Nearly two years after the much-adored historical series Poldark came to an end, Aidan Turner is finally back on our screens.

And the Irishman, 37, admits he did question whether he should take on Leonardo – another period drama – as his next project.

"I do hear what you're saying: maybe I need to wear a pair of jeans and shave my head for the next role. Note taken," quips the charismatic actor, chuckling.

But a mysterious and passionate retelling of the life of one of history's greatest artists – set against the backdrop of Renaissance Italy – was a project he just couldn't turn down.

"In a way, if it wasn't Leonardo da Vinci, I probably wouldn't [have taken the role]," continues The Hobbit star, on a Zoom call.

"As actors, sometimes we feel – certainly I do – 'If I pass on this, will I watch this in a year's time with some other actor playing it, and wish I had done it?' And I kept feeling that."

An eight-part series launching on Amazon Prime Video, Leonardo explores what made the Renaissance painter, architect, and inventor famous.

Showing the secrets and drama behind his unparalleled genius, each episode focuses on a different Da Vinci painting, and reveals the story behind it (some of these works are rooted in collective memory, others are less known).

Turner confides he found the idea of playing the artist "initially quite terrifying". "What eased me into the idea of playing him was Frank's scripts. It focused, almost immediately, on 'Let's try to uncover who this person was'.

"We already know who the artist is, we know his great works, we know his works as a philosopher and as an engineer, anatomist, botanist - it goes on. But who was he behind all that? Who was he at the core? What motivated him as an artist, as a person? What were his vulnerabilities?"

The story focuses a lot on Da Vinci's very unorthodox upbringing with his grandparents, and how that may have influenced him.

Interestingly, the drama also explores the pioneer's sexual orientation, portraying his relationships with men.

Starring alongside Turner as Leonardo's "muse" Caterina da Cremona is Matilda De Angelis, who many will recognise from HBO series The Undoing.

The Italian actress, 25, shares it was the passion that director Daniel Percival had about the character and the story - which weaves in a murder mystery - that initially drew her into the role.

"I really like the thriller part of it," she follows. "It was important to add something a bit spicy to the story, and the thriller part is so clever and so interesting."

When it came to research for the role, Turner had the chance to visit the Louvre Museum in Paris, and have a private viewing of Da Vinci's work, which includes the iconic Mona Lisa.

"I got to spend a couple of hours with his paintings on my own and it was extraordinary. I mean, there are so many things that strike you. One is just the physicality of it; we're so used to seeing his paintings on the screen, on an iPad, in an encyclopaedia, in a magazine, newspaper, television. You see them up close, its scale... Some of them are huge!"

He elaborates, avidly: "Then you get close and you think, 'How kind has 400, 500 years been to these paintings?' And it seems incredibly so. The detail... They're like high-definition photographs. You get as close as you can safely get to the painting, which is close enough, and it's just perfect. They're perfectly preserved, they're perfectly executed."

  • Leonardo launches on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, April 16