The sentence “It’s not easy being the pope’s son” is one rarely used in modern times. And yet the case remains: It’s a challenge.
Take, for example, Cesare Borgia (Francois Arnaud) — young, good-looking, charismatic, just looking for a little bit of love (from his sister), respect (from his weakened pop, the pope) and power (from an army that tends to be fairly fickle). It’s enough to drive a man to kill his reckless brother.
At least that’s how things have shaped up on “The Borgias,” airing Sundays on Showtime.
“I think it’s great that you follow this well-intentioned boy — who is seemingly innocent — that turns into this vain monster without really realizing it,” Arnaud tells Zap2it. “It’s not a decision that he makes consciously.”
This season, after surviving a near-fatal assassination attempt, Pope Alexander VI?(Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons), born Rodrigo Borgia, responds with an iron will by ruthlessly purging the Vatican of anyone who might be disloyal to him. And per usual, he’s not afraid to get a little blood on his robe.
And while his master plan might be for father and son to rule the world, he must come to accept that both Cesare and his sister, Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger), are independently ready to wield their own power. But their paranoia and mistrust of others drives the siblings into a passionate and incestuous relationship.
“That’s a funny story. That is not something that just came out of the blue for us,” says Arnaud. “People are suddenly talking about incest and how right or wrong it is, but it’s something that has been all over the storyline from the very beginning. From scene one, year one. It came as a natural progression of their relationship — as shocking as it may seem.
“From the start, they’re each other’s ideal. They’ve tried to love other people, and it’s never worked,” adds Arnaud, who grew up in Outremont, a borough of Montreal. “I think they’ve come to realize, I think it is Lucrezia who says, ‘Only a Borgia can love a Borgia.’ I think it’s also a part of Cesare’s vanity, his love for his sister. Lucrezia is his female counterpart. She completes him.”
Of course, this family dynamic wouldn’t be complete without a little stress between father and son. The poisoning, not surprisingly, has left Pope Alexander weakened and in a precarious mental state.
“This season is as much of a war between the Borgias and the Sforza as it is Cesare and Rodrigo,” says Arnaud. “At one point Cesare becomes so powerful, he gets so big, that Rodrigo starts having nightmares and getting paranoid and thinks that Cesare is rallying troops to attack him.”
It’s probably not as far-fetched a concept as he’d like to believe. After all, Cesare did kill his own brother last season. But the power shift between father and son is taking family values to a whole new level this year.
“I think in a lot of lives, even today, the kid becomes the parent,” says Arnaud. “He can’t take care of himself anymore. I think it’s difficult for [him]. It’s something that Jeremy and I worked on because once you’ve worked in a certain dynamic for a few years, it’s hard to change entirely, and now we’re starting to reverse the roles.”