Showtime's The Borgias, Starz's Camelot and HBO's Game of Thrones: Why does premium cable love historical drama?
As a stone fan of Gladiator, Lord of the Rings and the Tudors, I'm not complaining.
But in the next few weeks, premium cable is going to load up on dramas inspired by Medieval and Renaissance times, from Showtime's The Borgias to Starz's retelling of Camelot and HBO's upcoming Game of Thrones.
So what gives? Why all the epic swashbuckling and political intrigue?
I have a story in Sunday's Latitudes trying to explain it all, from premium cable channels' drive to find TV that outstrips the broadcasters to the ability by filmmakers to comment on modern times more directly through history. But one of the coolest moments I had was talking to Borgias co-star Colm Feore.
Feore is That Guy. He's the face you've seen in a thousand roles, from the billionaire with a taste for sexually assaulting young girls on Law & Order: SVU to Vin Diesel's nemesis in the Chronicles of Riddick and a rule-bending police commissioner challenging Angelina Jolie in Changeling.
In The Borgias, he's cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, the main nemesis -- again! -- to Jeremy Irons' corrupt Pope Rodrigo Borgia.
Since Camelot premieres tonight and the Borgias starts Sunday, I thought it might be fun to publish a bit of our interview, starting with his tale on how Irons kissed him full on the mouth during rehearsals.
"Jeremy Irons is an outrage; criminally charming. Derek Jacobi, he and i are in the first rehearsals, and we’re not sure how to play the scene. At one moment he came up and kissed up hard on the mouth. I didn’t bring any acting (chops) for this – is he going to do this all the time? (laughs) The leading man kissed me, and on we went from there. It suggested part of the danger and excitement of what we were doing. This was something new."
How does it feel, playing the bad guy?
"I thought I was the moral center – I’m going to get (these) heinous human beings. But at some point late in the shoot, (director Neil Jordan, The Crying Game) says, 'What do you think about being the bad guy?' I tell him the same thing, 'I’ve been the moral center,' and he says 'but we hate you....We know that they’re being horrible, we still want to see them succeed.' I think about The Shield, The Sopranos and The Wire – I’m wondering if we love those (antiheroes) because we know 'I’m weak and spineless and pathetic, too'.
Why are these period dramas so popular now?
"We’re always looking for answers. And it doesn't hurt that it comes with a dollop of historical fact. But they need a context and a distance. The audience can say 'Its u,s but it’s not really us.'"
What if TV had done this 20 years ago?
“I think people would have thought it was Caligula and run like crazy. I would lover to believe that (the current interest) suggests a maturity in the audience and intelligence that demands this kind of intelligent programming – along with idea that people should be naked and people should die. Humanity, we don’t evolve, but we can become more civilized. The only way we can do that is to know ourselves. I think this goes a long way toward exploring that... Neil likes the power -- what happens to people when you have that kind of power? With enough similarities (to today) for people to say, 'Wait a minute?'"