Da Vinci in Wales: genius, madness and all things profane

Friday 21 September 2012, 11:45

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Forget the stunning architecture of Florence and the extensive facilities of Pinewood Studios near London – a disused car parts factory in Swansea has become the hive of production activity for a new eight-part series about the artist Leonardo da Vinci.

The historical fantasy Da Vinci's Demons is being made by Swansea company Tonto Films and is the first joint venture from the US cable channel Starz Entertainment and BBC Worldwide Productions.

It tells the story of Leonardo da Vinci's early life during the Renaissance era in 15th century Florence and has been written by the Hollywood producer and director David S. Goyer, who has penned screenplays for the Blade trilogy, Ghost Rider and the latest Batman films including recent blockbuster The Dark Knight Rises.

The aim of the series is to tell the "untold" story of da Vinci's youth as he struggles to reconcile his almost superhuman talents with the time he lives.

It is estimated it could inject around £61m into the local economy and more than 2,500 people, many of them local, are thought to be involved.

English actor Tom Riley, previously seen in Monroe and Bouquet Of Barbed Wire, will play the title role, while Inbetweeners star Laura Haddock will star as Lucrezia Donati, the mistress of Florentine ruler Lorenzo Medici and lover of Leonardo da Vinci.

The series, which has a budget of approximately £20m for the first eight episodes, is due for release worldwide in spring 2013 and is being shot at locations in Swansea, Neath and Port Talbot, including Margam Country Park and Neath Abbey.

Production is now under way at the former Visteon car parts factory on Fabian Way between Neath and Swansea.

The team have been working closely with Neath Port Talbot Council to involve as many local firms, suppliers and contractors in the process as possible.

They have also approached schools and colleges in the area and some students have taken up work experience placements or employment on the production.

The Visteon site is where many of the blue screen action shots will be carried out but location filming has taken place in Gower and at the Victorian mansion of Margam Castle, where several rooms have acted as the palace of the Medici family, who were the young da Vinci's patrons.

David S. Goyer has promised the show will be "about secret histories, genius, madness and all things profane". On the casting of Tom Riley, he added: "Given that da Vinci was the model for the Renaissance Man, these were incredibly large shoes to fill.

"Leonardo had to be smart, witty, and incredibly confident - without coming across as arrogant. He also had to be tormented, because as a true visionary and polymath he was ostracized for his ideas as much as he was celebrated. Tom came in and was able to effortlessly combine all of those elements. As soon as he finished his audition, we knew we'd found our man."

Carmi Zlotnik, managing director at Starz, added: "Da Vinci is a near mythic figure in history that fascinates people to this day. It is quite an undertaking to bring to life a role that comes with so many pre-conceived notions.

"Tom showed us that there are many dimensions to this man yet to be explored, and, at the same time making him believable, surprising and unique to a world-wide audience."

The former Visteon factory has undergone a complete overhaul since the council suggested it to the locations company as a possible site for a film studio.

The former industrial site boasts around 265,000 square feet, with a further 8,000 of adjacent office space and 12 acres of land.

The local council is hoping this production will be the first of many to make use of the facilities and bring jobs to the area.

Executive producer Julie Gardner, who is from Glynneath and has previously worked on Life on Mars, Doctor Who and Torchwood, said: "There were a number of potential sites under consideration, but being based in this area has had several benefits.

"Fabian Way has given us so much space to work within that we have been able to base everything at the one site, which is a tremendous advantage for a production of this size.

"The convenience of the location has also provided us easy access to all our filming locations across south Wales.

"The area also gave us access to the necessary expertise and experience needed, in terms of businesses, resources and people."

She thanked the council for its support: "They have helped us from the very beginning, and have proved to be an invaluable point of contact for us.

"Coming back to Neath Port Talbot with this series is full circle, having studied at Neath College. It's great to see such a large production being made in my local area, and the opportunities it provides to the south Wales region.

"It has been fantastic to be able to use a venue like Margam Castle. It is unique, and has everything you want from a film location."

The leader of Neath Port Talbot Council, Cllr Ali Thomas, said he hoped the benefits of securing the production would be long-lived for the area.

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