Fiction and fact a winning combination

Tom Riley. Picture: Supplied

Would the great 15th-century artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci twist in his grave if he could see what has been done to his life story in the popular historical series Da Vinci's Demons, or would he want to jump up and join in the fun?

Probably the latter, as this second season from creator, executive producer and sometimes writer of Da Vinci's Demons, David S. Goyer (Blade, Batman), has Da Vinci sailing for the New World and meeting the Incas as he searches for the mythical Book of Leaves.

British actor Tom Riley, who plays Da Vinci, agrees that the series does fantastical things with history.

"A lot of the characters, events, places, times, interactions and relationships existed but then we go off into our own version of them," he said. "We twist them, portray them in a way that is perhaps unexpected, we put fiction in among the fact.

"And also there are supernatural elements that get woven throughout the narrative that no one could ever say were historically accurate and no one could ever prove happened but we, for the sake of our story, include them."

Riley said that last season the makers of Da Vinci's Demons had realised that the supernatural twists were something that viewers were reacting to and it was probably those that allowed them to accept the more anachronistic flourishes in the storylines.

But he adds that some of the supernatural elements are built on fact.

"The sect of Mithras was completely real," he said. "They existed and the figures that we show, the lion-headed figure, the Mithiran, they were genuinely there. They are built into the catacombs below Rome.

"Who the followers of Mithras were and what they were has been lost in history but there are remnants of their poetry. Some of the strangest stuff in season one - all of that 'I am the son of earth and starry heaven', all of those things are lifted directly from Mithraism.

"Strangely enough, some of the stuff that people would assume is fantastical isn't and the other way round."

Riley has immersed himself in the history of the time, particularly researching Da Vinci's background, though he admits that the version of the artist in the show is "unusual".

"I thought it was my duty to find out as much about him as I physically could," he said. "I studied him as a man, I studied his work, his journals. There is a lot of belief that he was somewhere on the Asperger's syndrome spectrum and I spent a lot of time with Asperger's sufferers and tried to incorporate those traits into his character.

While he waits for a decision to be made on a third series of Da Vinci's Demons, Riley will star in an episode of Doctor Who and is making a film, Kill Your Friends.