The story centers on Lenny Belardo, aka Pius XIII, the first American Pope in history. Young, charming and shrewd, his election seems to be the result of an effective media strategy on the part of the College of Cardinals. As the official synopsis notes, the young pope is “naïve, ironic and pedantic, primeval and cutting-edge, doubting and resolute, melancholy and ruthless, and he proves to be the most mysterious and contradictory of his predecessors.”
Diane Keaton stars as Sister Mary, a nun from the U.S. now living in Vatican City. The cast also includes Silvio Orlando, Scott Shepherd, Cécile de France, Javier Cámara, Ludivine Sagnier, Toni Bertorelli and James Cromwell.
Law and Sorrentino spoke about the project during the HBO portion of the 2017 Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour at the Langham Hotel on January 14, where EUR/Electronic Urban Report was on hand to ask Law if the role was transformative for him in any way. He also shared what he took away from the project…personally and professionally.
“Transformative? Yes, I think it was,” he told us during TCA. “But I think the thing I took away that really stands out was the experience of working with Paolo. It was really eye-opening to work with someone who had such clarity of vision and contributed such an extraordinary signature and heightened, just every day, in every way, what we were all doing as a cast and as a team.”
He continued, “I suppose it also forced me — I’ve always been some — I wasn’t brought up in a particularly religious household, but I’ve always been curious about faith and one’s personal relationship with faith. And I suppose it encouraged me to question and look at that a little more.”
Law also noted that one of the reasons he loves Paolo’s work is because “he can take epic themes and operatic scale and make it very human.”
He explained, “When I was preparing for this part, I initially started, probably understandably, thinking, “Gosh, I need to educate myself on papal history, on Catholic history, on life in the Vatican.” But I didn’t really find any answers as to who this character was. And Paolo kept reminding me that really I had to concentrate on who Lenny Belardo was, Lenny being the man. And Lenny is an orphan, and really, at his heart, he is trying to understand this sense of lack of love.”
Law continued, “A lot of the part he plays as Pope Pius is trying to understand that and, if you like, reflect his, as Paolo said, sense of solitude — or, rather, understand his sense of solitude through his power. But the vulnerabilities are there and, I hope, slowly unpeeled if you stick with the ten hours.”
When Paolo was asked why he choose to do this imaginative, unrealistic version of the Church, instead of dramatizing something a little closer to actual reality, the director replied, “Because it could be possible that after Pope Francis, the next Pope, he could be somebody like the character of Jude Law. This is the thing that many experts in the Church told me. And so the idea was to do a sort of next Pope, the future Pope.”
The series is vividly fascinating and if you’re fan of the subject (Vatican politics and intrigue), the story grips you from the start.
“The subject is about the — mostly about the solitude of the power and the solitude of the man and how the solitude or the loneliness of being a person to have the big question about the existence of God, about what God is for us,” Sorrentino noted about the overall theme of the series.
“The Young Pope” airs Sundays and Mondays on HBO. You can catch up on the first three episodes at HBO.com.