The Borgias proves all the world’s a stage

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY–Came all the way to Hungary for a tour of ancient Rome.
Francois Seguin, the production designer of the upcoming CTV/Showtime series The Borgias, gave a walking tour Friday of the impressive sets he has designed and supervised over the past six months. The Borgias, which stars Jeremy Irons as a scheming 15th century pontiff, is shot at Hungary’s Korda Studios. The state-of-the-art facility–which was the production site for the feature “Hellboy II”–sits atop a high hill about 40 minutes outside Budapest. It offers a breathtaking view of rural farmlands as far as the eye can see.
Seguin, who designed sets for “The Karate Kid,” “Silk” and “Push” as well as several theatrical productions, has created an impressive backlot behind one of the five massive new soundstages at Korda. Grand facades representing the original St. Peter’s Square of Renaissance Rome offer filmmaker Neil Jordan all kinds of looks while crafting this series. Knock on the pillars and you’ll hear a tinny sound, but look at them and you’d swear they were made of marble. Two hundred carpenters brought Seguin’s vision to life and continue to erect new facades.

Interior sets are spread out over four of the five soundstages. A floor that looks like inlaid marble really is inlaid marble. It’s comprised of “seconds,” marble tiles rejected for homes or offices but good enough for film sets. Intricate tapestries and other wall coverings are generally rendered through giant photo images, not hand painted frescoes.
Seguin couldn’t get to fancy. Rome was down on its heels at this point in history, falling from a city of 1.3 million to a town of barely 50,000 by the time the series begins, in 1492.
Portraits of the notorious Borgias family hang in several rooms, rendered by a local artist who, in some instances, had to wait until a part was cast before finishing the head of the portrait.

Among the more impressive interiors is the bedroom of Alexander Borgias, a.k.a the scene of the crime. This peppy pontiff put his big double bed to good use, fathering several illegitimate children. Talk about Il Papa!
Seguin pointed out that, by moving a pillar here and sliding out a wall or chandelier there, a library becomes a courtyard, dining room or hallway. Managing the giant jig saw puzzle gives Jordan and company 60-some different interiors, Seguin calculates.
The majority of the sets were built over a four month period, although some were turned around in 48 hours. As visiting Globe and Mail columnist Liz Renzetti cracked, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Seguin hopes The Borgias runs for years but he already has another gig lined up on the side: designing the sets for a musical tribute to Michael Jackson, Cirque du Soleil’s follow up to The Beatles Love. That show is scheduled to open in two years.
The Borgias comes to CTV and Showtime next spring.

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