Emmys: Jude Law on His 'Young Pope' Character, Comparisons to Trump and Working With a Kangaroo

Courtesy of HBO
'The Young Pope'

The star discusses his trippy turn as the scheming Pius III and the pressures of boarding the Harry Potter franchise.

Jude Law hadn't been on many shortlists to play a pope. So when Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) picked the rakish 44-year-old Oscar nominee to tackle a scheming, reactionary pontiff on HBO's The Young Pope, head-scratching ensued. During the course of the series' 10 episodes, however, Law's take on Pius XIII (nee Lenny Belardo) prompted numerous think pieces comparing the character to Donald Trump and even more memes with his kangaroo co-star. As the star looks to his next project (playing a young Dumbledore in Warner Bros.' Fantastic Beasts sequel), Law tells THR about the unique pontifical gig and its recently greenlighted follow-up.

The Young Pope got a lot of attention from critics drawing parallels between Lenny Belardo and Donald Trump. Were you surprised by how timely the series ended up being, having filmed it before this global wave of reactionary sentiment?

Of course — I'm horrified, too. I think it's fair to say that great writers and great artists such as Paolo have their finger on the zeitgeist. He's not a soothsayer, but I think he tapped into something that he saw as a pattern — this dramatic, reactionary pendulum swing.

I imagine Lenny was more likable for you than he was for viewers.

As actors, we have a different relationship with characters. I was always Lenny's champion. I loved him and understood him. I also knew when he was manipulative — and why he was playing it that way. It became quite apparent as we proceeded that there were elements in him that were downright Machiavellian.

Have you ever worked with such elaborate costumes?

It's no accident that one of the first images is Lenny naked before putting on his papal robes. He's ripping off his own self and stepping into the role. Costume always has a big effect on character, but never more so than when you're wearing those iconic robes. They remind you that Lenny's playing a part, too. I was always playing a man playing a part.

Any idea how much the heaviest outfit weighed?

Not exactly, but it was like having a 9‑year‑old boy on my shoulders.

Did you ever physically interact with that kangaroo, or was it CGI?

The kangaroo is such a magical part of Lenny's time in the Vatican that I don't want to ever say one way or another. I'll give you a clue, though. The Australian ambassador's wife saw [The Young Pope] in Venice [the series premiered at the 2016 Venice Film Festival]. She said she was very excited that we used a kangaroo — and she thought it was real.

How did your friends and family digest your role?

Initially, they were all startled that I was playing a pope. There was a lot of humor. Then they just wanted to come to Rome.

Can you share anything about the second season?

I've got a feeling it's going to be [shot] next year. I know the story pretty much, and I'm very excited.

What's your relationship with the Harry Potter franchise, as one of the few British actors to not have already worked on it?

I read Harry Potter to my youngest and my eldest when he was a young boy. They've grown up with the books, and we watched the movies together. I'm curious to finally get involved. [Albus Dumbledore] is an extraordinary character. He has already got so much goodwill.

Was there any hesitation in taking on such a beloved role? Or was it just like picking up a Shakespeare character?

Yes, but I trust the choices of the director and of J.K. Rowling. I'm obviously at a different stage of my life than Michael Gambon, who played him last and did it so well, so there's going to be many differences here. There are risks, but risks are what it's all about.

This story first appeared in a June standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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