Starring as the titular Young Pope in HBO’s new series has made Jude Law discover new aspects of his relationship with faith, the actor said at the Television Critics Association press tour on Saturday. But what the subject of 2017’s first popular meme didn’t expect was to become a trend he didn’t even know existed. “Having spent the last week both in New York and [Los Angeles] doing lots of press, I’m very aware now, but at beginning of the week, I was completely unaware of what a meme was,” Law said. “I’ve become very aware and I love them. They’re very funny, and they’re very imaginative.”
In the series, which premieres Sunday and will air on Sundays and Mondays, Law plays the first American pope who becomes the pontiff at the ripe age of 46. Created, written, and directed by Oscar-winning director Paolo Sorrentino, The Young Pope is the story of an orphaned boy, raised by a nun (Diane Keaton), who grows up to be the most powerful man in the Catholic Church. When Lenny Belardo becomes Pius XIII, he takes the clergy by surprise with his rude, tyrannical behavior. Law said he underestimated his character’s brutality, but reveled in performing him: “Sometimes it’s just a wonderful excuse to behave badly.”
What this “young pope” isn’t — and, yes, he does refer to himself that way in an episode — is a liar. “He’s full of contradictions, as we all are, but he doesn’t lie. He’s a man of conviction from his own standpoint,” Law explained. “He’s trying to understand his heart, he’s trying to understand his faith. Getting the top job, he imagined he would have a direct line to the person who’s guided him and seen him through a lonely existence — and that’s God — and the line is busy so he has to work out how to answer these questions by himself.” In the first episode, Pius says out loud that he doesn’t believe in God. According to Law, viewers should believe him.