Showtime’s newest series The Borgias is the scandalous drama of the papal family of the 15th century. Jeremy Irons plays Rodrigo Borgia, who becomes Pope Alexander VI. Researching his character was as challenging as finding unbiased journalism today.
“If you read the newspapers over the last 10 years to try to discover what sort of man George Bush is, you read a whole load of different things,” Irons said. “Whether it's FOX or whether it's the New Statesman or whoever it is writing, it's different opinions. It's the same for my character, Rodrigo Borgia. What sort of guy was he? You have to read a lot of different people and say, ‘Well, they would have said that because...’ or ‘That's their standpoint.’ You filter through all of that to try to find the heart of the character. That's the only way I know how to do it.”
A major rival to Rodrigo is Cardinal Della Rovere (Colm Feore). Irons sees them as Obama vs. McCain. “Sort of similar to those two, similar to any two people who are trying to get the same job. I think that's the crux of the issue between them. And one gets it.”
The show may revel in the sex and betrayal like all good TV dramas. Irons hopes viewers can separate that from the Borgias’ social achievements.
“I think the hypocrisy of the modern‑day thinking where we can attack the president of a country because he had an extramarital relationship that involved a cigar, the medievalist would look at that and say it's absolute hypocrisy. The two things have nothing to do with each other. Of course, man is fallible. We know that. But he strives. And he may be a great leader although he's fallible. And this was something they could understand completely. We seem to be unable to. We seem to expect our leaders to be saints, which is why we get such boring people as our leaders. Because most people who have anything interesting about their lives, which will be found out when they stand to be a leader, don't dare stand, and it's a huge problem, I think.”
The Borgias premieres April 3 on Showtime.