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article imagePeter Capaldi reveals how he gazed 'Inside The Mind of Leonardo' Special

By Earl Dittman     Dec 19, 2014 in Entertainment
To convincingly portray the Renaissance Man in his latest film, the actor discusses how he used Da Vinci’s own words to breathe life into the legendary genius. Capaldi also talks about how he spent the past year at his day job — as the Twelfth Doctor.
"When I first read the script, I was immediately drawn to the idea of not having to wear tights and putting on a fake beard and trying to do a conventional period piece about Da Vinci," jokingly admits Peter Capaldi, explaining the reasons he took on the role of the Italian Renaissance Man in the motion picture Inside The Mind of Leonardo 3D. "I found it so intriguing that the film takes such an incredibly unique approach to his story. It's not your typical big screen biography, because it's told in Da Vinci's own words. More than anything, though, I wanted to be part of this film because it give viewers a chance to go inside the mind of a genius. Not a genius in the sense of a hit-making boy band or a clever film director, but a real, honest-to-God genius."
With over 6,000 pages of handwritten notes and drawings, Leonardo da Vinci’s private journals are the most comprehensive documents that chronicle the work of the world’s most renowned inventor, philosopher, painter and genius. Equal parts dramatic biopic and insightful documentary, the Julian Jones-directed Inside The Mind of Leonardo 3D uses this precious collection of writings and drawings to recount Da Vinci’s story in his own words, and combines them with stunning visual effects and 3D technology to re-create the mindscape and ideas of mankind’s greatest polymath.
In a forcefully poignant performance, Scottish television (Doctor Who, The Musketeers, The Thick Of It) and film (The Fifth Estate, Local Hero, Paddington) actor Peter Capaldi portrays Leonardo and dramatically narrates passages and monologues from the artist’s journals. From the epic to the ordinary, Inside The Mind of Leonardo 3D explores how Da Vinci — painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer — experienced the world around him. Following a biographical narrative, the feature captures the artist’s thwarted ambitions, hurt, anger and sexual desire as documented within his diaries, but also the mundanities of normal life: his shopping lists, health tips and bawdy jokes.
Leonardo Da Vinci self-portrait
Leonardo Da Vinci self-portrait
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"We wanted people to get an idea of what Leonardo Da Vinci was really like, that's why we used his words to give the viewer as much insight into the man as possible," admits Capaldi, a BAFTA (In The Loop) and Academy Award (for his short film Franz Kafka's It's A Wonderful) winner. "I think most of us know him from the sketch he did when he was an old man, where he looked like God. But, I wanted people to understand that he wasn't a god, he was just a man. A brilliant one, but just flesh and blood."
The 56-year-old actor became familiar with the art of Da Vinci while attending Glasgow School of Art during his late-teens. "Since I had been to art school I knew a lot about him as the artist who had created masterpieces as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper," he recalls. "I think I knew about as much as anyone about Leonardo Da Vinci."
Peter Capaldi on the set of  Inside The Mind of Leonardo
Peter Capaldi on the set of 'Inside The Mind of Leonardo'
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Once Capaldi landed the lead role in Inside The Mind of Leonardo 3D, he began the arduous task of uncovering as much information about the Da Vinci as he could possibly find. “I wanted to know everything I could about this man I was going to portray,” he remembers. “Even though he left behind all these writings, Da Vinci is actually a very mysterious man. He's a bit of an enigma. I read a whole lot of things about him, but you can't go into a library or online to find out what his contemporaries said about him. It wasn’t as if he had a ton of friends who left behind papers or letters describing what his personality was like or how he carried himself.”
To shape his performance, Capaldi admits he began to read between the lines of Da Vinci’s handwritten letters. “As an actor, you are always looking for clues about what he was really like,” he says. “You try to get a sense of who he is. You wonder, 'Did people like him? Was he comfortable around other people? Was he arrogant jerk? Was he kind?’ The more I read his words, the more I began to come up with my interpretation of what he was like — based primarily on his thoughts and ideas. I just let his words guide in the direction I should portray him. I just trusted my instincts. This is the Leo I imagined. For the film, I'm really just a conduit of his ideas, his attitude, his works and his genius.”
Peter Capaldi as Leonardo Da Vinci
Peter Capaldi as Leonardo Da Vinci
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Even after filming had began, Capaldi continued to immerse himself in all things Da Vinci. This process allowed him to develop a deep, empathetic understanding of the Italian Master. “There is no doubt Da Vinci was a genius, but sadly, I don‘t think he was a very happy man,” Capaldi speculates. “It seems like he was is constant emotional turmoil. He possessed this almost narcotic obsession about trying to understand nature and the world around him. This probably made him an unpleasant person to be around, because he it was a pathological obsession. But, it fueled the artist and the man. It’s what drove him to take things apart and trying to figure out how to put them together again. It gave him that determination to figure out how things function, how they should look and how to render them on paper and on canvas.
“During my research and while I was doing the film, I think I'm most surprised to discover how much Da Vinci doubted himself,” he continues. "Here was the great thinker and inventor who was basically ravaged by self-doubt. You would think that someone with that mind would have just marched on through and would not think twice. Even with his art, his inventions and writings, he was really reticent about doing things. He was a chronic procrastinator. Maybe that anxiety is what helped feed his genius.”
Capaldi emphasizes that he doesn’t bandy about the term “genius” lightly. “A lot of us like to label movie stars, modern-day philosophers or even boy bands ‘genius,’ but unless they can paint another Mona Lisa while singing their latest hit, then don’t come anywhere close to Da Vanci,” he says with a laugh. “What we wanted to do with the film is to show that he’s a genius not only because of the incredible things he invented or the brilliant works of art he created, but because of the fact that he did all those things being just a normal human being. He was mortal. Just like everyone else, Da Vinci had his frailties, quirks, insecurities and a whole lot of challenges — things that we all share. We just wanted to make him accessible.
“Da Vinci was a working man, just like the rest of us,” Capaldi adds. “He was always worked for somebody else, be it a war lord, a duke, the church or a king. He needed their patronage to do the things that really wanted to do. He was always depended upon someone else's desires, yet he still adventured out on his own. He was a contradiction in many ways. I guess you could say he was a precursor to (Mad Men character) Don Draper, he was always trying to find a way to sell himself and his ideas. He was an amazing man, I’m just thankful I got the chance to tell his story.”
Peter Capaldi in a scene from  Doctor Who: Last Christmas
Peter Capaldi in a scene from 'Doctor Who: Last Christmas'
Capaldi finished his work on Inside The Mind of Leonardo 3D shortly before landing the role of a lifetime. In August, 2013, he was named Matt Smith’s replacement on the long-running international hit series Doctor Who. A fan of the 50-year-old BBC show since childhood, Capaldi (who had been approached to play The Doctor for the telefilm in 1996) says becoming the Twelfth Doctor has been a both a joyous and anxiety-filled eye-opening experience.
“This past year as Doctor Who was just crazy and incredible — taking on the role has been exciting, scary, thrilling and nerve-wrecking, because it is such a big responsibility,” he muses. “To kick off Season Eight, Jenna (Coleman) and I went on a promotional tour around the world. In addition to England and America, we visited all these other beautiful countries like Brazil, Mexico, Australia, South Korea, and I was genuinely shocked at how many people really love The Doctor.
“I kind of knew how big Doctor Who was in Britain and in the States, but I never imagined the show had created such a huge following all over the globe,” he continues. “I would go onstage in Seoul or Rio and there would be these thousands of people who'd be cheering me on. It really is a phenomenon. I don't think I realized it until I was out there and received so much love from the fans. Doctor Who is like Santa Claus, people love to see him walk down the street. He means so much to them.”
Long considered a highly-respected, well-known actor for over three decades in the UK, Capaldi is no stranger to fame. However, becoming a global household name, practically overnight, did initially catch the former punk rock singer off guard.
“All this attention can be a little overwhelming at times, that why I'm just glad all of this celebrity stuff is happening now, at 56,” Capaldi jokingly admits. “After the tour, my wife (Elaine Collins) was saying, 'I can only imagine this sort of thing happening to someone in their 20s. How they would deal with it?’ Honestly, I don't know if I could have dealt with all this instant fame when I was younger, so I'm happy it's happening now. I've been around the block a couple of times and I know the nature of this business, so I can somewhat put it all into perspective. You could freak out about it, but you just have to do the best job you least, that’s what I tell myself.”
Peter Capaldi is the Twelfth Doctor
Peter Capaldi is the Twelfth Doctor
Once he finished up filming his inaugural season as the Twelfth Doctor, earlier this fall, Capaldi says he felt more relaxed in his role as the new Doctor Who...sort of. “I still think to myself, ‘Being The Doctor is really a big responsibility, it’s not something I want to muck up, so be careful,’” he says with a laugh. “I think we've done pretty good so far. I'm just so surprised at how quickly it all went. It's like it all happened in a flash. I have been a fan of the show since I was very young, so I understand what a privilege I’ve been given. It's an incredible feeling being part of something so big.”
In addition to talking to the press about his work in Inside The Mind of Leonardo, Capaldi is promoting Paddington, a film based on the tale of the iconic and very British stuffed bear. “I did the picture with Nicole Kidman and that it was so much fun, we had a brilliant time doing it,” he recalls. “Paddington Bear is pretty legendary over here in England, so it’s a film a lot of people have been waiting to see for a while. I have to say that it's a wonderful movie. I'm just glad I had the chance to be a part of it, too."
Peter Capaldi in  Paddington
Peter Capaldi in 'Paddington'
Once his promotional duties for Paddington are done, Capaldi plans on taking some much-deserved time off to spend time with his family. But, it’ll be a short break, because he’s expected back on the Doctor Who set in January for Season Nine. “We start filming again in about four weeks,” he says. “After the holidays we'll be back at work. I’m anxious I'm really excited about the new season. It’s going to be another incredible journey for The Doctor...and me.”
Being a lifelong fan of Doctor Who, he realizes his tenure on the series comes with a cut-off date. It doesn’t matter to Capaldi, because he’s having a ball living out one of his childhood dreams. “Look, I'd love to play the Doctor forever, but it is not really up to me,” he says matter-of-factly. “I'm just having a wonderful time while I'm getting the honor to play him. I could not have planned or hoped for anything more special.”
Inside The Mind of Leonardo 3D opens in limited release on December 19. Doctor Who: Last Christmas airs on December 25, 2014 on BBC and BBC America. (Check local listings for air times). Paddington opens across North America on January 16, 2015.
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