Oscar Winner Paolo Sorrentino to Make TV Series About Fictional American Pope

Paolo Sorrentino

With the working title "The Young Pope," the eight-episode series will focus on invented scandals and intrigue behind the Vatican walls.

ROME -- Paolo Sorrentino, who won Italy’s first Oscar in 15 years for The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza), says his next project will be a television series based on a fictional American pope.

Argentina-born Pope Francis, who became pope last year, is the first pontiff from the Americas. But Sorrentino, 43, who was criticized by some in the Vatican for the decadent storyline in The Great Beauty, imagines a story around a U.S.-born pope named Lenny Belardo.

Interest in the papacy and the Vatican has risen dramatically with the popularity of the new pope.

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Word is the series, which will include eight 50-minute episodes, will focus on invented scandals and intrigue behind the Vatican walls. It will be shot on location in Rome and the Vatican, Africa and the U.S.

The working title for the series is The Young Pope.

Producers behind the project include John Lyons, Italy’s Wildside and Sky Italia, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox.

“The series is about dreams, fears, conflicts, battles, the search for meaning and the need for love of a pope, seen through Sorrentino’s unique vision,” Lorenzo Mieli and Mario Gianani from Wildside said in a statement.

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According to an interview that appeared online in Corriere della Sera Tuesday, Mieli said the pope in the series would rival complex television characters from the past, including James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano; Bryan Cranston’s portrayal of Walter White in Breaking Bad; and House of Cards' protagonist Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey.

“He will be someone you have to meet at least once in your life,” Mieli said, adding that the role will be played by a well-known international actor, though he stopped short of mentioning any names.

Twitter: @EricJLyman