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‘Leonardo’s’ Aidan Turner Previews His Intimate Portrait of an Iconic Artist

Leonardo
Sony Pictures Television

Aidan Turner already has legions of fans for his turn as Kili in “The Hobbit” feature film series and earned a whole lot more — in a different demographic — as Ross Poldark in the long-running BBC series “Poldark,” a fixture on PBS’ “Masterpiece” in the States. Now he’s bringing his gift for period drama and his Renaissanceera hair to “Leonardo,” an eight-episode drama that probes the inner life of the Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci and is a joint effort from Italy’s RAI, France Télévisions, Germany’s ZDF and Spain’s RTVE. Shot during the pandemic, the show is also co-produced and distributed worldwide by Sony Pictures Television.

What attracted you to this role?

I felt like it was something I would have regretted had I not given it a go. It’s been one of those jobs that you quickly think as an actor, “If I saw somebody else playing this role, how would I feel about it?” And I didn’t feel good about that. So, I couldn’t let it go; I have to play him. I think this is based on Frank [Spotnitz’s] script. It’s not just, “I need to play Leonardo, it’s a life’s ambition to play this man”; it’s what we were trying to achieve with the work to get to the core of who this person was behind the masterpieces. It just did something for me.

What was that key to finding Leonardo’s character?

When I read the script, my first thought was, “Oh, this isn’t just a point-by-point historical period drama that we’ve seen before.” It seemed like he was striving to get to the essence of who this person was — what was the core of the man behind these masterpieces? So, the way in wasn’t necessarily through the genius stories; it’s through the window of, who is this person, can we get to the core of who this human was? So, it becomes less intimidating when you take that approach, I think.

Are you left-handed like da Vinci?

Nope, that was one of the first things I started to do quite early on, using my left hand. I thought it was going to be an issue and I wanted to be quite adept at using my left hand. And you’d be surprised how quickly that happens. After the first few days on set, you’re using the left hand all the time. I think for the first day or two, the continuity person on set just reminded me a couple of times.

What were the most surprising things about da Vinci that you found out?

I didn’t know anything about his childhood. I didn’t know that he wasn’t formally educated. He was famous quite young and not a starving artist. His sexual orientation is something that I’m pretty sure has never come up before all the documentation. It just points in the direction, for sure, that he was a homosexual man. And you think, “Why haven’t we shown this before? [Are] there reasons why we haven’t, or has it just not be known to the wider circle of people who were researching for those shows?” So we did a really good job, I think, in trying to show it in an honest and truthful manner.

Things you didn’t know about Aidan Turner:

Age: 37
Hometown: Clondalkin, Ireland, a suburb of Dublin
Special skills: Irish champion ballroom dancer; paints as a hobby and took painting and sculpting workshops for “Leonardo”