HBO’s new Paolo Sorrentino series The Young Pope, starring Jude Law as a shrewd, ironic, pedantic, doubting, resolute, and ruthless man  – and the Catholic Church’s first American pope – is not an “imaginative, hyper-not-realistic” version of the church, as one TV critic suggested today at TCA and Sorrentino corrected immediately.

“It is possible that, after Pope Francis, the next pope could be somebody like the character” played by Law, the Italian Sorrentino said. “This is the thing many experts in the church told me, and so the idea was to do a next pope, the future pope.”

In the series, Law’s Lenny Belardo, aka Pius XIII, is young and charming, and his election seems to be the result of a simple yet effective media strategy devised by the College of Cardinals. Naturally, this led to a certain number of questions during the TCA panel about the rise of strawmen, cults of personality, desperate people searching for answers, political movements in Europe and, yes, Donald Trump.

Said Law, “Great creative minds have natural antennae that read what is in the ether.” This project, he added, “came from the religious terrain of the past and Italian political terrain of the past, and a certain amount of pre-emptive registry of what is going on internationally.” He called the show a cautionary tale of where “voting into the unknown can lead you.”

“What is he not for you?” a critic asked Law about Lenny, tossing out the names Marcus Aurelius, St. Francis, Dalai Lama, and Donald Trump, among others.

“Maybe the one thing that differentiates him from all of the above is he’s not a liar,” Law responded. “He’s full of contradictions…but he doesn’t lie. He’s a man of conviction from his own standpoint and he’s trying to understand his heart and his faith. Imagine getting the top job and having a direct line to the ‘person’ who has  seen him through his lonely existence, which is god, and the line is busy.”

The first part of the 10-episode series debuts this Sunday, January 15, 9 pm; the second part will follow the next night, same time. The remaining episodes will air subsequent Sundays and Mondays, 9 pm.

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. Sorrentino said he’s working on a second season.

 

 

 

 

Another critic wondered who came up with the idea of the pope smoking cigarettes, Law or Sorrentino.

Pope Benedict, Law responded. “It was inspired by Benedict, who liked a cigarette after mass. That kind of detail is something “joyful” for an actor to sink his teeth into, Law enthused.