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Published: Monday, March 25, 2013, 8:37 p.m.

Leonardo da Vinci superhero of his day

  • Tom Riley portrays Leonardo da Vinci in "Da Vinci's Demons."

    Starz Entertainment / Greg Wiliiams

    Tom Riley portrays Leonardo da Vinci in "Da Vinci's Demons."

In these 500 years since Leonardo da Vinci, he has upstaged every genius multitasker in his wake. (OK, not you, Benjamin Franklin and James Franco.)
Leonardo was a whiz as a painter (hint: "Mona Lisa" and "The Last Supper"), a scientist and engineer, and a futurist dead-set on fighting the gravitational pull of his own times.
He was an intellect, free thinker, vegetarian and a humanist who supported himself designing weapons of war.
He was tall, handsome and a hit with the ladies. He was great with a sword and, being ambidextrous, which hand didn't matter.
"The phrase 'Renaissance Man' was derived from him," said David S. Goyer, who has spent a lot of time studying and pondering him, and has created "Da Vinci's Demons," a sci-fi thriller set in the 1400s.
Another cool thing about Leonardo: He was a man of intrigue, ensconced in secret societies, his paternity unresolved (he was born out of wedlock), perhaps divinely inspired as he clashed with the Roman Catholic Church, a man who seemed to defy the confinements of any simple narrative.
"There's a tantalizing five-year gap, stretching from when he was 27 to 32, where there's almost no record of where he was or what he was doing," Goyer said. "A gap like that is gold when you're the creator of this show."
In Goyer's view, Leonardo da Vinci was the prototype of a superhero: "I picture him as one-third Indiana Jones, one-third Sherlock Holmes, one-third Tony Stark (Iron Man) -- and he kind of was."
To play this extraordinary chap, Goyer chose English-born actor Tom Riley. The 31-year-old starred in the British TV medical drama "Monroe," and in 2011 performed on Broadway in the revival of Tom Stoppard's "Arcadia" alongside Billy Crudup and Raul Esparza.
Riley's Leonardo is sexy, mercurial and irrepressible. He savors life in his native Florence. But he is too driven, too haunted by doubts about his life's intended mission. He is no stranger to opium, which he uses, he explains, because "I think too much. I need to dull my thoughts or I will be eviscerated by them."
At times he overreaches, stumbles and falls (though ever so dashingly). And he has an eye for a pretty face, including -- at high risk -- comely Lucrezia Donati (Laura Haddock), the mistress of Lorenzo di Medici (Elliot Cowan), da Vinci's benefactor and one of the city's most powerful figures.

Watch it
"Da Vinci's Demons"
premieres at 10 p.m. April 12 on Starz.

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