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Quest for mythical book takes TV's 'Da Vinci's Demons' to New World

By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci leaves the feuding, scheming and sexual intrigues of 15th century Florence behind as he sets off for the mysterious New World in the second season of TV's "Da Vinci's Demons" that begins on Saturday.

Da Vinci, depicted as an old, bearded man in a widely accepted self-portrait, is a 25-year-old swashbuckling inventor and artist in the historical fantasy series that tells the "untold" story before he painted the "Mona Lisa" and the "Last Supper."

In the first season, da Vinci allied himself with the ruling Medicis against Pope Sixtus IV and the Pazzi family as they conspired to take control of Florence. He outwitted his enemies and dazzled Florence with amazing inventions.

"The second season just kind of kicks the doors off the story," said Tom Riley, 32, the British actor who plays the eccentric young artist. "And it's bigger ... it's just more expansive. Literally, we've opened up a world. We're no longer in Italy."

The original series, filmed in Wales and created for the Starz U.S. premium cable channel by David S. Goyer ("The Dark Knight" trilogy, "Man of Steel"), won two Emmys for title design and original title theme music. It is distributed in 125 countries by BBC Worldwide.

Little is known about the early life of da Vinci, the illegitimate son of a notary to the Medici family and a servant girl, giving Goyer creative license to inject a bit of magical realism into the show.

Still, much of the series is based on historical fact, such as the artist's acquittal of sodomy charges, he said.

"You try to find out as much as you can that is based on truth," said Riley about taking on the role, "and then try and find those elements and latch onto something relevant today."

SEX, NUDITY, MURDER

Because of his incredible genius and futuristic concepts of flying machines, explosives and powerful military machines, da Vinci finds it difficult living in 15th century Florence, where few understand him or his ideas. His arrogance and free-thinking ways soon land him in trouble.

The series - with its violence, sex scenes and nudity - has been described as raunchy. But Riley and British actress Laura Haddock, 28, who plays his lover and Lorenzo Medici's mistress Lucrezia Donati, dismiss that characterization.

"For women at the time, it was their only power chip. They couldn't use much else - except for their bodies," said Riley, who appeared in the 2009 comedy "Happy Ever Afters".

The second season picks up with Florence in chaos and da Vinci determined to continue his quest to find the mythical "Book of Leaves," which he believes holds untold truths and could help him find the mother who abandoned him as a baby.

"For a man who is obsessed with the most impossible things, that is the biggest puzzle of all. It is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow," Riley explained.

While the new season has da Vinci looking to the future, his lover Lucrezia goes back to the past - to when she was a teenager.

"Leonardo is off on a quest to Peru, to the other side of the world in South America, and Lucrezia is looking back trying to avenge what happened in the past," said Haddock, who starred in 2011's "Captain America: The First Avenger."

"Everyone has something they are trying to find an answer to," she added. "Everyone is either on a physical or emotional journey this season."

(Editing by Eric Kelsey and Gunna Dickson)

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