‘Leonardo’ Creators Preview Aidan Turner as Da Vinci in CW Murder Mystery

Leonardo - Aidan Turner
Lux Vide/Sony Pictures Television

Like the enigmatic Leonardo da Vinci himself, this lavish limited series Leonardo starring Poldark’s Aidan Turner as the High Renaissance artist, inventor and scientist is many things: a biopic of an insatiably curious and obsessively driven genius with abandonment issues; a platonic love story between the man and the model listed only as “da Cremona” in historical records; and, in a delicious twist, a fictional murder mystery.

As the story starts, Leonardo is arrested for the poisoning of Caterina da Cremona (Matilda De Angelis) in Milan. Officer Stefano Giraldi (Freddie Highmore), under pressure to get a confession, begins interrogating Leonardo about his life and work — taking us back 16 years to his apprenticeship in Florence.

Leonardo Season 1 Matilda de Angelis, Freddie Highmore, Aidan Turner

(Credit: Fabio Lovino/Lux Vide/Sony Pictures Television)

For show cocreators Frank Spotnitz and Steve Thompson, Giraldi is a proxy for viewers who may not think they care about the painter behind the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. “Giraldi goes on this massive journey from disinterest and vague hostility to actually coming to appreciate Leonardo,” Spotnitz says. “That’s the journey we want our audience to go on.”

The gaps in history’s knowledge of Leonardo’s life allowed the cowriters to make “really educated guesses” about what inspired his creations and the lengths to which he’d go to complete them. (In Episode 5, Spotnitz teases, “He really puts people’s lives in danger!”) The two also propose answers to some true-life questions: Who was da Cremona and why was she so important to Leonardo? How did his masterpiece Leda and the Swan, for which she posed, disappear? What made someone slice off the bottom of his first known portrait, of teen bride Ginevra de’ Benci? And yes, what is the meaning of that inscrutable Mona Lisa smile?

We meet other key figures, such as demanding patron and Duke of Milan Ludovico Maria Sforza (a wicked James D’Arcy) and the “little Devil” Salaì (Carlos Cuevas), who became the artist’s assistant and lover. “This is the first time Leonardo is depicted as he was, a gay man. That was important to us and to Aidan,” Spotnitz says. “Leonardo goes from boy to middle-aged man over eight episodes, and you feel it in Aidan’s performance. But there’s a lot of humor, heartbreak, and love along the way.”

Leonardo, Series Premiere, Tuesday, August 16, 8/7c, The CW