On Sunday, June 16, Showtime’s Renaissance melodrama “The Borgias” came to an end after three seasons, which wasn’t exactly what creator Neil Jordan wanted. He even wrote a two-hour movie script to wrap up all the character arcs, but Showtime opted not to shoot it.
But, as it is, the third and final season closed with Borgia family enemy Caterina Sforza (Gina McKee) defeated; Lucrezia’s (Holliday Grainger) husband dead after being run through by the sword of her brother Cesare (Francois Arnaud), who had recently become her incestuous lover; and their father, Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons), a k a the nefarious Pope Alexander VI plotting to turn the Roman Catholic papacy from an elected office into a monarchy.
Anyone who followed the recent election of humble, plain-spoken Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to become Pope Francis knows that Borgia failed utterly.
“I liked the ending,” Arnaud tells Zap2it. “For my character and Lucrezia, there was something very Shakespearean about it. It would have been great to play Cesare until his death. I get the feeling that I still brought Cesare to the Cesare Borgia that is remembered in history, and who we think of when we think of Cesare Borgia.
“It was just that incredible journey from innocent little boy to mass murderer, army general, incestuous brother. It was fascinating every step of the way. It’s like 20 roles in one.”
Many fans had long been clamoring for the smoldering attraction between Cesare and Lucrezia to be consummated, incest or not.
“At first,” says Arnaud, “what shocked me is that Neil always said that he didn’t want to go there, and that he personally didn’t believe it happened. Those were conversations we had early on in season one.
“When I first read it, I went, ‘Oh my God, he’s going for it.’ But I think, dramatically, you can only hint at something for a certain while before you have to actually go there, or you’re …. in a movie, maybe it wouldn’t have happened, but in a TV series, after three seasons, you have to move on to the next level, at some point.
“For our characters, I have to say, I feel like we’ve been playing that since the very first scene of season one. So it felt like a natural progression of their relationship and not something that was forced. Also, we never thought of anything — well, Jeremy might have — but Holliday, me, we never thought of anything as shock value.
“It was not just about sex. Even when we shot the sex scenes, those particular sex scenes, it was about a thousand other things than sex. It’s about their emotional connection, where they’re at, and their relationship, and how she feels about her husband.
Asked what he learned from his stint on “The Borgias,” Arnaud says, “I learned a lot about confidence. I really do think that, now, screen acting is 10 percent talent and 10 percent work and 80 percent confidence. You have to be able to show up and do everything, convey power. You have to be so sure of yourself.
“That’s something I didn’t have entirely when I started to do ‘The Borgias,’ and now I feel confident in my choices. From working with great actors like Jeremy Irons, Gina McKee, Derek Jacobi, Colm Feore, amazing seasoned actors, there’s something about not being apologetic for what you bring to the table and just go all the way.”
As for his next step, Arnaud just returned from filming in Argentina on a movie called “Amapola,” described as a “romantic re-imagining” of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” in which he plays a Vietnam-era “draft dodger who goes to Argentina. He’s traveling the world. He falls in love with Camilla Belle.”
When reminded that Belle once dated recently hired New England Patriot QB Tim Tebow, Arnaud laughs and says, “We never talked about that.”
The role has also allowed him to move on from Cesare Borgia’s string of dark, long-haired wigs.
“I have short blond, curly hair,” he says, “just like an angel.”
While Arnaud intended to focus on movies after “The Borgias,” that resolve is weakening.
“Then I started reading scripts,” he says, “and the best scripts are for TV. They’re just so much better than movie scripts, unless you want to play Superman.’ I don’t know, I just saw the trailer [for ‘Man of Steel,’ starring Henry Cavill], and I’m like, ‘If you have to be that buff … it’s hard work, and I’m not sure the payoff is worth it.”