Leonardo Da Vinci was a sword-fighting, opium-smoking hunk who loved sex with beautiful women and men. Or at least he was in the mind of David S. Goyer, the creator of the new Starz drama Da Vinci’s Demons, which premieres April 12. The eight-episode series explores the Renaissance-era inventor, engineer, and artist as a young man, with many soap opera flourishes that throw the chiseled rebel into all kinds of 15th-century intrigue.
While many aspects of the show are revisionist, Da Vinci’s fluid sexuality is not one of them. The world’s most famous artist has long been thought gay or bisexual (theories recently emerged that the Mona Lisa was Da Vinci’s male lover). Goyer’s Da Vinci (played by British actor Tom Riley) is too busy working out mommy issues, sword-fighting with Romans, and bedding Florence’s beautiful people to get caught up defining himself or struggle with coming out. So are many of the characters populating Da Vinci’s Demons who would likely be categorized as LGBT in 21st-century terms.
“Attitudes and beliefs were entirely different back then,” says Goyer, who cowrote the Dark Knight Batman film trilogy. “On one hand, sodomy was a crime punishable by death. On the other hand, particularly in Florence, attitudes towards homosexuality and bisexuality were, to a certain extent, more permissive than they are today.”
Including a historical figure’s unconfirmed same-sex affairs in biopics or TV series is never an easy decision — gay scribe Tony Kushner didn’t touch Abraham Lincoln’s rumored homosexuality in last year’s Lincoln — especially since it still makes Hollywood quiver in fear.
“Of course, there were concerns [about including Da Vinci’s bisexuality],” Goyer says. “No one advised me against it. But there was a discussion about whether or not to deal with the issues immediately or to develop an audience first and then segue into those issues. It continues to be an ongoing debate.”
Regardless, the story behind the Vitruvian Man just got a lot hotter.