Ever heard of Pope Pius XIII? No?
Don’t worry, you didn’t miss a chunk of Church history. The pontiff comes from the imagination of writers Tony Grisoni, Umberto Contarello, Stefano Rulli and Paolo Sorrentino, who will also direct all eight episodes of HBO’s “The Young Pope.”
Production is set to begin this summer and continue through early 2016, primarily in Italy but also in the U.S., Africa and Puerto Rico.
Jude Law takes the title role of Lenny Belardo, an American cleric recruited by the Vatican for his orthodox beliefs (so, of course, a British actor is hired, since apparently we have no Italian-American actors). From Variety:
“No one, even at the Vatican, is prepared for how hard-line this American pope really is,” Tony Grisoni, who is one of the writers, recently told Variety.
Per Deadline, the official description for the project is:
The project tells the story of the beginning of the Pontificate of Pius XIII, born Lenny Belardo (Law). He was a complex and conflicted character, so conservative in his choices as to border on obscurantism, yet full of compassion towards the weak and poor. This Pope is a man of great power who’s stubbornly resistant to the Vatican courtiers, unconcerned with the implications for his authority. During the series, Belardo will face losing those closest to him and the constant fear of being abandoned, even by his God. A man who is, however, not afraid of undertaking the millennial mission of defending that same God and the world representing Him.
Also from Deadline, Sorrentino said in a statement:
The clear signs of God’s existence. The clear signs of God’s absence. How faith can be searched for and lost. The greatness of holiness, so great as to be unbearable when you are fighting temptations and when all you can do is to yield to them. The inner struggle between the huge responsibility of the Head of the Catholic Church and the miseries of the simple man that fate (or the Holy Spirit) chose as Pontiff. Finally, how to handle and manipulate power in a state whose dogma and moral imperative is the renunciation of power and selfless love towards one’s neighbor. That is what The Young Pope is about.
Also, it’s just been announced that Diane Keaton has joined the cast, marking her first regular role in a TV series. Per Deadline:
Keaton plays Sister Mary, a nun from the U.S. now living in Vatican City. She raised Lenny, taught him to live right by God and helped him get to the papacy. She continues to have power over him and used him to get her new position in the Vatican.
Although Sorrentino is Italian, don’t assume he’s a Catholic. This is from a July 29, 2015, interview in The American magazine:
In “Il Divo” you suggest Mafia ties with the Vatican. Are Catholics wrong to revere the Church?
I don’t know. I’m not a believer. The power of the Vatican among those who don’t practice can seem invasive and bothersome. [The Church] tends to impose its views. It’s also acts as a braking mechanism, a roadblock to aspects of social change. No one wants to make the Vatican unhappy.
For example, a while ago Italy wanted to allow same-sex couples and common-law couples [to marry], but this was stopped by the Church. But in terms of image, the Church still has the most developed one Italy possesses … the architecture, the vestments… all beautiful images. The Catholic Church was the first great producer of images, long before cinema. The number of important religious paintings isn’t an accident.
So, between this being produced for HBO and Sorrentino’s comments — not to mention the pope is named Pius the Thirteenth — my hopes aren’t high. I am spending this week at the biannual Television Critics Association Press Tour in Beverly Hills, and since HBO is having its presentation on Thursday, perhaps we’ll get a bit more news then.
Image: Courtesy AP/Chris Pizzello