'The Young Pope' Creator on Parallels to Donald Trump — and All Those Memes

The Young Pope - Still - H - 2016
Fremantlemedia International

Jude Law knows about your Young Pope memes. As he told reporters Saturday at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour, in the past week he not only learned what a meme was, but he also saw the internet turn him and his role as American Cardinal Lenny Belardo, a bad boy with a penchant for cigarettes and Cherry Coke Zero, into one. 

Paolo Sorrentino, the Italian filmmaker who created, wrote and directed all 10 episodes of the HBO series, has also seen the memes. Sorrentino, with the assistance of a translator, spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about his show's internet popularity, the parallels between conservative Pope Pius XIII and President-elect Donald Trump, and whether he's even tried Cherry Coke Zero. Plus, he reveals that he's already working on a second season, though it hasn't officially been ordered yet.

First things first: Did you know about all the memes?

I know! I'm happy, I'm happy. Why not? It's OK [when] people talk about the show. If just 10 of them will watch the show, it's a good thing.

Another silly question: do you like Cherry Coke Zero? Where did that come from?

Never tasted it. They tried many years ago to bring it to Italy. It was a failure. So Cherry Coke Zero, I've never tried it.

At its core, what is this show is about?

In the final analysis, it talks about that unsettling little noise of solitude, of loneliness that's inside all of us and that never balances. Which is not the solitude of somebody who doesn't have anybody to chat with in the evening, but it is a more profound, deeper condition and sense of uneasiness [that] in the final analysis you are alone. And that's why those who have that knowledge of this solitude ask themselves the question of God.

You see quickly that the show is also about politics.

Also politics, yes, because the pope is the spiritual guide. Of course inside there is a lot of politics because being the guide of 1 billion people in the world, which is the number of Catholics in the world, it cannot not talk about politics as well. 

When you're making a TV show on a global scale with partners around the world, do you take into account that the audiences are going to be so different?

For me, I hope that I do get a global audience if I remain loyal to myself instead of looking for equilibrium and balance in order to be liked by many. So the more I look for a global audience, the more I tend to do things that I like, and since I'm the one who writes — me alone — then that's the case.

You've said that you consulted with leaders in the Catholic church who told you that it's quite possible that the next pope will be conservative like this one. 

Look at the United States!

Exactly — was that something you wanted to portray? What do you think about the parallels that we can see right now?

The parallel between [Lenny] and Trump is totally casual because I wrote this character of the pope a long time ago when Obama was the president. However, important nations like the U.S. and like the Vatican, they know that they are important because they know that they remain loyal to themselves. They're faithful to themselves. Pope Francis and Obama have led their countries, their states in a new direction and probably after that there will be the opposite tendency. What will happen afterward will be a conservative [push] to bring back to the status quo of what was there before. And this explains why, after a pope like we have today, there could be a pope like Jude Law and why, after Obama, there could be a president like Trump. Because there is a conscious, collective tendency to maintain the status quo as it was before. Unconsciously, a state, a nation feels the need to survive. And when there is somebody who says no, let's face life in a different way, it could create an unconscious collective opposite reaction. 

Have you written season two?

I am doing it now.

Is anything from our current political climate going to make it into season two?

You know very well that if I say anything, they'll kill me!

Has season two officially been ordered?

No, it's not officially ordered yet. In case, it's better to write now. I will go back to do a movie so it's better to advance the work.

A lot of the reviews compared The Young Pope to House of Cards. Do you see that?

No, because yes, House of Cards is a reflection on the exaggerated, no-holds-barred abuse of power. It's an aberration with its thousand possibilities. Here, there is power but it's not the prevalent aspect of the series. The prevalent aspect of the series is [that] it is a thriller of the soul. 

The Young Pope airs Sundays and Mondays at 9 p.m. on HBO.

Twitter: @hijean