Fernando Meirelles • Director of The Two Popes
“The whole idea of tradition and a church is supposed to connect you to God and not to people in society”
by Kaleem Aftab
- Cineuropa met up with director Fernando Meirelles in London to talk about the star-studded The Two Popes
Brazilian helmer Fernando Ferreira Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardener [+see also:
film profile]) brings his great directorial talent to The Two Popes [+see also:
interview: Fernando Meirelles
film profile], shot primarily at Cinecittà in Rome. It's a wry comedy about the decision of Pope Benedict XVI to resign, and how the papacy went from having a conservative to a liberal head with the arrival of his successor, Pope Francis. However, Meirelles suggests that the two avuncular leaders might not be as different as they first seem, in this film out in UK cinemas from Friday.
Cineuropa: What made you want to make a film about these popes?
Fernando Meirelles: I decided to make a film on the pope as I liked Pope Francis because of his politics. When I was asked if I wanted to read the screenplay and do a film on the two popes, I said yes, because at the very least, it would allow me to get to know more about him. When the script came, it read like the play upon which the film is based, and it was just dialogue. It was two men talking about religion and would have been very hard to make for a broad audience. My first instinct, which we followed, was to change it and make it personal and funny, if possible. I remember watching Stephen Frears' The Queen [+see also:
interview: Andy Harries
interview: Stephen Frears
film profile], and I liked the film a lot because of the intimate way we saw her as this old lady, and not the queen. I had this idea of these two popes as two uncles who drink beer, share pizza and watch football together.
What's also remarkable is how you make Pope Benedict, a figure usually seen as stern, into such a likeable character. How did you come up with this approach?
I think Anthony Hopkins can take the credit for that. When I first read the script, for me as well, it felt like the dynamic of the film: Pope Francis is the good pope, and Pope Benedict XVI is the bad one. Then I started to read more about Pope Benedict, and I understood his point that the whole idea of tradition and a church is supposed to connect you to God and not to people in society. I may disagree, but I understood his point. Then Anthony came on board; he had also read a lot about Benedict, and he likes Benedict, so he brought this humanity to him, and Anthony's so charismatic while Pope Benedict is a dull guy. Then Anthony brought his own charisma to the character. Thus, you have two popes, and you like both of them. Sometimes you agree with Pope Benedict, and sometimes you agree with Pope Francis, which is very interesting because from what seems like a very black-and-white situation, there are a lot of grey areas.
What made you think of Jonathan Pryce to play Pope Francis?
He was an obvious choice. If you Google “the pope”, you see hundreds of photos of Jonathan Pryce alongside Pope Francis. Of course, he's a brilliant actor, no doubt about it. Pryce has a great sense of humour. He has this humanity and the specific feeling I get when I see Pope Francis talking; he has this warmth, and this was like a guy whom you would want to have as a friend.
How did Pryce collaborate with Juan Minujín, who plays Pope Francis when he was young, living in Argentina and still with his birth name, Jorge Mario Bergoglio?
They met here in London, but actually, sometimes I see films where you have the character young and old, and the directors create something to link the two of them, like touching their ear or combing their hair – they’re just little things, which I find very silly because it takes me out of the film. Anyway, I didn't want to have them act the same, especially as the young Bergoglio was very different from the old Bergoglio. He had changed by the time he became pope, and this is visible in the film. People who knew him said he was very unpleasant when he was young and that he wouldn't talk to anybody – he would never smile and would eat alone. Pryce plays the pope as we know him, so they're very different, and they didn't have to match.
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