Jude Law on Wearing a "Napkin" in 'The New Pope,' Paolo Sorrentino on Gender Equality in Nudity

John Malkovich discussed at the Venice Film Festival how the series addresses "people's cravings for something spiritual."

The New Pope debuted at the Venice Film Festival with two turning-point episodes airing for festival-goers. A follow-up to Paolo Sorrentino’s The Young Pope, about the inner workings of the Vatican and its seductive cast of characters, the new series picks up where the first season concluded.

While series regulars Jude Law, Silvio Orlando, Javier Camara, Cecile de France and Ludivine Sagnier return in their starring roles, this season adds the likes of John Malkovich, Stefano Accorsi, Mark Ivanir, Sharon Stone and Marilyn Manson to the cast. 

The New Pope picks up right where The Young Pope left off, but Sorrentino was quick to point out that the nine-episode series tackles very different issues this time around.

“In the first season we wanted to see the Vatican without any relationship to the outside," Sorrentino said in Venice. "In this [one] we face the issues of the Vatican and the outside world, including fundamentalism. The focus is on fundamentalism and the possible risks of it, which unfortunately we see increasing around the world.”

The show opens with Law’s Pope Pius XIII, or Lenny Belardo, in a coma, expected to live out his last days in this state. A Pope Francis-like character has taken his place at the top, threatening to give away the Vatican’s riches and expose the corruption within its ranks. Just like in real life, the Vatican is noticeably on edge. But in this fictionalized version, he’s dead before the episode’s end, causing rumors among his followers that he was murdered for upsetting the status quo.

Enter John Malkovich. By episode two, he’s introduced as a foppish aristocratic Brit, Sir John Brannox, who has written one of the church’s most important modern theological texts. He dresses the part of a dandy, complete with eyeliner and a purple suit, and is haunted by the death of his twin brother. The Vatican is convinced he’s the only man for the job, and they send a delegation to his estate to try and woo him.

“I guess I don’t really play the new pope,” said Malkovich on the show title. “I play the new, new pope, I suppose.” Malkovich said he had signed on because he was a fan of Sorrentino’s work, especially The Young Pope. “Paolo, I think, is unique among filmmakers because he has such a great sense of geography, of putting characters in a geography.” Just like in season one, The New Pope is shot in locations around Italy, from the Vatican to Venice.

Malkovich said he wasn’t interested in exploring religion as much as the idea of belief and miracles. “I think this series addresses people’s cravings for something spiritual and something that they could believe in, even if it’s only believing in miracles, which can happen,” he said. “I was delighted to be a part of it.”

Law, meanwhile, said the “complexity of Lenny having to realize that he’s not the only pope is really interesting to play.” 

Sorrentino was asked to address male nudity, and how it measures up to abundant female nudity, in the season. "In fact, you’ve only seen two episodes. The nudity is very balanced," said the director.

“There is a lot of equality in the nudity in the film, both in women and in men. And obviously the animals,” Sorrentino joked.

Law, who appears in the trailer wearing only a white Speedo, strutting through women on a beach on the Lido, could attest to the equality in skimpy costumes.

“You’d be surprised to know that those swimming trunks actually weren’t the smallest costume I got to wear in this season," he said. "There’s actually one scene where I was wearing a napkin. I have a photo of it, because it was truly the smallest costume I was ever given. I asked one of the costumiers what my outfit was for the day, and he literally picked up a piece of material."

The actors also discussed the idea of retirement, which, unlike the papacy, does not always end with death. “I always like the idea of this job going on forever. And as long as people will hire me, I’ll keep working,” said Law. “I respect any actor withdrawing at the right time, but I personally don’t plan to."

Malkovich looked at it a bit differently. "I think when it’s time to retire, you’ll be retired," he said. "I'm not Frank Sinatra. I don’t have to announce a retirement."

The New Pope is a joint production of Sky, HBO and Canal+, produced by Fremantle’s Wildside and co-produced by Haut et Court and the Mediapro Studio. It will air in the U.S. on HBO.