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When Holliday Grainger first read Great Expectations, she was quite young, she says, and didn’t really ”get” Estella, the beautiful, aloof young woman with whom the narrator has been in love since childhood. A second reading gave her a greater sense of how the character had come to be who she was.

Holliday Grainger plays 'the emotional version of Frankenstein's monster' in Great Expectations.

And by playing her, in the new screen version directed by Mike Newell, she came to see Estella very clearly. In some ways, Grainger says, ”She’s the emotional version of Frankenstein’s monster”.

Estella is the subject of a kind of experiment by Miss Havisham, the wealthy recluse who adopted her and shaped her from her earliest years, ”and she is very damaged, a victim of emotional abuse – even though I don’t think that was Miss Havisham’s intention”.

Costume designer Beatrix Aruna Pasztor created clothes for Estella that mirror who she is, Grainger says: ”A shell that you can never quite crack. Elaborate, composed. I love the fact that she has quite hard lines.”

For Grainger, Estella ”has a lot of anger and resentment inside her, I think, but she is also passive, and probably has very little confidence in herself, which is why she always reverts to the facade.” In a scene in which she is offered the chance to leave Miss Havisham, ”It’s a lot easier for her to stay. If she left she would have to unlearn all the self-restraint she has spent her whole life developing.”

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As Pope Alexander VI’s daughter, Lucrezia Borgia enjoyed riches, money and, it turns out, a considerable amount of power for a woman in 15th century Italy.

That was one of the reasons British actress Holliday Grainger was excited about Season 2 of Showtime’s “The Borgias,” in which her Lucrezia quickly grows from innocent girl to a fierce mother and shrewd politician.

Holliday Grainger

“Stray Dogs,” the April 29 episode, Alexander (Jeremy Irons) puts Lucrezia in charge of the cardinals when he leaves Rome to check on the progress of the war against the French.

“I was so excited when Neil [Jordan] had written that into the script. I’ve read quite a few biographies on Lucrezia Borgia and I was fascinated by the fact that she was the acting pope many times. There’s a famous portrait of Lucrezia on the papal throne and, yeah, you think that back then maybe women didn’t have too much power, but she did,” Grainger said during a phone interview at the beginning of the season. “There was no one else that [her father] trusted.”

Lucrezia not only sits in the chair of St. Peter in the episode, she and her mother, Vanozza (Joanne Whalley), and her father’s lover, Giulia Farnese (Lotte Verbeek), team up to help Rome’s poor and to clean up the city, an effort that will pit them against many of the cardinals.

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It’s the crack of dawn, but Holliday Grainger is hardly fazed by the early start. Sat in the lounge of a decadent West London home, she is bright and bubbly, already enthralling the photo-shoot crew with her recent endeavors on set with The Borgias including that of the recent addition of a panther as a pet for her character Lucrezia Borgia.

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Though perhaps currently best known for this role in the cult TV series – Holliday’s most recent selection of roles shall no doubt propel her into a whole new Hollywood league. This year, marking Dickens’ bicentenary, shall see the release of the hotly anticipated big screen adaptation of Great Expectations, with Holliday taking on the iconic role of Estella.  In Bel Ami, she’s playing the eventual bride to Robert Pattinson’s scoundrel protagonist; while in Anna Karenina, Holliday is placed alongside a cast of veritable who’s who in British talent with an appearance as Baroness Shilton.

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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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Photoshoots & Portraits > 2011 > 005. Interview Magazine

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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