Co Antrim actor Stephen Hagan channels his inner Italian for Netflix role as Leonardo da Vinci
Co Antrim actor Stephen Hagan's latest role playing artist Leonardo da Vinci meant channelling his inner Italian.
The 34-year-old Greenisland man, who will play the man who painted the Mona Lisa in a new Netflix TV series Medici, says: "It's like an Italian coming to Belfast to play George Best."
The Lucky Man star, who spent four months shooting Medici in Italy, adds: "The Italians take da Vinci very seriously. On my first day a taxi driver quizzed me about a scene asking if it was a realistic portrayal of the painter - I knew then I had to be careful.
"As big as we know Leonardo is throughout the art world, he has a special place in Italy's heart," he adds. "The fact that the series is also going to be shown in Italy created an added pressure. People are very aware of some Irish fella turning up and playing one of the most famous Italians ever."
Medici's star-studded cast includes Dustin Hoffman, Richard Madden (who recently won a Golden Globe for The Bodyguard), Sean Bean, Sarah Parish and Daniel Sharman, with the top-rated series not due to hit our screens until 2020.
The Northern Ireland actor began his research into the great artist and engineer in Italy, joking that his A-star in GCSE art was a real help. "I think you'll find I'm a brilliant artist… but nowhere near as good as da Vinci," he says.
"I went to his hometown of Da Vinci, which he is named after, just outside Florence and some of the museums to see his work. I had seen the Mona Lisa previously and then went to see a lot of his unfinished work in Italy. He was a perfectionist so was constantly walking away from projects because he wanted to learn how to make it better."
Da Vinci was also a brilliant engineer and an expert in anatomy. "I tried to buy a book about him from Amazon to read on the plane - but it was the size of a coffee table," says Stephen, who is now an aficionado on the man.
"The way he paints portraits is beautiful but his landscapes are incredible too. He used optical illusions to perfectly recreate the place he was painting.
"He was self-taught, reading book after book to learn," says Stephen. "He bought cadavers to study the human body and learn how each bone and muscle worked."
Medici is a joint UK-Italian drama with filming taking place in stunning locations in Rome and Tuscany last year.
And Stephen, who is in series three, also got the chance to share scenes with one of his old acting school friends. He says: "Daniel Sharman plays Lorenzo da Medici who like da Vinci is a very confident man. Acting together we had a kind of shorthand with each other which really helped us get into character."
Stephen, who lives in north London with his actor and comedian wife Wendy Wason and their three children, says filming fitted around his young family.
"I was able to fly to and from Italy during filming because the kids are at school, but my 14-year-old stepson was able to join me on set for a day as he was off. It was a great experience for him." In the last two years Stephen has featured in Sky 1's blockbuster crime drama, Stan Lee's Lucky Man, playing James Nesbitt's younger brother Rich Clayton.
He's also a regular on TV in shows like Midsomer Murders and landed a top role in America for a CBS show Identity in 2014.
- Medici will be on Netflix next year. Date to be confirmed nearer to broadcast.
- People here can see some of Leonardo da Vinci's original drawings at a special exhibition at the Ulster Museum which began this week and will run until Monday, May 6.