Deauville 2011: Tom Fontana Discusses 'Borgia's' Move to Netflix, Plans for Cable (Q&A)

Tom Fontana - Deauville - 2011

In an interview with THR, television veteran revealed why he hasn’t watched Showtime’s “The Borgias,” Vatican violence and what he’s doing next.

Netflix has snagged the U.S. rights to Tom Fontana’s 12-episode series Borgia with Lionsgate taking the DVD rights, Fontana confirmed in Deauville on Saturday.

The TV titan headed from prison to Renaissance Rome to the luxurious red carpets in Deauville for a Masterclass and premiere of his upcoming series Borgia on Saturday as part of the festival's Deauville: Season 2 small-screen program.

Jan Mojto’s Beta Film is handling world sales for the series produced by Lagardere Entertainment’s Atlantique Productions, Beta Film’s Eos and Czech Etic and set to premiere on Gallic pay TV network Canal Plus next month.

While the series will bow on Netflix and Lionsgate first stateside, Fontana adds, “We’re still talking to the cable networks.”

Fontana talked to The Hollywood Reporter about Vatican violence, working in Europe and why he’s too busy to watch Jeremy Irons in costume.

The Hollywood Reporter: Did you have a European audience in mind when you wrote this?
Tom Fontana:
I’ve never considered my audience when writing something. I think it’s bad for a writer to do that. I have to write it and not worry whether it will work in Idaho or in Brussels. The best I can hope for is that in the end it speaks many languages. I’m always surprised by what groups of people are the biggest audiences.
THR: Aside from its pan-European financing and cast, what do you think makes Borgia a universal series that can appeal to a wide audience?
Besides the usual sex and violence, it’s a show about a corporation: Vatican, Inc. It’s a brand with a great product, namely salvation and eternity. Watching the ins and outs within a corporation might have an appeal to a wide audience today. Oh, and there’s sex and violence.
THR: With all of the sex and violence in the media today, did you feel the need to increase the amount of both in this show compared to your previous work in TV?
I don’t think there’s any more sex and violence than in the first two episodes of Oz, for example. I put it in where it feels right for the characters. This time, I’m just happy it’s heterosexual sex.
THR: What was it like working on such a European project? Did you feel you had more freedom than when working in the U.S.?
Fontana: Not more than HBO. I never had any restraints at HBO and I didn’t feel them for Borgia.
THR: Francis Ford Coppola is in town as the festival’s guest of honor. How would you compare Borgia to The Godfather which also dealt with “the family” ?
It’s very much about family, but I don’t think Borgia is about a crime family. It’s a corporate family. It’s more Murdoch than it is Corleone.
THR: What do you think of the final product?
I’m always thinking of ways to make it better. The cast is extraordinary. They’re very game. They didn’t hesitate to jump into a scene that should terrify any sane actor.
THR: Have you seen the Showtime series, The Borgias, about the same family?
No. My original idea was to watch after I was done with mine, but I never got around to it. I have the DVDs in case the spirit moves me, but so far it hasn’t. I was in Prague for almost a year, so I missed a lot of good TV and I have some catching up to do.
THR: What’s next for you?

Fontana: In January, I’ll start shooting Copper for BBC America. It takes place in NYC during the Civil War. It’s a cop show, sort of. It’s about how hard it was to be an Irish immigrant in NY during that time.
THR: How do you expect U.S. audiences to react to Borgia?
I don’t know because remember I didn’t set out to please anyone to begin with. With Netflix, people will find out about the series and talk about the series in different ways.
THR: Do you think this new distribution model will set a precedent for other series?
It’s kind of fun to be part of something that could be an earthquake for the industry.