce. I think the main reason was… well, there were three reasons. The show is incredibly complicated to produce, much more so than a lot of shows and I think aside from Game Of Thrones, it probably takes more days to shoot an episode than any other show that’s out there. It takes like sixteen days an episode.
That’s like two Walking Deads.
Yeah, exactly. The visual effects are incredible time-consuming, and to be honest, the visual effects for this season, which are spectacular, are really time-consuming and took a lot longer than we anticipated. So that was one reason, the other reason was that we shot in Wales and I’ve got three young kids and it was a long, long commute. It was really hard on me and my family. I just couldn’t physically do it, at least immediately. So we said, why don’t we end it now and maybe, if there’s a demand for it, we’ll come back and do this eight-episode, I guess, season four.
What they’d call an “event series”?
So you were instrumental in the decision to bring it to an end at this point?
Yeah. It was an open discussion with everyone. And the other thing that I did was, I tried to step away a little this season and you know, I ended up coming back because it was so much a specific part of my voice that I realised that I just need to be there and to be a part of it, so that was another part of the decision.
So people can expect that things will be tied up, temporarily at least, by the end of season three? It’s not going to be another cliff-hanger?
No. Well, ish! [Laughs]
You can’t tell us that!
It’s certainly not a cliff-hanger in the way that season one or two were. You know how series three of Luther ended?
It had a very satisfying ending, but I believe they’ve just gone and done more.
There are two more episodes coming.
Exactly. If Luther had ended and that was all you saw, I think that would have felt satisfying, but because I’m a fan of the show I’m glad they’re doing more. I think it’ll feel the same way with this one.
That sounds great. With something like Constantine, there were attempts made by the studio to shop it around other buyers, but obviously that wouldn’t apply in this situation?
No, honestly I think I would be wary… Look, it was a complicated show to make because it was a fusion of Starz and Fox International and BBC Worldwide, but having said that, I’m not even sure if another buyer wanted to do it, I would wade into it because at the end of the day I was comfortable with the relationship that we had, and they were comfortable with me and I think I would be wary about doing it elsewhere.
From the outside, it seemed to be performing, so the assumption was that it would continue. There was talk that plans for season four were going to be too expensive with what else Starz had on its slate?
No, it wasn’t really. I mean, look, I’m not going to lie, the show was expensive.
It looks it.
It was just a question of, the show was expensive, when we started, Starz was just starting out, it didn’t have much to programme, now they have a lot. I wasn’t ready to go back into production, like next year, and I also wasn’t ready to give up the reigns, so we said, okay, let’s end it here and then if the fans want it, we’ll do another one maybe in a couple of years.
You’re a really busy man. There must be a sense of relief sometimes when something ends? Like, it’s not just a case of regret, but also, ‘one less thing to think about for the time being’
[Laughs] I am busy but I adore the show and—it’s not always the case—I adore the cast and crew—look, I’ll be honest, sometimes I’ve done projects where actors and I don’t get along and the project’s still good and they might be talented but we don’t get along, but that’s not the case here. Tom [Riley], Laura [Haddock], Elliot [Cowan], Blake [Ritson], many of these people have become dear, dear friends of mine, so it was bittersweet. I think they’re partially relieved it’s over also because the shows were really hard to make, but they’re also sad, and that’s how I feel.
You don’t want to get into that Sherlock situation where they go off and become megastars and then are impossible to schedule ever again.
That could happen. I think they’re all really talented and I think many of our cast will become very big stars.
Talking about how busy you are, you’re kind of the architect of the DC shared universe, you have a lot of different things to look after at the moment…
…an architect, I’m not the architect.
Okay! Presumably you’re in line to direct one of the upcoming DC features?
I’m not directing one of the features, no.
Come the end of Batman V Superman, is there any DC film we should expect it to lead directly into?
Oh, I can’t fault you for asking, but you know I can’t answer [laughs]
With Suicide Squad on the way to cinemas, do you think that your Green Arrow: Escape From Super Max script, which was packed from top to bottom with DC villains, was a little ahead of its time?
I think it absolutely was. I think if that script had come over the transom a couple of years later… It was completely ahead of its time. By the way, everything I see about Suicide Squad looks fantastic and it’s a different story. But it was absolutely ahead of its time. You know, Marvel was considering doing the Sinister Six and at the time, God, I think this was eight or nine years ago that we wrote a couple of drafts, but it certainly was like this oddball project at Warner Bros at the time, they were like—even though the script was good—‘why would we make a movie about a bunch of villains? That makes no sense’.
Whatever happened to that idea? We just stopped hearing about it?
It just didn’t have…it was ahead of its time, to be quite frank. The executive on it was really visionary but the higher-ups, none of whom are at Warner Bros any more, just thought at the time, you know, we just want to make Batman and Superman movies. We don’t want to make any other characters. But this is before Marvel had really taken off, before more obscure projects like Guardians Of The Galaxy or Ant-Man or things like that had huge success, before the current gold rush I guess, if you will. It’s natural that eventually someone was going to make a villain movie, so that’s just what happened!
What do you make of Starz’s decision to release the entire third season of Da Vinci’s Demons at once online?
When Netflix first aired House Of Cards and decided they were going to do that, I think, like a lot of people, I mean, I liked the idea as a consumer, but I wondered whether or not that would be commercial suicide for them? Whether or not it would cannibalise the audience? That said, my wife and I tend to binge-watch most things. We rarely watch anything when it’s actually broadcast so it seems to be working.
Sometimes there are shows that, as a consumer, you watch the first episode and you like it but you’re not completely hooked, and it might take until the third or fourth episode to hook you, and I think if you had to wait for that to be broadcast week to week, you might just let it pass you by, but if you’re watching over a weekend you’ll think, ‘well, I’ll try another’. In some ways it’s helping cultivate audiences. We’ll see.
It’s a bold decision for them to make but on the other hand, the way they make money is different than a regular non-satellite channel, it’s all subscriber-based, so from that point of view, Starz has already made their money from the subscribers, so why not do it?
Because we’re Den Of Geek, we’re obviously fans of geeky references and hidden nods in TV shows, and I know you have plenty of those in Da Vinci’s Demons, with the Bat Symbol in the roof of Leonardo’s workshop and the TARDIS hidden among his papers [a nod to the work of production designer, Ed Thomas, on Doctor Who]. Where should we be looking in season three?
There are, but I’m not prepared… Jeez, oh Pete.
I’ve put you on the spot
I’m trying to remember. I’m super jetlagged right now, but I know there are some because we can’t resist and I drop things like that into everything I do. Right, here’s one: this isn’t exactly an Easter Egg, but I will say there’s an image that happens near the end of the first episode of Da Vinci’s Demons, the pilot, that is mirrored in the second to last scene of season three. If people really think about it and think about what happened, they’ll go ‘Holy shit! I think that’s pretty cool’
That brings me to the last question then. “History is a lie” was kind of the show’s mantra. Your revisionist approach when you’ve done previous interviews seems to be “Wouldn’t it be cool if?” Looking back at Da Vinci’s Demons, what was the coolest thing the show pulled off?
In terms of modifying history or in general?
Either! With the perspective of three seasons behind you, what can you look back on and think, ‘That was cool’?
I think it’s bonkers that the show went to Peru! [laughs] That we were running around with the Inca. I love the fact that they were parachuting out of the Vault of Heaven. I know when I pitched that to Starz, everyone said I was completely insane and it would never work, but even they loved it. I just think it’s crazy that we did that. I love that they get into the Vault of Heaven and they find the Brazen Head, the mechanical head that Leonardo uses to leave a message for him. It’s a real device that people are rumoured to have created. In some of the Inca tombs there were these objects that look eerily like modern-day airplanes. Then there are the Nazca Lines in the desert that are miles and miles long, and if you look at them from the sky, people are still trying to figure out why they would have made them if the only way you can see them is up a few miles in the air. I’m sure there are all sorts of aspects of history or even inventions that someone invented a hundred years or even a millennium before common knowledge, so that’s one cool aspect of it.
I also think, I don’t know if I can swear or not…
I still love what we did in episode five of the first season where we had Da Vinci’s sodomy trial, where he glued the magistrate to a pig and then projected it with a camera obscura! I just love the fact that we did that in the show, that we did something that crazy.
David Goyer, thank you very much!
Da Vinci’s Demons season three arrives on Starz, and online, in the US on Saturday the 24th of October and in the UK on FOX on Sunday the 26th of October.