Recently, we had a chance to speak with David Oakes, who stars as Juan Borgia on Showtime’s The Borgais.
Finale Spoilers Ahead.
In this interview, Oakes goes through the second season, focusing on Juan’s evolving character. He also chats with us about his final moments on the series and teases us with how he’d like to see Juan return in a cameo episode in The Borgias Season 3.
Sad to see Juan go. He was the guy everyone loved to hate, especially his family. Did you approach the character differently or prepare differently, knowing that you were going to die?
David Oakes: I knew it was obviously going to be my death, but I definitely didn’t know how I was going to die. So any preparation I did certainly didn’t involve syphilis or gangrene (laughs). All I wanted to do from the outset – without knowing what was coming – was to just give Juan a maturity he didn’t have the first year. If he was going to die, make him more of a threat. Make him more of a challenge. And definitely give François, Jeremy and Holliday something to rival against. Basically go down with a fight, not go down easily. I think he sort of does that.
In your final scene, just before your brother stabs you, there is almost a moment where you forgive Cesare. It’s somewhat of a contradiction to the character we’ve come to know. He’s high on opium and for the first time almost conciliatory. How did that scene feel for you?
David Oakes: It was wonderful. There were two points to it. One of which is the contradiction. I’ve been thinking about that more and more. It puts everyone in quite a sticky position, really. You’ve got this boy. And he is a boy at that stage still. He’s confessing that he’s always been quite miserable and been quite harsh on himself. He’s given them every opportunity to change their mind and see him for what he is.
I know when David Leland was making that episode, he was very keen to make sure that the opium was used as a clarity giver as opposed to getting high. It was used to draw the truth and emotion out of him as opposed to giving another reason to see Juan die, which was brilliant for me.
I felt in the second season I got to play every aspect of Juan’s character. Some of which I would have liked to explore further, but he kind of had a finite life expectancy (laughs). Opposite François it was nice to watch Cesare do something, which he probably shouldn’t have done. You can kind of justify most of what he does but as soon as you got that final sequence you realize that Cesare is doing something purely for his personal jealousy. I always wanted to play that. You can kind of see it in the penultimate scene with Cesare. Juan is aware of Cesare’s jealousy and likes to wind him up. (Juan) likes to push his buttons. Try to make Cesare realize that he is as weak as everyone thinks Juan is. There’s a strength of character to Juan that everyone doesn’t give (him) quite enough credit for.
The siege episode was one of Juan’s biggest moments on The Borgias. He brutally tortures Benito. How was it to take Juan into his biggest battle?
David Oakes: It was great fun. The whole episode I was looking forward to. The ability (for Juan) to come back from Spain and be everything that everyone didn’t expect me to be. You get two sides of me. First you get this noble character, who comes back and you think he’s been made into a better character. Then, as soon as you get to that scene with the boy, you realize there is a much darker side to Juan that no one has really seen before.
I kind of always thought that when he was torturing Benito he was like a kid playing with toy soldiers. The toy soldiers represent the world that he can’t control. In this case, I guess Benito is representative of Cesare really. That’s him getting his revenge. I always imagined he would have heard out Cesare on an assault on the Sforza castle. He was taking pleasure in doing the opposite. I think he would have actually won if it weren’t for his brother.
He finally gets things in order. He finally starts to work well. He gets a whole siege together and it’s working. Then it all turns around because of Cesare. And he gets shot in the leg (laughs). How many times must he try to get something right before someone ruins it for him (laughs). He has the worst luck. He never gets the good break. A lot of the times its his own fault – he’s a bit of a douche bag. But every now and then when he gets it right, he still gets it in the end. He does a successful siege. He loses. He apologizes to his brother and gives his heart to him. And he still gets stabbed and thrown off a bridge (laughs).
Juan and Lucrezia developed a bitter relationship this season. How was it to work with Holliday and tell me about that scene where she tries to kill you.
David Oakes: It was peculiar to say the least (laughs). You had me and Kellie Blaise, who was playing Bernadetta, the fortunate or unfortunate girl depending on where you’re standing. We were there just completely naked (laughs).
It was peculiar to say the least (laughs). You had me and Kellie Blaise, who was playing Bernadetta, the fortunate or unfortunate girl depending on where you’re standing. We were there just completely naked (laughs). Holly and I get on great today as always. We were meeting up for lunch and we talked about the scene. In the first season, she couldn’t be in a room with me without giggling. We would just wind each other up. So that was the first scene where we had to do a proper, serious bit of angry, heartfelt acting. Suddenly, I’m naked and she’s got a candle (laughing). Everything was positioned so that you couldn’t see certain parts of my body. It was very surreal and quite fun to shoot. It looked beautiful as well considering that it’s two naked people and a chandelier. Definitely on my list of experiences in television and film that I don’t think any human being should have to experience in real life (laughs).
Holly’s great to work with. There are a few characters in the series that I wish I could have done more with. I think Holliday is probably on that top of that list, followed by Sean as Micheletto and Joanne as Vanozza. I think all three of them are incredible actors. Every time I got a chance to play with them, it was kind of like riffing. You throw an emotion their way and they throw something back and then you throw something back at that. It’s something great about working with actors that make you feel like you’re doing a better job.
Now that the season 2 finale has come and gone, what were your thoughts on seeing Rodrigo carrying Juan out as a boy?
David Oakes: It was great piece of abstract imagery. I always love when they go a bit off piece, like the dream sequence in the first season where Lucrezia flies up into the ceiling. The more of that they use the better. I think television is often afraid of abstraction and presenting big ideas. That motif of Jeremy holding the child is beautiful. It says everything that needed to be said in a very fitting, visual and instantly accessible manner. It also gets around the problem of me weighing thirteen stone and Jeremy not being quite as strong as he used to be (laughs). It’s a functionality thing as well as imagery. It would have been quite a different sequence if he were single handedly dragging my body all the way through the Vatican to be buried.
This season focused a lot more on Juan. What was your favorite scene to shoot in Season 2?
David Oakes: All the horse riding and sword fighting is what I love to do anyway. The sword fight was great fun.
You sword fight regularly?
David Oakes:I try to. I do quite of bit of jumping now as well. I’m too big to be a jockey in real life. Getting to do the race in the first episode was a dream come true. Normally people who are six foot don’t get to race horses quite like that. And, also to have me win was a nice bonus.
The great thing about Juan is that I’ve done everything. There has not been a constant theme to him. There hasn’t been ‘You’re the love interest, you play that. You’re the villain and you play that.’ I’ve played the comic buffoon. I’ve played the expert marksman, the swordsman, the horse rider, the bully, the coward, the joker – all over the shop. I’ve had an opium addiction. I’ve played every aspect of Juan’s character. I’m really pleased that I was given the part because of that.
In terms of my favorite scene, I don’t know, really (laughs). They’re all so rich. I think the race just because it was two days of racing and racing around the back lot. The back lot is stunning. We’re doing it all bareback. It was just like being in a horse race. It was an actual delight. If I had to relive anything, those two days would be the days I would love to relive. And, I’ve got loads of extra footage from those days that you don’t see. It’s brilliant.
Would you ever want to be brought back in a dream sequence?
David Oakes: Ohh, I would like to come back and play with Cesare (laughs). I can always imagine having a little devil Juan on one side and little angel Juan on the other. Just wind him up (laughs). I’d love to come back and see some sort of abstraction. I think with the family now without him – you said it earlier that Juan’s the character that everyone likes to hate – I worry that without him the family will be too unified. I hope that there is some presence of Juan or what he represented. I think it will be interesting to see what the family becomes. Whether it will become much happier or will they find another way to rip themselves apart from the inside.
Recently, you directed and produced with your short, called Who Shall I Play with Now? Any more directing and producing in the works?
David Oakes: I hope so. That’s a project that a friend of mine wrote, which we’ve been trying to do for a while. I think it’s really nice. It’s not going to take the world by storm. I think it’s nice enough to create. Achieving something. When you do shows like The Borgias, you don’t get control in the complete sense. You always have to make some compromises here and there. So it’s kind of nice to have a project and decide what you want it to be. Knowing that the finished project is exactly what you wanted it to be. There were no compromises at all involved and that was refreshing.
I’ve also just written a film, feature length horror. I went to a convention in Brussels and came back with a bit of a horror bug. And so I wrote this horror comedy. It’s so British that Americans won’t touch it and the Brits don’t produce things unless they think they can sell it in America. So it will probably never see the light of day (laughs). If I ever become a multimillionaire, successful actor then I’ll make this horror comedy, we’ll see. Time will tell on that one.
You have to link up with the Shaun of the Dead team.
That’s the thing. I need to do some massively successful TV comedy every year then I can make that jump. Simon Pegg is now doing very well. He’s in every major action movie. He’s in the Star Trek films with JJ Abrams.
If anyone wants to finance a cricket, horror-comedy get in touch (laughs).