The Borgias, Day 2: Layers of unreality

Playing a cardinal in Renaissance Rome is no walk in the park. Especially when it's Colm Feore in the saddle. Denis Seguin continues his report from the Budapest set of The Borgias.
Borgias - Dolly

Even alongside the King of France and the General of the French Army, Cardinal Della Rovere stands out.

Astride his long-necked stallion, his long black cloak draped elegantly across the saddle, he looks like he can destroy with a thought. And, in a way, he can: “Don’t fall off, don’t fall off, don’t fall off.”

When Colm Feore signed on to play, Della Rovere, the nemesis of Pope Alexander VI in the Canada-Hungary-Ireland TV series The Borgias, he wasn’t told about this horse-back business.

“They called me a few weeks before we were going into production. ‘You ride a horse, right?’” Still in his cloak and cap but now in his trailer and definitely out of character, Feore makes a face.

“As actors we’re forced to lie: A motorcycle? Sure, I ride a motorcycle. A horse? You bet.”

It’s all part of the layering process, the layers of unreality that an actor uses so as to, as Feore puts it, do less acting.

“You get your costume and that gives you one layer of credibility. But when you step on to a set where you have to dodge the horseshit and you’re on real stone streets with very real-looking walls and buildings and hundreds of extras looking very convincing it helps with what I call ‘lying for money.’ We are just pretending, but if we are more engaged in the pretending then I think something comes across.”

There’s no questioning the layering of Canadian production designer Francois Séguin and his British art director Jonathan McKinstry.

And, before I met with Feore, I was standing on a soundstage at Korda Studios, outside Budapest. But in my mind I was inside St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome circa 1492. The walls are adorned with Latinate mosaics of saints, the floors are inlaid marble, the towering columns radiate substance. One is reduced to a reverential whisper.

Then McKinstry gave a gentle shove to a seven-ton column and it rolled away. Nearly everything within the space is malleable. It’s all fake and yet I kept wanting to whisper.

Feore nods at this impulse: “You enter a space and suddenly you stand up straighter because it’s got grandeur – which is what the costume requires, because the space requires it, because you’re in the presence of…” His voice trails off. “These places were made to inspire awe, devotion and wonder.”

All an actor needs to do is not fall off his horse.

PREVIOUSLY: The Borgias: Blood is relative

TOMORROW: The Producers