Leonardo da Vinci gets his own show
Leonardo da Vinci gets his own show

Even though it's 500 years since he died, Leonardo da Vinci has still managed to upstage every genius multi-tasker in his wake.

Da Vinci was a whiz as a painter, a scientist and engineer, and a futurist dead-set on fighting the gravitational pull of his own times.

He was an intellect, free thinker, vegetarian and a humanist who supported himself by designing weapons of war. He was tall, handsome and a hit with the ladies. He was great with a sword and, being ambidextrous, which hand didn't matter.

"The phrase 'Renaissance Man' was derived from him," says David S Goyer, who has spent a lot of time studying the man and has created Da Vinci's Demons, a sci-fi thriller set in the 1400s.

Another cool thing about da Vinci: he was a man of intrigue, ensconced in secret societies, his paternity unresolved (he was born out of wedlock), perhaps divinely inspired as he clashed with the Catholic Church - a man who seemed to defy the confinements of any simple narrative.

"There's a tantalising five-year gap, stretching from when he was 27 to 32, where there's almost no record of where he was or what he was doing," says Goyer. "A gap like that is gold when you're the creator of this show."

Da Vinci's Demons premieres on the US TV network Starz tomorrow and is being fast-tracked by Foxtel to Australian screens next week. It is a historical fantasy, says Goyer.

Born and raised in Michigan, Goyer remembers spending half of each Saturday in a comic book shop, the other half at the city's library. Now 47, he is wiry and balding and bears a striking resemblance to the actor Stanley Tucci, whom he says he's never met but is often mistaken for.

His credits include the ambitious sci-fi thriller FlashForward. He was script consultant and story developer for the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops and its sequel.

He also co-wrote the 2005 film Batman Begins and its two sequels and wrote the screenplay for the upcoming Zack Snyder-directed Man of Steel.

In Goyer's view, da Vinci was the prototype of a superhero. "I picture him as one-third Indiana Jones, one-third Sherlock Holmes, one-third Tony Stark (Iron Man)," he says.

To play this extraordinary chap, Goyer chose English-born Tom Riley. The 31-year-old actor starred in British TV medical drama Monroe and in 2011 he performed on Broadway in the revival of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia alongside Billy Crudup and Raul Esparza.

Riley's da Vinci is sexy, mercurial and irrepressible. He savours life in Florence.

Goyer says he hit upon doing a show about da Vinci by chance. He had never done anything historical before when asked by Starz to create a drama focused on some towering figure from the past.

At first he said he was not intrerested in doing a dry BBC historical drama. But a number of possible candidates were considered for what was now envisioned as a "reinvention- of-history show."

There was Cleopatra and Genghis Khan, with da Vinci on the short list, recalls Goyer.

"Then I realised, no one's done a show about da Vinci," he says. "People say he's the most recognised figure in history other than Jesus Christ."

To prepare for the series, Goyer read dozens of biographies, da Vinci's journal pages and many of his letters.

He has written or co-written all eight episodes of season one, and directed the first two episodes of the show.

Recapturing 15th-century Florence demands impressive visual effects - and Goyer has set the bar high.

But even as it recaptures the past, the show, like da Vinci, is forward-looking.

"The central conflict is about who controls information," he says. "On the one hand, you've got the Vatican Secret Archives. The Church wants to control the information. On the other hand, shortly before our show starts, Gutenberg invented the printing press.

"This is a modern-day touchstone that viewers can identify with. If Leonardo da Vinci were alive today, his slogan would be 'Information wants to be free'."

Da Vinci’s Demons airs on Tuesday on pay-TV’s FX channel at 5.30pm.

The West Australian

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