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The Borgias were an Italian Renaissance noble family whose love, dysfunction, and power knew no bounds: Adultery, incest, and murder—including fratricide—are just some of their purported claims to fame. Naturally, as good Italians, the complex web of their lives was intertwined with the Catholic church, inextricably so because the patriarch of the family, Rodrigo Borgia, became pope.

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The Borgia saga has become legend and inspired novels, plays, and an opera, so naturally it was time for their story to be made into a Showtime series. Debuting this spring, The Borgias was created and produced by Neil Jordan (who won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for 1992’s The Crying Game).

The show combines a Sopranos-esque crime-family drama with the lavish period production of Rome. But added to that are intricate interfamily struggles one usually associates with Greek tragedy. Jeremy Irons plays the father, Rodrigo, but the rest of the cast, though relatively unknown, hold their own.

That’s particularly the case for two of the young and molto attractive Borgia children, who battle and plot their way into adulthood: Twenty-five-year-old French-Canadian actor François Arnaud, who plays Cesare, and 22-year-old Manchester, U.K., actress Holliday Grainger, who plays Lucrezia. As Cesare, Arnaud channels a son who has no qualms about murdering his own brother to take military control of the papacy and escape being part of the church.

“The character has such a great journey,” Arnaud says. “He goes from a daddy’s boy to a warrior and a killer and a lover. It’s more honest to fight than pretend to be Christian.” Arnaud, who has previously been seen mainly in French-Canadian films and television productions, believes much of the show’s controversy is over his character’s relationship with his sister. “There were a lot of rumors of incest between Cesare and Lucrezia,” explains Arnaud, “but we’re not going for that. There is a deep love and affection. The physicality of the relationship is almost childish. They always have their hands in each other’s faces, but it is innocent.”

Grainger, whose childlike beauty gives Lucrezia a certain wayward innocence, agrees. “It’s one of the only genuine relationships in the series,” she says. “You get a break from corrupt politics.” For those unfamiliar with one of the most infamous women of the 15th century, Lucrezia is an amalgam of Ophelia, Cleopatra, and Marie Antoinette. “Some think she is a selfish, manipulative villainess who poisons people and has incestuous relationships with her family,” Grainger explains. “Some see her as the pawn in her family’s game, and she is just weak and does what they say. Other people see her as a very strong woman who manipulates the situation to get the best outcome for herself and her family. I obviously like the third one!” Grainger is no stranger to period dramas, having also recently wrapped roles in this year’s highly anticipated Jane Eyre and the 1890s Parisian drama Bel Ami. “I’m ready to get out of my corset and into contemporary life,” she says. If the series does as well as expected, Grainger and her co-star should expect to spend a little more time in Italian finery, as well as on location in Budapest, where The Borgias is being filmed. “Even Italy,” Arnaud reasons, “doesn’t look like Renaissance Italy.”

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The Borgias actress Holliday Grainger has revealed that making friends with co-star Ronan Vibert made it easier to film their violent scenes.

Holliday Grainger plays Lucrezia Borgia in The Borgias

Lucrezia is the victim of rape by her husband, and Holliday said filming these scenes was strange.

She said: “It’s slightly surreal, but I didn’t find it traumatising at all. You put yourself in that mindset when they say, ‘Action’, but as soon as they say, ‘Cut’, there’s a boom mike stuck in your face.

“Yeah, there’s a random guy in between your legs, but he’s a guy that you’ve just been out for dinner with the night before, so you’re just chatting and making jokes.”

She also got to ride a horse for the big army scenes.

She said: “I was on horseback for a week. It sounds bad, but it was such good fun. David [Oakes] and I kept trotting off on our horses in between takes. They were like, ‘No, come back’ and we were like, ‘Sorry, but we’re in a big field on a horse, let us play!”

:: The Borgias starts on Sky Atlantic on Saturday, August 13.

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Holliday Grainger, who we last saw in Any Human Heart, stars as the infamous Lucrezia Borgia in Sky Atlantic’s lavish new drama The Borgias, set in the Italian Renaissance. She tells TV Choice more about playing one of history’s most notorious minxes

How much did you know about the Borgia family before you landed the part of Lucrezia?
Nothing! I’d never heard of them, so when I got back from the audition I was straight on the internet to find out more about them, feeling really embarrassed by my ignorance!

The whole family are villains — how does Lucrezia compare to her father and brothers?
What I like about Lucrezia in the first series is that even though she does some questionable things, she’s reacting to a situation she was forced into, and she’s doing something about it. So you can kind of understand her actions.

Lucrezia is very close to her brother Cesare (Francois Arnaud) and it’s hinted that their relationship is incestuous…
Yes, historically that was always rumoured, but that may have been propaganda by their enemies. It’s hinted at in the series, but it’s up to the audience to interpret whether it’s just a very strong brother/sister relationship or whether it’s a bit more.

Does Lucrezia suffer for being a female at that time?
Definitely. At the start of the series she’s only 13 and she’s married off to help her family’s political allegiances. She doesn’t have any choice in the matter.

You’re just off to start filming the second series of The Borgias in Budapest. What did you do in the break between the series?
A couple of short films, and carried on with my Open University degree in English Literature. It’s supposed to be part-time but I hardly did any work while I was filming The Borgias, so I spent February and May frantically writing essays to get them in on time! I’d love to play Estella in Great Expectations. She’s an amazing character [since our chat Holliday, has been cast as Estella in a forthcoming film version opposite Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes]. I’ve also just finished Far From The Madding Crowd, and Bathsheba Everdene would be a great character to play.

Lucrezia’s a mistress of manipulation — are you good at manipulating people to get what you want, Holliday?
I’d love to say I am, but you know, I can’t even lie — I’m rubbish at it! Maybe I could learn a little something from Lucrezia Borgia!

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Holliday Grainger gives Digital Spy the scoop on period drama The Borgias.

A tale of lust, corruption and deceit, period drama The Borgias debuts on Sky Atlantic later this week! The series, which airs on Showtime in the US, stars Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia, a ruthless clergyman who uses bribery, trickery and sheer cunning to be elected as Pope.

But, as the title suggests, The Borgias is about much more than just Rodrigo. Holliday Grainger stars as Lucrezia Borgia, the new Pope’s young daughter – but is she a wide-eyed innocent or a master manipulator? Digital Spy caught up with Holliday to find out more!

How much did you know about the Borgias before this show?
“Nothing. Absolutely nothing, had never even heard of them! And then I was highly embarrassed when I started researching it for the audition and realized that I really should have known about them. It’s so ridiculous that we learn about the stock British history in history lessons, and everything that went on in the rest of Europe, I never learn about. But yeah, [it was] a fascinating period [and a] fascinating family.”

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The new original Showtime drama series The Borgias, created and executive produced by Oscar-winning director Neil Jordan, is a complex portrait of one of history’s most intriguing and infamous dynastic families.  Premiering on April 3, the series begins as the cunning and manipulative Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons) schemes his way into the position of Pope, causing him, his two Machiavellian sons Cesare (François Arnaud) and Juan (David Oakes), and his scandalously beautiful daughter Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger), to become the most powerful and influential family of the Italian Renaissance.

During a recent interview to promote the upcoming television series, British actress Holliday Grainger talked about taking on a role as complex as Lucrezia Borgia, working with acclaimed filmmaker Neil Jordan, acting opposite Jeremy Irons, and the lavish costumes that she got to wear. She also talked about her upcoming roles in the feature films Jane Eyre (opening March 11) and Bel Ami, working opposite Robert Pattinson, and her hopes of doing more work in the States.  Check out what she had to say after the jump:

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Question: What originally drew you to this role?

HOLLIDAY GRAINGER: It’s Lucrezia Borgia! She is so complicated and there are so many interpretations of it that you can go with. I think she had quite a strong moral center and she was quite religious, but she is ambitious, so it’s the tension between her staying true to her morals and her ambitions.

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