Recently, Tom Riley and Laura Haddock, stars of “Da Vinci’s Demons,” were enjoying some Southern California sun, a big change from the often cold and rainy Wales where they shoot the Starz adventure series, which begins its second season Friday.
“We would call this summer,” says Haddock, who plays the mysterious Lucrezia, a spy, assassin and a woman driven by a hidden past. She is the strange counterpart to the series’ title character played by Riley, the young, charismatic, self-confident and handsome Leonardo da Vinci, a brilliant inventor and swashbuckler with an enormous scientific curiosity.
On hand this day, too, is the show’s creator, writer, director and producer David S. Goyer, who lives here. The screenwriter of “Man of Steel” — who is working on the untitled Superman-Batman project — says he only had to spend about six weeks in Wales during the second-season shoot. For season one, he was there almost the entire time because they were creating everything from scratch.
“It’s amazing what you can do now via the Internet — editing and sound mixing and stuff like that — that you couldn’t do five years ago,” says Goyer, who is also doing a pilot for NBC based on comic book writer-creator Alan Moore’s character John Constantine.
While the stars of “Da Vinci’s Demons” may have been stuck in Wales, the storyline isn’t, especially this season. Though the show adheres to the basic history — set in the world of 15th century Renaissance Italy — it primarily traffics in the fantastical. When season two opens, Florence is under siege and Leonardo’s patron, Lorenzo de Medici (Elliot Cowan) is on the run, leaving his determined wife (Lara Pulver) in charge of defending the city from Vatican forces.
Though it is up to Leonardo to save de Medici, what really occupies his thoughts is a quest for the Book of Leaves, a tome that holds ancient scientific secrets. That quest this season will take him to the Incan empire in South America; never mind it’s a decade or two before Christopher Columbus made landfall in the New World.
The South America scenes also were shot in Wales — although some second-unit stuff was filmed in South America — so the actors stayed put.
“I thought the worst thing about it when I saw the episodes was now they will never let us leave Wales because it looked so good,” laughs Riley, who adds that Starz wants its shows to have a lush cinematic look that network shows normally don’t have.
But the thinking for “Da Vinci’s Demons” — 10 episodes this year, up two from last season — isn’t like a network show. It doesn’t live and die simply on ratings in the U.S. Half of its financing comes from overseas, notes Goyer, and the show is seen in 125 countries over Fox International Channels, airing after the exclusive premiere on Starz.
“One of the things that was really exciting for me was realizing that there is a much bigger world out there,” says Goyer. He immersed himself in a lot of British television to see what they were up to, catching things like “Sherlock” and “Luther” before they became popular in the U.S.
“Watching this resurgence of foreign television and foreign co-productions is really fascinating. I’m all for anything that breaks down the traditional network model,” he says.
But back to Wales and season two. While Riley and Haddock spent months together on-set filming, Leonardo and his sometime lover Lucrezia will be mostly on separate journeys this season.
“The thing that Laura and I have always stuck to is the idea that actually they’re very similar,” says Riley, 32, who was off the next day to shoot a British independent film, “Kill Your Friends.”
“They’re both on a quest that they believe is more important than anything else — both leaving death and destruction in their wake. And both have men in the shadows telling them what to do.”
Haddock, 28, says playing Lucrezia in the first season was tricky because there was so little known about her.
“It was obvious that she is a puppet. The question is, who is the puppeteer? In season two, you find out the reason why she is the way she is.”
The actress, who is married to actor Sam Claflin (“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”), will be seen in the role of Meredith Quill in Marvel’s superhero movie “Guardians of the Galaxy,” coming out this summer.
Riley says we will see changes in Leonardo, too.
“He’s been putting the people around him through his agonizing quest, and this season, he is beginning to take stock of his behavior.”
Riley adds that while there is more emotional human drama, “We don’t skimp on the action.”
Riley and Haddock — both trained in stage combat — indeed have a lot of riding and fighting to do for their roles in “Da Vinci’s Demons.” Da Vinci is an ambidextrous swordsman who constantly gets into scrapes.
“Leonardo gets put through the ringer this season,” Riley says, “and by the eighth episode, I felt like I had been put through the ringer.”
DA VINCI’S DEMONS
When: 10 p.m. Friday with numerous repeats.
Follow Rob Lowman on Twitter: @roblowman1