"Borgia" - English

I See the Corruption of Religion

By Mark Ryder24.07.2012Global Policy

Mark Ryder plays the character of Cesare in the medieval TV series “Borgia.” He sat down with Alexander Görlach to talk about his character’s emotions and the dawn of atheism.


Atlantique/EOS/Beta Film, Photo: Michael Driscoll

*The European: In the TV series “Borgia”, you play Cesare Borgia, the illegitimate son of Rodrigo Borgia, the future pope Alexander VI. The personality of Cesare is very interesting. If the rumours are true, he will be the central part of the second season.* Ryder: Cesare’s story is going to be a little different. In the first season, he is not at all the character people imagine him to be. He is young, trying to find out who he wants to be. In the second season, he is going to have a kind of journey: he will become the warrior, the general of the armies – like Macchiavelli’s “Prince,” which will be more fitting with the Cesare from history. The character will change a lot in the second season. *The European: The most interesting aspect is Cesare’s struggle with himself: as a brother, a warrior, a member of the clergy. How did you acquaint yourself with the diverse character you are portraying?* Ryder: I remember reading the first parts of the script – and I just wasn’t able to understand the guy. One minute he would be very upset, the next minute he would be angry and aggressive. Just within a scene he would be changing quite a lot. How can I play this character believably? I just realized that those inconsistencies that Cesare shows are present in our everyday lives. Rather than wanting to obey my parents, I wanted to do my thing. Obviously, with Cesare, it’s much more extreme: one time, he really pours his heart into religion,and then, suddenly, his emotions just take him and he kills someone. *The European: Today, we have Goldman Sachs men claiming they are doing the will of god. In “Borgia,” there is one scene where Cesare’s father Alexander VI is asked by his children to take more safety measures. He replies: “What faith would I have if I were surrounded by warriors?” The demand of the children seems to foreshadow an almost atheistic trend: there is no trust in a higher force which used to be part of the political understanding.* Ryder: I think at the heart of Cesare and his siblings is a desire to put their trust in a higher power. But essentially, Cesare comes to the conclusion that they cannot just depend on God and that they have to take up their arms and take action themselves. I think it’s less about the dawn of atheism. What made Cesare so strong in history is that he did extremely well with the armies. His military approach was new, and that’s what made him so successful. *The European: In another scene Cesare says that he has studied Julius Caesar more than he has studied Jesus, and that there are no gods on the battlefield. That sounds like an early representation of atheism.* Ryder: He resigned his cardinalship and I think he lost all belief in God. So he really did start that pre-Renaissance movement against religion, because that whole period was dominated by the Catholic Church. *The European: Could someone in that era really abandon the thought that God exists?* Ryder: Cesare is a perfect example. He has been crying to God for help several times and he has the feeling that God abandons him. He then realizes that by his own efforts, things are starting to go well. So if things are going well when God is doing nothing – maybe he then came to the conclusion that he’s better off without God. So yes, it’s absolutely possible for someone in that era to turn away from God. *The European: Cesare is in conflict with his father and his brother, but he has one good friend – whom he almost kills. Cesare seems to be a very lonely person in a constant battle with everybody around him.* Ryder: He makes decisions that you wish he didn’t make. He doesn’t have the ability to see that others are helping him. Cesare has this impulsive side to him that sometimes just takes over. In that specific moment when he wanted to kill his best friend, he was just completely overrun by anger and pain. I think he is a lonely guy – but I also think the people who should love him often don’t and therefore he doesn’t get what he deserves. *The European: Both the historical Rodrigo Borgia and his son Cesare suffered from Syphilis, but Cesare survived. When they both came to the end of their lives, neither of them would mention the other’s name, although Cesare is a loyal son. Why does the father prefer his elder son Juan so much? After all, Cesare and Juan are from the same mother.* Ryder: Rodrigo gradually realizes that Juan is a fool, but in a way he is willingly ignoring it. He made the decision that Juan is going to be the leader of the familiy after his own death. Even after Juan proved that he is no loyal son, Rodrigo would just not realize that his younger son Cesare was more talented and more capable. *The European: Let’s come back to the dawn of atheism. When the reformation started, medieval society started to crumble. Is that something that you felt when you portrayed Cesare? He met Machiavelli, one of the very thinkers who helped to inaugurate the modern age, and who used Cesare as an inspiration for his book _The Prince._* Ryder: What I see in this era is the corruption of religon. On the one hand, you have the bible, the church, and millions of people trying to follow this religion to the best of their ability. On the other hand, you have the man who is closest to God – and he is just greedy and selfish. I question whether Rodrigo Borgia really believed in God. When I look back on this period, I look back on the religion and it just baffles me how they got away with it. It’s like having a prime minister or a president who is completely decadent and ruining your country, like Berlusconi. It baffles me that today’s church is holding the pope in such high esteem – that is exactly what they were doing 500 years ago! I can’t understand how people today can still do that knowing what happened in the past. *The European: In Europe, the idea of God as a constantly present force has vanished. But in the Muslim world the absence of God still cannot be imagined. Human welfare is still grounded in religious beliefs.* Ryder: Before we did “Borgia,” I sat down with a friend from Oxford, who told me: “Mark, religion was everything. It ruled everyone’s life.” I got the impression that many of the peasants were trying to live like Pius, to live good lives. But at the top, there were rich people abandoning everything – obviously, pious behavior didn’t really matter to them. You could say that people don’t necessarily believe in God, but that religion is just their way of understanding the world. I think that still exists today: religion provides an explanation for our life, it’s a reason for life. *The European: Cesare is a good example that there are not only “good” or “bad” people, but that there is indeed a constant battle between good and evil within ourselves. To some people, like Cesare, this applies more than to others.* Ryder: This is the two-sided heart of everyone. We want what our body wants, like sex and money – and we want it now. Then we have the rational side which tells us to love our neighbour. So there is a conflict. And Cesare’s conflict is on a very huge level. *The European: In one scene, Cesare spits in the face of the son of another Roman family. Even today, everyone knows what it means. There are some archaic modes which remain within us. When you put a cross down into the dust, it is still considered blasphemic. Is human nature still dominated by the struggle of motives?* Ryder: When a leader comes to power, he has a position of authority. And the disposal of power can corrupt him absolutely, like it did with Rodrigo Borgia. That is why you have to step back and almost applaud someone like Nelson Mandela. He found himself in a position of power as the president of a country and he could have done what he wanted. He could have been like Mugabe or Rodrigo Borgia. Mandela was a good man and he worked tiredlessly for his nation. It takes a very special type of person to stay away from power corrupting you. Throughout history you have story after story of someone coming to power and then abusing it. That’s what you see with the Borgias. It’s the same today. I just don’t understand how they did not happen to perceive a sense of guilt. Cesare does experience a lot of guilt, but it dissolves from him and he simply goes on with his journey. *The European: It’s a selfish kind of guilt. He needs it as fuel for his continuation.* Ryder: In the series, Cesare says: “I’ve got two parts in my soul. One’s a beast and one’s an an archangel.” The beast wins more often and so he has this struggle within him. The guilt he feels is like a consequence. I think he knows that he is special and that he has a lot of potential. Maybe, the guilt does drive him. Maybe it cripples him initially and as he matures, it becomes a useable weapon.



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