By Jill Serjeant
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Take a 15th century Italian genius, invent his mysterious youth, throw in some superhero action and you've got "Da Vinci's Demons" - a new TV series that portrays the man who painted the "Mona Lisa" like he's never been seen before.
Forget the artist seen in his own self-portrait as a wizened, bearded old man.
The Leonardo of "Da Vinci's Demons" is a fearless, reckless, swashbuckling 25-year-old, who sports 21st century hair gel and an impressive six-pack.
The eight-episode drama, premiering on U.S. cable channel Starz on Friday and around the world later this month, follows the "untold story" of the original Renaissance Man through the eyes of David Goyer, one of the developers of the "Call of Duty" hit videogame franchise.
"I had always had a fascination with da Vinci and I was amazed there had never been a movie specifically about him or a TV show, which strikes me as kind of crazy," Goyer told Reuters.
"I don't know anyone who has ever achieved or mastered all the things that he did. And he was a colorful character. His life was filled with a lot of controversy, which is always good," Goyer said.
And, in a gift for any creative mind, there are few records of what da Vinci was doing, or where he was, between the ages of 28 and 32.
"Those gaps give a creator more permission to invent things. It's a historical fantasy that has a certain element of magical realism to it.
"I also wanted a very modern graphic novel approach, and that extends into costumes, music, visual effects and the way we photographed it," added Goyer, who also co-wrote the stories for Batman movies "The Dark Knight" and "The Dark Knight Rises."
British actor Tom Riley plays da Vinci as a rising artist in 15th century Florence, already designing flying machines, military equipment, flirting with his models, bedding a mistress of the powerful Medici family and embarking on a quest for the mythical "Book of Leaves."
His adventures are played out against intrigue and tension between the ruling Medicis in Florence and Pope Sixtus IV in Rome, with plenty of male and female nudity, sex, murder, plotting and sword-fighting.
The TV series, co-produced with a unit of BBC Worldwide Productions and filmed mostly among the ancient castles of Wales, will be shown on pay channels in 120 nations in April.
It is also expected to become one of the most successful ventures by Starz into original programming after the channel's historical gladiator action franchise, "Spartacus," that began in 2011.
Despite the creative license, Goyer said that many of the events in "Da Vinci's Demons" are based on historical records and that most of the characters really existed.
But he also wanted to inject enjoyment into the story of the sculptor, architect, inventor and anatomist who gave the world iconic masterpieces like "The Last Supper," "Vitruvian Man" and the "Virgin of the Rocks."
"I wanted to make sure it is fun. I hope audiences have a good time. If they decide to learn more about history because of it, that is great as well. I just want TV to be challenging and fun and different," he said.
Starz is a unit of Starz Entertainment.
(Reporting By Jill Serjeant; Editing by Sandra Maler)