When I met the Italian producer Luca Bernabei, he explained to me that for him the saga of the Medici was personal. His father, the legendary television executive Ettore Bernabei, was from Florence and had long wanted to make a series about the most famous Florentine family of all.
For Luca, a big-budget, English-language telling of the story was not just a chance to honor his father, but to show the world that Italy could produce television to as high a standard as any country in the world. There would be no going to Eastern European locations to save money. We would shoot in the real locations in Tuscany, and bring together some of the finest production designers, costume designers, and cinematographers in Italy.
In truth, I was surprised to be asked to write a historical drama. At that point in my career, I was far more likely to be thought of for science fiction or thrillers. But if the challenge of the series intrigued me, it was Luca’s ambition for it that moved me.
As my series co-creator I enlisted Nicholas Meyer, who had been one of my writing heroes going back to The Seven-Percent Solution, Time After Time and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and thus began one of the most stimulating and enjoyable chapters of my career.
We convened a host of extraordinary up-and-coming British talent for our writers’ room in London, including Francesca Gardiner and Sophie Petzal, and immersed ourselves in Renaissance history. We quickly realized one could paint the Medici as villains just as easily as one could paint them as heroes – they accomplished great things, but by what methods? That duality became the central theme of our series: doing bad in order to do good.
When it came time to produce the series, we were fortunate enough to enlist Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, an incredibly literate director who is as good at collaborating with actors as anyone I’ve ever worked with. On the first day of rehearsals, Dustin Hoffman said to Sergio, “You’re the best kind of director for an actor to have.” It was absolutely true, and what a cast we had. Not just the legendary Mr. Hoffman, but Richard Madden – whom we all knew was bound for superstardom – Annabel Scholey, Lex Shrapnel, Stuart Martin, Guido Caprino, Brian Cox, and so many others. They all gave extraordinary performances, and working together in Italy all those months created enduring friendships.
The premiere in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio was nothing short of joyous. We all made something we were incredibly proud of, and had a great time doing it.
But the ending of the story gets even happier.
Eleonora Andreatti, the Head of Fiction for the Italian broadcaster RAI, told me they signed on for the series because they believed in it, not because they thought it would produce huge ratings in Italy. As it turned out, the series premiere defied expectations and smashed records, drawing more than 8 million viewers.