Today we chat to the writer of one of our Big Finish Originals, David Llewellyn, who talks all about Cicero in the first part of an exclusive interview.
Big Finish: Thanks for taking the time for talking to us today! First of all, congratulations for your Audies nomination for Best Audio Drama this year.
David Llewellyn: Thank you that was lovely news, it really came out of the blue.
BF: First question we wanted to ask… why Cicero? What about the character and story made you want to bring it to life at Big Finish?
DL: Well the initial idea came from Scott Handcock, he was the one who saw the potential of looking at Cicero as a younger man. A lot of the dramas and stories around him are from his time as an older man and the tail-end of his life, before his downfall. Obviously there’s a lot of interest and drama in that chapter and it ties in with a lot of other events in Rome’s legacy.
But actually when you look at his early life, when he was a defence lawyer and the murder trial of Sextus Roscius in his mid-twenties... this coincided with a time of intense civil unrest and violence. There was a lot of drama to be had there.
Also, because his personality changed so much from when he was a younger man and he was quite idealish… as he gets older he gets very cynical. He has conflicts throughout his life whether he wants to support the Republic or whether he thinks the Republic needs a strong leader. It was an interesting world to explore.
BF: So he changed a lot, and a lot of that comes from original documents and third-party sources… did you chart his personality throughout the accounts?
DL: The bulk of Cicero’s letters come from later on… if you read through the wealth of what we have in the letters they come from a later time, when his political career is starting to take off. But then you take a look at the philosophy that he was studying. He went over to Greece and Asia Minor and studied philosophy there and the kind information he was discovering, plus the cases he was taking on there. What we have of him as a young man suggests there is this transition and arc that he goes on.
Even then, in his later writing he changes opinion about things, he’s like any human being. That’s the clever thing about Cicero. Other people through history airbrush aspects of themselves, and certain thoughts and opinions out of the picture so that they had one set of opinions and beliefs that they apparently stuck to doggedly throughout their lives…
Cicero is different because he is open about the fact that he changes his mind about things. His opinions change as circumstances change and he adapts to meet them. You get a strong sense of him as a character throughout these different opinions and letters. He was one of the first people to document his own life to that greater extent. He laid down his whole life in writing.
BF: Did you find any difficulty in that? He’s like the Samuel Pepys of the Roman age, he documented everything, he even had an age of literature named after him. Any pressure?
DL: Just a bit! One of the things myself and Scott (Handcock) agreed on was that he didn’t want to feel too high-register, we wanted his story to be accessible. There’s a world of difference between written Latin and how it would have been spoken. There’s certainly a formality to written Latin prose, although in the letters they can be more candid, with humour coming through.
What we wanted to capture is that these were living people, not stage characters. So we weren't too obliged to capture the patterns of his defence speeches, apart from when he makes one. In which case we went as close as we could to the available translations whilst dramatising them.
In terms of the characters, I was aware to move away from Cicero’s personal writing, because his writing in letters would be very different to talking to family members or friends. So the script came from how he wrote and what we could work out from biographical information, what kind of personality he had... When he’s writing his defence speeches he’s writing to make himself look good. He portrays himself as very confident but actually a lot of people from the time say he was quite nervous. You have to show a human side of him that he may have hidden from that image of himself.
BF: When you listen to the pilot, you as a writer have really captured that day to day side of the Cicero Brothers’ and Roman life incredibly well and a lot of people are drawn to that. It’s another thing that we love at Big Finish, there’s that world-building aspect as well as telling an amazing story on audio.
DL: That’s the great thing about audio, you don’t need to build a set or worry about location. You can suggest an enormous scene without building it. That was one of the foremost ideas of my mind, trying to get an idea of everyday life. I was researching what life in everyday Republic Roman life was like, what it was like as a person in everyday life.
Cicero, a six-episode series, will be available on download from www.bigfinish.com at a pre-order price of £21. This offer includes the pilot of Cicero - Though Scoundrels are Discovered - originally released in February 2017, which listeners can also download individually for a Web Special Price of £5 from www.bigfinish.com. And a free excerpt is available here.
(Part 2 of this interview can be found here)