I always have fun with my yearly “Let’s cast my latest book as a movie!” blog post. But with my Borgia duology “The Serpent and the Pearl” and “The Lion and the Rose,” I have a particular dilemma not faced before with any of my other books: there have been a LOT of movies already about the Borgias. Who to cast when so many have been cast already? Here’s my version, a mixture of old faces and new:
IL PAPA BORGIA
His Holiness the Borgia Pope has been played, among others, by John Doman and Jeremy Irons. Jeremy Irons was excellent as always, but a bit too languid and refined for the explosive Rodrigo Borgia (in my opinion). John Doman was better, but that flat L.A. accent . . . I think I’ll go with Sergi Lopez, who not only can play both sensual and scary (“Him and Her,” “Labyrinth of Pan”) but is a Catalan Spaniard just like the Borgia Pope. Rodrigo’s Spanish pride, Spanish temper, and Spanish enjoyment in life’s sensual pleasures were defining traits.
Giulia La Bella was sweet, bubbly, petite, voluptuous, and extravagantly blond, so in the Showtime series she was portrayed as a moody redhead (Lotte Verbeek), and on the European series as a bitchy brunette (Marta Gastini). I’m going with Holliday Grainger, who played Lucrezia in the Showtime series. But doesn’t she look quite a lot more like the alleged Raphael portrait of Giulia Farnese? And after three seasons of watching her on The Borgias, we know she can show both sweetness and steel.
Giulia’s bodyguard is a dwarf, which does limit the question of who can play him. I wouldn’t want to shrink an actor down with CGI; dwarfism poses limits on the body–and on Leonello’s character–which are critical to his particular brand of cynicism, idealism, and courage. Peter Dinklage is the too-obvious choice, but he’s busy playing Tyrion Lannister on “Game of Thrones.” Let’s find another fabulous actor with dwarfism and give him a great role as my knife-throwing butt-kicking dwarf with the love of books and the biting tongue.
My secondary heroine is a tall skinny Sicilian girl; a professional chef with a knife up her sleeve, a pocket full of secrets, and a biting tongue. How about Coral Amiga, who not only has the perfect sharp-edged face, frizzy curls, and lanky frame, but showed serious chops on “Rome” as Kevin McKidd’s embittered eldest daughter.
There’s nobody to play Cesare Borgia but Francois Arnaud. His sexy, sinister Showtime stint as history’s ultimate bad boy puts all others in the shade.
Lucrezia goes from twelve to seventeen, so we need an actress who can play both innocent child and sophisticated young wife. Kaitlyn Dever fills the bill–on “Justified” she plays a pretty but cynical fourteen-year-old, and nearly steals the show from Timothy Olyphant. Blond her up a bit and she’ll be a great Lucrezia.
David Oakes was Juan Borgia in the Showtime series, and he was fantastic: vicious, handsome, ultimately pathetic. No need to mess with a good thing here.
Jonathan Jackson would work as Giulia’s pretty but weak-willed husband. Orsino Orsini is just the type who would have a soul patch and no spine.
Not only is Eddie Redmayne a true ginger with plenty of freckles, just like Carmelina’s chef protege Bartolomeo, but he can play younger than his years. Good for a teenage apprentice who bides his time on his crush until he’s eighteen, then mounts a campaign to sweep his 7-year-older lady off her feet.
So, that’s my fantasy cast for my mythical movie. If you’ve read my Borgia duology and have your own casting ideas, I’m all ears!
I’m a foodie at heart–you can always count on there being delicious food in my books. (And the best part about fictional food? Zero calories!) My Borgia duology “The Serpent and the Pearl” and “The Lion and the Rose” has the most mouth-watering food out of anything I’ve written, because one of my heroines is a chef: Carmelina, a tart-tongued girl with near-magical skill in the kitchen, who has the job as maestra di cucina for the Borgia Pope’s mistress.
Serving under her is teenage apprentice Bartolomeo Scappi, a historical figure who will grow up and become one of the greatest cooks of the Renaissance–his cookbook is still in print today! Now, it’s a curious thing that most of the world’s mega-chefs tend to be men, but ask any of them how they learned to cook, and it’s always a female name that comes out. (Most usually “Mom” or “Grandma.”) So when I leafed through Bartolomeo Scappi’s cookbook, I asked myself “Who taught him all this?” And the answer presented itself: “I’ll bet it was a woman.”
Fortunately we know very little about Bartolomeo’s beginnings, when he was born, or where he trained, so I was free to invent Carmelina as the girl who teaches the greatest culinary genius of the Renaissance everything he knows. When these two get together in a kitchen, sparks fly, knives are sometimes hurled, and magic happens–along with a lot of great food!
When “The Serpent and the Pearl” was released, I put together a virtual pot-luck with six fabulous food bloggers who combed the book for recipes and trooped off to their kitchens. The results were mouth-watering, and I know we had to host a re-match for “The Lion and the Rose.” Today I’m joined by Theresa from Outlander Kitchen and Island Vittles, who cooks from Diana Gabaldon’s fabulous Scottish saga; Chelsea from Inn At The Crossroads, who recently co-authored a fabulous cookbook based on “Game of Thrones” recipes; Christiane from Taking On Magazines, who cooks her way through the likes of “Better Homes and Gardens” and “Bon Appetit” utterly undaunted; Lori from Little White Apron who is a pro chef as well as a blogger extraordinaire; Deana from Lost Past Remembered who recreates food from myriad centuries gone by; and Heather Webb from Between The Sheets who took time off from her
recent smash-hit novel on Empress Josephine to indulge her foodie hobby.
And today, we’re all posting our results! Recipes included.
Inn At The Crossroads: the Roman-style tenderloin Bartolomeo makes when Carmelina’s stuck in a convent with the Pope’s daughter Lucrezia.
Island Vittles: the candied nuts which all the Borgias are constantly snacking on as they plot. And as a bonus? The fried tubers from the New World, which feature heavily in a scene my readers have taken to calling simply �the aphrodisiac potato scene.�
Little White Apron: the salad of blood orange, fennel, and olives served to the Duke of Gandia, and the beef en brochette served at a very illicit Vatican party.
Lost Past Remembered: the fish pie flavored with oranges, nutmeg and dates which Bartolomeo whips up after changing Carmelina’s menu behind her back (and boy, does he get in trouble for that!)
Taking On Magazines did TWO posts! The venison in cream and brandy sauce served after Juan Borgia’s latest hunt, and the tortellini with basil and parsley filling with which Bartolomeo hopes to woo Carmelina.
Between The Sheets: the endives stuffed with cheese and drizzled in olive oil which are served at the Menagerie Masquerade Ball, and the pastries layered with honey and blood oranges on which Lucrezia nibbles while waiting for a divorce.
As for me, I rolled up my sleeves and tackled a recipe from Chapter 17 of “The Lion and the Rose:” a walnut and pecorino cheese tourte Carmelina muses on to keep herself sane during a dull period stuck in a convent.
From the book:
“Three eggs, whisked together with a mixture three parts sugar to two parts strawberry honey,” I recited aloud as I swept the convent courtyard. “Add two cheeses, a soft sheep’s milk cheese and a very fresh pecorino cheese from Pienza, and then a double handful finely chopped walnuts . . .” The lay sisters were supposed to recite their prayers as they went about their work–a rosary, or perhaps an Act of Contrition if they were feeling guilty about anything. I recited recipes.
This is a recipe I got from a little volume of Vatican recipes through the ages, and supposedly dates from the days of Pope Pius II. Given that a handful of walnuts and a hunk of cheese are just about my favorite snack of all time, I was intrigued by the idea of putting them together in a pie, and dying to tackle this for the virtual potluck! I made a few modifications to the ingredients–Wegman’s does not carry strawberry honey–but the result is still delicious: a sort of early-Renaissance version of a classic cheesecake. The texture is identical, and the flavor mild and nutty, the saltiness of the pecorino melting into the honey and sugar. If you would like a bolder flavor, dust the top of your tourte with cinnamon instead of powdered sugar. The perfect holiday dessert for that one family member who isn’t big on sweets.
Serves 12 — Prep time 30 minutes — Cooking time 55 minutes, plus at least 2 hours for chilling
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 1/3 cup very fresh grated pecorino cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese
3 cups flour
1 1/2 cups shelled walnuts, finely chopped
12 egg whites, whipped stiff (to avoid the mess of breaking 12 eggs, just use those egg whites that come in cartons for low-fat omelets)
Whole walnuts and powdered sugar or cinnamon, for garnish
Pre-made pie shell or short-crust pastry of your choice
1. Whipping egg whites into peaks takes both time and muscle if done by hand. If you don’t have a hunky kitchen apprentice with arms like a god (Carmelina does), then use a stand mixer and get your egg whites beating with a whisk attachment as you prepare the rest of the pie. If you do have a hunky kitchen apprentice with arms like a god, what on earth are you doing in the kitchen?
2. Make your pie-crust if you are making from scratch (use a pre-made shell if you’re low on time). Either way, pop the crust into the oven at 325 degrees and do a pre-bake for a few minutes, so you don’t end up with a soggy bottom crust once filling is added.
3. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, and honey in a large bowl.
4. Gradually add the pecorino cheese, ricotta, flour, and chopped walnuts, and blend together. When egg whites have been whisked stiff, add bit by bit to the walnut and cheese mixture, and blend.
5. Give mixture one final stir (the nuts will want to sink to the bottom) and then pour into pie shell. There will be enough for two pies.
6. Bake 55 minutes at 325 degrees, checking frequently toward the end. You want a nice golden top, not a burned blistered pie.
7. Let cool, sift with powdered sugar, and decorate with whole walnuts. Chill thoroughly before eating.
Be sure to check in on the others for some more great recipes! And as for the food bloggers who kicked in on this project – Theresa, Lori, Heather, Christiane, Chelsea, and Deana – thank you all so much!
My secondary heroine from “The Serpent and the Pearl” is usually very tough to track down–as a working girl (cook to the Borgia Pope!) she’s always on the move and on the job. But now she’s at loose ends, and consented to be interviewed!
Carmelina: Ask as many questions as you want. As long as we’re held captive here, I haven’t got anything to cook.
Me: You know how many readers accused you of ruining their diets?
Carmelina: Diet? What’s that?
Me: It’s when people swear off butter or cream or pasta.
Carmelina: Why would anybody ever do that? Swear off pasta? Pasta is delicious!
Me: Well, it’s fattening. People stop eating it so they can be thinner.
Her: Who wants to be thin? My mistress Giulia Farnese is the most renowned beauty in Rome, and she’s a solid size 14 in your sizing charts.
Me: Jesus, I wish I lived in the Renaissance.
Her: No, you don’t. I’m the best cook in Rome, and I don’t even get paid for it because I’m a woman.
Me: Fair point. So, how are you faring in captivity?
Her: Madonna Giulia has managed to keep the French from raping us all, God bless her. If she can hold them off a few more days, the Pope should have us all ransomed and home. Can’t be soon enough for me.
Me: Leonello said that you . . .
Her: That little bastard talked about me?
Me: A little. He said he knows things about you . . .
Carmelina: How dare he!
Me: Look, I’m your creator. Believe me, I already know all your secrets. What people really want to know is this–are you really planning to poison Leonello before he outs you? Because you were looking pretty determined . . .
Ok, Carmelina just stomped out. Looks like you’ll have to wait till tomorrow to see if she put hemlock in our hero’s wine or not!
My “Lion and the Rose” hero is still flat on his back on a stretcher, but he consented to an interview. 😀
Leonello: Consented, hah. You cornered me, woman. It’s not exactly like I can run away when I’m full of broken bones.
Me: Yes, I’m sorry about that.
Leonello: Nothing to do with you. I’m a bodyguard and I defended my charge, simple as that. My own decision, I assure you.
Me: Well, I am your creator.
Leonello: As if you ever made me do anything I didn’t want to do.
Me: Fair point. How are you feeling?
Leonello: Like a French army stamped all over me. Which it did. I’m probably dying.
Me: Surely not . . .
Leonello: If the blood loss doesn’t kill me, the cook probably will. She hates me.
Me: What did you do to her?
Leonello: Carmelina? I know a few things about her that could make life very uncomfortable. I may have rubbed it in, when I pointed that out.
Me: Was that entirely necessary?
Leonello: Just because I am small does not mean I am cute, kind, or cuddly.
Me: No, it certainly doesn’t. Not only do you have a tongue like a razor, you kick a surprising amount of butt for a person of reduced height
Leonello: Dwarf. Call it what it is.
Me: We’re more politically correct in this century.
Leonello: Dio, I don’t even want to know what that is. Am I done now?
“The Lion and the Rose: a novel of the Borgias” releases in just three days! Usually I’m nervous for my release days, but this time around I just can’t wait. Because this book is sequel to “The Serpent and the Pearl,” which came out last August and ended on just a leetle bit of a cliffhanger, and I’m delighted that this time around, I didn’t have to leave my readers hanging for too long. (I really am sorry, “Empress of the Seven Hills” fans.)
And my three main characters of “The Serpent and the Pearl” were all in a very tight spot on the last page–captured by the French army, with their lives very literally on the line! Over the next few days I’ll be interviewing each of my characters here on my blog as a promo. Today let’s welcome Giulia Farnese, mistress to the Borgia Pope and currently a French captive when she got waylaid by an invading army on her way home from a family visit . . .
Giulia: Do you have any of that stuff called chocolate which you introduced me to at our last interview? You left me in a very bad place, sticking me with the French between books, and frankly if a girl ever earned an out-of-her-century treat, it’s me.
Me: Yes, of course. Try a Snicker’s bar, you’ll love it.
Giulia: Thank you. I always eat when I’m being held hostage.
Me: I truly am sorry about leaving you in enemy hands for five months . . .
Giulia: Oh, that’s all right. It’s not as long as five months in my world. Snickers, why is it called that? Nothing to snicker about, being a French captive. They’re pigs.
Me: Are they really?
Giulia: Well, they’ve been relatively nice once they realized what Rodrigo–
Me: Can you tell the readers who that is, for the ones who didn’t read the first book?
Giulia: Rodrigo Borgia. His Holiness, Pope Alexander VI. I’m his mistress.
Me: Wow. Our current pope, um–well, he’s a little different. I don’t really know what would happen if he came out and told the world “Hi, I have a twenty-two year old girlfriend with floor-length hair.”
Giulia: Maybe he’d be more relaxed. It’s a very tiring job, being Pope.
Me: Well, anyway. The French?
Giulia: They’ve been relatively nice to me once they realized what the Holy Father would pay to get me back.
Me: So you’re going home?
Giulia: On page 1. God knows if it’ll be in time to save my bodyguard, though. Leonello, his name is, and he nearly killed himself protecting me–the French beat him so badly. I’m making them pay for it.
Giulia: I’ve acted like an utter haughty bitch ever since they captured me. I’m normally quite an easy-going sort of person, but I’ve been complaining and pitching fits for that French general ever since he laid hands on me. He’ll be quite glad to see the back of me, I assure you.
Me: Sounds like you have things well in hand, then. Good luck, Giulia!
Giulia: Can you do me a favor? Pray for my bodyguard. I’m going to be all right–I just want to get home to Rodrigo, who isn’t nearly as frightening as people seem to think all the Borgias are. But I really don’t know if Leonello’s going to live or not.
Me: I could tell you, but that would spoil the surprise. Thanks for dropping by!