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Originally published Tuesday, October 30, 2012 at 11:24 AM

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European 'Borgia' drama proves a worldwide hit

Who doesn't love a wealthy family's bloody saga?

Associated Press

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SERMONETA, Italy —

Who doesn't love a wealthy family's bloody saga?

The Italian economy may be struggling but the pan-European television series "Borgia," which is now filming its second season in Italy, is a thriving hit on the world market.

Spanning the late Middle Ages to the early Renaissance period, the show follows the famous Borgia family's rise to power and subsequent domination of the Vatican and southern Europe's political landscape. A winning combination of sex, violence, faith, lust and betrayal, the primarily French-German production has been sold in 85 countries worldwide.

The first season follows the brutally ambitious Catalan Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (played by U.S. actor John Doman) and his ruthless climb to become Pope Alexander VI.  The second season, currently shooting, begins in 1494 and its focus slowly moves to his charismatic son Cesare Borgia (played by Irish actor Mark Ryder), the famed warrior prince who inspired Niccolo Machiavelli's "The Prince."

Ryder said the biggest challenge has been taking his character from a whiny young boy in the first season to a "magnificent man of the Renaissance" in the second.

An Associated Press TV crew visited the set near Rome, where there are twenty-four different nationalities among the "Borgia" crew. Doman, best known for his role in the U.S. hit HBO TV series "The Wire" says it's a unique experience to work on such a multi-cultural production.

"We have all come from different places and we are all together working here on this project about a family and we've really kind of gelled as a family," he told the AP.

On the set, a stocky Italian charges across the courtyard of the Caetani Castle and yells, "Action, silenzio!" prompting a tall, blond German to lift a movie camera off a metal frame and an Italian stunt woman to hoist herself onto a horse. Dozens of extras immediately snap to attention. 

Nearby in a black tent, a British director was following the action closely on a monitor while an Irish actor enjoyed a cigarette on his break, careful not to dirty his red velvet cardinal's robes. 

The executive producer, American Tom Fontana, says producers searched far and wide to assemble the talent working on "Borgia."

"We were always determined to have the best actors, the best designers, the most talented people here, regardless of what country they come from," he said. "Everyone who is here knows they are here because we think they are the best."

While the talent comes from around the globe, Irish actor Diarmuid Noyes (who plays Cardinal Alessandro Farnese) says the work ethic comes straight from their team of directors.

"Every day for eight months (they) are on the ball and they just bash it out, and they are shooting, shooting, shooting, shooting," he said. "They never let up!"

With a budget of (EURO)30 million ($38.7 million), the second season of Beta Film's "Borgia" is being shot over eight months in both Italy and the Czech Republic. Italy alone will feature 20 separate locations.

According to Beta Film, "Borgia" was the highest-rated original series on Canal+ in France and in Italy on Sky Italia. On Germany's public broadcaster ZDF, the company said it was the fictional primetime winner every night.

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