Holliday Grainger cheers Lucrezia's rise to power in 'The Borgias'

Biography (genre)Rome (Italy)Showtime (tv network)Jeremy IronsThe Borgias (tv program)Neil JordanJoanne Whalley

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.

“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.

“The three women … form a charity against the cardinals to kind of root out the corruption within the conclave, which is fantastic to have the girls doing something on their own and not just having the men with the power and the politics.”

Grainger and I talked more about girl power, Lucrezia’s journey in Season 2 and how much Grainger likes it when Lucrezia goes bad.

Read the first part of my interview with Holliday Grainger here.

Lucrezia takes over the pope’s chair, doesn’t she? He actually puts her in charge of the cardinals at one point.
Yeah, it was great as an exercise to kind of have those scenes where you’ve got to deliver the speeches and you kind of have that audience of men, but I think that kind of marks a point of Lucrezia’s growing up, in reaching a sense of maturity where she can start to take an interest in the politics. 

The historical text I’ve read indicates she was intelligent and was well read and sort of knew all kinds of things, spoke a lot of languages and everything. 
Yeah, absolutely. 

So I guess it’s no surprise that she could handle a bunch of old men.
[Laughs.] Yeah. She would have been incredibly well educated and she had to put that to good use as well because they would have all been taught to speak publicly. And Lucrezia later on in life she became, in her third marriage, when she became governor of the city [of Spoleto]; she was like a patron of the arts and she’d have to govern the city while her father was away. So it’s like it was incredibly important for them to be smart and educated because they’d have to take, even if it’s sometimes behind closed doors rather than in front, the women and the wives would be the ones that were writing politically manipulative letters to people.

There was more than one circumstance where Lucrezia had a lover that was her husband’s worst enemy and it was all to do with Lucrezia’s manipulative letters that made sure that their town wasn’t invaded. They really did count on her. It was important for them to be intelligent. 

It sounds like you’ve really done your research. 
[Laughs.] Because I didn't know about the Borgias when I auditioned for it. And so as soon as I got the part, I was just like, “Oh my gosh, there's such a massive, rich amount of information about this girl.” Which is so exciting as an actor to kind of have it all out there and there's so much that you can read about. It’s more important to kind of deal with the scripts and go off what Neil writes and David Leland writes. It’s also fantastic to kind of feel like you’ve got that kind of backbone of research that you can enmesh yourself into. 

Have you seen anything in the script and you’ve gone, “Well, from what I know, this isn’t right.”
[Laughs.] Well, I think they’ll always have artistic license because it’s a TV show. Nothing’s completely set in stone about what happened then. A lot of things, like about Lucrezia having sexual relationships with her father and brother, I mean, a lot of that was rumor back then. So it’s like everything, as much of it is rumor as it is history, and there are lots of biographies you can read. They’re all interpretations of history anyway, so I think that whatever we read in the scripts is just an interpretation of that history. Some people will believe that as fact and some people won't. 

I’ve talked to Francois Arnaud and he said that you can read five books and get five different reads on certain aspects of the Borgias’ story. 
And also on their characters. There's loads of biographies that kind of treat Lucrezia as a villain, you know? She was a whore and she was an adulterer and she poisoned people. Then you read another biography and she’s construed as a weak, powerless victim, that she’s just controlled by her family. And then you read another one and she’s somewhere in between and she’s actually a very strong, intelligent woman that's carving her own pathway through life. 

Right. That’s funny that you should bring that up because that's one of my questions was about those different takes and what do you want to, I guess, bring to her and have her be for the audience? 
I think in each situation, each storyline, that you can kind of draw on a different aspect of Lucrezia because she is a pawn in her family's power game. You know, there are things that she has to do for her family. Her father and her brother made her do certain things. But I also like to think of her, my version, she’s incredibly strong-willed and strong-minded. So if she does whatever they're telling her to do, it’s for the good of her family and for the good of herself. She’ll stand up for herself, but she does also understand that there are certain things that are expected of her in life. And as far as the villainess goes, I would love to see more of that. [Laughs.]

You’d like her to be bad?
I’d love to be. You definitely, definitely see little bits of that in the second season. I think whenever she does you can always understand where she’s coming from. She might do some awful things in Season 2, but I’ve found myself rooting for her and going, “Good girl. You don't let them treat you badly. You get them back.”  [Laughs.]

She works the system, I guess, in her favor.
Yeah, absolutely. As much as the Pope needs Lucrezia for the kind of marriage politics, I think he also respects her as an intelligent young woman and that's why she’s given the position of power, where she’s given the position of acting pope while he’s away. So I think there's also that level of respect between father and daughter as well. 

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Biography (genre)Rome (Italy)Showtime (tv network)Jeremy IronsThe Borgias (tv program)Neil JordanJoanne Whalley
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