As an entertainment journalist, one of the unexpected (but not uncommon) things that happens when you’re closely covering a television series is you not only get to know the show extremely well and, in the process, you also may end up talking with the creative forces behind the show and the cast with great frequency.
With the Starz series, “Da Vinci’s Demons,” I’ve had the most unique experience of any show I’ve covered since it first premiered in the Spring of 2013.
Created by David S. Goyer, the series looks at Leonardo Da Vinci in his mid-20s when he was not quite the artistic genius of legend but living during the Renaissance in Italy. As played beautifully by Tom Riley, one of the early questions about the series (in fact, before it even premiered) was how Da Vinci’s sexuality would be portrayed since the predominant opinion in history was that he was homosexual.
However, as Goyer told me in January, 2013, sexuality would definitely be a part of the depiction of the historical character. “Look, it is a show that is not going to shy away from anything…anything,” he told me for a story for TheBacklot (which has since become a part of the LGBT site, NewNowNext.com). “I think DaVinci historically was a person that was into expressing his beliefs and his opinions. He ruffled a lot of feathers. He was arrested on more than one occasion. He was tried on more than one occasion, also for sodomy. One of the core themes of the show is, do people have the ability to express themselves in ways that they want to be expressed and not be defined by society.” (For my interview with Tom Riley from 2013, you can read it here.)
In season one's fifth episode, "The Tower," we find Da Vinci on trial with sodomy charges, as he had been in real life. Also reflecting history, the charges were eventually dismissed without Da Vinci ever having to define his sexuality. In the episode, however, we find that Da Vinci did in fact have a relationship with the young male model (who was spurned by Da Vinci's ultimate rejection) and showed that the character in the series, while still not defined, was at least bisexual.
My reporting of the series and “The Tower” episode in particular ended up being a lightning rod of controversy for the LGBT readers of TheBacklot primarily because many believed Da Vinci had been homosexual, not bisexual, and didn’t agree with the show’s depiction, especially since after the trial Da Vinci returns to the arms of his lover, Lucrezia (Laura Haddock).
In the course of the backlash following my coverage of the key episode, the fact that I’d asked Goyer and Riley what I still consider to be the correct questions about the series didn’t matter to the angered readers, some of whom also accused me of being on the payroll of Starz in promoting a series that a lot of TheBacklot readers despised.
One, I was never on the Starz payroll and, two, since I respected the writers’ vision in how they created the character and the world in which he lived, I actually liked the way Da Vinci’s sexuality was presented in “The Tower’ episode though I’d be remiss not to say that I wished his sexuality had played a bigger part in subsequent episodes of the series.
Following the show's first season, TheBacklot's coverage of the series diminished considerably to the point where then-Editor Dennis Ayers posted in 2014 that the site would no longer cover the show in any way. Ouch!
With the third and final season premiering this weekend on Starz, it will be interesting to see if the subject of Da Vinci's sexuality happens to come up again. (I've only seen the first two episodes of the final season so far and there are much bigger conflicts and drama than Da Vinci's sexuality).
Earlier this week, I sat down one last time with Goyer and Riley to talk about the journey they've taken with "Da Vinci's Demons." In the first part of the interviews, they discussed where we find Da Vinci at the start of the season and, for Goyer, how he's changed as a writer from the experience on the series. (More of the interviews - where Da Vinci's sexuality does come up once again - will be posted next week.)
“Da Vinci’s Demons” episodes will air Saturdays at 8pm on Starz. STARZ PLAY and STARZ ON DEMAND subscribers (in the US) will be able to binge the entire third season beginning October 24th.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.